Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 27, 2013

Hagel wins confirmation, the Pope says good-bye, and more in our roundup of the stories that are making news and driving opinion

1. HAGEL WINS CONFIRMATION The Senate confirmed Chuck Hagel as defense secretary on Tuesday in a 58-41 vote, ending a bitter battle between the White House and Republicans. The vote, essentially split along party lines, marked a victory for President Obama. Still, Hagel, a former GOP senator, won by the narrowest margin of any defense secretary since the job was created in 1947, raising concerns even among his supporters that he would emerge as a wounded leader as he takes over a Pentagon facing deep budget cuts scheduled to take effect on Friday. "He has had to renounce every contrarian view that endeared him to the president in the first place," one Republican senate aide said. [New York Times, Daily Beast]………………………………………………………………………………

2. POPE HOLDS FINAL PUBLIC AUDIENCEPope Benedict XVI, in an emotional farewell, held his last general audience on Wednesday, telling a packed crowd in Saint Peter's Square that he would continue serving the Catholic Church through prayer after he leaves office on Thursday. Benedict said he understood the "gravity and rarity" of his decision to become the first pontiff to resign in six centuries, but that he did it "with profound serenity of spirit" because he knew it was best for the church. The Pope has said he was stepping aside because his advanced age has left him too weak to keep up with his duties. [Reuters]………………………………………………………………………………

3. SEQUESTER'S EFFECTS BEGIN TO EMERGEWith deep automatic spending cuts just days away, the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday that it had started releasing hundreds of illegal immigrants to save money by putting them on supervised release. That was the first concrete sign of the impact of the cuts, which will trim $85 billion from the budget this year and $1.2 trillion over a decade. Economists at the Federal Reserve and elsewhere say the austerity measures won't return the economy to recession, but they'll reduce the nation's economic growth by roughly 1.5 percentage points this year, further straining a struggling economy. [TIME, New York Times]………………………………………………………………………………

4. GUN-CONTROL ADVOCATE WINS NOMINATION FOR JACKSON'S SEATChicago Democrats picked gun-control advocate and former state representative Robin Kelly as their candidate in an April special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr., who resigned before pleading guilty last week to misusing campaign funds. Kelly is favored to win the race, as the district leans heavily Democratic. Kelly's primary win marked a victory for gun-control advocates led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose super PAC spent $2.5 million to help Kelly beat former congresswoman Debbie Halvorson. [Washington Post]………………………………………………………………………………

5. EGYPTIAN OPPOSITION VOWS ELECTION BOYCOTTEgyptian opposition leaders decided on Tuesday to boycott parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in stages, from late April to June. "There can be no elections without a law that guarantees the fairness of the election process," said Sameh Ashour, a spokesman for the National Salvation Front — a coalition of liberal and leftist parties. The move was intended to discredit President Mohamed Morsi ahead of a vote expected to favor his Islamist allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, although a boycott increases the chance Islamists will sweep the vote. [Reuters]………………………………………………………………………………

6. COAST GUARD SUSPENDS SAILBOAT SEARCH  The U.S. Coast Guard has called off a search for a couple and two children off the California coast, saying a distress call allegedly from a 29-foot sailboat was "possibly a hoax." Searchers had already scoured the waters off San Francisco at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars when the mission was suspended. The distress call claimed a couple, their 4-year-old child, and a cousin of the child who was also under age 8, were in danger, but no family fitting that description has been reported missing. [CNN]………………………………………………………………………………

7. U.S. NEARS DECISION ON DIRECTLY AIDING SYRIAN REBELS The Obama administration is expected to decide by Thursday whether to step up its aid to carefully vetted Syrian rebels, U.S. and European officials said Tuesday. Secretary of State John Kerry is attending an international conference on Syria in Rome, as are leaders of the opposition Syrian National Coalition trying to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Kerry has been skeptical about proposals to send rebels arms, but he has been discussing with European allies whether to supply other kinds of assistance to the Free Syrian Army for the first time to increase pressure on Assad to step down and end the country's civil war. [Huffington Post]………………………………………………………………………………

8. GUARD REPORTEDLY KILLED BY INMATE AT FEDERAL PRISONA federal prison guard, Eric Williams, was killed by an inmate at the Canaan federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania this week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Williams, 34, was reportedly beaten and fatally stabbed with a homemade weapon while working in a housing unit at the high-security facility. His death marked the first killing of a federal prison guard in nearly five years. [Washington Post]………………………………………………………………………………

9. MEXICO REPORTS 26,000 PEOPLE VANISHED IN SIX YEARS Mexico's Interior Ministry announced Tuesday that more than 26,000 people disappeared during former president Felipe Calderon's six-year administration, which ended on Dec. 1. Many of the cases were linked to organized crime, and Human Rights Watch released a report this month saying that security officers had been linked to some abductions. The government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, Calderon's successor, has formed a special working group to focus on finding the missing, said Lia Limon, deputy secretary of legal matters and human rights for the Interior Ministry. Locating people "is a priority for this government," Limon said. [CNN]………………………………………………………………………………

10. FORMER BUD FANS ACCUSE BREWER OF WATERING DOWN ITS BEERTwo Philadelphia men, Thomas and Gerald Greenberg, have filed a $5 million lawsuit against Anheuser Busch InBev, Budweiser's parent company, accusing the company of watering down 10 of its brews, including Bud and Michelob, to rip off consumers. The Greenbergs say the practice began when Anheuser-Busch merged Belgian-Brazilian InBev in 2008, forming the worlds largest brewer and launching a flurry of cost-cutting. The company calls the charge "completely false." [The Week, BBC News]

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