Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 26, 2022

Street fighting breaks out as Russian forces push into Kyiv, Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, and more

1

Street fighting breaks out as Russian forces push into Kyiv

Russian forces have entered the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv but have not yet seized control of the city, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday. According to Ukrainian military sources, Russian forces made several attempts to push deeper into Kyiv on Friday night but were repelled after vicious street fighting. "We broke their plan," Zelensky said in a video posted on social media. Ukraine's health ministry reports that 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed since the invasion began on Thursday. Ukraine's government has distributed assault rifles to civilians, urged citizens to "make Molotov cocktails and take down the occupier," and promised to arm any foreign volunteers who arrive to help defend Ukraine.

2

Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court

President Biden announced Friday he had picked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee for the Supreme Court. Biden described her as "a proven consensus builder, an accomplished lawyer, [and] a distinguished jurist." If confirmed, Jackson would become the first Black woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court. Jackson currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The Senate confirmed her to that position in a 53-44 vote in June 2021. Jackson previously served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, whose seat she would be filling. She would also be the first Supreme Court justice ever to have served as a public defender.

3

Ukrainian president declines U.S. evacuation offer

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has refused a U.S. government offer to evacuate him from the country, opting instead to remain with his troops in Kyiv. "The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride," Zelensky said, according to an American intelligence official. Zelensky also told Ukrainians that "[a]ccording to the information we have, the enemy has marked me as target No. 1." His family, which he described as Russia's "target No. 2" is reportedly in hiding somewhere in Ukraine.

4

CDC says about 70 percent of Americans don't need to wear masks indoors

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has eased its mask guidance for the majority of Americans in light of declining COVID-19 cases. The CDC said Friday that in counties classified as having a "COVID-19 community level" of low or medium, it's safe not to wear masks indoors, including in schools, and this applies to about 70 percent of Americans. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the move could be made because the U.S. is in a "stronger place today as a nation" in the pandemic with "more tools to protect ourselves."

5

GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger calls for U.S.-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) called for the U.S. to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine to give the country's military a "fair fight" against invading Russian forces. "The fate of #Ukraine is being decided tonight, but also the fate of the west. Declare a #NoFlyZone over Ukraine at the invitation of their sovereign govt," Kinzinger tweeted on Friday. Critics were quick to point out that this would likely require the U.S. to shoot down Russian aircraft, which could lead to a war between Russia and NATO. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked NATO to "close the skies," but the alliance has so far been unwilling to take the risk.

6

Trump urges Rick Scott to challenge McConnell for Senate leadership

Former President Donald Trump reportedly urged Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) to challenge Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for Senate Republican leadership during a private meeting at Mar-a-Lago this week. According to someone familiar with the exchange, Scott deflected the question, telling Trump that right now his "only focus is on winning" back control of the Senate. Scott, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, defied McConnell earlier this week by releasing a policy agenda for the 2022 midterms. McConnell had intended to make the elections a referendum on President Biden's leadership.

7

Russia vetoes U.N. resolution condemning Ukraine invasion

Russia used its power as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council on Friday to veto a resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. China abstained from the vote, while the remaining three permanent members — the U.S., the U.K., and France — voted in favor of the resolution. Among the 10 non-permanent members, which do not have veto power, none voted against the resolution, and only India and the United Arab Emirates abstained. "You can veto this resolution, but you cannot veto our voices," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas Greenfield told Russia's U.N. ambassador.

8

Jussie Smollett files motion to overturn conviction for faking hate crime

Jussie Smollett filed a motion Friday asking a Chicago judge to overturn his conviction for faking a hate crime attack against himself in January of 2019. Smollett's lawyers claim he should have his conviction thrown out or be given a new trial because the jury selection process violated his right to a fair trial. The Empire actor was found guilty in December on five counts of felony disorderly conduct for falsely reporting to police that two supporters of then-President Donald Trump punched him, poured a chemical substance over his head, placed a noose around his neck, and hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him. The jury found that Smollett paid two men to stage the attack.

9

NATO announces first-ever activation of Response Force in Eastern Europe

North Atlantic Treaty Organization leadership activated its Response Force for the first time ever to support Ukraine amid an invasion by Russia, the alliance announced Friday. The multinational force can be deployed quickly and includes land, air, sea, and special operations forces. But the move does not mean that any NATO troops, including U.S. troops, will be deployed into Ukraine. Instead, they will reportedly go to strategic areas in Eastern Europe to protect NATO countries nervous about Russia's aggressive actions. Ukraine is not a NATO member. The entire NATO Response Force is made up of 40,000 troops, though it is unclear how many troops will be deployed.

10

Ukraine has rejected Russia's offer to negotiate, Kremlin spokesman says

Kermlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Saturday that Ukraine had rejected a Russian offer to begin negotiations. Peskov said Russia had halted its offensive on Friday to give Ukraine's government time to consider the offer, but Ukrainian sources reported no such lull in Russia's assault. Ukrainian sources said Friday the two countries were working toward agreeing on a time and place to meet for negotiations. Belarusian news outlet Nexta reported that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to mediate. Russia previously said it was open to negotiating with Ukraine, though the potential settlement Russian President Vladimir Putin outlined came with a number of ultimatums attached.

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