Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 7, 2017

Hurricane Irma smashes into Caribbean islands with record winds, Trump strikes debt deal with Democrats, and more

1

Hurricane Irma slams Caribbean islands, reducing Barbuda to 'rubble'

Hurricane Irma roared through the northeast Caribbean on Wednesday, lashing Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with top sustained winds of 185 miles per hour. The storm — the strongest ever formed in the open Atlantic — killed at least one person on Barbuda, leaving the tiny island "literally rubble" and "practically uninhabitable," Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said. The storm left at least eight people dead in the French Caribbean island territories. Irma was expected to batter the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas before threatening Florida on Sunday. Some South Florida residents started evacuating Wednesday. Meanwhile, Hurricane Katia in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico threatened Mexico, and Hurricane Jose trailed Irma in the Atlantic.

2

Trump agrees with Dems on short-term debt hike, angering GOP leadership

President Trump on Wednesday bypassed his fellow Republicans and reached a deal with congressional Democrats to increase the federal debt limit and fund the government through Dec. 15. The stopgap spending measure also includes relief money for Houston and other areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Republicans had called for a deal covering spending for up to 18 months, to avoid another spending fight before the midterm elections. GOP lawmakers reportedly were "furious" at Trump for agreeing to Democratic leaders' demands. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called Democratic leaders' proposal a "ridiculous idea" and accused them of trying to "play politics" by attaching Harvey relief to raising the debt ceiling.

3

U.S. pushes for oil embargo and sanctions targeting Kim Jong Un

A draft United Nations Security Council resolution, pushed by the U.S. and seen by Reuters on Wednesday, calls for imposing an oil embargo on North Korea, banning its textile exports, barring North Korean laborers from being hired abroad, and hitting leader Kim Jong Un with an asset freeze and travel ban. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is calling for a Security Council vote on the draft resolution to punish North Korea for its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. It was not immediately clear whether China, North Korea's ally, would go along, and Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, has said holding a vote on Monday would be "a little premature."

4

Facebook says it sold political ads to Russian 'troll farm'

Facebook executives admitted to congressional investigators on Wednesday that the company unknowingly sold $100,000 worth of ads to a Russian "troll farm" during the 2016 presidential campaign, The Washington Post reported, citing people familiar with the discovery. Three thousand ads were traced to the troll farm. They started running in the summer of 2015 and link back to a St. Petersburg company called the Internet Research Agency, which has been known to push Kremlin propaganda. Most of the ads "appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights," according to a blog post by Facebook's chief security officer, Alex Stamos.

5

Pope Francis arrives in Colombia supporting peace deal

Pope Francis arrived in Colombia on Wednesday for a six-day visit urging Colombians to support a controversial peace deal with guerrillas in a country ripped apart over 52 years of war. The peace accords between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym FARC, failed to pass a referendum, but the government reworked it, bypassing voters. The deal has progressed, with 7,000 rebels leaving the jungle and surrendering their weapons, but many Colombians wanted tougher terms. "It's dangerous ground for Pope Francis," said Hosffman Ospino, a Colombian theologian at Boston College. "Half of the country disagrees with the peace process."

6

Israel allegedly hit Syrian base linked to chemical weapons

The Syrian army said Thursday that an Israeli airstrike had hit a military base in western Hama province. The attack reportedly killed two soldiers. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said the strike targeted a facility operated by the Scientific Studies and Research Center, which the U.S. says manufactures chemical weapons. The strike came a day after United Nations investigators said they had concluded that the Syrian government was responsible for an April sarin poison gas attack. Syria's army warned there would be "dangerous repercussions" for the airstrike. An Israeli army spokesman declined to discuss the reported strike.

7

House moves to help companies test self-driving cars

House lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill seeking to give tech companies more leeway to test self-driving cars. The Self Drive Act would let companies developing autonomous vehicles apply for exemptions from state and federal rules on safety and design. The change could let automakers add as many as 100,000 experimental cars to U.S. roads every year, potentially speeding up development of the technology dramatically. The bill also calls for requirements for automakers to be open with consumers and regulators about their plans for protecting privacy and cybersecurity, a major concern because of the ease with which automotive computers can be hacked.

8

Menendez's bribery trial gets underway

Sen. Bob Menendez's (D-N.J.) corruption trial got underway in Newark on Wednesday, with Justice Department prosecutor Peter Koski saying in his opening arguments that Menendez had done government favors for a wealthy friend, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, for years in exchange for lavish gifts. "Menendez went to bat for Dr. Melgen at the highest levels of our federal government for many years," Koski said, "because Melgen gave Menendez access to a lifestyle that reads like a travel brochure for the rich and famous." Menendez's defense attorney, Abbe Lowell, said prosecutors were trying to turn gift-giving that had been common over a 25-year friendship into something it was not. "These two men refer to each other as brothers," Lowell said.

9

South Korea says North Korea preparing for Saturday missile launch

South Korea's prime minister, Lee Nak-yon, said Thursday that his country expects North Korea to launch another intercontinental ballistic missile on Saturday. "The situation is very grave. It doesn't seem much time is left before North Korea achieves its complete nuclear armament," the prime minister said at a meeting of defense ministers in Seoul. "A special measure is urgently needed to stop their recklessness." The comments came shortly after hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police and tried to block a road being used to transport four more THAAD missile interceptor launchers to be set up at a base where two of the launchers were set up in May.

10

Americans take all women's U.S. Open semifinal spots

Madison Keys defeated Kaia Kanepi of Estonia on Wednesday to join fellow Americans Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, and CoCo Vandeweghe in the semifinals of the U.S. Open. It will be the first time Americans have taken all of the final four spots in the tournament since 1981, when Tracy Austin, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, and Barbara Potter did it. It is the first time any country has claimed all four semifinalists at a women's Grand Slam event since Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Zina Garrison and Kathy Rinaldi made the Wimbledon semifinals in 1985. Also on Wednesday, No. 24-seeded Juan Martín del Potro upset third-seeded Roger Federer, dashing expectations of a semifinal clash between Federer and Rafael Nadal, two of tennis' most prolific champions.

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