Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 11, 2018

Harold Maass
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Hurricane Florence prompts mass evacuations in Virginia, Carolinas

Authorities in the Carolinas and Virginia ordered 1.5 million people to evacuate coastal areas as Hurricane Florence intensified to become a potentially disastrous Category 4 storm with top sustained winds near 140 miles per hour with stronger gusts. "We do not want to risk one South Carolina life in this hurricane," Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina said on Monday as he ordered more than a million people to evacuate eight coastal counties and head inland. The storm was still 1,000 miles southeast of Cape Fear, N.C., early Tuesday, but the region is bracing for it to make landfall, most likely somewhere in the Carolinas, on Thursday or Friday, threatening to do widespread damage with high winds, heavy rains, and storm surge. "We're in the bull's-eye," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. [The New York Times, The Washington Post]


U.S. working on second summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that the White House is working on plans for a second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Kim requested the meeting in a "very warm, very positive" letter delivered to Trump through the State Department, she said. Sanders added that the White House "won't release the full letter unless the North Korean leader agrees that we should," although she said the Trump administration is "open to and are already in the process of coordinating" a second summit. Trump and Kim met in Singapore in their first summit, which was held in June. Kim committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, although since then experts have said Pyongyang has failed to take concrete steps toward unwinding the country's nuclear weapons program. [Politico]


Bolton warns another Syria chemical attack would prompt 'much stronger' U.S. response

National Security Adviser John Bolton said Monday that the U.S. is working with France and the U.K. on plans for a coordinated attack against Syrian President Bashar al Assad's government if it uses chemical weapons in an expected offensive in Idlib province. The U.S. conducted airstrikes against the regime in April 2017 and April 2018 after Assad was accused of using chemical weapons against civilians. "We've tried to convey the message in recent days that if there's a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger," Bolton said. Russia has already launched 70 airstrikes in the province and the Syrian government has dropped dozens of barrel bombs. An estimated three million civilians and 70,000 opposition fighters are in Idlib, the last rebel-held part of Syria. [The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider]


GOP governor candidate resigns from Congress

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) resigned from Congress on Monday to focus on his close race against Democrat Andrew Gillum, Tallahassee's mayor. In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), DeSantis said that since he would miss most of the House sessions before the November elections it would be "inappropriate for me to accept a [congressional] salary." DeSantis' term ends in January. DeSantis faced criticism last month after making a remark about Gillum, who is black, that critics said was racially tinged, although he denied that was his intention. On Monday, The Washington Post reported that DeSantis had spoken at events organized by a conservative columnist who once said African Americans owe their freedom to whites. [Reuters]


Sanders slams media over anonymous sources in first briefing in three weeks

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday criticized the media for using anonymous sources. In her first press briefing in nearly three weeks, Sanders called veteran reporter Bob Woodward "careless and reckless" for using anonymous sources in his new book, Fear, and suggested that many of his quotes are false. Woodward has said he has tapes of all his interviews. The White House additionally doubled down on criticism of the "gutless" anonymous author of a New York Times op-ed that described internal "resistance" in the administration; some conservatives have taken to arguing that the writer may not even exist. The Times has said that it knows the identity of the author but withheld it to protect his or her position within the Trump administration. [CNN]


Trump administration orders Washington PLO office closed

The Trump administration announced Monday that it will close the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization, citing a lack of progress toward peace talks with Israel. "The Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel," National Security Adviser John Bolton said. The move marked the latest effort by the U.S. to increase pressure on Palestinian leaders to commit to negotiations. President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, is spearheading the Trump administration's efforts. Kushner and other administration officials are expected to unveil their peace plan soon. [Politico]


EPA reportedly close to weakening rules on methane emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency could announce as early as this week its plan to roll back Obama-era regulations requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and repair methane leaks, The New York Times reports. Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, and is often released into the atmosphere by leaky oil and gas wells. The Times reviewed documents showing that the EPA will propose weakening the requirements that oil and gas drillers perform leak inspections every six months and repair any leaks detected within 30 days, making it so they only have to do inspections every one or two years and make repairs within 60 days. The proposal also lets energy companies follow state methane standards rather than federal rules. [The New York Times]


Judge issues gag order, denies bail pending accused Russian agent's trial

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan on Monday ordered accused Russian agent Mariia Butina to remain in detention pending her trial, rejecting a defense motion to release her and citing the risk she would flee the U.S. The judge also imposed a gag order on lawyers on both sides of the case. She said Butina's defense lawyers were hurting Butina's chances at a fair trial by "trying this case in the media." She also criticized prosecutors, who days earlier walked back the claim that Butina, a 29-year-old gun rights activist, had traded sex for access to conservative political organizations. The government said in court documents filed last week that it misinterpreted Butina's texts to a friend. Judge Chutkan said she was "dismayed" by the error. [USA Today, The New York Times]


Trump to mark 9/11 anniversary at Pennsylvania memorial

President Trump will mark the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on Tuesday by visiting the memorial in the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, field where one of the hijacked planes crashed. "Certainly the focus will be on remembering that horrific day and remembering the lives that were lost, and certainly honoring the individuals who were not only lost that day, but also put their lives of the line to help in that process," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. Vice President Mike Pence will visit the Pentagon, where another hijacked plane crashed on 9/11. Thousands of 9/11 victims' relatives, survivors, rescuers, and others are expected to attend a ceremony at the World Trade Center, where nearly 3,000 people died when hijackers flew two planes into the twin towers, causing them to collapse. [The Associated Press]


Investors in court against VW seeking $10.7 billion over diesel scandal

Investors, including the California Public Employees' Retirement System, squared off with Volkswagen in German court on Monday, seeking $10.7 billion in compensation for the damage done by the German automaker's diesel emissions scandal. The backlash from VW's attempts to cheat on diesel-emissions tests has cost the company more than $30 billion in penalties so far. On the first day of the trial, the court indicated that some of the 1,670 claims might be too old to be considered, and that several key issues had to be resolved before witnesses testify. Andreas Tilp, a lawyer for some of the plaintiffs, said some of the claims have a good chance. "We are very confident that there will be money at the end of the day," he said. [Los Angeles Times, Reuters]