Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 16, 2022

The Senate passes the $858 billion defense spending bill, a Texas jury convicts ex-officer of manslaughter in 2019 killing of Atatiana Jefferson, and more

1

Senate passes defense spending bill that ends Pentagon vaccine mandate

The Senate on Thursday passed the $858 billion annual defense spending bill in a bipartisan 83-11 vote. The bill adds new funding for Ukraine as it fights Russia's invasion, increases pay for service members, authorizes the purchase of new weapons, and rescinds the military's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The House has passed the legislation, so it now goes to President Biden for his signature. The bill includes $45 billion more than the Biden administration requested. Democrats and Republicans are still negotiating a broader spending bill to fund the government for the next year. The Senate on Thursday cleared a stopgap measure to keep federal agencies running another week to provide time to negotiate a deal, beating a deadline to avert a partial government shutdown this weekend.

2

Former Texas officer convicted of manslaughter for killing Atatiana Jefferson

A Texas jury on Thursday found Aaron Dean, a white former Fort Worth police officer, guilty of manslaughter for the fatal 2019 shooting of Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman, in her own home. Jefferson was playing video games with her nephew, and grabbed a gun when she heard a noise outside. Dean, who was responding to a non-emergency call from a neighbor reporting that Jefferson's front door was open, shot Jefferson through the window. Then-Police Chief Ed Kraus said there was "absolutely no excuse" for the killing. Dean resigned, and prosecutors charged him with murder. The case largely focused on whether he saw Jefferson's gun before firing. Dean faces sentencing Friday, and could get up to 20 years in prison.

3

Twitter suspends journalists who cover Twitter and owner Elon Musk

Twitter on Thursday suspended the accounts of journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and several other news outlets who cover the social media platform and its new owner, billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In a Twitter Space audio discussion, Musk linked the suspensions to new rules banning private jet trackers. Twitter on Wednesday banned an account that tracked the location of Musk's private jet, which Musk said endangered his family. A participant in the Twitter forum said the suspended accounts had posted links to Musk jet trackers on other sites. CNN's Donie O'Sullivan and Mashable tech reporter Matt Binder denied linking to tracking accounts. "Musk seems to be just stamping out accounts that he doesn't like," O'Sullivan said.

4

E.U. approves new Russia sanctions and more Ukraine aid

European Union leaders ended their last 2022 summit on Thursday with an agreement to impose new sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, blacklisting nearly 200 more people and barring investment in Russia's mining industry. The E.U. also approved $19.5 billion in additional financing for Ukraine next year. "Our joint determination to support Ukraine politically, financially, militarily, and in the humanitarian area for as long as necessary remains unbroken," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said after talks among the 27 E.U. leaders in Brussels. The E.U. also appeared to settle differences on capping gas prices in response to Russia's squeezing of supplies, with ministers working to finalize the terms on Monday.

5

3 Michigan men sentenced to longest prison terms yet over Whitmer kidnapping plot

A Michigan judge on Thursday sentenced three men to the longest prison terms yet over a foiled 2020 plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). The defendants — Joe Morrison, Pete Musico, and Paul Bellar — were not charged with direct participation in the scheme, which the FBI foiled. They were members of a paramilitary group allied with Adam Fox, one of the ringleaders. Fox will be sentenced in federal court Dec. 27, and could get a life term. Musico received a minimum 12-year sentence. His son-in-law Morrison got 10 years and Bellar got seven. Before the sentencing, Whitmer called for stiff punishment, calling the plot a "threat to democracy itself."

6

D.C. bar committee recommends disbarring Giuliani over effort to reverse Trump loss

A bar discipline committee in Washington, D.C., on Thursday recommended disbarring former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani after concluding that he likely violated at least one professional rule while pursuing then-President Donald Trump's legal effort to overturn President Biden's 2020 election win in Pennsylvania. D.C. Bar counsel Phil Fox, who investigated the case and called for the most severe punishment against Giuliani, argued that Giuliani's rushed lawsuits seeking to throw out hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania votes with no direct evidence of fraud posed "a fundamental harm to the fabric of the country that could well be irreparable." Giuliani's lawyer said disbarring Giuliani would "chill" other lawyers, arguing that a less severe punishment like a letter of reprimand was more appropriate.

7

House Jan. 6 committee to approve criminal referrals Monday in final hearing 

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack is scheduled to hold its final hearing on Monday, and it's expected to conclude its work by asking the Justice Department to investigate possible crimes related to the riot. The panel, which has seven Democrats and two Republicans, has held a dozen hearings and interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses. The committee's chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), has said the members will make criminal referrals to the Justice Department recommending prosecution, but he hasn't said whether former President Donald Trump would be among the people named for potential charges. The committee has looked closely at Trump's efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Biden, which Congress certified on the day of the Capitol attack.

8

Claudine Gay named Harvard's 1st Black president

Harvard on Thursday named Claudine Gay as its next president. Gay, currently the dean of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, will become the Ivy League school's first Black leader when she takes over in July. Gay, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, is a scholar of political behavior and democracy. She received her undergraduate degree in economics from Stanford University in 1992, then got her Ph.D. in government from Harvard in 1998. She is the founding chair of the Inequality in America Initiative, which examines topics like the effects of child poverty on educational opportunity, and inequities in STEM education. "People are Harvard's institutional strength," said Gay, 52. "I want to take on this role because I believe in them."

9

Biden administration restarts program offering free COVID tests

The Biden administration on Thursday offered a new round of free coronavirus tests for all U.S. households under an effort to reduce infections and hospitalizations in a possible winter COVID-19 surge. The White House says it's using "existing, limited funding" to restart the program, which was paused in September. The government distributed more than 600 million tests in earlier incarnations of the program. Each household will be eligible to order four tests through the website set up for the program, covidtests.gov. The tests will be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. New COVID cases have jumped by about 33 percent in the last two weeks, and deaths and hospitalizations are up about 50 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

10

House passes bill seeking Puerto Rico independence referendum

The House on Thursday passed a bill seeking to let Puerto Ricans vote on the island's status in November 2023. The bill would let the U.S. Caribbean territory hold its first-ever binding referendum on whether to embrace one of three options: becoming the 51st state, independence, or independence in free association with the United States. Puerto Rico's current status as a territory means its three million people are born U.S. citizens, but can't vote for president and have only a single, non-voting representative in Congress. The bill passed 233-191, supported by all Democrats but opposed by all but 16 Republicans. It is considered unlikely to pass in the evenly divided Senate.

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