Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 20, 2020

Harold Maass
2020 Democratic candidates at the Nevada debate
MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

1.

Democratic rivals attack Bloomberg in his first presidential debate

The Democratic presidential candidates clashed on the debate stage Wednesday, three days ahead of the Nevada caucuses, with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg facing strong attacks in his first debate. "We're running against a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-face lesbians," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said. "And, no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump, I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg." Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that Bloomberg's support as mayor for "stop-and-frisk" police policies that targeted many African-American and Latino people was "not a way you are going to grow voter turnout." Bloomberg countered allegations he is trying to buy the nomination. "I'm spending that money to get rid of Donald Trump — the worst president we've ever had," he said. [Reuters]

2.

Trump picks loyalist as acting director of national intelligence

President Trump named U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as acting director of national intelligence on Wednesday night. Grenell has little experience in intelligence, but is known as a Trump loyalist. The appointment puts one of Trump's most vocal defenders at the top of an intelligence community Trump has sometimes battled. The director of national intelligence oversees the nation's 17 intelligence agencies and advises the president and National Security Council. Joseph Maguire, a retired admiral, is now serving as acting director of national intelligence, following last summer's resignation of Dan Coats. Grenell, who will be the first openly gay member of Trump's Cabinet, is Senate-confirmed as an ambassador, so Trump can legally sidestep the Senate to keep Grenell in the role for 210 days. [The New York Times, The Associated Press]

3.

Pentagon official who cleared release of Ukraine aid resigns

Top Pentagon policy official John Rood resigned on Wednesday. Rood initially certified Ukraine's anti-corruption progress to clear the release of U.S. aid last year, and expressed concerns when the $250 million was frozen. The Trump administration decision to halt the security aid as it pushed for Ukraine to investigate Democrats was the focus of the impeachment charges against President Trump. Rood said in his resignation letter that he was stepping down at Trump's request. He is the latest of several administration officials connected to the impeachment process Trump has pushed out since the Senate acquitted him. Shortly after the Senate vote, the White House removed Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, who testified in the impeachment inquiry, from the National Security Council and reassigned him. [The Associated Press]

4.

Sanders takes double-digit lead in 3rd straight national poll

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has taken a widening, double-digit lead in a third straight national poll. After establishing himself as a frontrunner in Iowa and New Hampshire nominating contests, Sanders received the backing of 32 percent of random adults surveyed in a Washington Post-ABC News survey released Wednesday. He rose from 23 percent in the same poll in January. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who led the poll with 32 percent in January, plunged to a distant second with 16 percent in February. Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg rose from 8 percent to 14 percent. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) held steady with 12 percent support, followed by former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). [The Washington Post]

5.

Assange lawyers: Trump offered pardon if he denied Russia hacked Democrats

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's lawyers told a London court on Wednesday that President Trump offered to pardon Assange if he said Russia had nothing to do with hacking Democrats' emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. Assange's attorneys named then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) as the person who relayed the offer. Rohrabacher, who left office last year, allegedly said that "on instructions from the president, he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Mr. Assange … said Russia had nothing to do with the DNC [Democratic National Committee] leaks," the lawyers said. Rohrabacher said the offer was his idea, not Trump's. "At no time did I talk to President Trump about Julian Assange," he wrote on his personal blog. [The Guardian]

6.

Pompeo condemns China for kicking out Journal reporters

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday condemned China for saying it would expel three reporters from The Wall Street Journal. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday the journalists would have their credentials revoked over a recent Journal headline, "China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia." The reporters have been ordered to leave China within five days. Pompeo said that "responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions. The correct response is to present counter arguments, not restrict speech." Pompeo's condemnation came as he warned African countries in a speech Wednesday to "be wary of authoritarian regimes and their empty promises," an apparent swipe at China. [The New York Times, The Washington Post]

7.

9 dead in suspected right-wing terror attacks in Germany

A gunman fatally shot nine people in two hookah bars in Hanau, Germany, on Wednesday night in what police are treating as a far-right terror attack. The 43-year-old suspect fled in a car. Police later stormed his apartment and found him and his 72-year-old mother dead. Both had been shot. The two bars, Midnight and Arena Cafe & Bar, were popular with young members of the city's Kurdish community. Some of the dead were of Turkish origin. "Initial results point to a xenophobic motive," said Peter Beuth, the interior minister for the central state of Hesse. Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Turkey's presidency, tweeted that the Turkish government expects a "maximum effort" from Germany investigators. "Racism is a collective cancer," Kalin wrote. [Reuters, The New York Times]

8.

Fed leaders confident they can keep interest rates steady

Federal Reserve officials expressed cautious optimism about the strength of the economy and their ability to hold interest rates steady this year, according to minutes from their last policy meeting that were released Wednesday. "They expected economic growth to continue at a moderate pace, supported by accommodative monetary and financial conditions," the minutes said. "In addition, some trade uncertainties had diminished recently, and there were some signs of stabilization in global growth." Fed leaders acknowledged, however, that there were still some threats to the economy, including the lingering possibility of fallout from China's coronavirus outbreak. [CNBC]

9.

Pennsylvania Catholic diocese files for bankruptcy protection

The Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg on Wednesday became the first in Pennsylvania to file for bankruptcy protection, a move that followed the August announcement that the diocese paid $12 million to more than 100 people to settle claims of sexual abuse filed against clergy and others working in the diocese. In 2018, a grand jury found that more than 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania had sexually abused children over seven decades, and that the crimes were covered up by church leaders. Harrisburg was one of the six dioceses named in the grand jury's report. Under Pennsylvania law, many of the victims are now too old to sue — something state lawmakers and advocates say they want changed. Since 2004, 20 Catholic dioceses in the United States have filed for bankruptcy protection. [The Washington Post]

10.

Yang hired as CNN political analyst

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who ended his Democratic presidential bid last week, has agreed to join CNN as a political analyst, the network announced Wednesday. Yang worked Wednesday night at the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, where the remaining Democratic candidates participated in their last forum before the Nevada caucuses Saturday. Yang said Wednesday he's "excited" for his new role, and plans to "help shed light on the election." An obscure candidate when he first announced his campaign, Yang performed better than expected in polls and fundraising before dropping out after the first two primary-season contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. [CNN]