Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 18, 2022

Biden says Russia is creating an "excuse" to invade Ukraine, a judge rules Trump and two of his children must testify under oath, and more

1

Biden says Russia is creating an 'excuse' to invade Ukraine 

President Biden said Thursday there was a strong chance Russia would invade Ukraine "in the next several days," warning that Moscow was "engaged in a false flag operation to have an excuse to go in." Biden said Russian-backed separatists had created "a big provocation" with shelling in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian government and separatists accused each other of violating a cease-fire. Russia expelled the No. 2 diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow without immediately saying why. Separately, Russia said in a written statement that the U.S. Jan. 26 refusal to accept Russia's demand to halt NATO expansion in Eastern Europe left Moscow with no option but to respond, including with "military-technical measures."

2

Judge says Trump, 2 of his children must testify about business practices

A New York judge ruled Thursday that former President Donald Trump and two of his adult children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, must testify under oath in state Attorney General Letitia James' investigation into their business practices. The judge, state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, rejected a request from Trump lawyers to quash James' subpoenas, which they said were part of a politically motivated investigation. Engoron wrote in his eight-page decision that James' office, having investigated a business and uncovered "copious evidence of possible financial fraud," clearly has the authority to question the company's principals under oath. Trump's lawyers indicated they planned to appeal.

3

Canadian police arrest 2 organizers of Freedom Convoy protest

Canadian police late Thursday started arresting organizers of the so-called Freedom Convoy that has been clogging streets in the capital city, Ottawa, near Parliament, for more than two weeks. A spokesperson for Freedom Convoy 2022, one of the main groups behind the coronavirus-restriction protest, said leaders Tamara Lich and Chris Barber had been arrested, with Lich charged with "aiding and abetting mischief." Ottawa police did not immediately comment. The report of the arrests came shortly after authorities promised the "imminent" end of the demonstration. Truckers have paralyzed Ottawa's downtown for weeks, blocking streets with semi-trucks and blaring horns in protest of restrictions, including vaccine mandates for drivers returning across the U.S.-Canada border.

4

Florida House passes 15-week abortion ban

The Florida House on Thursday passed a bill seeking to ban abortions in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Republicans pushed the bill through in a party-line, 78-39 vote. The Senate, also controlled by the GOP, is expected to promptly take up the proposal and send it to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for his signature. The proposal would establish the state's strictest abortion restrictions since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established women's right to abortion access nationwide. Florida is one of an increasing number of Republican-dominated state legislatures to propose or enact laws setting up challenges to Roe and other Supreme Court precedents, which have protected the right to abortion access until fetal viability at about 24 weeks.

5

Report: 73 percent of Americans have Omicron immunity

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimated Thursday that 73 percent of Americans are immune to the Omicron coronavirus variant. "We have been exposed to this virus and we know how to deal with it," said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the university. New infections and hospitalizations have fallen sharply from the Omicron peak. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's top health adviser, said the nation now needs to focus on balancing the need to protect people from COVID-19 with increasing pandemic fatigue. People "are just up to here with COVID, they just really need to get their life back," Fauci told Reuters. "You don't want to be reckless and throw everything aside, but you've got to start inching toward that."

6

Walmart reports a strong quarter despite inflation

Walmart reported quarterly earnings that beat analysts' expectations on Thursday. The retail giant also announced that it would boost its dividend. The news sent Walmart shares climbing by nearly 2 percent early in the day, although they closed down by 0.1 percent. Walmart said holiday shopping was strong and that its focus on value was helping it attract customers worried about rising prices of groceries and other products across the country. "We know that consumers are focused on inflation, and we're continuing to watch key item pricing to ensure that we help them through this," Chief Financial Officer Brett Biggs said. "This type of environment plays to our strengths."

7

Former NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof ineligible to run for Oregon governor 

The Oregon state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is ineligible to run for governor this year. Kristof announced his candidacy for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in October, after leaving the Times. In January, Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said he was not eligible because of a rule requiring candidates to have lived in the state for three years before the election. Kristof, who lived in New York until December 2020, initially said state officials were trying to keep him off the ballot because of his willingness to challenge the status quo. On Thursday, he thanked the justices for considering the matter, saying he would "respect the court's decision and will not pursue this further."

8

Brazil death toll from floods, mudslides reaches 117

The death toll in floods and mudslides that demolished homes and cars in the Brazilian mountain town of Petropolis rose to at least 117 on Thursday as search crews continued to sift through the wreckage. Another 116 people remained missing in the historic German-influenced town, so it was still impossible to know how many people died. "We don't yet know the full scale of this," Mayor Rubens Bomtempo said in the aftermath of the Tuesday landslides. Videos posted on social media showed mud and water crashing through the town and carrying away houses and vehicles. One video showed two buses disappearing into a river as passengers scrambled out windows, some only to be swept away.

9

Netflix announces 5th and final season of 'Stranger Things'

Netflix announced Thursday that its science-fiction megahit Stranger Things will be renewed for a fifth season, but it will be the show's last. Season four will come out in two parts this year, with "Volume 1" making its debut on May 27, followed by "Volume 2" starting July 1. It has been three years since the third season of the drama, set in the 1980s. "Seven years ago, we planned out the complete story arc for Stranger Things," creators Matt and Ross Duffer wrote in an open letter to fans. "At the time, we predicted the story would last four to five seasons. It proved too large to tell in four but — as you'll see for yourselves — we are now hurtling toward our finale."

10

Russia's Kamila Valieva fails to medal after doping controversy

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva had a rare error-filled long-program performance on Thursday, falling into fourth place and failing to win a medal. Valieva botched her first four jumps, and later fell while attempting a quad toe loop, finishing fifth in the long program and dropping out of medal contention. Her Russian teammates Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova took gold and silver, respectively, and Kaori Sakamoto of Japan won bronze. It was an unexpected finish following the 15-year-old Russian star's doping controversy. Valieva, who had been favored to win the gold, had tested positive for a performance-enhancing heart drug before the Games. She was suspended but won an appeal to be allowed to skate. Her case remains unresolved.

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