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10 things you need to know today: September 13, 2019

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Harold Maass
Biden and Warren at the debate
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1.

Democratic presidential hopefuls clash in Houston debate

The 10 leading Democratic presidential contenders faced off Thursday night in the party's third round of debates, with frontrunner Joe Biden sparring with leading challengers Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on health care and other hot issues. Biden, who served as Barack Obama's vice president, defended Obama's signature health-care reform law and accused his progressive rivals of hiding the cost of their Medicare-for-all plans. Warren praised ObamaCare, but added, "Now, the question is how best can we improve on it." Biden also focused on Obama's record on such policies as immigration. Another candidate, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, attacked Biden over the Obama administration's deporting of millions of immigrants. The next debate will be Oct. 15-16. [Reuters, The New York Times]

2.

Trump administration rolls back Obama-era water protections

The Trump administration on Thursday announced that it would roll back an Obama-era clean water regulation that limited the use of polluting chemicals near streams and wetlands. The Waters of the United States rule was the latest in a series of environmental regulations that the Trump administration has weakened or eliminated, The New York Times noted. Most of the changes have targeted regulations on fossil fuel pollution, including coal-fired power plants and automobile emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency change, narrowing the definition of protected waters, will give conservative states that consider the Clean Water Act unfair to farmers and industry "an opportunity to really drive a stake through the heart of federal water protection," said Patrick Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at the University of Vermont. [The New York Times]

3.

Report: Federal prosecutors recommend charging Andrew McCabe

Federal prosecutors on Thursday reportedly recommended pursuing unspecified criminal charges against former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whom President Trump has frequently criticized. McCabe was fired in March 2018 days before his retirement after an internal FBI investigation found that he had improperly authorized a leak about a federal investigation of the Clinton Foundation shortly before the 2016 presidential election, and had shown a lack of candor when questioned about the matter. Prosecutors can now bring the case to a federal grand jury in Washington, which would have final say on whether to indict McCabe. [USA Today, The Washington Post]

4.

O'Rourke calls for gun buybacks, vowing to 'take your AR-15'

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke aggressively defended his gun control plan in Thursday's Democratic presidential primary debate, calling for mandatory government buybacks of military-style rifles in response to recent mass shootings. Moderator David Muir asked whether O'Rourke was "proposing taking away their guns," and O'Rourke replied, "Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47." The debate audience applauded, but gun-rights advocates didn't. Texas State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R) tweeted: "My AR is ready for you Robert Francis," using O'Rourke's given name. O'Rourke tweeted back: "This is a death threat, Representative. Clearly, you shouldn't own an AR-15 — and neither should anyone else." A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 46 percent of Americans, mostly Republicans and independents, oppose such buybacks, while 45 percent support them. [NPR, Fox News]

5.

HUD watchdog finds no evidence of misconduct in Carson furniture purchase

The Department of Housing and Urban Development's internal watchdog said Thursday that a year-long investigation had uncovered no evidence that Secretary Ben Carson did anything improper in connection with a $31,000 order to replace dining furniture in his office suite, The Washington Post reported Thursday. "We found no evidence indicating that either Secretary or Mrs. Carson exerted improper influence on any departmental employee in connection with the procurement," said the HUD inspector general's office in a copy of the report obtained by the Post. The order was canceled after a backlash. The HUD watchdog started the investigation after critics accused Carson of violating federal appropriations law by buying furniture worth more than $5,000 without notifying congressional appropriators. [The Washington Post]

6.

Alleged El Paso gunman indicted on capital murder charges

A grand jury has indicted Patrick Crusius, the confessed gunman accused of killing 22 people at an El Paso Walmart, on capital murder charges, El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza announced Thursday. Crusius could be sentenced to death, or life in prison without parole, if convicted. Minutes before the Aug. 3 mass shooting, Crusius posted a four-page manifesto online ranting against immigrants and vowing to stop a "Hispanic invasion of Texas." Crusius surrendered after the killings and said he was targeting Mexicans, police said. "I'm not God, but someone that crazy, someone who was hunting us down like goats, deserves the highest punishment," said Geremias Veloz Rocha, 67, who took cover behind shopping carts during the shooting. "Capital murder is right." [The Dallas Morning News]

7.

Federal deficit exceeds $1 trillion for first time in 7 years

The federal deficit rose to nearly $1.07 trillion in August, exceeding the trillion-dollar level for the first time in seven years, the Treasury Department said Thursday. The shortfall for August alone was more than $214 billion. The total is up by 19 percent over the same point in 2018, with one month left in the fiscal year. In 2018, the deficit for the full year was $898 billion. President Trump campaigned promising to eliminate the deficit, saying economic growth would pay for his tax cuts and spending plans. Revenue increased in 2019 to roughly $280 billion per month, but spending rose, too. The national debt has increased by 13 percent under Trump to $22.5 trillion. [CNBC, CNN]

8.

NTSB: California dive boat lacked overnight watch before deadly fire

The Conception dive boat didn't have a required roving crew member on watch when a fire erupted on the boat on Labor Day, sinking the vessel and killing 34 people, according to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board. "Part of the certificate for this vessel required that there be constantly a roving watch person to keep an eye on the safety of the vessel," NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said. "The interviews, to this point, have indicated that the five surviving crew members were in fact asleep at the time that the fire broke out." Crew members woke up in time to escape, but all of the passengers were asleep below deck and died. A lawyer for boat owner Truth Aquatics said a crew member checked on the area where the fire was believed to have been concentrated about a half-hour before it erupted. [CNN]

9.

Bowen Yang joins Saturday Night Live as first Asian cast member

Saturday Night Live announced three new cast members Thursday, including Bowen Yang, whose hiring makes history, as NBC News writes he's the show's first full-time East Asian cast member. Yang joined SNL in 2018 as a writer and has appeared on the air, in March playing Kim Jong Un in a sketch. As Yang is openly gay, IndieWire writes that he is also "only the third out gay male cast member in the show's history," with the first two being Terry Sweeney and John Milhiser. Alongside Yang, Chloe Fineman and Shane Gillis were also tapped as cast members Thursday. The premiere of SNL's 45th season, which will be hosted by Woody Harrelson, is set for Sept. 28. [NBC News]

10.

New storm warning issued in Bahamas, including islands hit by Dorian

A weather system that could become a tropical storm that would be named Humberto is developing in the Bahamas near Florida. Forecasters warn it could affect parts of the Southeast within days. The biggest short-term concern is that the system could bring strong winds and up to 3 inches of rain to parts of the northwestern Bahamas that were devastated by deadly Hurricane Dorian, the National Hurricane Center said. Tropical storm warnings were issued for the northwest Bahamas, including the Dorian-ravaged Abaco Islands, for late Friday. It was not immediately clear where the storm would head after the Bahamas. Forecasters said it could go up the Florida coast or the center of the state, cross the peninsula into the northeast Gulf of Mexico, or veer out to sea. [The Washington Post, NBC News]