Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 8, 2021

Biden warns Putin not to invade Ukraine, the House passes the first step toward raising the debt ceiling, and more

1

Biden meets virtually with Putin in showdown over Ukraine

President Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a secure video call on Tuesday and warned him that the United States and its allies would impose harsh sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine. The call came as Russia gathers troops near its border with Ukraine, and fears mount that it plans to invade, which Moscow denies. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden told Putin the U.S. was prepared to hit Russia harder economically than it did in an unsuccessful 2014 attempt to stop Russia from annexing Crimea. The Kremlin described the talk as "candid and businesslike," saying Putin told Biden that NATO was the one "making dangerous attempts to expand its presence on the Ukrainian territory" and near Russia's borders.

2

House passes debt-ceiling plan after Senate leaders reach deal

The House on Tuesday passed a bill seeking to pave the way to prevent a damaging default after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reached a deal to create a one-time process to let Democrats raise the debt ceiling without Republican votes. The legislation needs 60 votes to pass in the evenly divided, 50-50 Senate, but McConnell reportedly is confident 10 Republicans will support it. If the measure is approved, the Senate will be able to pass an increase to the national borrowing limit with a simple majority, avoiding the threat of a GOP filibuster. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that the government could face a catastrophic, unprecedented default on Dec. 15 if the debt limit isn't raised.

3

Surgeon general warns of youth mental-health crisis

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Tuesday issued a public health advisory calling for action to address a looming youth mental-health crisis made worse by the coronavirus outbreak. Since the pandemic hit in early 2020, symptoms of depression and anxiety have doubled. A quarter of young people now are experiencing symptoms of depression, and 20 percent show signs of anxiety, according to Murthy's advisory. Early this year, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts were up by 51 percent for adolescent girls, and 4 percent higher for adolescent boys, compared to the same period two years earlier, according to research Murthy cited. "It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis only to allow another to grow in its place," Murthy wrote.

4

France says it arrested Jamal Khashoggi murder suspect

France on Tuesday detained Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi, one of the Saudi men accused of participating in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist killed in Turkey three years ago. Otaibi was arrested on a Turkish warrant as he prepared to depart for Saudi Arabia from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. He is one of 17 Saudis the United States sanctioned in 2018 on suspicion of being members of the team that killed and dismembered Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he went to get documents he needed ahead of his planned marriage. Otaibi's detention is the first international arrest in the case.

5

Olaf Scholz replaces long-serving Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor

Olaf Scholz of Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party took over as the country's chancellor on Wednesday, ending 16 years of conservative rule under Angela Merkel. Scholz served as vice-chancellor and finance minister in Merkel's government and has promised continuity and a steady hand as Europe's largest economy faces challenges ranging from the climate crisis to a more confrontational Russia. Scholz was confirmed with a clear majority in the Bundestag lower house of parliament. He will lead a three-party coalition that includes the Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats. The new government plans to aggressively fight climate change with such measures as phasing out coal early and focusing on renewable energy, although their first task is addressing a surge of coronavirus cases.

6

House passes delayed $768 billion defense authorization bill

The House on Tuesday approved a finalized version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which will authorize $768 billion in defense spending. The annual, must-pass legislation received strong bipartisan support after delays caused by arguments over amendments and political infighting. The bill calls for an independent review of the Afghanistan war and changes how the military handles sexual assault and harassment. It also includes a 2.7 percent pay increase for military service members and Defense Department civilian employees. The bill goes next to the Senate, which is expected to pass it and send it to President Biden for his signature before the end of the year.

7

Chile legalizes same-sex marriage

Chilean lawmakers voted Tuesday to legalize same-sex marriage in the South American nation. The decision, passed by overwhelming majorities in both legislative chambers, made Chile the 31st country to formally allow gay marriages. The vote was a major victory for gay rights activists and pushed the legalization of same-sex unions closer to becoming the norm in Latin America. President Sebastián Piñera gave the effort to pass the policy in Chile a boost by unexpectedly dropping his opposition in June and urging Congress to revive the bill and pass it. The legalization also added momentum to social changes in Chile, where mass protests in 2019 ended with a vote to drop a constitution inherited from Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

8

Biden bank-regulator nominee withdraws under fire from Republicans

President Biden's nominee for comptroller of the currency, Saule Omarova, withdrew from Senate consideration on Tuesday after facing forceful opposition from Republican senators over her writings as a legal scholar. Some Republicans also were disturbed that the Cornell University scholar was raised in the former Soviet Union. "I don't know whether to call you professor or comrade," Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told her at the confirmation hearing. Biden condemned Republicans for what he described as "inappropriate personal attacks" that were unfair to Omarova and "far beyond the pale." Biden said Saule would have "brought invaluable insight" to the position overseeing the U.S. banking system because she is "a strong advocate for consumers and a staunch defender of the safety and soundness of our financial system."

9

Storm hits Hawaii with flash floods

A powerful storm hammered Hawaii with violent wind, rain, and snow on Tuesday, causing dangerous flash floods and landslides across the islands. Some of the state's highest summits got up to 8 inches of snow. The storm knocked out power to thousands of people, stranded others, and drove tourists away from the archipelago's famous beaches. Several people from a Honolulu home were rescued after it was surrounded by floodwaters and a side wall collapsed. Gov. David Ige (D) issued a state of emergency Monday night as the storm came in, bringing wind gusts of up to 100 miles per hour to some mountain areas. 

10

Publisher drops plan to release Chris Cuomo's book

Publisher HarperCollins announced Tuesday that it had dropped plans to publish ousted CNN host Chris Cuomo's book, originally titled Deep Denial. The book had been scheduled for release next year. HarperCollins had described it as "a provocative analysis of the harsh truths that the pandemic and Trump years have exposed about America — about our strength and our character." The move came days after CNN fired Cuomo over new revelations about the extent to which he helped his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, counter sexual harassment allegations that ultimately forced him from office. CNN also received a sexual misconduct allegation against Chris Cuomo, which he has denied. On Monday, Cuomo said he was ending his daily SiriusXM radio talk show.

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