10 things you need to know today: September 15, 2023

A grand jury indicts Hunter Biden on gun charges, House defense spending bill stalls as shutdown looms, and more

Kevin McCarthy
Kevin McCarthy meets the press
(Image credit: Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images)

1. Hunter Biden indicted on gun charges

A Delaware grand jury on Thursday indicted Hunter Biden, President Biden's son, on charges that he illegally possessed a handgun as a drug user in 2018, and lied on a form he filled out to buy it. A plea deal on the felony charges fell through, so special counsel David Weiss took the case to the grand jury. Hunter Biden could also face separate tax charges. The indictment increases Biden's legal peril and poses a threat to his father's re-election campaign as three House committees launch an impeachment inquiry related to Hunter Biden's business dealings. The younger Biden's attorney, Abbe Lowell, said Weiss caved to political pressure in pushing the rarely prosecuted charges. The Washington Post, Politico

2. Conservatives clash with House, Senate leaders as shutdown looms

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Thursday abandoned a plan to hold a vote this week on a Pentagon spending measure as far-right conservatives demanded deep cuts in bills needed to prevent a government shutdown in two weeks. The impasse highlighted McCarthy's limited influence over GOP hardliners, some of whom have threatened to oust him as speaker if they don't get their way. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, "took a page from the House conservatives' playbook and derailed the first appropriations package that came to the Senate floor," The Hill reported. The bill, a normally noncontroversial annual defense spending bill, has bipartisan support, but conservatives are demanding changes. The Hill, The New York Times

3. Georgia judge splits Trump from 2 co-defendants getting early trial

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee ruled Thursday that former President Donald Trump won't go to trial in October with two of his co-defendants in Georgia's election interference case. McAfee separated two defendants who have demanded speedy trials — former Trump lawyers Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell — from Trump and the other 16 people charged with conspiring to overturn Trump's 2020 election loss in the state. McAfee said splitting the trials was "simply a procedural and logistical inevitability" to "safeguard each defendant's due process rights and ensure adequate pretrial preparation." The ruling was a setback for Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis, who wanted the cases kept together. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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4. Libya flooding death toll surges above 11,000

The death toll in Derna, the city hardest hit in flooding that ravaged Libya's northeastern coast, jumped to 11,300 on Thursday, according to the Libyan Red Crescent. Another 10,100 people remained missing, so authorities expect the grim tally to keep climbing. Entire neighborhoods were destroyed when torrential rains from Daniel, an unusually strong Mediterranean storm, caused two dams to burst, sweeping thousands of people into the sea. The flooding killed about 170 people in other parts of eastern Libya. A United Nations official said if the country had "a normal operating meteorological service," most of the casualties could have been avoided. "They could have issued the warnings" and carried out evacuations, World Meteorological Organization head Petteri Taalas said in Geneva. The Associated Press

5. UAW strike targets Ford, GM, Stellantis

The United Auto Workers on Friday launched a limited strike against Ford, Chrysler-owner Stellantis, and General Motors after a deadline for a new contract expired overnight. It is the first time the union has staged walkouts against all three of the major Detroit automakers at once. About 12,900 UAW workers went on strike at a Ford plant in Michigan, a Stellantis plant in Ohio, and a GM factory in Missouri. The union is using a new strategy, keeping most of its 150,000 members at the three companies working to maintain leverage in ongoing negotiations. "This union is making history," UAW President Shawn Fain said. "This is our time." Fain is expected to meet automaker representatives for negotiations on Saturday. The Detroit News

6. Zelenskyy to meet with Biden at White House next week

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to visit Washington next week and meet with President Biden and key lawmakers as Congress debates another $24 billion in potential military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. The stop will follow an appearance at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where Zelenskyy will try to rally support for his country's fight against invading Russian forces. An administration official told The Associated Press that Zelenskyy would visit the White House on Thursday. The Ukrainian president last visited Washington in December 2022, when he made a plea for support to a joint session of Congress in his first known trip outside Ukraine following Russia's invasion in February of that year. Politico, The Associated Press

7. IRS freezes pandemic employer tax benefit to fight fraud

The Internal Revenue Service said Thursday it would freeze a pandemic-era employer tax benefit while it figures out ways to prevent rampant fraud. The IRS has started more than 250 criminal investigations involving fraudulent claims that allegedly have cost the federal government nearly $3 billion. The Employee Retention Credit was created to help small businesses keep people employed during the coronavirus crisis. "We are deeply concerned that this program is not operating in the way it was intended," IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel said on Thursday. "We believe you should see only a trickle of employee retention claims coming in. Instead, we are seeing a tsunami." The New York Times

8. Ukraine hits key Russian air defense system in Crimea

Ukraine said Thursday it destroyed a sophisticated Russian air defense system in Russian-occupied Crimea and attacked two Russian patrol ships in the Black Sea. The strikes came a day after missiles badly damaged a Russian submarine and a landing ship being repaired in Sevastopol. The long-distance attacks into Crimea and the Black Sea are part of a Ukrainian campaign to degrade Russian offensive capabilities and target a critical hub the Russian military uses to stockpile troops, fuel and ammunition headed to the front lines in other parts of Ukraine. "The way to victory on the battlefield is to defeat the logistics of the Russians," Andriy Yermak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a statement this week. Aljazeera, The New York Times

9. Dominican Republic closes border with gang-ravaged Haiti

Dominican Republic President Luis Abinaderon announced Thursday that his country was closing its border with Haiti as tensions escalate between the two nations that share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic is already building a border wall and has deported tens of thousands of Haitian migrants to their impoverished home country, where gangs now control and terrorize most of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Ida Sawyer, crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch, said the move was "yet another demonstration of how the world is failing and abandoning the Haitian people," because closing the border "would essentially lock Haitians within their country amid extreme levels of violence, including large-scale killings, kidnappings and rapes." The Washington Post

10. Ex-Kentucky county clerk ordered to pay gay couple denied marriage license

A federal jury on Thursday ordered Kim Davis, a former Kentucky county clerk, to pay $100,000 to a gay couple she denied a marriage license to in 2015. Davis, then Rowan County clerk, refused to issue the license even though the Supreme Court had just legalized same-sex marriage. She was jailed for five days for contempt of court. The jury ordered her to pay $50,000 each to David Ermold and David Moore. "My clients couldn't be happier," lawyer Michael Gartland, who represented the couple, told USA Today. Another couple — James Yates and Will Smith — that sued Davis was awarded nothing by a separate jury. USA Today, Lexington Herald-Leader

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.