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Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 5, 2018

Harold Maass
dit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images) ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images
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1.

'Bomb cyclone' slams the Northeast with deadly blizzard

A violent winter storm — dubbed Winter Storm Grayson — slammed New England with blizzard conditions and near hurricane-like wind gusts on Thursday. Forecasters called the storm a "bomb cyclone" because its rapidly dropping pressure caused it to explode with greater force as it headed north after bringing rare snowfall as far south as northern Florida. The storm brought near-record high tides to Boston, flooding downtown streets and stranding some motorists. It hit parts of New Jersey and Delaware with whiteout conditions, and forced authorities to cancel flights and close schools along the East Coast. At least six weather-related deaths were reported. [USA Today, The Weather Channel]

2.

Interior secretary proposes opening nearly all U.S. waters to drilling

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Thursday that the Trump administration is proposing to expand areas open to offshore oil and natural gas drilling, including nearly all of the nation's outer continental shelf in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The proposal would lift a drilling ban imposed by former President Barack Obama in his final days in office to protect more than 100 million offshore acres in the Arctic and off the Eastern Seaboard. Environmentalists said the move would amount to a massive giveaway to oil and gas companies that would spell environmental disaster. Zinke said the change would help make the U.S. "the strongest energy superpower," drawing a clear line between the "energy weakness" of Obama and the "energy dominance" of Trump. [The Hill, The New York Times]

3.

Trump administration suspends military aid to Pakistan, saying it harbors terrorists

The Trump administration is suspending $255 million in military assistance to Pakistan in a bid to force the country, a key counterterrorism ally, to crack down on Islamist militants the U.S. blames for attacks in neighboring Afghanistan. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday that the administration would hold onto the money and not spend it elsewhere, signaling that Pakistan might recover the aid if it takes new steps to rein in the militants. President Trump telegraphed the move with a recent tweet saying that the U.S. was getting nothing in return for the money it sends Pakistan. [The Washington Post]

4.

Sessions reverses Obama-era policy deferring to states that legalized pot

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday announced that the Trump administration was scrapping an Obama-era policy that let states legalize marijuana without fear of significant oversight or interference by federal law enforcement. Sessions said local prosecutors will now be able to decide whether to enforce federal law prohibiting the use and sale of marijuana, even in states where it has been legalized. The move came three days after a new law took effect legalizing recreational marijuana sales in California, the largest state to legalize the drug. The new plan drew swift criticism. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said the Justice Department "has trampled on the will of the voters" in Colorado and other states. [The Associated Press]

5.

Republican wins drawing to break tie, tip Virginia House of Delegates to GOP

Virginia election officials on Thursday declared Republican incumbent David Yancey the winner of a tied election that could determine whether Republicans hold onto their majority in the House of Delegates. Democrat Shelly Simonds, who held a one-vote lead until a court restored a contested ballot for Yancey, is entitled as loser of the tie-breaking drawing to request a second recount. That would leave the race up in the air, with Republicans holding a 50-49 majority in the House of Delegates when legislature reconvenes next week. "This is a sad conclusion for me," Simonds said after the drawing, suggesting she might call for another recount. "All options are on the table." [The Washington Post]

6.

U.S. imposes sanctions on five entities linked to Iran's missile program

The Treasury Department on Thursday announced that it was imposing sanctions on five Iranian entities linked to Tehran's ballistic missile program, including Iran's Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group, which develops and makes missiles. The move came following Trump administration statements supporting anti-government protesters in Iran. The sanctions came days ahead of a Jan. 11 deadline for President Trump to decide whether to continue waiving sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal, which must be renewed every four months. [Politico, Treasury Department]

7.

North Korea accepts South Korea's offer of talks

North Korea has accepted South Korea's invitation to discuss ways to cooperate on the Winter Olympics, and agreed to meet at the border village of Panmunjom on Tuesday, South Korea's Unification Ministry announced Friday. This will be their first formal dialogue in more than two years. The news came after President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed in a Thursday phone call to postpone annual joint military exercises until after the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, a mountainous part of South Korea near the North Korean border. The White House said in a statement that the two leaders agreed it would be best to "de-conflict" the Games by holding the military drills, which North Korea sees as hostile, after the athletes leave. [The Associated Press, The Washington Post]

8.

Publisher moves up book release after Trump threat

The publisher of Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff's new book about President Trump, moved up its release to Friday, Jan. 5, rather than next Tuesday, "due to unprecedented demand." The change came after one of Trump's personal attorneys sent a cease-and-desist letter to Wolff and his publisher, Henry Holt, saying that book excerpts already released contain "false/baseless statements" and demanding that they not release the book. "Here we go," Wolff tweeted. "You can buy it (and read it) tomorrow. Thank you, Mr. President." Trump's lawyers also sent a letter to former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, whom Wolff quoted in excerpts published this week, demanding that he stop making disparaging comments about Trump, his White House, and his family. [CNN Money, ABC News]

9.

Trump ordered lawyer to stop Sessions from recusing himself from Russia inquiry

President Trump in March directed his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself in the Justice Department's investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by Trump campaign associates, The New York Times and The Associated Press reported Thursday, citing sources with knowledge of the matter. McGahn's conversation with Sessions occurred just before Sessions announced he would hand over supervision of the inquiry to someone else, saying he could not oversee an investigation into a campaign he actively supported. Trump reportedly erupted in anger in front of White House aides, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. [The New York Times, The Associated Press]

10.

Kalanick sells 29 percent of his Uber stake to SoftBank consortium

Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick, who was ousted as chief executive in June, is selling 29 percent of his stake in the ride-hailing company for about $1.4 billion, Reuters reported Thursday, citing a person familiar with the matter. The sale is part of a deal in which investors led by Japan's SoftBank Group are buying a 17.5 percent stake in Uber, mostly by purchasing shares from Uber employees and early investors. Kalanick had offered to sell half of his 10 percent stake in the company, but SoftBank didn't need that much. The deal values Uber at $48 billion, a 30 percent discount on a previous valuation of $68 billion. [Reuters]