Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 31, 2017

Harvey hits new areas with dangerous flooding, Trump urges Congress to get behind his tax overhaul plan, and more


Rains stop in Houston but Harvey hits other areas with flooding

Weakening former Hurricane Harvey, now a tropical depression, pushed northeast into eastern Texas and western Louisiana on Wednesday, threatening new areas with dangerous flooding as waters finally began receding in the devastated Houston area. Dangers continued even in areas where the rain had stopped — two explosions rocked a Houston-area chemical plant that lost power, with officials warning that its volatile chemicals could ignite. Southeast Texas, including Beaumont and Port Arthur, suffered severe flooding. "Our whole city is underwater," said Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Foreman. Harvey has caused at least 37 deaths. Forecasters said the storm would bring 4 to 8 inches of rain from the Louisiana-Texas line into Tennessee and Kentucky through Friday.


Trump says his business and middle-class tax cuts will lift economy

President Trump on Wednesday urged Congress to support his tax overhaul plan, saying, "What could possibly be more bipartisan than allowing families to keep more of what they earn?" Trump, speaking at a Springfield, Missouri, rally, said his plan would boost the middle class by slashing business taxes and bringing back "trillions" in wealth "parked overseas." Trump reiterated he would "ideally" like to lower the business tax from 35 percent to 15 percent. In a statement after Trump's speech, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin did not elaborate on the specifics of the plan and its effects on the nation's debt, but insisted it would create jobs, grow wages, offer tax relief, and make American businesses "more competitive."


Gasoline prices keep climbing as Harvey disruption spreads

Gasoline futures continued to rise overnight, jumping by 7 percent after rising nearly 6 percent on Wednesday as a major pipeline from Houston to the East Coast and another refinery shut down due to flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey. The surge set another two-year high, and pushed down crude oil prices. On Tuesday, refineries capable of pumping out 4.4 million barrels per day — nearly 24 percent of U.S. production — were closed, and Valero shut its Port Arthur facility due to flooding on Wednesday as the storm pushed through eastern Texas and western Louisiana after making its second U.S. landfall. The closings raised the risk of fuel shortages even as the first refineries began reopening, because it can take a week or more to restart plants. Pump prices have risen 7 cents a gallon in the last week.


Kremlin says it received Trump aide's email about real estate project

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that the Kremlin received but did not respond to an email from one of President Trump's lawyers requesting help on a stalled proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign. "This indeed happened," said Dmitry Peskov, a personal spokesman for Putin, during a telephone briefing with Russian and foreign journalists. "But as far as we don't respond to business topics, this is not our job, we did not send a response." In October of 2015, Trump signed a letter of intent with a company hoping to build a Trump-branded building under a licensing deal, Cohen told congressional investigators, but the project was scrapped a few months later for "business reasons."


Suspect in deadly New Mexico library shooting identified

Nathaniel Jouett, the 16-year-old accused of fatally shooting two women and wounding four others at a New Mexico public library this week, told police that he had been planning a shooting for a while. Officers said the suspect said he had been angry since getting kicked out of a school last year, and originally planned to shoot people there. He told officers he didn't know anybody at the Clovis library. "He stated he ended up at the library because he was angry and was either going to kill himself or shoot a bunch of people," an officer wrote in an affidavit. The rampage left circulation assistant Wanda Walters, 61, and Kristina Carter, 48, dead. Jouett told officers he got the two handguns he was carrying when arrested out of his father's safe.


U.S. airstrikes halt ISIS convoy in Syria

The U.S. on Wednesday launched airstrikes in Syria that destroyed a road and stalled an Islamic State convoy offered safe passage under a deal between ISIS and the Lebanese Army, Hezbollah, and the Syrian Army. The convoy carried 308 fighters and 331 civilians, presumably relatives. The U.S. military, angered by the agreement, cratered the road and destroyed a bridge "to prevent that convoy from moving further east" into militant-held territory, said the spokesman for the American-led military coalition in Iraq and Syria, Col. Ryan Dillon. The strikes did not target the convoy, which included buses and ambulances, but did hit some individual vehicles clearly marked as ISIS, Dillon said.


Pentagon admits U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan higher than reported

The Pentagon said Wednesday that the U.S. has more troops in Afghanistan than it has been saying — about 11,000, rather than the often-cited 8,400. "The number 11,000 is an approximation," Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, Jr., the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. "It may be slightly above that, it may be slightly below that, it will certainly vary." The revelation came shortly after President Trump authorized the Pentagon to increase troop strength in Afghanistan in an effort to help Afghan forces push back a resurgent Taliban, as well as Islamic State militants, although no additional forces have been sent in under Trump's policy. The full numbers for U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria remain classified.


FDA approves revolutionary leukemia treatment

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved a revolutionary new type of cancer treatment that genetically modifies the body's own cells. The treatment, known as CAR-T therapy, is the first gene therapy approved in the U.S. and will be used to attack one of the most common childhood cancers, acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Ted Laetsch, a doctor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said that while the long-term success of the treatment is still being studied, a "far higher percentage of patients go into remission with this therapy than anything else we've seen to date with relapsed leukemia."


Judge blocks Texas sanctuary-city ban

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia on Wednesday blocked a new Texas ban on so-called sanctuary cities, questioning its constitutionality. Texas vowed to appeal. The law was supposed to take effect on Friday, but the ruling temporarily suspends it while a lawsuit against it works its way through the courts. The law, known as Senate Bill 4 or S.B. 4, bars cities from limiting immigration enforcement and lets local police officers ask the immigration status of anyone they detain or arrest, threatening penalties against officials who fail to cooperate with so-called immigration detainer requests. The controversial ban has stoked friction between Republican state leaders and Democrats who run major cities, including Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas.


1,000 die as severe monsoon hits India, Bangladesh, and Nepal

The worst monsoon in years hit India, Bangladesh, and Nepal with heavy rains for a second day Wednesday, leaving 1,000 people dead. Flooding filled shantytowns and made roads and railways impassable in India's city of Mumbai. Many of the city's 20 million residents who were stuck in the city overnight had to wade through chest-deep water to get home. India faces regular flooding during the June-to-September monsoon season, but this year's floods have been worse than normal, and forecasters are predicting more rain through the week.


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