10 things you need to know today: September 16, 2020

USA World

1.

Israel on Tuesday signed diplomatic pacts normalizing relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at a White House ceremony. President Trump, portraying himself as a peacemaker, declared the agreements to be historic. “After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” Trump said. The deal came after Israel’s relations with the two Arab nations had already begun to thaw as they focused on their common enemy, Iran. Palestinians slammed the agreements as betrayals by fellow Arabs. The foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain noted that Israel had agreed to suspend plans to annex West Bank settlements, and said the agreements to exchange diplomats and cooperate on education, trade, security, and other issues would be helpful toward creating a Palestinian state. [The Associated Press]

2.

Hurricane Sally strengthened overnight and shifted eastward as it approached the Gulf Coast early Wednesday, threatening the Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi coasts with potentially “extreme life-threatening flash flooding,” a National Hurricane Center forecaster said. Sally’s top sustained winds jumped from 85 miles per hour late Tuesday to 105 mph on Wednesday, making it a Category 2 storm. Slow-moving Sally could dump up to 30 inches of rain in some areas and hit parts of the Gulf Coast with storm surge as high as seven feet. The National Hurricane Center’s latest advisory said the storm was nearing landfall around the Alabama-Florida border, where hurricane conditions were reported hours earlier. [CBS News, National Hurricane Center]

3.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that the House would remain in session as long as it takes for lawmakers to deliver a new coronavirus relief package before the November election. Democrats have rejected a “skinny” $600 billion relief bill proposed by Senate Republicans, but Pelosi has signaled willingness to settle for less than the $2.4 trillion Democrats were offering as a compromise after initially proposing more. The bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus unveiled a package that would cost about $1.5 trillion to break a month-long impasse in talks between the White House and leading Democrats. The plan was attacked by both conservatives and liberals, but the group’s Democratic co-chair, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), said it was just a framework to “get the negotiators back to the table.” [Reuters, The Hill]

4.

Louisville, Kentucky, Mayor Greg Fischer announced Tuesday that his city had agreed to pay $12 million to the family of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was fatally shot six months ago by police who were carrying out a late-night, no-knock raid. Taylor’s boyfriend, who was legally armed, thought criminals were breaking in and fired a shot, and the officers responded with a heavy barrage of gunfire, hitting Taylor five times and killing her. The settlement, the largest for police misconduct in the city’s history, will not affect the ongoing investigation into the case. Taylor’s mother has called for the officers to be charged. “We see this settlement as the bare minimum you can do for a grieving mother,” the social justice organization Until Freedom said. [USA Today, CNN]

5.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday made his first visit to Florida of the general election campaign, focusing on appeals for support from the swing state’s veterans and Latino voters. Biden said he included a Hispanic Heritage Month stop in Kissimmee, near Orlando, to “talk about how I am going to work like the devil to make sure I turn every Latino and Hispanic vote.” His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, visited Miami, where Democrats have warned President Trump is gaining ground among Hispanic voters, especially among conservative Cuban Americans alarmed by Trump’s portrayal of Biden as figurehead for radicals pushing socialist policies. But Biden noted that Florida’s Latino voters are diverse. He said his support is higher than Trump’s, “but they’ve got to go higher.” [The New York Times]

6.

Japan’s parliament on Wednesday elected Yoshihide Suga as the country’s new prime minister. Suga replaces Shinzo Abe, who unexpectedly announced his resignation last month, citing health problems. Suga easily won the vote in Japan’s lower house, a result that was expected after his selection as the majority conservative Liberal Democratic Party’s leader. Suga is expected to continue the policies of Abe, a close ally. Abe held his last cabinet meeting earlier Wednesday and said he was proud of what he accomplished in his record-long nearly eight years in power. Suga has served for years in the government’s No. 2 spot, as chief cabinet secretary. He takes over as Japan struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, which has triggered Japan’s worst economic downturn on record. [BBC News]

7.

The Justice Department is investigating whether former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s recent book criminally disclosed classified information, The New York Times reported Tuesday, citing three people familiar with the matter. A grand jury has issued a subpoena to Simon & Schuster, the publisher of The Room Where It Happened, for communications records. Bolton published his book in June despite the Trump administration’s attempts to prevent its release. A judge said the book could come out, but Bolton had exposed himself “to civil (and potentially criminal) liability” and “likely jeopardized national security by disclosing classified information in violation of his nondisclosure agreement obligations.” Bolton has said the book doesn’t contain classified information. Trump has accused Bolton of revealing secrets and filling the book with “made up stories.” [The New York Times]

8.

The Health and Human Services Department’s top spokesperson, Michael Caputo, apologized on Tuesday to Secretary Alex Azar and his staff for a Facebook rant in which he accused scientists fighting the coronavirus pandemic of “sedition” and warned of looming attacks by left-wing “hit squads.” Caputo reportedly said he regretted embarrassing Azar and HHS. Caputo, a close ally of President Trump, blamed his behavior on the toll of health problems and what he said had been death threats against his family. Caputo also admitted that he had never read any of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports produced on COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even though his team repeatedly tried to revise, delay, or scrap them. Caputo is considering taking medical leave, Politico reported, citing three people with knowledge of the situation. [Politico, The New York Times]

9.

The World Trade Organization on Tuesday ruled that some of the United States’ tariffs on Chinese goods broke international trade rules. The WTO backed China in a complaint it filed in 2018 accusing the Trump administration of violating WTO rules by singling out China with tariffs that were stiffer than those imposed on other countries. The WTO allows limited reasons that can justify tariffs hitting just one country, and the WTO said the U.S. tariffs didn’t qualify. President Trump’s top trade adviser, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, said the WTO was showing once again that it is “completely inadequate to stop China’s harmful technology practices.” China’s Ministry of Commerce said the WTO ruling was “fair and objective,” and the U.S. should comply. [The Wall Street Journal]

10.

Dozens of wildfires fueled by critically dry conditions are continuing to burn in California, Oregon, and Washington, sending haze across the United States. The fires have now scorched more than five million acres and forced tens of thousands of evacuations. Heavy smoke is hanging over major cities like Portland and Sacramento, and the air quality is unhealthy in most areas. In Los Angeles County, firefighters are battling flames within 500 feet of the 116-year-old Mt. Wilson Observatory. The Bobcat fire has been burning in the Angeles National Forest since Sept. 6, and grew to more than 40,000 acres after crossing containment lines overnight. Mt. Wilson Observatory was founded by George Ellery Hale in 1904, and has been visited by everyone from Albert Einstein to Stephen Hawking. [Los Angeles Times, NPR]

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