Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 8, 2016

Congress approves a sweeping bipartisan health-care bill, Trump picks a fossil fuel industry ally to run the EPA, and more


Trump chooses fossil fuel industry ally to head EPA

President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a fossil fuel industry ally, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump's transition team confirmed in a statement Thursday. Pruitt, a Republican, has helped craft his state's legal challenge of President Obama's policies aiming to fight climate change, including regulations pushing power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions scientists blame for warming the planet. Trump said Pruitt was the right choice to transform an agency that has "spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs." Environmentalist groups denounced the choice. The Sierra Club said putting Pruitt in charge of the EPA was like "putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires."


Senate approves major health bill in a final Obama win

The Senate on Wednesday joined the House in approving a sweeping health-care bill that would hike funding for research on Alzheimer's, cancer, and other diseases. The bill, known as the 21st Century Cures Act, also would strengthen mental health care, and provide more federal money to help states fight the opioid epidemic. The legislation includes $1.8 billion to support Vice President Joe Biden's "Cancer Moonshot" initiative to find cancer therapies and prevention. The bill's passage — in a 94-5 Senate vote — marked a final legislative win for President Obama, who promised to sign it, saying the bill "makes important investments that will save lives."


Judge halts Michigan's recount, sealing Trump win

A federal judge on Wednesday halted Michigan's recount of its 4.8 million presidential ballots, effectively ending a longshot attempt to challenge President-elect Donald Trump's victory. U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith, who had ordered the state to start the recount to meet a federal deadline, said he had no reason to go against a state court ruling that Green Party candidate Jill Stein had no standing to demand the recount because she had no chance of winning and therefore was not an "aggrieved" candidate. Stein requested recounts in Michigan, where Trump won by just 10,000 votes, as well as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. All three states would have had to flip to Democrat Hillary Clinton to change the election result.


Trump tweets insult about Carrier union leader who criticized him

On Wednesday evening, President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter to slam Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, right after Jones was on CNN criticizing Trump for raising hopes at the Indiana Carrier plant by inflating the number of jobs saved in the deal Trump helped broker. "Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers," Trump tweeted. "No wonder companies flee country!" In a follow-up tweet, Trump attacked the union, saying: "If United Steelworkers 1999 was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana." Trump "needs to worry about getting his Cabinet filled," Jones told The Washington Post, "and leave me the hell alone."


Trump taps retired Marine general Kelly as Homeland Security chief

President-elect Donald Trump has picked retired Marine Gen. John Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security in his administration, several news outlets reported Wednesday. Kelly's son was killed in combat in Afghanistan, and aides have said Trump wants people on his national security team with insight into the hazards of putting service members in harm's way. Kelly, 66, served in the Marines for four decades before stepping down in February as chief of the U.S. Southern Command. Kelly, who would be the third retired general in Trump's Cabinet, is considered a security hawk, and would be responsible for the agency that would oversee Trump's promised crackdown on illegal immigration.


Two minors charged with arson in deadly Tennessee wildfires

Tennessee authorities on Wednesday arrested two juveniles on arson charges for allegedly starting wildfires that killed 14 people. Investigators did not identify the suspects because they are minors. The youths are from Tennessee but not Sevier County, which suffered the greatest damage from the fires that raced through Great Smoky Mountains National Park and nearby areas. More charges are possible, investigators said. The Chimney Tops 2 fire, the biggest one, has burned more than 17,000 acres and remains just 64 percent contained after two weeks.


Italian prime minister officially resigns

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi resigned Wednesday evening, as promised, after Parliament approved the country's 2017 budget. Renzi vowed to step down after voters rejected constitutional reforms he pushed in a referendum on Sunday, but Italy's president, Sergio Mattarella, had demanded Renzi stick around until the budget was passed. Mattarella has also asked Renzi to stay on as a caretaker until a new government is in place. If Renzi's Democratic Party, which has the biggest bloc in Parliament, can pull together a new coalition government, Mattarella can avoid dissolving the legislature and calling early elections.


Sandy Hook denier accused of threatening parent whose child was killed

A Florida woman who denies that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre really happened was arrested this week and charged with threatening a parent whose child was killed in the December 2012 attack. Lucy Richards, 57, allegedly sent the parent threatening texts, saying, "You gonna die, death is coming to you real soon," according to the indictment. "Richards' belief that the school shooting was a hoax and never happened motivated her to make the charged threats," the U.S. Attorney's Office said. Twenty children and six adults were killed in the shooting at the Newtown, Connecticut, school.


Ohio lawmakers pass nation's strictest anti-abortion bill

Ohio lawmakers have passed the most strict anti-abortion bill in the nation, known as the "heartbeat bill." The measure would ban abortions in the state as soon as a fetus' heartbeat can be detected. That typically occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy, although many women are unaware they're pregnant until about the eighth week. Courts have found similar measures in other states unconstitutional, but Ohio Republican lawmakers pushed it through, emboldened by President-elect Donald Trump's vow to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion rights ruling. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is pro-life, has 10 days to veto or sign the bill. The American Civil Liberties Union has vowed to challenge the measure if it becomes law.


Fighting continues in Aleppo despite rebels' call for ceasefire

Syrian rebels proposed a ceasefire for the besieged city of Aleppo on Wednesday, but government forces ignored it and continued taking back opposition-controlled neighborhoods. In danger of being overrun, rebel factions pitched a five-day truce to evacuate the wounded and let trapped civilians get out of the divided city. "The humanitarian situation is really tough," one resident told The Associated Press. "There are corpses on the streets." Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected the prospect of a ceasefire, saying a victory for his forces in Aleppo would be a "huge step" to ending the country's civil war.


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