Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 15, 2020

Harold Maass
Trump in Arizona


Trump blames West Coast fires on forest mismanagement

President Trump said during a visit to wildfire-ravaged California on Monday that he blamed West Coast blazes on failed forest management, dismissing the scientific consensus that climate change is making the region's fire seasons increasingly intense. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, pushed back. "We obviously feel very strongly that the hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting dryer," he said. "Climate change is real and that is exacerbating this." State Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot told Trump that ignoring the science will make it impossible to "succeed together protecting Californians." Trump replied: "It will start getting cooler, just you watch." Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Trump was a "climate arsonist" who has "no interest in meeting this moment." [The Associated Press, Axios]


Sally strengthens into hurricane as it nears Gulf Coast

Hurricane Sally, upgraded from a tropical storm on Monday, strengthened as it barreled through the Gulf of Mexico toward the central Gulf Coast. Sally's top sustained winds reached 100 miles per hour on Monday before weakening to 90 mph overnight. The slow-moving storm is expected to make landfall late Tuesday in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, or the tip of the Florida Panhandle. Forecasters warned the storm could drop up to 24 inches of rain over parts of the region over the next few days, with a potentially life-threatening storm surge of up to 11 feet in some areas. Sally is approaching as Louisiana is still recovering from Hurricane Laura at the peak of the 2020 hurricane season. There are now five active tropical cyclones in the Atlantic region for only the second time on record. [The Wall Street Journal, CNN]


Report: DOJ watchdog investigates Roger Stone sentencing

The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General has launched an investigation into the decision to reduce the sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, a longtime friend of President Trump, NBC News reported Monday, citing two sources familiar with the matter. Stone last year was convicted of lying to investigators and witness tampering. Prosecutors were planning to recommend he serve seven to nine years in prison, but were told in February to seek a lighter sentence. Attorney General William Barr later intervened, overriding prosecutors and asking for a lighter sentence. All four prosecutors on the case subsequently quit, and one told Congress he was told to recommend a lighter sentence because of Stone's personal relationship with Trump. Stone got 40 months, but Trump commuted his sentence in July. [NBC News]


Judge suspends new asylum policies, saying DHS leader likely not legitimate

A federal judge in Maryland has ruled that Chad Wolf is likely unlawfully serving as acting Homeland Security secretary, so new asylum restrictions he enacted exceeded his authority and the law. Judge Paula Xinis, in a 69-page ruling issued Friday, temporarily barred the Trump administration from enforcing the two asylum rules, which limit asylum seekers' ability to legally seek work, while courts consider a lawsuit challenging them. The federal Government Accountability Office found last month that Wolf and his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, were appointed in violation of the Vacancies Reform Act. President Trump tweeted last week that he would appoint Wolf to the job permanently, but the nomination is unlikely to be confirmed before the November election. [CNN]


South Dakota investigates fatal accident involving attorney general

South Dakota authorities are investigating the death of a man apparently struck Saturday by a car driven by state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, who had reported that he hit what he thought was a deer while driving home from a Republican Party dinner. Ravnsborg, 44, said in a statement that he was "shocked and filled with sorrow" and "fully cooperating with the investigation." He sent his "deepest sympathy and condolences to the family" of the victim, identified as Joe Boever, 55. Boever reportedly was walking along the highway to his abandoned truck. Ravnsborg's office oversees the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, so Gov. Kristi Noem announced that her office was supervising the case. Boever's cousin said his "worst fear is that they're trying to get ducks in a row to absolve the attorney general of any wrongdoing." [The New York Times]


Judge strikes down Pennsylvania governor's coronavirus restrictions

U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV on Monday struck down pandemic restrictions imposed by Pennsylvania's Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, ruling that they were overreaching, arbitrary, and unconstitutional. Courts upheld the Wolf administration's initial lockdown that aimed to curb infections early in the coronavirus crisis. Wolf lifted most of those, but during the renewed surge in cases over the summer Wolf's administration imposed new restrictions on bars, restaurants, and large outdoor gatherings. Stickman, who was appointed by President Trump, said he recognized that Wolf's actions "were undertaken with the good intention of addressing a public health emergency, but even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered." [Politico]


U.S. bars imports from China region over suspected forced labor

The Trump administration on Monday banned imports of cotton apparel, computer parts, and other products from companies and suppliers suspected of using forced and imprisoned laborers in China's Xinjiang region. "The scourge of forced labor practices used in China is an unconscionable assault on innocent people and a threat to American producers," said Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Under the orders, stemming from two years of investigation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials put holds on shipments from four commercial entities, a training center, and an industrial park. U.S. officials have condemned China in recent years for abuses against the region's mostly Muslim Uighur minority population. A representative of China's embassy repeated the Chinese government's past assertions that companies in the region follow international labor laws. [The Wall Street Journal]


Appeals court clears Trump administration to end refugees' protected status

A U.S. appeals court on Monday ruled that the Trump administration could resume its plan to phase out so-called Temporary Protected Status for people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. A lower court had blocked the Trump administration decision, which would remove protected status for hundreds of thousands of immigrants. The appeals court ruling also is expected to affect people from Honduras and Nepal who have filed another lawsuit that was suspended last year pending the resolution of the broader case. Judge Consuelo Callahan, who was appointed by Republican former President George W. Bush, wrote in a 54-page opinion that the executive branch's policy was not subject to judicial review and should not have been blocked. An American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California attorney said the plaintiffs would seek a review by the full appeals court. [Reuters]


Hedge fund billionaire reaches deal to buy Mets

Billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen on Monday announced that he would buy the New York Mets in a deal estimated to value the baseball team at nearly $2.5 billion. "I am excited to have reached an agreement with the Wilpon and Katz families to purchase the New York Mets," Cohen said. Cohen reportedly will own 95 percent of the franchise, although he still must get approval from at least 23 of the other 29 Major League Baseball team owners. Owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon have controlled the Mets since 2002, and the team said late last year that they were open to selling a majority stake. The Mets were founded in 1962 and have won two World Series titles, the last one in 1986. The financial resources of a new billionaire owner were expected to strengthen the team's chances of becoming contenders again. [Reuters, Sports Illustrated]


Scientists detect possible sign of life on Venus

Astronomers announced on Monday they have detected a chemical called phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus, a discovery that points to potential life on the planet. Scientists believe phosphine could only be present due to something living in Venus' atmosphere, though others believe it could have been created by an undefined geologic process of some sort. The "extraordinary discovery," as MIT molecular astrophysicist Clara Sousa-Silva called it, will spark more in-depth research into whether Venus houses some sort of biosphere. The discovery of phosphine could signal microbial organisms that create the chemical without requiring oxygen. William Bains, a biochemist at MIT and a co-author of the study, said the researchers had managed to "rule out all other sources of phosphine other than life." [The New York Times]