Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 8, 2017

Irma barrels toward Florida after devastating small Caribbean islands, Senate doubles Trump's relief request, and more 


Irma barrels toward Florida as nations rush relief to Caribbean ‎islands

France, Britain, and the Netherlands on Thursday rushed aid to northeastern Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma, as authorities warned residents on both sides of Florida to prepare to evacuate as the storm approached. Forecasters warned Irma could slam into the Miami area, which has 6 million people, this weekend, and push up the length of the state. Highways were clogged with people heading north to safer ground. Irma's top sustained winds dropped from 185 miles per hour to 155 miles per hour by early Friday, after the storm battered Puerto Rico, leaving nearly half of the island nation without power, and headed toward the Bahamas and Cuba. People on small northeastern Caribbean islands devastated by Irma braced for a possible second blow from Hurricane Jose, barreling in from the east.


Senate approves $15.25 billion Harvey aid and debt-spending package

The Senate on Thursday voted 80-17 to approve a spending deal with $15.25 billion in aid for victims of Hurricane Harvey, nearly doubling the amount requested by President Trump. The bill included Trump's deal with Democrats to raise the federal debt ceiling and keep the government funded through Dec. 8. The stopgap spending package now goes to the House for a Friday vote. The Senate vote came a day after Trump stunned fellow Republicans by backing Democratic leaders' proposal for a short-term spending extension. Republicans had wanted a longer one to avoid having to hold another vote before next year's midterm elections. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) got on board Thursday, saying Trump was avoiding "some partisan fight" in the middle of a hurricane response.


Mexico hit by 8.1-magnitude earthquake

A powerful earthquake struck off Mexico's Pacific Coast late Thursday, killing at least five people and triggering a three-foot tsunami. The U.S. Geological Survey said the temblor's magnitude was 8.1, but President Enrique Pena Nieto said Friday that it was 8.2, which would make it the strongest earthquake to hit Mexico in a century. It hit 60 miles southwest of Pijijiapan, off the coast of Chiapas State near the Guatemala border. The earthquake toppled some houses and was felt in Mexico City, 450 miles from the epicenter. Chiapas Gov. Manuel Velasco urged people near the coast to leave their homes as a precaution as after-shocks continued early Friday.


Trump Jr. says he met Russian lawyer to evaluate Clinton's 'fitness' to lead

Donald Trump Jr. told Senate Judiciary Committee investigators on Thursday that he met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton because he felt "it was important to learn about [Hillary] Clinton's 'fitness' to be president." "To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character, or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out," Trump Jr., President Trump's eldest son, said in a prepared statement. He met behind closed doors with committee staffers and a few senators to discuss his meeting with the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, which he said "provided no meaningful information and turned out not to be about what had been represented."


FBI chief Wray says no 'whiff' of White House interference in Russia inquiry

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday that he had "not detected any whiff of interference" by the White House in the investigation into Russia's 2016 election meddling, and potential collusion by associates of President Trump. The White House has repeatedly denied anyone close to Trump collaborated with Russians. Trump appointed Wray after firing his predecessor, James Comey, in May, admittedly with "this Russia thing" on his mind. Wray's comments during a panel discussion at a national security summit marked the first time he had spoken publicly on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry since replacing Comey. He also said he had "no reason to doubt" intelligence agency reports that Russia tried to influence the election in Trump's favor.


DeVos easing Obama-era sexual violence standards to protect rights of accused

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos promised Thursday to rewrite the rules on handling campus sexual assault to better protect both victims and the accused. DeVos said the Obama administration "failed too many students," and, in an effort to protect victims, pushed colleges to adopt rules that sometimes deprive accused students of their rights. "Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach," she said in an address at George Mason University in Virginia. "With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today." Arne Duncan, who served in DeVos' job in the Obama administration, said the Trump administration "wants to take us back to the days when colleges swept sexual assault under the rug."


Trump administration sides with baker who refused gay couple's cake request

The Trump administration on Thursday filed a brief siding with a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple in 2012. A lower court ruled that the baker, Jack Phillips, violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by turning down a request for a cake from Charlie Craig and David Mullins. Phillips said he would not bake cakes for same-sex couples due to his religious beliefs. "Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights," Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall wrote in the brief.


Appeals court relaxes Trump travel restrictions

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration must let in thousands of vetted refugees who had been blocked by President Trump. The court also said the administration must broaden the list of people who qualify for exemptions from the temporary ban on travel from six Muslim-majority countries. The ban exempts people with a "bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States." The administration said that covered immediate family members and in-laws, but not grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. The appeals panel said the government had not offered a "persuasive explanation" for why a mother-in-law qualified but a grandmother did not. The Justice Department said it would challenge the ruling.


Equifax reports breach affecting 143 million U.S. consumers

Criminal hackers broke into an Equifax web app and accessed Social Security numbers, birth dates, home addresses, and other sensitive personal data of 143 million Americans, nearly half of the U.S. population, the credit reporting agency said Thursday. The breach began in May, and the company discovered it in July. Equifax said its "core database" was not compromised, but hackers can commit identity fraud with the data that was breached. "In addition to the number [of victims] being really large, the type of information that has been exposed is really sensitive," said Beth Givens, executive director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer advocacy group based in San Diego.


Graydon Carter stepping down after 25 years as Vanity Fair editor

Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter told The New York Times that he will be leaving the esteemed magazine after 25 years as its leader. "I want to leave while the magazine is on top," Carter, 68, told the Times. Carter added that he would be spending the next six months on "garden leave," and that he had "the rough architecture" of a future project sketched out, although he did not share details. Under Carter, Vanity Fair scooped the identity of Watergate's Deep Throat and made space for the work of Annie Leibovitz, Fran Lebowitz, James Wolcott, and Dominick Dunne. It isn't clear who will succeed Carter, although he said he has suggestions. "I care about this magazine," Carter said. "I don't want it to go anywhere other than up."


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