Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 24, 2019

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Harold Maass
Greta Thunberg at the Climate Action Summit
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

1.

Report: Trump ordered hold on military aid before Ukraine call

President Trump told his staff to put a hold on nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine days before a controversial phone call in which Trump allegedly pressured Ukraine's new president to investigate the son of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, The Washington Post reported Monday, citing three senior administration officials. The report came as Democrats accuse Trump of using congressionally approved aid as leverage to hurt a political rival, which Trump denies. Leading House Democrats are demanding that the White House hand over a whistleblower complaint by an intelligence official disturbed by the call. Democrats are increasingly calling for impeaching Trump, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reportedly is discussing whether it is time to let the proceedings begin. [The Washington Post]

2.

Greta Thunberg scolds leaders at U.N. climate change summit

Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg chastised world leaders at a United Nations climate summit on Monday, saying, "How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just 'business as usual?'" The 16-year-old Swede added: "You are failing us ... The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you." Also on Monday, Thunberg and 15 other young people filed a legal complaint with the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child arguing that major countries — Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey — have known about potential damage from climate change but failed to adequately curb emissions. [USA Today, The Washington Post]

3.

Trump defends call with Ukraine leader as Biden demands transcript

President Trump on Monday defended his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which he discussed the business dealings of former Vice President Joe Biden's son. Trump confirmed Sunday that the two leaders talked about the younger Biden, but dismissed the accusations that he pressured Zelensky, and said he was not taking threats of impeachment seriously. He said it's "very important" to talk about corruption. Later on Monday, Trump said if a Republican "ever did what Joe Biden did ... they'd be getting the electric chair right now." In a tweet, Biden responded to Trump's dismissal of the story as "fake" news, writing "so release the transcript of the call then." [Politico, Reuters]

4.

U.K. high court rules pre-Brexit suspension of Parliament unlawful

Britain's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's suspension of Parliament, with Brexit looming, was illegal. The unanimous decision upheld a Scottish court ruling, dealing the latest blow to Johnson's effort to lead the U.K. out of the European Union at the end of October, with or without a divorce deal. The president of the Supreme Court, Brenda Hale, said Johnson's advice to the Queen to suspend Parliament was "unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification." Parliament is now considered back in session, so lawmakers can resume debate over Brexit, after passing a law seeking to block a departure from the trading bloc without an approved deal. [The New York Times, The Guardian]

5.

Netanyahu, Gantz agree to discuss sharing power

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz agreed Monday to discuss sharing power after their sides emerged from last week's parliamentary election essentially tied. Netanyahu and Gantz issued a joint statement after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin and said they had "discussed ways to advance Israel's unity." Negotiators from their parties will meet Tuesday. They reportedly will explore whether Netanyahu and Gantz could agree to rotate as prime minister. The president gets to decide who can try to form a government as prime minister, but Rivlin is pushing Netanyahu and Gantz to reach a deal on their own. "A shared and equal government is possible," he said. "It can and it must express the different voices in society." [The New York Times]

6.

40 civilians killed in Afghan army raid targeting Taliban

U.S.-backed Afghan forces raiding a nearby Taliban hideout killed at least 40 civilians at a wedding party in southern Helmand province, local officials said Monday. President Ashraf Ghani's spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said the Helmand provincial governor had ordered an investigation. Sediqqi said the president was saddened to hear of the deaths despite his "repeated call for extra cautions in conducting military operations." Twenty-two Taliban fighters also were killed. The civilian deaths were the latest in a surge in violence that followed the collapse of U.S.-Taliban peace talks last month. Days ago, a U.S. drone strike targeting militants killed 32 farmers and laborers who were harvesting pine nuts. [Reuters, The Associated Press]

7.

U.S. clashes with China and other nations over postal fees

The Trump administration is heading into a showdown with other nations at a Tuesday-to-Thursday conference of the Universal Postal Union over U.S. complaints that some postal carriers, including China, aren't paying enough for deliveries in the U.S. The Trump administration is threatening to pull out of the UPU because it says the U.S. Postal Service isn't being fairly paid for final deliveries of small parcels from abroad that can contain mobile phones and prescription drugs. The confrontation has not drawn much public attention, but it could directly affect consumers. "Whatever happens, prices to ship via the postal network ... It's going to cost more," said Kate Muth, executive director of the International Mailers Advisory Group. "The rates are going to go up." [The Associated Press]

8.

DNC raises qualifying metrics for November debate stage

The Democratic National Committee announced Monday that it would raise the thresholds for qualifying for the party's November presidential primary debate. Candidates will have to receive donations from at least 165,000 individual donors, up from 130,000 in this month's debate and 65,000 for June and July. Candidates also will have to reach higher polling requirements of 3 percent in four national or early state polls, or 5 percent in two early-state polls. The rules could continue narrowing the field of candidates. Twenty candidates qualified for the first debates, but lagging candidates are giving up. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped out last week, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) reportedly has told supporters he must raise $1.7 million by October to stay in the race. [The New York Times]

9.

U.S. soldier arrested after allegedly discussing bombing media, O'Rourke

A U.S. Army soldier was charged Monday with distributing information related to explosives and weapons of mass destruction after allegedly sharing tips about building homemade bombs. The soldier, 24-year-old Jarrett William Smith, allegedly had talked about bombing a major U.S. news network and liberal groups. Smith also suggested in a messaging app that former Rep. Texas Beto O'Rourke, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination and advocate of gun control, could be a target for a bombing. Smith also allegedly told an FBI agent that he wanted "to cause chaos." O'Rourke's spokesman said the campaign was grateful for the FBI's "work to keep our country safe in the face of domestic terror threats." [CNBC]

10.

Tropical Storm Karen poses risk of flooding in Puerto Rico

Tropical Storm Karen continued to cross the eastern Caribbean on Monday on a track toward Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Tropical storm-force winds could reach Puerto Rico by mid-Tuesday. Karen's top sustained winds were just 40 miles per hour, but the storm could dump enough rain to cause flash flooding and mudslides, particularly in the mountains. Two other tropical storms also are churning in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Jerry could turn toward Bermuda, threatening the islands there with tropical storm-force winds as early as Tuesday afternoon. Tropical Storm Lorenzo has formed on the other side of the ocean a few hundred miles from the Cabo Verde Islands, and is heading west at about 16 mph. [CNN]