Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 3, 2023

Zelensky meets with European Union leaders in Kyiv, House Republicans boot Democrat Ilhan Omar from Foreign Affairs Committee, and more


Zelensky meets with EU leaders

Top European Union officials are meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Friday in a summit expected to reaffirm the trading bloc's support for Ukraine as it fights a Russian invasion. Ukraine, which is pushing to be admitted as a member of the EU and the NATO security alliance, this week conducted raids to step up an anti-corruption crackdown, a step toward reforms required for EU membership. Ukraine dismissed several high-ranking officials, and made some arrests. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, making her fourth visit to Kyiv since Russia invaded last February, said she was "comforted" by Ukraine's effort to crack down on corruption.


Republicans oust Rep. Ilhan Omar from House committee

House Republicans on Thursday ousted Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a progressive Democrat, from the Foreign Affairs Committee in a party-line vote. Republicans have accused Omar, one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, of making anti-Israel and antisemitic remarks. "Words matter, rhetoric matters," said committee member Rep. Michael Lawler (R-N.Y.). Omar, who has exchanged criticism with former President Donald Trump, faced a backlash in 2019 for saying U.S. political support for Israel was "all about the Benjamins," although she apologized after opponents called the comment antisemitic. "Is Ilhan Omar perfect? No. None of us are," House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said before the vote. "But this is not about accountability. This is about political revenge."


Sarah Huckabee Sanders to give GOP response to Biden's State of the Union

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will deliver the Republican response to President Biden's State of the Union address next week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Thursday. "Everyone, including President Biden, should listen carefully" to what the newly-elected governor, who served as President Trump's press secretary, has to say, McCarthy said. Sanders in November became the first woman to be elected governor in the solidly Republican state. Her father, Mike Huckabee, served two terms in the same job. "I am grateful for this opportunity to address the nation and contrast the GOP's optimistic vision for the future against the failures of President Biden and the Democrats," she said.


U.S. to send Ukraine longer-range bombs in new aid package

The Biden administration on Thursday agreed to send Ukraine longer-range bombs as Kyiv prepares an expected spring offensive to take back territory occupied by Russian forces. U.S. officials confirmed that the weapons would have twice the range of any weapon the U.S. has sent Ukraine so far. The ground-launched, small-diameter bombs will be included in a $2.2 billion aid package expected to be announced Friday, The Associated Press reported Thursday, citing several U.S. officials. The longer-range bombs are the latest advanced systems the U.S. has agreed to send as Western allies answer Ukraine's calls for more powerful weapons. The U.S. has agreed to send Abrams tanks and the Patriot missile defense system, but rejected Kyiv's request for fighter jets.


Tech giants report slowing growth, vow to cut costs

Apple, Amazon, and Google-parent Alphabet all announced year-end earnings on Thursday that confirmed expectations of slowing growth for the technology industry's giants. Google saw its first advertising revenue decline since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Alphabet and Amazon both reported slowing growth. Apple reported fourth quarter revenue that was 5 percent below the same period a year earlier, its first such drop in several years. The CEOs of Amazon and Alphabet, which were among tech giants that have announced layoffs, said they need to continue cutting costs. Facebook parent Meta on Wednesday said 2023 would be the "year of efficiency," and its stock surge more than 23 percent Thursday.


Hunter Biden calls for investigation of Trump allies over leaked laptop data

Attorneys for Hunter Biden, President Biden's son, are calling for state and federal authorities to investigate the release of contents from a laptop he left at a computer repair shop. The lawyers said shop owner Mac Isaac and conservative political operatives — including Rudy Giuliani, who served as a lawyer for former President Donald Trump — committed criminal violations when they tried to "weaponize" files from the laptop to hurt President Biden. Hunter Biden's attorney, Abbe Lowell, wrote in a letter to federal officials and Delaware's attorney general that Isaac recklessly exposed Hunter Biden's private data as part of a "failed dirty political trick." The letter amounted to the younger Biden's first public acknowledgement that the laptop contained his personal data, according to CNN.


Trump refuses to commit to supporting GOP nominee

Former President Donald Trump on Thursday declined to commit to backing the 2024 GOP presidential candidate if he doesn't win the nomination. "It would have to depend on who the nominee was," Trump said in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. The comment "injected uncertainty into Republican hopes of reclaiming the White House next year," The Washington Post reported. Other leading Republicans, including some vocal Trump critics, have said they would support Trump or any other GOP nominee. In an earlier interview, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) — an anti-Trump Republican and possible GOP presidential candidate — told Hewitt: "As I have repeatedly said, I fully expect to support the Republican nominee — who I don't believe will be Trump."


U.S. tracking suspected Chinese spy balloon spotted over Montana

The United States is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon detected several days ago hovering over the northern U.S., NBC News reported Thursday, citing two U.S. officials and a senior defense official. "Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information," Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told NBC News. The balloon was spotted over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday after it flew over the Aleutian Islands and through Canada. A senior defense official declined to reveal its latest location. The sighting came as tensions are high between the U.S. and China, and defense officials reportedly have discussed the option of shooting down the balloon. China said it was looking into the report. 


'High-value' Guantánamo prisoner freed, sent to Belize

Guantánamo Bay detainee Majid Khan, a "high-value" prisoner who spent 15 years at the U.S. facility in Cuba after being interrogated at CIA black sites, was released and transferred to Belize on Thursday. Khan's resettlement came after he made a plea deal in 2012 and cooperated with the U.S. government by providing testimony in other cases. His 10-year sentence ended in March. Khan was captured in Pakistan and subjected to extreme interrogation tactics critics call torture, including being submerged in ice water. Khan, who was born in Saudi Arabia and grew up outside Baltimore, fell under al Qaeda's influence and participated in militant plots after traveling to Pakistan. "I continue to ask for forgiveness from God and those I have hurt," he said.


Ice storm death toll rises, Northeast braces for arctic blast

The death toll from an ice storm that swept through the South rose to 10 on Thursday, including seven fatalities in Texas. About 550,000 homes and businesses remained without power in four states after a four-day cold blast hit the region with ice, sleet, and snow. Northern states were expected to get hit next with an arctic system moving in from Canada that could bring wind chills as low as minus 50. That system moved through the northern Plains and Upper Midwest on Thursday and is expected to hit the Northeast and parts of the mid-Atlantic on Friday.


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