Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: June 20, 2017

Otto Warmbier dies days after his release from North Korea, Supreme Court looks at partisan gerrymandering, and more


Otto Warmbier dies days after release from North Korea

Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student detained in North Korea for nearly a year and a half, died Monday, his family said. Warmbier, 22, had been in a coma since shortly after he tearfully confessed at his March 2016 trial to stealing a propaganda poster in his hotel while on a North Korean tour from China, and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. "Unfortunately, the awful, torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today," his parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier said. Their son appeared "very uncomfortable — almost anguished" — when he arrived, but within a day his expression changed, even though he could not see or speak. "He was at peace," the Warmbiers said. "He was home and we believe he could sense that." President Trump, whom the Warmbiers praised for negotiating their son's release, said: "A lot of bad things happened, but at least we got him home to be with his parents."


Supreme Court to consider constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering

The Supreme Court said Monday that it would consider whether the partisan gerrymandering of election maps violates the Constitution. The high court has invalidated state electoral maps in the past because they were found to have been drawn to weaken the influence of minority voters, but it has never found voting districts to be unconstitutional because they favored one party over the other. Now the justices have agreed to review a Wisconsin case in which a divided three-judge panel last year ruled that the state's Republican-led legislature drew up a plan in 2011 that was so unfair to Democrats that it violated the Constitution's protections regarding free speech and equal rights. "The threat of partisan gerrymandering isn't a Democratic or Republican issue; it's an issue for all American voters," said Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center, and former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission. "Across the country, we're witnessing legislators of both parties seizing power from voters in order to advance their purely partisan purposes."


Georgia voters head to polls in special election seen as 2018 bellwether

Voters go to the polls Tuesday to fill the House seat left vacant when Tom Price became secretary of health and human services, with Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel locked in an extremely close race in the traditionally conservative district. Ossoff, 30, led all candidates with 48 percent in the first round of the vote, falling just short of the majority he needed to win the seat without a runoff. The seat in Atlanta's suburbs has been in the GOP's hands since 1979, and the result will be interpreted as an indication of how the early months of the Trump presidency has affected the prospects of Democrats and Republicans heading toward the 2018 midterm elections. Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, has been highly critical of Trump, who this week tweeted his endorsement of Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state. The race has become the most expensive campaign for a House seat in U.S. history.


Russia issues warning to U.S. after Syrian warplane shot down

Russia on Monday warned that it would treat U.S. military aircraft as potential targets in parts of Syria in response to the shooting down of a Syrian fighter jet by an American warplane. The U.S. said it would continue to conduct air operations over Syria, and do whatever was necessary to protect coalition forces fighting the Islamic State. The Pentagon said the Syrian plane that was shot down had launched a strike against local forces allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS near Raqqa, the Islamist extremist group's de facto capital. "The escalation of hostilities among the many factions that are operating in this region doesn't help anybody," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. "And the Syrian regime and others in the regime need to understand that we will retain the right of self-defense, of coalition forces aligned against ISIS."


Democrats protest secretive drafting of Senate health bill

Senate Democrats on Monday used a flurry of floor motions and long speeches to criticize Republicans for meeting behind closed doors to put together a proposal to replace ObamaCare. Democrats called for holding open committee hearings and giving time for other lawmakers to examine the bill and come up with proposed amendments. The Senate's GOP leadership is vowing to hold a vote within two weeks, but Democrats and many Republicans still have not seen a draft. "Republicans are writing their health-care bill under the cover of darkness because they are ashamed of it," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said, adding that he expected the bill to threaten the coverage of millions of Americans while giving "a big fat tax break for the wealthiest among us." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said committee hearings weren't necessary. "We're going to have a meeting on the Senate floor, all hundred of us, with an unlimited amendment process," McConnell said.


Congressional letter: Flynn didn't report Saudi lobbying trip

Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, apparently failed to report a 2015 trip to Saudi Arabia in which he sought support for a U.S.-Russia business plan to build nuclear reactors, according to a letter released Monday and signed by Democratic members of the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees. The letter, sent to the Flynn Intel Group and two other businesses involved with the Saudi deal, asks why Flynn did not mention this trip and underreported another trip on his January 2016 application to renew his federal security clearance. Flynn said he took the second trip to Saudi Arabia to speak at a conference, but the letter says the hotel he claimed to stay at doesn't seem to exist. Flynn is being looked at as part of the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.


Man dies after ramming Paris police vehicle

A man who had been flagged for extremism died on Monday when he rammed into a police vehicle in Paris, and his explosives-laden car burst into flames. The suspect's Renault vehicle was carrying two gas canisters. Several police officers rushed to smash the burning vehicle's windows and pull the man out. Other officers used fire extinguishers to put out the fire. "When it exploded we all looked to see where it came from," witness Leonard Odihe said. "We all thought it was a terrorist attack, especially when they took the man out of the car. He was armed and there was also a gun in the car in the back seat." Authorities opened a terrorism investigation. They did not name the suspect, but said he was 31 years old and lived in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil.


GOP consultants left data on nearly every U.S. voter exposed online

Political consultants that worked for the Republican National Committee left detailed information on nearly every U.S. voter exposed online for nearly two weeks, said researcher Chris Vickery of the cybersecurity firm UpGuard. Vickery said he notified law enforcement officials after coming across the unprotected files of 198 million voters in a routine internet scan last week. The high level of detail and the sheer quantity of information, which included facts in dozens of categories on GOP, Democrat, and independent voters, provided a rare look at the expanding capabilities of data-mining used by political campaigns.


Regulators try to block merger of fantasy sports leaders DraftKings and FanDuel

Regulators on Monday moved to block the merger between DraftKings Inc. and FanDuel, saying that combining the fantasy sports companies would hurt competition. The Federal Trade Commission, joined by the attorneys general of California and the District of Columbia, will file a lawsuit asking for a court injunction. DraftKings, which is based in Boston, is the biggest fantasy sports business by revenue, and FanDuel, based in Scotland, is second. The companies said in a joint statement that they would "work together to determine our next steps." "We are disappointed by this decision and continue to believe that a merger is in the best interests of our players, our companies, our employees, and the fantasy sports industry," they said.


Coroner: Carrie Fisher died of sleep apnea but had drugs in her system

Carrie Fisher's autopsy released Monday revealed that the author and Star Wars actress had drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy, in her system when she fell ill in December, although sleep apnea was the primary cause of death. The coroner's report listed the drug cocktail as a contributing factor, but coroners said they were unable to determine how big a role the drugs played because they had to rely on limited toxicology specimens since Fisher's family did not want a full autopsy. Fisher died four days after suffering cardiac arrest on a flight from London to Los Angeles. Her assistant, who was on the plane with her, said Fisher appeared normal when the flight began, but she had "multiple apneic episodes" during the flight, according to the report.


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