Biden special counsel report fallout and celebrating Lunar New Year: Morning Rundown

President Joe Biden blasts special counsel’s assertion that he presents as an ”elderly man with a poor memory.” A new study sheds light on teen drug use. And a student survives being shot in the head through her bedroom wall.

Here’s what to know today.

Biden blasts special counsel’s mental fitness assessment

Hours after special counsel Robert Hur released a report in Joe Biden‘s classified documents case, the president delivered an unexpected speech at the White House to address charges that he suffers from memory loss.

“How in the hell dare he raise that?” Biden said, referring to Hur’s assertion that he didn’t remember when his son Beau died.

In the report, Hur concluded that Biden “willfully retained” classified materials after his vice presidency, and his actions presented “serious risks to national security” for his handling of classified documents. But Hur declined to prosecute him. Part of the reason why was that the president could portray himself as an “elderly man with a poor memory” who would be sympathetic to a jury.

The report refers to several moments during interviews with the president when he appeared to have difficulty remembering important details about his life. “He did not remember when he was vice president,” the report said, in addition to the timing of his son’s death and a debate about Afghanistan.

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Biden, who is 81, first responded to Hur’s report earlier in the afternoon, expressing satisfaction that no charges were brought. However, White House officials concluded Thursday evening that Biden needed to address the special counsel’s most damning allegations head-on and express his anger directly, two people familiar with the decision said.

In his speech, Biden said, “I don’t need anyone to remind me when he passed away,” referring to Beau. He later declared, “My memory’s fine,” in response to a reporter’s post-speech question. When addressing another reporter’s question about the Israel-Hamas war, Biden mistakenly referred to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi as the president of Mexico, the third time he has mixed up world leaders this week.

Read the full story here.

Trump glides to victory in Nevada caucuses

Former President Donald Trump basked in his fourth victory on the road to a Republican presidential nomination, claiming all 26 of Nevada’s delegates in the state’s GOP-run caucuses last night. Trump faced no major competition after most of his opponents dropped out of the race. Nikki Haley competed in the state-run GOP primaries earlier this week but lost by at least 30 points to “none of these candidates.” Ahead of yesterday’s contest, Trump held rallies in Las Vegas, where he told voters the primary “doesn’t mean anything” and instead urged them to vote in the caucuses. Trump also picked up a caucus victory in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The next stop for the Republican primaries is Haley’s home state of South Carolina.

Supreme Court dodges the insurrection question

During yesterday’s oral arguments in the Supreme Court over Colorado voters’ efforts to kick Trump off the Republican primary ballot, justices asked little about a key question: Was Jan. 6 an insurrection?

Instead, the court looks likely to rule in favor of Trump on other grounds

Based on the two-hour argument, it appears that a majority of the justices would find states do not have the authority to enforce Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which bars people who previously held government positions and “engaged in insurrection” from holding federal office. In dodging the insurrection question, justices asked about who gets to decide whether an insurrection took place, with several suggesting states should not have that power.

The only justice to directly press the insurrection question was liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Biden calls Israel’s Gaza offensive ‘over the top’

Biden said Israel’s military offensive in Gaza has been “over the top,’’ offering what appeared to be his most pointed criticism yet of the U.S. ally’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. He added that he was working to secure a sustained pause in the fighting, with a Hamas delegation in Egypt for new hostage talks after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the militant group’s counterproposal and vowed to push for “total victory.’’

The U.S has joined aid groups and United Nations officials voicing mounting fears about an Israeli incursion into Rafah, the Palestinian enclave’s southernmost city where more than a million civilians are sheltering in dire conditions. Deadly new airstrikes hit the overcrowded border city overnight, after the U.S. warned that a ground offensive into the city without proper planning would be a “disaster.” Follow live updates here.

What the CDC learned about teen drug use

Many teenagers are using drugs and alcohol to cope with anxiety or depression, to relax or to “stop worrying about a problem or forget bad memories,” according to a first-of-its-kind study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this week. The research set out to understand young people’s motivation for using drugs and looked at self-assessments from nearly 16,000 people ages 13 to 18. Among the biggest findings: 73% of teens used drugs as a way “to feel mellow, calm or relaxed;” 44% used them as sleep aids or to forget a problem or bad memories; and 40% used to cope with depression or anxiety.

Experts say the findings are consistent with previous research but fear the deadly risks of teens using drugs alone, especially considering the spread of counterfeit prescription pills laced with illegal drugs.

