Daily briefing

10 things you need to know: September 28, 2022

Hurricane Ian strengthens into Category 4 storm as it barrels toward Florida, Russia claims victory in annexation referendums Ukraine dismisses as a "farce," and more


Hurricane Ian intensifies into Category 4 storm ahead of Florida landfall

Hurricane Ian barreled north toward the west coast of Florida early Wednesday after crashing across the western tip of Cuba, knocking out power to the entire island of 11 million. Ian intensified into a Category 4 storm with top sustained winds of 140 miles per hour as it passed over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Authorities ordered tens of thousands of people to evacuate flood-prone, low-lying coastal areas around Tampa Bay and to the south, where the threat of potentially deadly storm surge is highest. Experts urged residents to take precautions, and warned of a "potential historic catastrophe" when Ian hits later Wednesday in what could be Tampa Bay's first direct hit from a major hurricane in a century.


Russia claims victory in annexation referendums Zelensky dismisses as 'farce'

Russia took a step closer to annexing parts of Ukraine on Tuesday when pro-Kremlin officials announced that residents in four occupied regions in eastern and southern Ukraine had voted to join Russia. Moscow-installed election officials said 93 percent of the vote in Zaporihzhia favored annexation, as did 87 percent in the Kherson province, 99 percent in Donetsk, and 98 percent in Luhansk. Ukrainian and Western leaders maintain the results were preordained and an unacceptable "sham." Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the referendums "a farce" and promised good news from the war front. "We are advancing and will liberate our land," he said. The Kremlin has hinted it would use nuclear weapons to defend annexed territory.


Senate advances bill to avert shutdown, without Manchin energy-permitting measure

The Senate on Tuesday advanced a spending bill designed to avert a potential government shutdown at the end of the week. The test vote came after Senate leaders dropped Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-W.Va.) controversial proposal to make permitting easier for energy projects. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) earlier in the day came out against Manchin's proposal and urged his fellow Republicans to reject it, effectively dooming it. Republicans want to speed up energy projects, but McConnell said Manchin's proposal didn't go far enough. "It is unfortunate that members of the United States Senate are allowing politics to put the energy security of our nation at risk," Manchin said.


S&P 500 falls into bear market territory

The S&P 500 fell 0.2 percent on Tuesday, touching its lowest point in two years. Stocks had risen from mid-summer lows but recently tumbled again as concerns grow that the Federal Reserve's aggressive inflation-fighting interest rate hikes could tip the economy into a recession. The S&P 500 has now had six straight days of losses and is down more than 20 percent from its early January high, putting it back in a bear market. The index has fallen 12 percent since Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said in a late-August speech in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, that the central bank was resolved to bring down high inflation even if the effort hurts the economy. Stock futures fell early Wednesday.


Jury selection begins in Oath Keepers leader sedition trial

The sedition trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and four other members of the far-right militia group got underway Tuesday with the beginning of jury selection. Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers have been accused of seditious conspiracy for allegedly plotting to prevent the peaceful transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to President Biden. In the first of two trials for separate sets of suspects, Rhodes and his four fellow defendants are charged with planning to use force to prevent Congress from certifying Biden's Electoral College victory on Jan. 6, 2021. Members of the militia group allegedly started planning in November 2020, just after Trump's election loss, to gather weapons and arrange travel Washington, D.C., to disrupt the certification.


McConnell announces support for Electoral Count Act reform

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said he would support a bill designed to prevent a repeat of the Jan. 6, 2021, effort by former President Donald Trump's supporters to block the certification of a presidential election. McConnell's endorsement all but guarantees that the bipartisan Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act will pass. The legislation, similar to a bill passed by the House last week, would amend the Electoral Count Act of 1887, making it clear that the vice president has only a procedural role at the joint session of Congress to count electoral votes, without the power to reject results certified by the states. Trump pressured his vice president, Mike Pence, to help overturn his 2020 election loss to President Biden.


Biden administration approves states' EV charging station plans

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced Tuesday that his department has approved electric vehicle charging station plans for all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Buttigieg said the projects, covering 75,000 miles of highways, will "help ensure that Americans in every part of the country — from the largest cities to the most rural communities — can be positioned to unlock the savings and benefits of electric vehicles." The Biden administration earlier this year allocated $5 billion to help states put EV chargers along interstate highways over the next five years under Congress' bipartisan infrastructure package. States can now go ahead with construction of the charging stations along designated alternative fuel corridors.


E.U. says damage to Nord ​​​​​​​Stream pipelines looks like sabotage

The European Union's top diplomat, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, said Tuesday that leaks in two underwater Nord Stream natural gas pipelines from Russia appeared to have been caused by sabotage. Borrell warned that the E.U. would retaliate against any attack on Europe's energy supply. "Any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is utterly unacceptable," Borrell said. Seismologists reported explosions in the Baltic Sea before the unusual leaks appeared. The Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines are filled with natural gas but Russia had already halted deliveries to Europe in a showdown over sanctions imposed over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. The damage suggests the pipelines are unlikely to deliver any gas to Europe this winter, with or without a political agreement.


House Jan. 6 committee postpones hearing due to Hurricane Ian

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack said Tuesday it is postponing a hearing that had been scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday because of Hurricane Ian, which is forecast to slam Florida's west coast Wednesday night. "We're praying for the safety of all those in the storm's path," the committee's chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), and vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), said in a statement. Thompson and Cheney said the committee's investigation will continue, and they will soon announce a new date for the hearing. The postponed hearing would be the committee's ninth and, according to current plans, its last. The members were expected to share information they learned this summer, after their last hearings.


Meta shuts down China, Russia covert influence operations

Facebook parent company Meta announced Tuesday that it had shut down two networks of fake accounts in China and Russia involved in covert operations to influence U.S. public opinion ahead of the November midterm elections. Meta said in a blog post that the Chinese operation was small. It included accounts posing as Americans from both the right and the left, "talking about really divisive domestic issues like abortion and gun control," Ben Nimmo, Meta's global threat intelligence lead, told CNN. The much larger Russian network pushed pro-Kremlin positions on the war in Ukraine using thousands of accounts on multiple social media platforms. That campaign included more than $100,000 in spending on ads on Facebook and Instagram.


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