Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 20, 2023

Biden promises aid during trip to survey California storm damage, Treasury starts 'extraordinary' measures to pay bills as government hits debt ceiling, and more


Biden surveys damage from deadly California storms

President Biden traveled to California's Central Coast on Thursday to survey damage from a series of storms that caused widespread flooding and major landslides, leading to at least 22 deaths and an estimated $1 billion in damage. Biden, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), and Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) flew over devastated areas in a helicopter. Biden also walked down a broken boardwalk in Capitola and met with business owners. The trip came after Biden issued an emergency declaration authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief. He has offered federal aid through a separate major disaster declaration in six counties. "The federal government is not leaving its responsibility until it's all fixed, it's done," Biden said. 


Treasury starts 'extraordinary' steps as U.S. hits debt limit

The U.S. government hit its $31.4 trillion debt limit on Thursday, and the Treasury Department said in a letter to Congress that it had started "extraordinary" accounting measures, tapping retirement funds, to avoid default. "I respectfully urge Congress to act promptly to protect the full faith and credit of the United States," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote in the letter. The measures are expected to buy five months for Republicans and Democrats to negotiate a deal on raising the debt ceiling to avoid a default that could wreck the economy. Republicans say they won't increase the limit without big spending cuts. Democrats, including the White House, say lawmakers have a duty to raise the ceiling to cover spending Congress has already approved.


CIA director met secretly with Ukraine president to discuss Russian plans

CIA Director William J. Burns secretly visited Ukraine last week to brief President Volodymyr Zelensky on U.S. intelligence assessments of Russia's next moves in its invasion of the country, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing a U.S. official and other people familiar with the trip. Burns' visit came as Russian forces continued a major assault on the eastern city of Bakhmut. Zelensky has been pushing for more military aid, including tanks, and the Biden administration is preparing to send armored vehicles and ammunition as part of a new, $2.5 billion package. Dozens of Ukraine allies are meeting Friday at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to discuss Ukraine plans, and have pledged to send additional military aid, with Germany facing pressure to send advanced tanks.


Supreme Court investigation fails to find source of abortion-ruling leak

The U.S. Supreme Court released a report Thursday saying that an eight-month investigation failed to identify who leaked a draft of the conservative majority's ruling overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had established a nationwide right to abortion. Supreme Court marshal Gail Curley at the direction of Chief Justice John Roberts had ordered the inquiry after the May 2022 leak to Politico, which was "an unprecedented violation of the nine-member court's tradition of confidentiality in the behind-the-scenes process of making rulings after hearing oral arguments in cases," according to Reuters. The report said 97 court employees were interviewed, but none confessed to involvement in the leak. The report criticized the court's internal security protocols, and said investigators would pursue future leads.


Judge fines Trump, lawyer nearly $1 million over 'frivolous' Hillary Clinton lawsuit

A federal judge in Florida on Thursday ordered former President Donald Trump and his lawyer Alina Habba to pay $938,000 in sanctions to 31 defendants in a lawsuit they filed last year alleging a vast conspiracy against Trump in the 2016 presidential election. U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks threw out the lawsuit in September, then fined Habba $50,000 to pay the legal fees of one of the defendants, Charles Dolan. This nearly $1 million penalty will be divided among the other defendants, including Trump's 2016 Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. The lawsuit "was completely frivolous, both factually and legally, and ... was brought in bad faith for an improper purpose," Middlebrooks wrote in a scathing ruling. "No reasonable lawyer would have filed it."


Florida rejects AP African-American studies course

Florida's government notified the College Board, which administers Advanced Placement exams, that it won't recognize a new AP African-American studies course. In the latest attack by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on what he considers excessively "woke" education initiatives, the Florida Department of Education said it would not include the class in the state's directory of courses, saying it "significantly lacks educational value." Florida's Republican-dominated legislature has passed laws limiting what teachers can say about race and other sensitive topics. Florida's Department of Education told the College Board it would be "willing to reopen the discussion" if the College Board came "back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content." The state didn't say what it found objectionable in the course.


Protesters clash with police in Peru capital

Thousands of protesters defied a government-ordered state of emergency in Peru on Thursday, marching into the capital, Lima, to demand the resignation of President Dina Boluarte, and new general elections. Clashes between protesters and police during demonstrations in Lima and other cities left one person dead and 30 injured. Boluarte called for a pause to the latest in a series of protests sparked by the ouster of former President Pedro Castillo in December. "Once again, I call for dialogue, I call on those political leaders to calm down ... Let's talk," Boluarte said during a press conference. State broadcaster TV Peru showed protesters breaking through a security cordon near Congress, throwing objects, and pushing security agents. Police used tear gas to contain crowds in central Lima.


Judge rejects Peter Navarro bid to dismiss charge for defying Jan. 6 subpoena

U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta on Thursday rejected an effort by Peter Navarro, who served as trade adviser under former President Donald Trump, to dismiss contempt of Congress charges filed against him for his refusal to comply with a subpoena from the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. The decision left Navarro's trial on track to start in late January as scheduled. The judge said Navarro provided no evidence to support his claim that Trump wanted him to assert executive privilege to avoid testifying. "Because the claimed assertion of executive privilege is unproven, Defendant cannot avoid prosecution for contempt," Mehta wrote in the 39-page ruling. If convicted, Navarro could face a year in prison for each of the two charges he faces.


David Crosby, co-founder of Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, dies at 81

Singer, songwriter, and guitarist David Crosby, an original member of the Byrds and a founder of Crosby, Stills & Nash, has died. He was 81. Crosby had posted on Twitter as recently as Wednesday, joking about heaven and writing, "I heard the place is overrated ... cloudy," according to Variety. Crosby had announced eight months ago that he was finished performing live, saying he was "too old" (although he said in December he had changed his mind). He continued recording at what he called a "startling rate." "Now I'm 80 years old so I'm gonna die fairly soon. That's how that works," he said. "And so I'm trying really hard to crank out as much music as I possibly can, as long as it's really good."


Alec Baldwin to be charged with involuntary manslaughter in 'Rust' shooting

New Mexico prosecutors said Thursday they would charge actor Alec Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter over the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins with a prop gun on the set of the low-budget western Rust. Baldwin was rehearsing a scene when the gun, which was supposed to be loaded with dummy rounds, fired a live bullet that hit Hutchins, a rising star in the film industry, in the chest. The film's director, Joel Souza, was wounded but recovered. The production's weapons handler, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, was the one who loaded the gun, and she also was charged. "On my watch, no one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice," said New Mexico's First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies.


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