Ukraine’s dramatic military leadership shakeup

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy replaced his top general, army Cmdr. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, after days of speculation and months of reported tension. It’s not clear whether Zaluzhnyi was fired or resigned — only that the shift came after a discussion of “urgent changes” needed in the army, according to a Telegram post from Zelenskyy. Now leading the country’s military through a faltering counteroffensive is Col. Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces. Zelenskyy’s decision could raise questions from Western allies and fuel backlash at home, where his popularity is slipping.

More on the Russia-Ukraine war:

  • Vladimir Putin sat down with Tucker Carlson in his first interview with Western media since his troops invaded Ukraine in 2022. The Russian president covered a variety of topics but broke little new ground. Here’s a recap.

  • Aging infrastructure and a wave of accidents have left Russians freezing, revealing anger and frustration in a country where public criticism has been increasingly quashed.

Police close case of two friends slain in Georgia

Family members of two women and close friends who were gunned down in front of their home office are furious at Georgia authorities’ decision to close an investigation into a mysterious pair of shootings, which also left a third person dead. “They didn’t have enough decency to let the families know the case was closed,” one woman’s niece said. She also claimed the investigation was “riddled with issues and inconsistencies and a lack of attention.” Besides a brief statement on Facebook, the Columbus Police Department has said little else about the case publicly.

Last March, Ronisha “Nikki” Anderson and Juantonja Richmond were found fatally shot. Two days later, Solomon Adams, a convicted sex offender who lived next door, was found dead in his home.

Today’s Talker: The theft of a 200-foot radio tower…

Telecommunication Tower (maumapho / Getty Images)

Telecommunication Tower (maumapho / Getty Images)

… forced a Jasper, Alabama, radio station to go silent and left the station’s manager in disbelief. WJLX general manager Brett Elmore first learned about the crime from a cleaning crew this week. His initial reaction was “What do you mean the tower is gone,” interlaced with a few “colorful words,” he said. While authorities investigate, WJLX is hoping for a quick return to the airwaves.

Politics in Brief

NBC News poll: More people are rating Trump’s presidency as “better than expected” in hindsight and Biden’s presidency as “worse than expected,” according to a survey of voters.

Prescription drug prices: Bipartisan lawmakers sharply criticized the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb at a Senate committee hearing yesterday as the Biden administration tries to bring down the price of the 10 costliest medications for Medicare recipients.

RNC’s future: The Trump campaign has openly signaled the person it would want to lead the Republican National Convention if Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel steps down: Michael Whatley, a North Carolinian with GOP establishment ties that some conservatives find concerning.

Foreign aid: The Senate voted to proceed with a stripped-down $95 billion package that would provide aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan after the chamber rejected a larger bill that included border security.

Trump investigations: A federal investigation was launched after a potential witness against Trump in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case received threats on social media, special counsel Jack Smith’s office said in a new filing.

Staff Pick: It’s the Year of the Dragon

Santiago Mejia / San Francisco Chronicle via AP file

Santiago Mejia / San Francisco Chronicle via AP file

This year, expect a lot of good fortune — but only if you’re harnessing the animal’s most important quality: compassion. Lunar New Year — which includes Chinese New Year, Seollal in Korea, Tet in Vietnam and more — begins tomorrow. The dragon sign is perhaps the most popular zodiac creature, associated with a host of positive qualities such as nobility, wealth and wisdom. “Long-term, it could also be the year in which major conflict can be resolved, if people can focus on empathy,” one expert said. — Jessi Prois, NBC Asian America editorial director

News. Culture. The stories we’re talking about across our communities. Sign up for our newsletter from NBC Asian America.

In Case You Missed It

  • A college student in San Diego survived being shot in the head by an errant bullet that came through her bedroom wall. According to a police report, the bullet was fired by a Marine Corps Cpl. who was arrested on suspicion of negligently discharging a firearm.

  • Buried in ash after Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in A.D. 79, hundreds of papyrus scrolls have kept their secrets hidden for centuries. Now, archeologists have deciphered some of the ancient text with the help of artificial intelligence.

Vesivuis scrolls dating back 2000 years have been decoded.  (Vesuvius Challenge)

Vesivuis scrolls dating back 2000 years have been decoded. (Vesuvius Challenge)

Select: Online Shopping, Simplified

From Apple’s new Vision Pro Headset to algae cooking oil and Owala’s latest water bottle, February has seen some notable releases. Here’s what to shop this month.

Sign up to The Selection newsletter for exclusive reviews and shopping content from NBC Select.

Thanks for reading today’s Morning Rundown. Today’s newsletter was curated for you by Elizabeth Robinson. If you’re a fan, please send a link to your family and friends. They can sign-up here.

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