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Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- The United States military carried out “self-defense” airstrikes early Friday morning on facilities used by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxy militias in eastern Syria. The strikes followed a series of recent rocket and drone attacks by Iranian-backed groups against U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Syria, in which a total of 19 American military personnel reportedly suffered traumatic brain injuries. “The United States does not seek conflict and has no intention nor desire to engage in further hostilities,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement following the airstrikes. “But these Iranian-backed attacks against U.S. forces are unacceptable and must stop.” Earlier on Thursday, however, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian had threatened further escalation of the conflict. “Today in New York and from the headquarters of the United Nations I say frankly to the American statesmen and military forces who are now managing the genocide in Palestine, that we do not welcome the expansion and scope of the war in the region,” he said in a speech before the UN General Assembly. “But I warn if the genocide in Gaza continues, they will not be spared from this fire.” An additional 900 U.S. troops are being deployed to the region to bolster force protection and deterrence, Pentagon officials said yesterday.
- Israeli ground troops briefly raided northern Gaza overnight Wednesday to target anti-tank weapons and Hamas fighters and infrastructure, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said Thursday morning. More incursions are planned for the coming days to pave the way for the impending ground offensive, and airstrikes on Gaza—which IDF officials said killed five senior Hamas commanders on Thursday—continue as the military makes its final preparations.
- The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Thursday that real gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annual rate of 4.9 percent in the third quarter of 2023. The robust growth greatly exceeded economists’ expectations and marked the largest gain since the fourth quarter of 2021. The bulk of this growth came from private inventory investment, federal government spending, and consumer spending—the last of which grew 4 percent over the period. “It’s a good, strong number and it shows an economy that’s doing very well,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said. “We have what looks like a soft landing, with very good outcomes for the U.S. economy.”
- A federal judge ruled on Thursday that Georgia’s voting maps drawn by Republican lawmakers in 2021 violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of black voters. In a 516-page ruling, District Judge Steve Jones wrote that “the evidence before this court shows that Georgia has not reached the point where the political process has equal openness and equal opportunity for everyone.” Jones ordered the state legislature to redraw the maps by December 8, with one additional majority-black congressional district and several majority-black state House and state Senate districts. If the lawmakers fail to redraw the maps by the deadline, the court will do so.
- After several obvious, bus-sized hints, Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota announced Thursday night that he would challenge President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination for president. In an interview with CBS News, Phillips stressed that he believes Biden is doing a good job, but that “this is an election about the future.” He cited recent polling data to back up his calculus. “I will not sit still and not be quiet in the face of numbers that are so clearly saying that we’re going to be facing an emergency next November,” he said.
- House Republicans from New York moved on Thursday to hold a vote on removing their colleague Rep. George Santos from Congress after multiple criminal charges had been filed against the first-term congressman. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito of New York introduced a privileged resolution—a legislative maneuver that requires a House vote on the measure within two working days—to expel Santos. “Santos is a stain on the House,” D’Esposito said. “This con man must be expelled.” (House leadership has the ability to table the resolution or refer it to a committee.) D’Esposito said he spoke with newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson about the measure and that the speaker told him to “do what you think is right and do what’s right for your district.” In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity that aired last night, however, Johnson urged patience, saying it’d be a “problem” for lawmakers to “expel people from Congress just because they’re charged with a crime.”
- Blake Masters, the former venture capitalist and failed Senate candidate, declared yesterday his intent to run for the congressional seat in Arizona now up for grabs after GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko announced her retirement earlier this month. Masters—who ran against Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in 2022 but lost by almost 5 points—was reportedly considering running for Senate in Arizona again, challenging incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema this time around. Kari Lake, the failed Arizona GOP candidate for governor, launched a Senate bid earlier this month and endorsed Masters’ Republican opponent in the congressional race—Abraham Hamadeh—on Thursday.
- A full day after a gunman killed 18 people and injured dozens more at multiple locations in Lewiston, Maine, law enforcement has yet to apprehend the suspect. Authorities conducted a wide search yesterday including on properties owned by the suspect’s family.
The AUKUS Ruckus
State dinners are typically lavish, celebratory affairs that bring Washington and international elites together. But with Israel actively engaged in a war against Hamas, the White House decided against the usual jubilant atmosphere for the festivities this week honoring Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. First Lady Jill Biden regretfully canceled the planned performance by 1980s pop sensations, the B-52s, opting instead for instrumental music by the U.S. Marine Corps Band.
Perhaps it was for the best, because we’re not sure any state dinner performance could rival South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s rousing rendition of Don McLean’s “American Pie” back in April.
Despite the somber events in other parts of the world hanging over the meeting, the Australian PM’s visit was an opportunity to reinforce an important strategic relationship for the United States as the two countries move to counter Chinese influence and aggression in the Indo-Pacific region. The visit also highlighted some of the obstacles to pursuing the AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, and U.S.) security pact announced in March that aims to supply Canberra with nuclear submarines.