Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 17, 2022

Zelensky tells Congress the U.S. must do more to help Ukraine fight Russia, the Fed raises interest rates to battle inflation, and more

1

Zelensky tells Congress U.S. must 'do more' 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to Congress on Wednesday to "do more" to help his country fight off Russia's invasion by strengthening sanctions against Moscow and protecting Ukraine's airspace with a no-fly zone. "We need you right now," Zelensky said in an address displayed on a movie theater-style screen in an auditorium under the Capitol. Zelensky told lawmakers his country needs its allies as it faces a crisis like the ones America faced after Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Zelensky's request for a no-fly zone has little chance of becoming a reality, as that could drag the U.S. and its Western allies into the war by forcing them to fire on Russian warplanes. President Biden followed up Zelensky's speech by unveiling plans for another $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, and called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal."

2

Fed starts series of interest-rate hikes to fight high inflation

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday announced that it would raise its benchmark short-term interest rate by a quarter point, the first hike since 2018. The Fed signaled that it would hike rates six more times this year to fight high inflation. The U.S. central bank cut interest rates to near zero two years ago to boost the economic recovery after lockdowns early in the coronavirus pandemic triggered a recession. Now it is trying to prevent the economy from overheating as inflation soars. After the Fed's two-day meeting, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said the economy appeared to be able to withstand a series of rate hikes. "All signs are that this is a strong economy, one that will be able to flourish in the face of less accommodative monetary policy," Powell said.

3

Russia bombs Ukrainian theater that was sheltering civilians

Russia bombed a theater where hundreds of people had sought shelter in Mariupol, Ukraine, authorities in the besieged coastal city said Wednesday. Words written outside the building indicated there were children inside. The Drama Theater of Mariupol was largely destroyed in the attack, the Mariupol City Council said. Continued shelling of residential areas makes it "impossible to estimate the scale of this horrific and inhumane act," the council wrote on Telegram. The attack came as Russia and Ukraine continued cease-fire talks. Both sides said they had made progress on Tuesday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Ukraine was "seriously" discussing Russia's demand of a neutral military status, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia's demands were getting "more realistic."

4

Western Europe coronavirus surge puts U.S. officials on alert

Western Europe has been hit with a surge in coronavirus infections that is raising concerns that the United States could face another wave of COVID-19 cases, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. Germany, for example, recorded more than 250,000 new cases and 249 deaths on Friday as an Omicron subvariant spread rapidly through the nation of 83 million people. The subvariant, known as BA.2, appears more transmissible than the highly infectious original Omicron variant, BA.1, that fueled the last U.S. wave. Since the pandemic started, large outbreaks in Europe have been followed by surges in the U.S., and some public health experts are predicting that will happen this time, too.

5

Wounded Fox News correspondent safely leaves Ukraine

Benjamin Hall, the Fox News correspondent who was injured while reporting on the war in Ukraine, has safely left the country, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott told staffers in a memo on Wednesday. Hall was seriously wounded when the vehicle he was riding in while covering the Russian invasion was struck by fire outside Kyiv. Two of his co-workers, Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra "Sasha" Kuvshynova, were killed. Ukraine's Ministry of Defense said Hall, who has worked with Fox since 2015, "lost part of his leg." Scott said Hall was "in good spirits" and "being treated with the best possible care in the world and we are in close contact with his wife and family." The attack marked the first time Fox News had lost journalists in the field in its 25-year history.

6

U.N. top court orders Russia to halt Ukraine invasion

The United Nations' top court, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, on Wednesday ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine. The decision was preliminary and essentially symbolic, as a final decision could take years. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky initiated the case to counter Russian President Vladimir Putin's claim that he ordered his forces to attack Ukraine to stop a "genocide" against pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. The court ruled 13-2 that Russia should "suspend" its invasion. One of the dissenting judges was from Russia, the other from China. Zelensky tweeted that the order was a "complete victory," and that ignoring it would "isolate Russia further."

7

Iran releases 2 British citizens

Iran on Wednesday released two British citizens it had jailed for more than five years. Charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, and retired civil engineer Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, landed in Oman on a flight from Tehran, then headed to Britain. Their release came after the U.K. government settled a decades-old debt to Iran. A third detainee, Morad Tahbaz, who has U.S., British, and Iranian citizenship, was released on furlough as part of the same deal, the British government said. The deal came as world leaders work on getting Iran and the U.S. to revive the international agreement on limiting Tehran's nuclear enrichment program. "You can't get back the time that's gone. That's a fact," said Richard Ratcliffe, who worked for years on his wife's release. "But we live in the future."

8

DOJ announces $127.5 million settlement with families of Parkland victims

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that it had settled all lawsuits linked to the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, for $127.5 million. The 40 civil cases involved 16 of the families of the 17 students and staff members killed in the rampage, the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Parents of Parkland victims said in a 2018 lawsuit that FBI tip line employees negligently handled tips warning that the gunman, former Parkland student Nikolas Cruz, wanted to carry out a school shooting and had been collecting weapons and ammunition. Cruz, who was 19 and had been expelled before the shooting, pleaded guilty in October, and the government first said in November it had reached a settlement with families of the victims.

9

Trump says Pence won't be running mate if he makes 2024 presidential bid

Former President Donald Trump told the Washington Examiner he will not pick his former vice president, Mike Pence, as his running mate if he makes another run for the White House in 2024. "I don't think the people would accept it," Trump said in the article, published Wednesday. Trump said he and Pence "had a great relationship" until Pence rejected Trump's call for him to overturn President Biden's election win when the then-vice president presided over the congressional certification of the Electoral College votes. Pence said he didn't have the constitutional authority to throw out the results certified by the states. Pence is considering his own presidential bid in 2024, the Examiner said, and he would not necessarily bow out if Trump ran.

10

Smollett released from jail pending appeal

Former Empire actor Jussie Smollett was released from jail in Cook County, Illinois, on Wednesday after an appeals court ruled he should be free while appealing his conviction for lying to police about being targeted in a racist and homophobic attack. Smollett, who is Black and gay, spent six nights in the jail, and his attorneys had argued that he would have finished serving his 150-day sentence by the time his appeal was decided. Smollett has denied staging the attack, and his lawyers said his sentence was excessive for a low-level felony. Special prosecutor Dan Webb had recommended during the sentencing hearing that Smollett serve "an appropriate amount of prison time," arguing that his conduct would "discourage others who are victims of hate crimes from coming forward and reporting those crimes to law enforcement."

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