Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 10, 2022

A Russian airstrike kills 3 at Ukraine maternity hospital, the House passes a $1.5 trillion spending bill, and more

1

Russian strike on Ukraine maternity hospital kills 3

A Russian airstrike blasted out part of a maternity hospital in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Wednesday, killing three people and wounding at least 17. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky called the strike an "atrocity," and tweeted that there were "people, children under the wreckage." The World Health Organization said it has verified 18 attacks on health facilities, health workers, and ambulances since Russia invaded Ukraine two weeks ago. The latest attack came as Western governments warned that Russia was preparing to escalate its assaults on Ukrainian cities. Authorities on Wednesday announced new local cease-fires, hoping to give thousands of civilians the chance to flee several cities, including Mariupol in the south and heavily bombarded towns around Kyiv.

2

House passes $1.5 trillion spending bill

The House on Wednesday passed a massive $1.5 trillion spending bill after Democrats removed $15.6 billion in emergency pandemic response aid President Biden wanted but Republicans opposed. The bill includes $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine and U.S. allies in Europe. Both parties claimed partial victories. Democrats got a $46 billion increase in domestic spending; Republicans got extra defense spending. Some Democrats were upset about the removal of the pandemic funding, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said compromise was necessary to get the deal done on time to prevent government agencies from running out of money Friday and shutting down. "Let's grow up about this, OK?" Pelosi said. "We're in a legislative process. We have a deadline." Senate approval is expected by week's end.

3

'No progress' after Russian, Ukrainian foreign ministers meet for 1st talks since invasion

The foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine met in Turkey on Thursday in the first high-level talks since Russia invaded Ukraine two weeks ago. The talks began as Russia intensified its shelling of Ukrainian cities and accused the United States of waging "economic war" with sanctions. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba spoke for an hour and a half but made "no progress … on establishing a ceasefire or safe passage for civilians trying to flee the besieged city of Mariupol," CNBC writes. "It seems there are other decision-makers on this matter, in Russia," Kuleba said, suggesting Lavrov had not been in a position to broker the ceasefire personally.

4

Ukraine says fighting cut power at Chernobyl, threatening radiation leak

Ukraine said on Wednesday that electricity had been cut off at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, creating the danger of a radiation leak. State-run nuclear company Energoatom said a high-voltage power line was damaged in fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces, disconnecting the defunct plant from the national power grid. The United Nations' nuclear watchdog said it detected "no critical impact on security." Ukrainian officials demanded a cease-fire so repairs could be made, saying radiation could be released if power is not available to cool spent nuclear fuel stored at the facility, scene of the world's worst nuclear accident in 1986. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said reserve diesel generators could keep the power on for 48 hours.

5

Colorado county clerk Tina Peters indicted in voting system breach

A Colorado grand jury on Wednesday indicted Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters and her deputy in connection with an election security breach in her office last summer, when an unauthorized person allegedly copied voting-machine hard drives. Peters, a vocal backer of former President Donald Trump's unfounded claims of widespread 2020 election fraud, was charged with 10 counts, including attempting to influence a public servant, official misconduct, and violation of duty. Colorado's top election official, Secretary of State Jena Griswold, filed a lawsuit in January seeking to block Peters from overseeing 2022 elections for failing to guarantee she would comply with election security protocols. Peters last month announced she was running for secretary of state. Her campaign did not immediately comment.

6

Conservative Yoon Suk-yeol wins tight South Korea presidential election

Conservative Yoon Suk-yeol won South Korea's closely contested Wednesday presidential election, beating liberal Lee Jae-myung by less than one percentage point. Yoon got a late boost with an endorsement from minor-party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo, who dropped out last week. The election results, which were announced early Thursday, will bring the conservative People Power Party back to power after five years of Democratic Party rule. Yoon, formerly the country's top prosecutor, is expected to take a harder line toward neighboring North Korea and its nuclear weapons program. Voter turnout was high despite record COVID-19 cases. "The competition is now over," Yoon said. "Let us all come together, the citizens, on behalf of our country, as one." 

7

Sanctions push Russia to brink of debt default

Russia faces "imminent" risk of defaulting on its debts as Western sanctions imposed over its Ukraine invasion hamper access to the dollars and other currencies it needs to make payments. Fitch Ratings on Wednesday downgraded Russia's credit to "C," or junk status, and warned investors that Moscow was getting perilously close to being unable to make payments to its creditors. The downgrades serve as a warning to investors to stay away to avoid being affected by sanctions, but a likely default would have far broader consequences, making risk-tolerant lenders reluctant to provide the high-risk loans developing international markets depend on. Russian President Vladimir Putin could force lenders in some countries to accept payment in rubles, but that could further devalue the Russian currency.

8

House approves ban on Russian oil imports

The House overwhelmingly approved a bill backing President Biden's ban on Russian oil imports, and went a step further by calling for a review of Russia's status in the World Trade Organization. The bill, which passed 414-17, now heads to the Senate, although senators might not pass it to avoid tying Biden's hands. The Biden administration has imposed tough sanctions against Russia since it invaded Ukraine two weeks ago, but was initially reluctant to ban Russian oil out of concern that would push already rising fuel prices even higher. But lawmakers said higher pump prices were a necessary sacrifice to make it harder for Moscow to fund its war. "We stand with the people of Ukraine, Democrats and Republicans alike," said Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.).

9

Disney CEO says company opposes Florida 'Don't Say Gay' bill

Disney CEO Bob Chapek said Wednesday that the entertainment giant opposes the so-called Don't Say Gay bill just passed by Florida's Republican-controlled legislature. Chapek, who had faced a backlash for not addressing the issue, said at a shareholder meeting that Disney had tried to work with lawmakers "on both sides of the aisle" rather than expressing opposition to the bill, which would bar teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with students. "We were opposed to the bill from the outset," Chapek said, "but we chose not to take a public position on it because we felt we could be more effective working behind the scenes." Florida is home to the company's Disney World theme park.

10

1st person to receive transplanted pig heart dies

David Bennett, the first person to receive a pig heart in a transplant, has died. The University of Maryland Medical Center, where Bennett received the transplant two months ago, announced Bennett's death on Wednesday. The hospital said it was not immediately clear what caused Bennett's death, although his health had been deteriorating for several days. The animal heart Bennett, 57, received to replace his own failing organ had been genetically modified to prevent rejection in a human body. "We are devastated by the loss of Mr. Bennett. He proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought all the way to the end. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family," Dr. Bartley Griffith, the surgeon who led Bennett's transplant, said in a statement.

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