10 things you need to know today: December 15, 2019

Tim O'Donnell

1.

The Trump administration is expected to announce the withdrawal of around 4,000 troops from Afghanistan, multiple current and former U.S. officials said. The drawdown — which would reportedly be done in phases over a few months — would ultimately leave between 8,000 and 9,000 U.S. forces in place. The intended announcement is reportedly part of Washington's negotiations with the Taliban in the hopes that the 18-year conflict in the country will finally wind down, one former defense official told NBC News. The withdrawal is viewed as a concession that could possibly sway the Taliban to promise a cease-fire in return. President Trump has been pushing for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan for some time. The announcement could come as early as next week, but officials said the timing is not set. [NBC News, CNN]

2.

For the first time in more than 30 years, the United States secretly expelled two Chinese embassy officials after they drove on to a sensitive military base in Norfolk, Virginia, in September, The New York Times reports. The officials, who were with their wives, were reportedly told to go through the gate and turn around after they were denied access at the base's checkpoint, but they continued driving before being stopped. The officials reportedly said they didn't understand the English instructions and got lost, but American officials reportedly believe at least one of the officials was a Chinese intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover. The Trump administration reportedly fears China is ramping up its espionage in the U.S. as economic and geopolitical tensions between Washington and Beijing continue to simmer. [The New York Times]

3.

Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.) — one of only two House Democrats to vote against formalizing an impeachment inquiry in October — apparently met with President Trump, who urged him to switch parties, and the congressman reportedly told aides he plans on doing so. He's reportedly going to announce the decision as soon as next week as the House gets ready to vote on two articles of impeachment. Van Drew is a centrist freshman lawmaker who considers impeachment too divisive and hails from a district that swung from supporting President Obama by eight points in 2012 to backing Trump by five points in 2016, although it reportedly leans red historically. By crossing the aisle, Van Drew would be less likely to face a primary threat, two Democrats and one Republican told the New York Times on condition of anonymity. [The New York Times, The Washington Post]

4.

The longest United Nations climate talks on record ended in Madrid on Sunday with no decision on how to regulate global carbon markets, postponing the debate for another year. The delegates did agree that all parties will need to put new carbon cutting plans on the table when they reconvene next year in Glasgow, and an agreement to compensate the world's most vulnerable countries for the effects of extreme weather events was also reached. As for leaving carbon market regulation untouched for now, several countries said they preferred no deal to a weak one out of fear that it would undermine other emission-reducing efforts. [The Associated Press, BBC]

5.

Small groups of pro-democracy, anti-government protesters gathered in some of Hong Kong's shopping centers Sunday. The demonstrations turned violent, breaking a rare peaceful streak in the city which has been mired in turmoil for months. Police reportedly responded to at least two of the protests with pepper spray and arrested two demonstrators. Protesters reportedly vandalized multiple locations and trashed restaurants run by the catering firm Maxim's as a result of the owner's daughter criticizing the movement. The brief skirmishes that broke out were the first instances of more aggressive protests in three weeks after a series of peaceful marches. The demonstrations may have intensified, in part, because Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam is scheduled to meet China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday. [The Guardian, Reuters]

6.

China announced Sunday that it will not impose new tariffs on American imports after an interim agreement between Washington and Beijing was reached Friday to avoid escalating the trade war between the global powers. Beijing had previously threatened to introduce 5 to 10 percent tariffs on selected U.S. goods that would have gone into effect Sunday, but backed down when the U.S. canceled plans to introduce new tariffs on Chinese imports as part of Friday's agreement. A 25 percent tariff on about $250 billion in Chinese goods will remain in place, however. China said Sunday it hopes the two sides continue negotiating "on the basis of equality and mutual respect to address the concerns of both parties." [The South China Morning Post, Bloomberg]

7.

In an open letter Sunday, Jeremy Corbyn apologized to the United Kingdom's Labour Party supporters for the party's defeat in the country's elections Thursday, accepting responsibility for the loss. "I will make no bones about it," Corbyn wrote. "The result was a bloody blow for everyone who so desperately needs real change in our country. I'm sorry that we came up short and I take my responsibility for it." He added that Labour is determined to regain the trust of lifelong Labour voters, who jumped ship to Boris Johnson's Conservative Party this time around. Corbyn is expected to step down as Labour leader early next year. [The Mirror, BBC]

8.

Former Gary, Indiana, Mayor Richard Hatcher died Friday night at a Chicago hospital, his daughter announced. He was 86. Hatcher in 1967 became the first black mayor of a large U.S. city in a groundbreaking election despite efforts from the city's Democratic political machine to prevent his victory. He ended up serving five terms, and The Associated Press described him as a political force for Gary's black citizens. Hatcher went on to serve as the chair of Jesse Jackson's 1984 Democratic presidential campaign, as well as Jackson's vice chair in 1988. "Mayor Richard Hatcher was not just a historical figure, he was a transformational figure," Jackson said. "We thank him, and we miss him." [The Associated Press]

9.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential candidate, sent a letter to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred on Saturday about the league's threat to completely sever ties with its affiliate minor league baseball teams. Sanders said he was "outraged" and noted that Manfred, who initially proposed cutting 42 minor league teams, had previously promised the senator he was going to negotiate with Minor League Baseball in "good faith" in an effort to "preserve professional baseball in the communities that currently have it." The current deal tying MiLB to MLB expires in 2020, and the latter said if "significant issues" aren't addressed, MLB clubs will be able to affiliate with any minor league team in the U.S., including independent league teams. [The Hill, Bernie Sanders]

10.

Louisiana State University quarterback Joe Burrow won the Hesiman Trophy — college football's most prestigious award — on Saturday, beating out University of Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, and two Ohio State University standouts in quarterback Justin Fields and defensive end Chase Young. Burrow, who led LSU to an undefeated season, a Southeastern Conference championship, and the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff while throwing for a conference-record 48 touchdowns, finished with the largest margin of victory ever in a Heisman race. He picked up a record 90.7 percent of all available first-place votes. Despite LSU's tradition of success, Burrow is only the second Tiger to ever win the award and the first since 1959. Burrow and LSU will return to action for a national semi-final against Hurts and the No. 4 Sooners on Dec. 28. [ESPN]

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