Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 27, 2022

Russia's 'sham' referendums enter last day as pressure rises in Moscow, Hurricane Ian strengthens as it hits Cuba and aims for Florida, and more

1

'Sham' referendums on joining Russia ending as pressure mounts on Moscow

Russia on Tuesday is wrapping up five-day referendums in occupied parts of Ukraine that Moscow is expected to use to justify annexing the areas. Ukraine's government and the West have called the referendums a "sham." There have been reports of Russian soldiers going house-to-house pressuring people to vote. A senior Kremlin official warned Russia is prepared to use nuclear weapons to stop Ukraine's push to reclaim Russia-occupied areas. Russian President Vladimir Putin last week ordered a "partial mobilization" of 300,000 military reservists to active duty in response to Ukraine's expanding counteroffensive. The unpopular move has prompted 17 attacks on recruiting centers in Russia, as well as protests and a rush of young men fleeing the country to avoid being drafted.

2

Hurricane Ian strengthens, hitting Cuba and heading toward Florida

Hurricane Ian intensified overnight before hitting western Cuba early Tuesday with top sustained winds of 125 miles per hour and torrential rains that could cause flooding. The storm is expected to gain more strength as it continues north over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on a path toward Florida's west coast, which it is expected to hit Wednesday. Authorities in parts of the low-lying and flood prone Tampa Bay area ordered partial evacuations ahead of what could be its first major storm in a century. "We've been blessed many, many times before," said former Pinellas County emergency management director Sally Bishop, "but at some point your luck runs out." 

3

Japan holds Abe's controversial state funeral

Japan held a state funeral for assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday. Vice President Kamala Harris was among the foreign dignitaries who attended. Abe was Japan's longest-serving prime minister. He was shot during a campaign speech for an ally. People lined up at designated memorial sites to pay their respects, while others protested the holding of a state funeral for Abe. Some opposed Abe's hawkish policies. Others were disturbed by revelations about political ties of the controversial Unification Church started by the late Rev. Moon Sun-myung. The man accused of killing Abe, Tetsuya Yamagami, thought the church's controversial fundraising ruined his family, and allegedly targeted Abe because he spoke at an affiliated group's events.

4

Russia school shooting death toll rises

The death toll in a mass shooting at a school in Izhevsk in central Russia rose to 17 on Monday, with another 24 people injured. Eleven of the dead were children, two were teachers, and another was a school security guard. Authorities identified the alleged gunman, who committed suicide, as Artyom Kazantsev, 34, a former student at the school. Kazantsev was a patient at a local psychiatric facility, and arrived at the school wearing a black T-shirt with "Nazi symbols" on it, Russia's Investigative Committee said. This was the act of a "terrorist," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. An investigation has been opened into how the suspect acquired two non-lethal handguns found at the scene that had been modified to fire bullets.

5

Putin grants Edward Snowden Russian citizenship

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday granted citizenship to former U.S. security consultant Edward Snowden, who is wanted in the United States for leaking top-secret information on U.S. surveillance programs. Snowden fled the U.S. and made his way to Russia to request asylum after his disclosures revealed top-secret NSA surveillance as part of a program known as PRISM. Snowden has said he considers himself a whistleblower, not a traitor. Russia granted Snowden, 39, permanent residency in 2020. His wife, Lindsay Mills, joined him in Moscow in 2014. They married in 2017, and now have a son. Snowden was among 72 foreigners granted citizenship under a decree Putin signed.

6

CBO estimates Biden student debt relief plant to cost $400 billion

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report Monday estimating that President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan will cost taxpayers more than $400 billion. The CBO said in a letter responding to questions made by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) that Biden's extension of the coronavirus-era student loan payment moratorium, now set to expire Dec. 31, will push up the cost of outstanding student loans by about $20 billion. Biden's decision to cancel $10,000 for each borrower below certain income limits, along with another $10,000 for Pell Grant recipients, would cost $400 billion, CBO Director Phillip Swagel said in the letter. Foxx said the letter showed the White House had "lost all sense of fiscal responsibility."

7

Cuba gay-marriage referendum passes

Cuban voters have approved a new Family Code legalizing same-sex marriage in the communist-run Caribbean nation, Cuba's National Electoral Council announced Monday. The council said 74.1 percent of eligible voters turned out in the Sunday vote, and with 94 percent of the votes counted the referendum passed with 3,936,790 in favor and 1,950,090 against. The code extends protections for women, children, and the elderly, while establishing the right for LGBTQ couples to marry and adopt children. LGBTQ people have faced discrimination on the island, with some sent to work camps alongside political dissidents in the 1960s. Cuba's growing evangelical Christian community openly opposed the family code, but the government pushed for it as the referendum neared.

8

Jan. 6 rioter who got call from White House identified

CNN reported Monday that the rioter who received a call from the White House during the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack was a 26-year-old Trump supporter from New York named Anton Lunyk. The nine-second call was placed through the White House switchboard to the cellphone registered to Lunyk shortly after then-President Donald Trump posted a video message on social media telling rioters to "go home, we love you, you're very special." Lunyk traveled to Washington, D.C., the night before the riot with two friends, Francis Connor and Antonio Ferrigno. The young men, who exchanged messages about attacking then-Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), were sentenced to a few months of home confinement for their participation in the attack.

9

NASA crashes tiny spacecraft into asteroid in Earth-defense test 

NASA crashed the vending-machine-sized Dart spacecraft into an asteroid 7 million miles from Earth to test its ability to alter the path of a massive space rock if one ever threatens the planet. Dart — short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test — hit the asteroid at 14,000 miles per hour, which scientists said should provide enough force to nudge the 525-foot asteroid named Dimorphos slightly off its current orbit of a much larger nearby asteroid, Didymos. Neither poses any danger to Earth, but NASA will use the dry run to prepare in case someday it needs to deflect an incoming asteroid to save the planet. It could take months to determine how much Dart changes the asteroid's course.

10

Congress to consider deal to prevent shutdown

Top lawmakers unveiled a proposal to avert a government shutdown later this week. The stopgap funding package includes $12 billion more emergency aid for Ukraine as it fights off a Russian invasion, as well as a plan championed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) that would make it easier to build energy infrastructure. The measure emerged from a Democratic deal that secured the centrist Democrat's key vote for the party's Inflation Reduction Act, but some lawmakers in both parties don't want it in the stopgap bill to keep the government funded through Dec. 16. "With four days left in the fiscal year, we cannot risk a government shutdown; we must work to advance this bill," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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