Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 15, 2022

Russia's Black Sea flagship sinks, the RNC withdraws from presidential debate commission it calls "biased," and more

1

Russia's Black Sea flagship sinks

The flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet, the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, sank Thursday as it was being towed to port after being damaged by explosions. Moscow said a fire on board had detonated explosives; Ukraine said it severely damaged the ship with missiles. Either way, the loss of the ship marked a symbolic defeat for Russia's already troubled war effort, as its troops regroup ahead of an expected offensive in eastern Ukraine after withdrawing from northern areas, including the capital, Kyiv. The ship's loss overshadowed Russia's claim that it had seized Mariupol. Ukrainian officials said their forces were still fighting in the battered port city.

2

RNC votes to withdraw from 'biased' presidential debate commission

The Republican National Committee voted unanimously Thursday to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates. "The Commission on Presidential Debates is biased and has refused to enact simple and commonsense reforms to help ensure fair debates," RNC chair Ronna McDaniel said in a press release. She said reforms should include hosting debates before voting begins and "selecting moderators who have never worked for candidates on the debate stage." The bias allegation echoed former President Donald Trump's criticism of the commission. The RNC's decision effectively bars GOP presidential nominees from participating in forums organized by the commission, which has run presidential debates since 1988.

3

Moscow threatens Baltic nuclear deployment if Finland, Sweden join NATO

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chair of Russia's Security Council and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, said Thursday that if Finland and Sweden join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Moscow might deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles closer to Europe. Finland, which shares an 810-mile border with Russia, and Sweden began considering applying for membership in the U.S.-led NATO military alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine. Finland's prime minister, Sanna Marin, said the country would decide within weeks. Medvedev said if the two Nordic countries join NATO there can be no more talk of a "nuclear-free" Baltic, where Russia has the Kaliningrad exclave between Poland and Lithuania.

4

Jury finds British ISIS militant guilty

A U.S. federal jury on Thursday convicted British Islamic State militant El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, for his role in the abduction, abuse, and killing of four Americans in Syria by a brutal English-speaking cell known as the Beatles. Elsheikh was captured in Syria by Kurdish-backed militia fighters in 2018 along with another member of the cell, Alexanda Kotey. Kotey, 38, pleaded guilty to charges connected to the abduction of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. The three men were beheaded; Mueller allegedly died in an airstrike. Elsheikh's lawyers didn't deny he fought for ISIS, but said he wasn't in the Beatles cell.

5

Florida's governor signs 15-week abortion ban

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday signed into law a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the latest in a series of abortion restrictions approved by Republican-led state legislatures across the country. The measure, House Bill 5, puts the tightest limits on the procedure in Florida since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal nationwide. The Florida ban and similar laws in several other states give the Supreme Court's new conservative super-majority opportunities to roll back precedents that protect abortion rights up to the point of fetal viability, around 24 weeks.

6

Palestinians wounded in clash with Israeli police at Al-Aqsa Mosque

Israeli security forces entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem early Friday as thousands of Palestinians were gathered for prayers during the holy month of Ramadan. Medics with the Red Crescent say at least 117 Palestinians were wounded in the ensuing melee, some by rubber-coated bullets or stun grenades and other beaten with batons. Israel said three officers were wounded from "massive stone-throwing." The Al-Aqsa Mosque is on a site holy for both Muslims and Jews, and it has been at the center of several significant clashes between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Israel's Foreign Ministry said officers entered the mosque to disperse dozens of masked men who had marched to the compound early Friday and started gathering stones in anticipation of violence.

7

Ex-Trump adviser Stephen Miller meets with Jan. 6 panel

Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to former President Donald Trump during his time in the White House, on Thursday became the latest Trump insider to testify before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, CNN reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. "It got a little chippy," the person said of Miller's eight-hour virtual interview. The committee subpoenaed Miller, saying by his own account, he "participated in efforts to spread false information about alleged voter fraud in the November 2020 election," and "to encourage state legislatures to alter the outcome" by appointing alternate slates of electors. Miller had tried suing to get out of having to turn over records and testify. 

8

Judge orders N.Y. subway shooting suspect to remain in jail

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the man suspected in this week's New York City subway mass shooting to undergo a psychiatric examination and remain in custody pending his trial. Frank James, 62, is accused of shooting 10 people and causing injuries to a dozen others. "The defendant terrifyingly opened fire on passengers in a crowded subway train, interrupting their morning commute in a way this city hasn't seen in more than 20 years," Sara Winik, a federal prosecutor, told the court. James, wearing beige jail clothes in his first court appearance, spoke briefly, saying only that he understood the terrorism charges filed against him.

9

Mortgage rates reach 5 percent for 1st time in a decade

The average U.S. interest on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage reached 5 percent for the first time in a decade, government-mortgage company Freddie Mac said Thursday. A week ago, the interest rate on these loans — the nation's most popular mortgages — was 4.72 percent. Fifteen months earlier, mortgage rates were at all-time lows as the Federal Reserve kept its benchmark interest rate near zero to boost the recovery from the 2020 recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Rising rates are dimming prospects for people looking to buy homes, who now have to deal with rising financing expenses on top of surging home prices. A year ago, the monthly mortgage payment on the median U.S. home was $1,223. At recent rates, it's $1,700.

10

Man who blamed Trump 'orders' for Capitol attack found guilty 

A federal jury on Thursday convicted an Ohio man who claimed he was "following presidential orders" of then-President Donald Trump when he participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. The jury took less than three hours to find Dustin Byron Thompson, 38, guilty of obstructing Congress as it certified President Biden's 2020 electoral victory over Trump. The jury also found Thompson guilty on five other charges, including stealing a coat rack from a Capitol office. He could be sentenced to up to 20 years on the obstruction charge, a felony. District Judge Reggie Walton said "our country is being torn apart" by "charlatans" who care only about power.

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