Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 19, 2019

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Harold Maass
Justin Trudeau in Chicago
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1.

Trump says he's increasing Iran sanctions after Saudi oil attack

The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it would "substantially" increase sanctions against Iran following weekend strikes against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the strikes an "act of war," and Saudi Arabia said Wednesday that Iran was "unquestionably" behind the strikes on two of the kingdom's major oil production facilities. Saudi officials said surveillance video showed the drone coming from the north, not from Yemen, where Houthi rebels had claimed responsibility for the attack. The kingdom said the weapon is the same kind that has been used by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Tehran has denied involvement, and reportedly warned it would retaliate against any U.S. action. President Trump has not provided details on the new sanctions. [The Associated Press, Al Jazeera]

2.

Canada's Trudeau apologizes after brownface photo surfaces

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized Wednesday after Time published a 2001 photo showing him wearing brownface makeup at an Arabian Nights-themed gala at the expensive private school where he was then a teacher. "I'm really sorry," he said. "I didn't consider it racist at the time, but now we know better." Trudeau also admitted he wore blackface while singing "Day-O" at a talent show when he was in high school. The news came a week after Trudeau kicked off his re-election campaign. He faces a challenge from Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who called the brownface photo "an act of open mockery and racism." National Council of Canadian Muslims' executive director, Mustafa Farooq, called the image "deeply saddening" and thanked Trudeau for his apology. [Time, The Washington Post]

3.

Report: Trump 'promise' to foreign leader led to intel whistleblower complaint

A whistleblower complaint filed Aug. 12 by an official in the U.S. intelligence community involves President Trump's communications with a foreign leader, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing two former U.S. officials. During the interaction, Trump made a "promise" to the leader that the whistleblower found troubling enough to file the complaint to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson. Atkinson deemed the matter of "urgent concern," a classification that normally requires notifying Congress. He submitted the matter to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, but Maguire refused to share the information with lawmakers after asking Justice Department officials for legal guidance. Atkinson finally told Congress about the complaint, though not its contents. The White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment. [The Washington Post]

4.

Fed reduces interest rates as Trump demands deeper cuts

Federal Reserve policy makers voted Wednesday to cut interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point for the second time in two months, hoping to boost the economy as the U.S.-China trade war threatens to tip the economy into a recession. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said the economic outlook is "favorable," but the cut would "provide insurance against ongoing risks." Fed leaders were split 7-3 on the decision, and they gave few signs of what the central bank's next move would be. Economists have been expecting one more such rate cut this year. The latest reduction put the Fed's benchmark short-term rate target between 1.75 and 2 percent. Two of the dissenters wanted to hold rates steady. The third reportedly sought a larger, half-point cut. President Trump, who has pressured the Fed for far bigger cuts, tweeted that it had "no guts." [The Wall Street Journal, Reuters]

5.

Trump picks top hostage negotiator as next national security adviser

President Trump announced Wednesday that he had picked top State Department hostage negotiator Robert O'Brien as his new national security adviser. O'Brien replaces the hawkish John Bolton, who frequently clashed with Trump over foreign policy before his departure last week. Trump announced last week that he asked for Bolton's resignation because he "disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions." Bolton disputed Trump's version of events, saying he had offered his resignation without prodding. O'Brien will be Trump's fourth national security adviser in fewer than three years. In his tweet announcing the news, Trump said he has "worked long & hard with Robert," although he reportedly picked O'Brien largely because of his track record on paper, not a personal connection. [The New York Times]

6.

Teen climate activists urge Congress to take strong action

Teen activists on Wednesday urged members of Congress to take immediate action to curb climate change. Sweden's Greta Thunberg, appearing on Capitol Hill for a second day, and fellow teen climate activists Jamie Margolin, Vic Barrett, and Benji Backer testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment and the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. The activists, who are helping to lead a Global Climate Strike demonstration on Friday to call for an "end to the age of fossil fuels," also submitted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's United Nations report. "I want you to listen to the scientists and I want you to unite behind science," Thunberg testified. "And then I want you to take real action." [USA Today]

7.

California governor signs new protections for gig economy workers

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Wednesday signed a bill requiring many companies to treat contract workers like employees, entitling them to more benefits. The new law could have far-reaching effects on the gig economy. The legislation stemmed from concerns that some powerhouses in the gig economy, including ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft, had exploited drivers by treating them as independent contractors rather than employees, depriving them of benefits and protections, including sick leave and minimum wages. Unions backed the bill and said it would improve conditions for many people, while businesses, including tech companies and health-care providers, said the new rules would be hard for them to handle. Lyft said it might have to cut 300,000 drivers if it has to give everyone employee status. [The Sacramento Bee]

8.

Netanyahu calls for broad coalition after Israeli voters split

With Israel's election remaining too close to call, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on rival Benny Gantz to form a broad coalition government. "During the election campaign, I called for the establishment of a right-wing government but to my regret, the election results show that this is impossible," said a weakened Netanyahu. "Benny, we must set up a broad unity government, as soon as today." Gantz, a retired military chief who leads the centrist Blue and White party, did not immediately respond. Gantz on Wednesday called for a "good, desirable unity government," but not one formed jointly with Netanyahu's Likud party. He cited corruption charges looming against Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing. [CNBC]

9.

58 charged in alleged Texas opioid distribution scheme

Federal authorities have charged 58 people with health-care fraud involving illegal distribution of opioids in Texas, Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said Wednesday. The suspects, including six doctors and seven pharmacists, are accused of dispensing more than six million opioid pills. One Houston pharmacy alone allegedly distributed 760,000 pills from March 2018 to September 2019. "The data in our possession shines an inescapable light on those dirty doctors, clinic owners, pharmacists, and others who may have long believed that they could perpetrate their fraud in the dark, behind closed doors," Benczkowski said. Nearly 400,000 people died from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2017, about 218,000 of them from prescription opioids. [Reuters]

10.

Imelda, one of three churning storms, drenches Texas

Heavy rains from Tropical Depression Imelda are triggering flash floods in eastern Texas, which braced for the heaviest rains from a single storm since the devastating Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The storm formed in the Gulf of Mexico and briefly gained tropical storm status before weakening ahead of making landfall near Houston. In the Atlantic, Hurricane Humberto brushed past Bermuda, with hurricane-force winds continuing to batter the islands early Thursday. More than 27,900 homes and businesses, 80 percent of the island's customers, lost power. A third storm, Tropical Storm Jerry, churned across the Atlantic far east of the Leeward Islands, and could strengthen into a hurricane within days. [NPR, CNN]