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10 things you need to know today: September 6, 2018

Harold Maass
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
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1.

Senators grill Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh in confirmation hearing

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh repeatedly stressed the importance of judicial independence in the second day of his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, but dodged senators' questions about limits on executive power and possible legal issues involving President Trump. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Kavanaugh whether "a sitting president [would] be required to respond to a subpoena," but Kavanaugh said he couldn't answer a "hypothetical question." He also faced questions about his past rulings as a judge on abortion and gun rights cases, as well as his role in the Bush administration's development of enhanced interrogation programs. Kavanaugh denied any involvement in those controversial programs, and emphasized that some abortion rights have been "reaffirmed many times." The hearing is expected to last through the week. [The Washington Post]

2.

Anonymous Trump aide's op-ed describes internal resistance

The New York Times on Wednesday published a rare anonymous op-ed in which a "senior official in the Trump administration" said many of President Trump's top aides "are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations." The official, whom the Times said it vetted but kept anonymous to avoid reprisals, said that Trump "does not fully grasp" the extent to which top advisers are trying to counter his "impetuous, adversarial, petty, and ineffective" leadership style. The writer said there were "early whispers within the Cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment" to remove Trump from office, but "no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis" so aides instead are trying to "steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it's over." Trump called the anonymous author "gutless," and called for the Times to "turn over" the source, tweeting, "TREASON?" [The New York Times]

3.

India Supreme Court strikes down 157-year-old gay sex ban

India's Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a 157-year-old law that criminalized gay sex, marking a major victory for gay rights activists in the world's largest democracy. "Respect for individual choice is the essence of liberty," Dipak Misra, India's chief justice, told a packed courtroom. The opinion, read by the chief justice, called the colonial-era law "irrational, arbitrary, and manifestly unconstitutional." The statute, known as section 377, made certain "unnatural offenses," like "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal," punishable by up to 10 years in jail. The law was used primarily against same-sex couples. The Delhi high court struck the law down in 2009, but the Supreme Court reinstated it four years later. [BBC News, The Washington Post]

4.

Facebook, Twitter shares fall as Congress, White House examine social media

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey defended their companies in congressional hearings on Wednesday against complaints about their response to foreign efforts to use social media to influence U.S. elections. Dorsey said in prepared remarks that a few "bad-faith actors were able to game Twitter to have an outsized impact." Sandberg said Facebook should have responded faster to Russian efforts to spread disinformation and sway voters. Facebook shares dropped by 1.6 percent while those of Twitter plunged 5.2 percent. Google-parent Alphabet declined an invitation to testify, but its shares also fell. The Justice Department on Wednesday said it would discuss with state attorneys general this month whether social media platforms were stifling conservative voices, as President Trump has claimed. [Reuters]

5.

Earthquake kills at least 7 in Japan

A 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido early Thursday, causing some buildings to collapse and triggering landslides. The quake knocked out power to three million households and the island's nuclear power plant had to rely on its backup generator. At least seven people were confirmed dead in and around Tomakomai, near the epicenter, and dozens more were feared buried, including people reported missing in the nearby town of Atsuma, where a mudslide crashed down a mountain and destroyed houses below. At least 20 people were injured in surrounding towns. The quake also shook the city of Sapporo, which has 1.9 million people. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said 4,000 self-defense troops were being deployed to Hokkaido for search and rescue operations. [The Associated Press]

6.

First major hurricane of 2018 could hit U.S. next week

Hurricane Florence, the first major hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic season, churned toward the U.S. but remained far out in the Atlantic on Wednesday. The storm reached Category 4 status on Wednesday, with top sustained winds of 130 miles per hour, but it weakened overnight, with its top winds decreasing to 115 mph. It could hit the East Coast next week between the Carolinas and New England, but it also could turn out to sea. "A close encounter with the United States is not unrealistic later next week," Weather Channel hurricane expert Greg Postel said. Tropical Storm Gordon's remnants pushed farther inland after its landfall near the Alabama-Mississippi border. The storm dumped heavy rains and killed at least one person, a child who died in a mobile home hit by a falling tree. [USA Today, National Hurricane Center]

7.

Airliner with dozens of sick passengers quarantined at New York airport

A commercial jet from Dubai was swarmed by police vehicles and quarantined at New York's Kennedy Airport after the pilot reported that several passengers and crew members had flu-like symptoms. The Emirates flight arrived at 9:10 a.m. with 520 passengers on board. Passenger Erin Sykes posted video showing people wearing masks and gloves examining passengers on the tarmac and taking their temperatures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said about 100 people who were on the plane were being checked after complaining of cough, fever, and other signs of illness. The New York Department of Health said 10 patients had been taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in stable condition. There was no immediate evidence of security or terrorism concerns, a government source told CBS News. [CBS News]

8.

U.S. trade deficit widens despite tariffs

The U.S. trade deficit grew in July for the second month in a row, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The import-export gaps with China and the European Union reached record levels despite President Trump's effort to use tariffs and renegotiated trade agreements to pressure trading partners into giving the U.S. more favorable terms. The Commerce Department said the overall deficit in the goods and services America sells and buys from other countries rose to $50.1 billion in July from $45.7 billion in June, reaching its highest level since February. The trade deficit has risen by 7 percent since the first part of 2017. One reason is that the U.S. economy has gained strength, helping Americans buy more imports. [The Associated Press]

9.

Third Philippines mayor killed in two months

An unidentified gunman on Wednesday shot and killed a Philippines mayor accused by President Rodrigo Duterte of involvement in the illegal drug trade. Mariano Blanco, the mayor of the town of Ronda in Cebu province, died after being shot in his office building. Provincial police said they could not immediately identify a suspect or motive. The killing came five months after the town's vice-mayor, Jonah John Ungab, was gunned down, and two months after the mayors of Tanauan and General Tinio were fatally shot. Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili was killed by a sniper at a ceremony outside City Hall, and General Tinio Mayor Ferdinand Bote was fatally shot by a suspect on a motorcycle. Police could not determine whether the killings were linked. [CNN]

10.

Kim calls for 'stronger measures' on denuclearization, South Koreans say

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told visiting South Korean envoys on Wednesday that he was ready to accept "stronger measures" to restrict his country's nuclear program, provided they are met with "matching measures" from the U.S. Kim reportedly told South Korean officials that he has "unwavering trust for President Trump" and wants to "achieve denuclearization" during Trump's current term. If the South Korean account is accurate, Kim's comments would mark his first commitment to a loose timetable. He also wanted a formal declaration ending the Korean War, South Korean officials said. An account of the meeting by North Korean state media said Kim told the envoys he wanted progress on denuclearization, but their version made no mention of Trump or the U.S. [Bloomberg, CNN]