Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 29, 2021

Top general calls Afghanistan a "strategic failure," Yellen warns government has just weeks to avert debt default, and more

1

Top general calls Afghanistan a 'strategic failure'

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended the withdrawal of the last U.S. forces from Afghanistan last month in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, although he acknowledged that the process did not go according to plans. He said the evacuation operation was successful, but that the nation's war was a "strategic failure." "Strategically, the war was lost. The enemy is in Kabul," Milley said in reference to the Taliban, who regained control of the country as U.S. forces prepared to leave. Top generals told senators that they had advised President Biden and his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, to keep about 2,500 American troops in Afghanistan, contradicting Biden, who has said nobody warned him against going through with a full withdrawal as arranged by the Trump administration.

2

Yellen warns government running out of options to avoid debt default

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Tuesday warned lawmakers that the federal government would run out of ways to avoid a catastrophic federal-debt default by Oct. 18 unless Congress raises the debt ceiling. Economists say a default would send financial markets plunging and delay payments to millions of Americans. Yellen also warned that the deadline could come earlier depending on "unavoidable" shifts in the federal government's cash flows. "This uncertainty underscores the critical importance of not waiting to raise or suspend the debt limit. The full faith and credit of the United States should not be put at risk," Yellen wrote. Senate Republicans have said they would not provide any votes to raise the debt ceiling. 

3

Pfizer gives FDA trial data on pediatric vaccine 

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Tuesday that they had submitted trial data to the Food and Drug Administration indicating that their coronavirus vaccine was safe to administer to children ages 5 to 11. The drugmakers said they would request authorization to start distributing the shots within weeks. The news came as many parents express eagerness to get young kids vaccinated now that they are back in school. The FDA said it would analyze the trial results quickly. About 28 million children in that age group would be eligible for the vaccine. About 17 million young people ages 12 to 15 became eligible to get vaccinated in May. About 42 percent of the older children have been fully vaccinated, compared to 66 percent of adults.

4

Democrats scramble to salvage Biden agenda and avoid shutdown 

Democrats hit an impasse Tuesday in their negotiations to resolve infighting over legislation needed to avert a government shutdown and a default on federal debt, as well as two massive spending bills that are crucial parts of President Biden's economic and social agenda. A group of progressive House Democrats said they would defy House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) by opposing a bipartisan infrastructure bill coming to a scheduled vote on Thursday, because a bigger, $3.5 trillion spending package they want is still being negotiated. Meanwhile, President Biden is talking directly to moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who have said they won't support the huge budget bill without significant cuts. Democrats need all 50 of their votes in the evenly split Senate to push through that legislation.

5

Fumio Kishida wins party run-off to become Japan's presumptive prime minister

Fumio Kishida, Japan's former foreign minister, won a run-off election for leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's leadership on Wednesday, all but guaranteeing he will be the country's next prime minister. Kishida is set to replace the outgoing Yoshihide Suga as prime minister on Monday following a special parliamentary session. Suga has served just one year in power. His popularity dropped sharply due to criticism of his response to the coronavirus pandemic. Kishida, a 64-year-old moderate party stalwart, was preferred by the party elite over his chief rival, Taro Kono, an outspoken American-educated maverick, in the 257-170 runoff vote dominated by the party's members of parliament.

6

Maryland judge sentences 'Capital Gazette' killer to 5 life terms

A Maryland judge on Tuesday sentenced Jarrod Ramos to five life sentences without parole for fatally shooting five people in the Capital Gazette newsroom in 2018. A jury in July rejected Ramos' insanity plea and found him guilty on murder, assault, and other charges connected to the killings. The victims included Rob Hiaasen, 59, the newspaper's deputy editor; Gerald Fischman, 61, editorial page editor; sports reporter and editor John McNamara, 56; Wendi Winters, 65, a reporter; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant. "To say the defendant showed a callous and cruel disregard for the sanctity of human life is simply an understatement," said Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Michael Wachs. "What I impose is what the defendant deserves."

7

North Korea says it tested a hypersonic missile

North Korea said Wednesday that its military successfully fired a newly developed hypersonic missile on Tuesday, the latest in a series of weapon launches. The state-run KCNA news agency called the missile "a strategic weapon," implying it has nuclear capabilities. KCNA also said that "national defense scientists confirmed the navigational control and stability of the missile," including "the guiding maneuverability and the gliding flight characteristics of the detached hypersonic gliding warhead." Tuesday's launch took place shortly before North Korea's U.N. envoy demanded that the United States and South Korea stop joint military exercises. Over the weekend, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's influential sister, Kim Yo Jong, said her country would resume talks with South Korea if it ends what she called its "hostile policies."

8

U.K. readies troops to help deliver fuel to gas stations

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday placed British army troops "on standby" in case they are needed to drive trucks to deliver fuel to gas stations running low due to panic buying and labor shortages. The United States and other countries have faced a labor crunch caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but in the United Kingdom the problem has been even worse, because the country's departure from the European Union has cut off the free movement of workers from Eastern Europe. Those workers used to accept low-paid jobs many Britons avoid, including positions working in nursing homes and driving cargo trucks. British officials said the country has adequate fuel supplies, but is struggling to get it from ports and refineries to the pump.

9

Obama breaks ground on his presidential library

Former President Barack Obama broke ground Tuesday on his presidential library alongside former first lady Michelle Obama. The ceremony marked the start of the final push to finish the long-delayed Obama Presidential Center on Chicago's South Side. Obama said he wanted the center to be a place dedicated to strengthening democratic ideals rather than being a "static museum." "I don't believe it's inevitable that we succumb to paralysis or mutual hatred or abandon democracy in favor of systems that reserve power and privilege for the few as has been true throughout our history," the former president said. "I believe we have it in us to re-imagine our institutions. To make them responsive to today's challenges and rebuild our societies in a way that give more and more people a better life."

10

Coronavirus-delayed Bond film has world premiere

The highly anticipated new James Bond film No Time to Die had its world premiere Tuesday in London. The film's release, originally scheduled for early March 2020, was one of the first to be postponed when theaters were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Prince William, Kate Middleton, Prince Charles, and Camilla Parker-Bowles were among the guests who attended the London premiere, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "Thank you all for coming tonight," Daniel Craig, who stars as Bond in the movie for the last time, said on the red carpet. "This is amazing. I really, genuinely didn't think we'd get here, but we are." Craig thanked MGM and Universal for "holding their nerve" to ensure that the film would still debut in movie theaters.

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