Sam's Top 5 Things to Know 02/08/17

1. Yesterday, judges hammered attorneys on both sides of travel ban case

President Donald Trump's travel ban faced its toughest test yet Tuesday as a panel of appeals court judges hammered away at the administration's claim that the ban was motivated by terrorism fears while also directing pointed questions to an attorney challenging the executive order on grounds that it unconstitutionally targeted Muslims.

The contentious hearing before three judges on the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals focused narrowly on whether a restraining order issued by a lower court should remain in effect while a challenge to the ban proceeds. But the judges also jumped into the larger constitutional questions surrounding Trump's order, which temporarily suspended the nation's refugee program and immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries that have raised terrorism concerns.

 The hearing was conducted by phone — an unusual step — and broadcast live on cable networks, newspaper websites and various social media outlets. It attracted a huge audience, with more than 130,000 alone tuned in to the court's YouTube site to hear audio.

A decision by the 9th Circuit was likely to come later this week, court spokesman David Madden said.

2. Betsy Devos has been confirmed as education secretary

Charter school advocate Betsy DeVos won confirmation as education secretary Tuesday by the slimmest of margins, pushed to approval only by the historic tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence.

Two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joined Democrats in a marathon effort to derail the nomination of the wealthy Republican donor. The Senate historian said Pence's vote was the first by a vice president to break a 50-50 tie on a Cabinet nomination.

Despite the win, DeVos emerged bruised from the highly divisive nomination fight. Opposed by half the Senate, she faced criticism, even ridicule for lack of experience and confusion during her confirmation hearing. At one point, she said some schools should have guns because of the threat of grizzly bears.

Pence said, "I wasn't just voting for you. Having seen your devotion to improving the quality of education for some of our most vulnerable children across the nation for so many years, I was also casting a vote for America's children. I can tell you, my vote for Betsy DeVos was the easiest vote I ever cast.”

3. The army is going to allow the completion of the Dakota Access oil pipeline

The Army said Tuesday that it will allow the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline to cross under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota, clearing the way for completion of the disputed four-state project.

However, construction could still be delayed because the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which has led opposition, said it would fight the latest development in court.

The Army intends to cancel further environmental study and allow the Lake Oahe crossing as early as today, according to court documents the Justice Department filed that include letters to members of Congress from Deputy Assistant Army Secretary Paul Cramer.

4. Former Vice President Joe Biden will teach diplomacy at University of Pennsylvania.

The former vice president, who has been out of a job exactly 18 days, has landed a new gig at the University of Pennsylvania, where he will teach a new generation the ins and outs of international diplomacy. Biden will lead the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, a new center focused principally on diplomacy, foreign policy, and national security. The Center will be located in Washington, but the Scranton-born Biden will also have an office on the Penn campus in Philadelphia.

“Joe Biden is one of the greatest statesmen of our times,” said Penn President Amy Gutmann. “In his distinguished career of service to our nation, he has demonstrated a unique capacity to bring people together across divides and to craft constructive responses to some of the toughest and most important policy challenges of our day.”

5. A distracted-driving bill for Minnesota aims 'to stop the carnage on our roads today'

A proposed "Hands Free" bill would prohibit the use of cell phones while driving except for the use of a hands-free device. So far, 14 states and the District of Columbia have laws barring drivers from using hand-held electronics and phones. Safety experts say that even hands-free driving leaves drivers distracted.

The proposed bill won’t increase fines for distracted driving in Minnesota. Under the current anti-texting law, first offenders are hit with a $50 fine, and second-timers face a $250 penalty.

The bill appears to have at least some bipartisan support in the GOP-controlled Legislature. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has not commented on it, but he previously supported increasing fines for texting while driving. It’s unclear where House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, stands on the bill — he did not respond for comment Tuesday.

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