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Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 8, 2019

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Harold Maass
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1.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos accuses National Enquirer publisher of blackmail

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos on Thursday accused the National Enquirer's parent company of "extortion and blackmail." In a post on the Medium blogging platform, Bezos said American Media Inc. threatened to publish intimate images of him after he started investigating how the Enquirer got text messages between him and his girlfriend, former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez. Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, said a lawyer for AMI emailed his representatives saying the company would release the images, including nude selfies, unless he and his security consultant falsely declared that they "have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI's coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces." AMI is led by David Pecker, a longtime friend of President Trump. [CNN, The Washington Post]

2.

Supreme Court blocks Louisiana abortion law

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked Louisiana from enforcing an abortion law requiring providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, which could leave just one doctor legally allowed to do the procedures in the state. Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the court's liberal members in the 5-4 vote. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who replaced longtime abortion swing vote Anthony Kennedy, sided with the conservatives, writing that he would have let the law take effect to see whether it burdened women's access to abortion. The decision did not address the legal merits of the challenge to the law, although it showed that the majority questioned whether it was constitutional. The court, with Kennedy joining the majority, struck down a similar Texas law in 2016. [NBC News]

3.

Virginia political scandals continue to spread

The scandals plaguing the Virginia political world continued to spread on Thursday, with a report in The Virginian-Pilot that state Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R) was a top editor of a 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook that featured numerous racist photos, including some showing young white men in blackface. The revelation came as Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, resisted calls to resign over an image on his 1984 medical school yearbook showing a photo of a man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. State Attorney General Mark Herring, also a Democrat, admitted dressing in blackface at a party during his college years. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) has been accused of sexual assault, although he says the 2004 encounter was consensual. [The Virginian-Pilot]

4.

Whitaker agrees to testify before House panel after clash

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said late Thursday that he would testify before Congress as scheduled on Friday, after threatening to stay away unless Democrats assured him they would not subpoena him. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, broke the impasse by saying he would not issue a subpoena while Whitaker testifies. Whitaker's resistance came after Democrats on the panel voted to give their chairman authority to issue a subpoena. The clash was the latest in a series of signs that Democrats plan to use control of the House, which they won in the November midterm elections, to push back against the power of the Trump administration. Democrats on the panel want to ask Whitaker about his discussions with President Trump about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. [The Washington Post]

5.

Senate panel advances attorney general nomination

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday backed President Trump's nominee for attorney general, William Barr, in a 12-10 party-line vote, sending him to the Senate for a confirmation vote. Barr was easily confirmed as attorney general under the late former President George H.W. Bush. He is expected to get the 60 votes he needs to be confirmed this time, too, although some Democrats remain opposed due to what they see as insufficient assurances that he will protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by Trump campaign associates. Barr previously criticized some aspects of the Mueller inquiry. Democrats also were disappointed he did not commit during his confirmation hearing to releasing Mueller's report. [CNN, Bloomberg]

6.

Ocasio-Cortez releases Green New Deal plan

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Thursday revealed a "Green New Deal" proposal aimed at reorganizing the economy to fight climate change. The lawmakers introduced a non-binding resolution on Capitol Hill, urging Congress to launch a "10-year national mobilization" to divest from fossil fuels and prioritize sustainability and job creation "on a scale not seen since World War II." The plan calls for investments in renewable energy and infrastructure to aid communities that "may otherwise struggle with the transition away from greenhouse gas intensive industries." Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are co-sponsoring the resolution. Critics like Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) say it's too ambitious, calling it "extremely unrealistic" and "impossible." [Politico]

7.

John Dingell, longest-serving House member ever, dies at 92

Former Rep. John Dingell, the country's longest-serving congressman, died on Thursday after battling cancer and heart issues. He was 92. A Democrat from Michigan, the World War II veteran was first elected to Congress in 1955, taking over the seat his father held for two decades. He retired in January 2015 at age 88 after helping write major environmental, energy, civil rights, and health-care legislation. He was also a champion of the automotive industry. Once he announced his retirement, Dingell's wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), said she would run for his seat, and was elected in 2014. Dingell spent the last several years active on Twitter, commenting on politics and sports. [MLive]

8.

Baseball trailblazer Frank Robinson dies at 83

Frank Robinson, the first black manager in Major League Baseball, died Thursday at age 83 in his home in Los Angeles. He had been in failing health and was in hospice care. Robinson was a Triple Crown winner, and the only player to earn the award as MVP in both the American and National leagues. The All-Star outfielder hit 586 home runs, ranking him in fourth place on the all-time list when he retired, behind Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays. He now ranks No. 10. "Frank Robinson's resume in our game is without parallel, a trailblazer in every sense, whose impact spanned generations," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. Aaron tweeted that Robinson "did things on the field that people said could never be done." [The Associated Press]

9.

Record 4,200 firearms found at airport checkpoints last year

A record 4,200 guns were confiscated at U.S. airport checkpoints nationwide last year, according to a government tally released Thursday. The figure marked a 7 percent increase over the previous year. The guns were found at 249 airports, according to the Transportation Security Administration. The most guns were found in states with loose gun laws in the Sun Belt, from Georgia to Arizona. Guns were found in carry-on bags at Dallas-Fort Worth airport 219 times in 2018. Asked about the rising numbers, TSA Administrator David Pekoske said they probably just reflected a broader trend. "I think more people are just simply carrying weapons in the country," he said. [CBS News]

10.

U.N. investigator says evidence shows Saudi planning of Khashoggi murder

A United Nations investigator said Thursday that evidence from a fact-finding trip to Turkey indicated that Saudi officials "planned and perpetrated" the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year. U.N. special rapporteur Agnes Callamard said the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was "brutal and premeditated," "planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia and others acting under the direction of these State agents." The New York Times, citing current and former officials with knowledge of intelligence findings, reported Thursday that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told a top aide in a conversation in 2017 he would use "a bullet" on Khashoggi unless he returned to the kingdom and stopped criticizing the government. [The Hill, The New York Times]