10 things you need to know today: January 3, 2020

Harold Maass

1.

A drone strike on Baghdad International Airport on Friday killed one of Iran's most powerful military leaders, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' elite Quds Force. The Pentagon said the U.S. launched the strike because Soleimani was "actively developing plans" to attack Americans. The killing of an Iranian leader linked to Iran's foreign proxy groups was expected to increase tensions between Iran and the U.S. following a two-day siege of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad by supporters and members of an Iran-backed militia. Several members of paramilitary groups also were killed in the strike on a militia convoy that was leaving Baghdad's airport. Iran warned of "harsh retaliation." [The New York Times, The Washington Post]

2.

Unredacted documents obtained by Just Security appear to show the Pentagon was concerned by President Trump's decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine. Defense Department officials worried the move, at the center of Trump's impeachment, would violate requirements that money be spent as allocated by Congress. Trump is accused of leveraging aid to pressure Ukraine into investigating Democrats for his political benefit. Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget, told Pentagon officials there was "clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold" the aid when asked in August. He did not explain the rationale for the decision. When the hold was lifted and Duffey was asked why, he said it was "not exactly clear." [Just Security, CNN]

3.

Former housing secretary Julián Castro halted his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday. The 45-year-old former San Antonio, Texas, mayor helped frame the debate within the party on key issues including immigration and battling poverty, but he failed to gain traction in polls after a year of campaigning. "I've determined that it simply isn't our time," Castro said in a video message released by his campaign. "Today it's with a heavy heart, and profound gratitude, that I will suspend my campaign for president." Castro was the only Latino candidate in what initially was the most racially diverse Democratic field ever. Castro said he was "not done fighting," and that he would "keep working towards a nation where everyone counts." [The New York Times]

4.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday officially issued a ban on flavored e-cigarette cartridges, with several notable exceptions. The Trump administration banned fruit, candy, mint, and dessert flavors of small e-cigarette cartridges, but not on menthol and tobacco flavors. Additionally, large tank vaping systems, which are used to mix flavors, will be exempt from the ban, which goes into effect in 30 days. The exceptions marked a step back from President Trump's original plan to ban all vaping flavors, including menthol. He announced the plan after six people died from lung disease tied to vaping. Companies now must stop selling the products covered under the ban or face possible regulatory action. Juul has already stopped selling most flavored e-cigarettes. [The Associated Press, CNBC]

5.

Wall Street surged to the latest in a string of record highs on Thursday, with all three of the main U.S. stock indexes making big gains on the first trading day of 2020. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 1.2 percent to close at 28,868.80. The S&P 500 climbed by 0.8 percent, and the Nasdaq gained 1.3 percent. All three set records. The gains came after a year-end rally that helped the S&P 500 finish the year up by 28.9 percent, while the Nasdaq rose by 35.2 percent on the year. Both had their best year since 2013. The Dow jumped by 22.3 percent in 2019, its best year since 2017. Thursday's gains came after China's central bank injected fresh stimulus into the economy by cutting the amount of cash banks must hold in reserves. [MarketWatch, Reuters]

6.

The Senate reconvenes Friday after the holiday break with the impeachment process against President Trump still on hold as Republicans and Democrats quarrel over the rules for his trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is likely to give a speech but is not expected to give any indication that a compromise is near. McConnell reportedly has not spoken with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to address the impasse. Pelosi has said she will hold off on sending the two articles of impeachment approved by the House to the Senate for trial until it's clear whether McConnell will meet Democrats' demands for testimony from top White House aides who declined to answer questions in the House impeachment inquiry. [CNN]

7.

Turkey on Thursday detained seven aviation workers, including four pilots, for questioning about former Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn's escape from Japan. Ghosn skipped bail and fled the country while on house arrest and awaiting trial in Japan on financial misconduct charges that he denies. He went to Istanbul, Turkey, and on to Lebanon, one of three countries where he holds citizenship. The Istanbul governor's office on Thursday announced that the seven people had been detained under the investigation into how Ghosn pulled off the escape. Japanese prosecutors on Thursday raided Ghosn's Tokyo house, while Interpol issued a wanted notice for him. Lebanon isn't required to arrest him, though, and it doesn't extradite its citizens. [NBC News, The Wall Street Journal]

8.

The death toll from floods in Indonesia reached 43 on Friday as receding floodwaters revealed more bodies. Nearly 400,000 people in and around the capital city of Jakarta had to flee their homes and seek refuge in shelters as monsoon rains and rising rivers inundated at least 182 neighborhoods in the worst flooding since 2013, when 57 people were killed during heavy monsoon rains. Many displaced people were able to return to their homes late Thursday as floodwaters receded. Authorities restored electricity to tens of thousands of homes and businesses, and reopened Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusuma domestic airport. The airport had been temporary closed after its runway was flooded, disrupting travel for 20,000 passengers. [The Associated Press]

9.

The Trump administration on Thursday started sending asylum applicants to Nogales, Mexico, to await hearings in the border city of Juarez, 350 miles away. The transfer of about 30 asylum-seekers to Nogales marked the expansion of the Remain in Mexico program requiring tens of thousands of people to await immigration court hearings across the border in Mexico. Previously, U.S. authorities transferred asylum applicants from Nogales, Arizona, to El Paso, Texas, so they could be returned directly to Juarez just across the border. Now asylum applicants will have to travel hundreds of miles on their own to attend their hearings. Administration officials say the Remain in Mexico program is effective at discouraging fraudulent asylum claims. Critics say it puts asylum-seekers back into dangerous Mexican border towns. [The Associated Press]

10.

The Australian state of Victoria on Thursday became the second state in the country to declare an emergency as more than 100 wildfires continued to scorch vast areas in eastern Australia. Weather forecasts suggest the situation could soon get even worse. It was the first such emergency declaration ever in Victoria, where two people have been killed and 17 others remain missing. The declaration gave officials broad powers to force people to evacuate. The state of New South Wales declared a state of emergency earlier, and urged tens of thousands of tourists to leave national parks and other remote areas. Navy crews rushed to evacuate the first 800 of about 4,000 people stranded on a beach in the isolated town of Malla­coota in far-east Victoria. [NBC News, Reuters]

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