The U.S. at a glance ...
Santa Rosa, Calif.
Deadly fires: Wildfires whipped by 50 mph winds burned out of control throughout Northern California’s wine country this week, killing at least 21 people, hospitalizing hundreds, and forcing more than 20,000 residents to flee their homes. More than 1,100 firefighters were battling 17 separate fires, which have scorched 170,000 acres across nine counties, including Napa and Sonoma, and destroyed or damaged some 3,500 homes and businesses. Residents say that walls of flames descended upon densely populated neighborhoods so quickly that they were forced to flee even before they received emergency alerts. “There was no notice, no warning,” said Maureen Grinnell, 77, who lived in the hills north of Napa with her 89-year-old husband. “I was watching a movie...and I smelled smoke. By the time I started to back the car out of the garage, the house was already on fire.” Authorities warned that the death toll was likely to rise, as more than 500 people remained unaccounted for.
Veep protest: Acting on President Trump’s instructions, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an NFL football game in his home state of Indiana this week after nearly two dozen visiting San Francisco 49ers players took a knee during the national anthem. “I left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, or our national anthem,” Pence said in a statement released minutes after leaving Lucas Oil Stadium. Democrats criticized the vice president’s actions as a publicity stunt, pointing out that 49ers players have knelt during every game this season and that Pence had flown in from Las Vegas and left immediately for Los Angeles, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $250,000. During a meeting next week, NFL owners will consider changing league rules to make it mandatory that players stand for the national anthem.
Sanctuary state: Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last week making California a “sanctuary state,” in a show of defiance against the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies. Senate Bill 54, which is aimed at protecting the state’s estimated 2.3 million undocumented immigrants, dramatically limits the extent to which state and local law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The bill, which takes effect in January, bars officials from asking about people’s immigration status or from sharing information about them with federal immigration agents unless the individuals have been charged or convicted of a serious offense. Federal agents will still be able to enter county jails, but the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that the bill would force the agency to conduct more large-scale raids on neighborhoods and workplaces to find undocumented immigrants.
Clean Power Plan scrapped: The Environmental Protection Agency moved this week to repeal former President Obama’s flagship environmental policy, designed to fight climate change by curbing emissions from power plants. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a formal notice that the agency will repeal the Clean Power Plan, which sought to reduce U.S. power plant emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The plan, which was finalized in 2015 but has never gone into effect because of legal challenges, would have required states to meet emissions targets at individual plants and add cleaner energy sources to their power grids. But the Trump administration contended the rule unfairly punished coal and other fossil-fuel producers. The past administration tried “to pick winners and losers in how we generate electricity,” said Pruitt this week, announcing the repeal to a group of coal miners in eastern Kentucky. “And that’s wrong.”
Bannon’s rebellion: Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon plans to back populist primary challengers to almost every Republican senator running for re-election in 2018, Bloomberg reported this week. Bannon, who returned to Breitbart News after being forced out of the White House in August, intends to support as many as 15 candidates, who must agree to two conditions: that they oppose Sen. Mitch McConnell as majority leader and that they vote to end the 60-vote threshold on the filibuster. Bannon is hoping to unseat some of McConnell’s staunchest GOP allies in the Senate, including Nevada’s Dean Heller, Nebraska’s Deb Fischer, and Utah’s Orrin Hatch, as well as prominent Trump critics such as Arizona’s Jeff Flake. Bannon has been holding meetings with donors and potential candidates; some meetings have been attended by hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, who have given $37.1 million to conservative campaigns and Super PACs over the past three election cycles.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Death toll rises: The official death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria rose to 45 this week, with that number expected to rise as communications are slowly restored across the storm-ravaged island. Just over a third of the U.S. territory’s 3.4 million residents are still without running water, while 89 percent of the island continues to go without power. Nearly all of Puerto Rico’s hospitals have reopened, but many are facing shortages of medicine and supplies, including diesel fuel to run their generators. The island’s 6,000 dialysis patients have seen their treatment hours cut by 25 percent to conserve energy. Federal health officials said less than half of the territory’s medical personnel have returned to work since the Sept. 20 storm. The situation is so dire that many Puerto Ricans are expected to leave the island permanently. More than 100,000 people are expected to move to the Orlando area alone i n the coming months.