Happy Thursday! Holiday cheer comes in many forms this time of year: quality time with family, thoughtful gifts, delicious holiday treats, and $1 billion in back taxes penalty waivers from the IRS.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- Hamas leaders reportedly rejected an offer from Israel on Wednesday to implement a weeklong pause in fighting in exchange for the release of 40 of the estimated 129 hostages still in Hamas captivity, according to Egyptian officials. The terror group has said publicly that it will neither consider temporary ceasefires nor negotiate further hostage releases until Israel ends its military operations in the Gaza Strip completely. Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ political leader who typically resides in Qatar, traveled to Cairo on Wednesday for truce talks with Egyptian leaders—his last visit to Egypt in November precipitated the previous pause in fighting and hostage releases. President Joe Biden said yesterday a new deal hasn’t been reached yet, telling reporters, “There’s no expectation at this point, but we are pushing.”
- The Biden administration confirmed on Wednesday the release of 10 American prisoners held in Venezuela (including six designated by the State Department as wrongfully detained) in exchange for Alex Saab—a Colombian businessman accused of money laundering and profiting off food imports while Venezulans starved, and a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. As part of the deal, Venezuela also transferred Leonard Glenn Francis—who goes by the moniker Fat Leonard and was involved in one of the largest bribery cases in U.S. military history—to U.S. custody. Francis escaped house arrest in California in September 2022, and was detained in Venezuela. President Joe Biden said in a statement that Francis has been returned to the United States, where he will “face justice for crimes he committed against the U.S. Government and the American people.”
- After three years of drafting and negotiations, the European Union (EU) reached a major deal on Wednesday that would reform the bloc’s immigration and asylum policies. The breakthrough, which is preliminary and still needs to be formally ratified, would tighten rules around asylum—such as stipulating eligibility assessments will take place at borders to facilitate faster deportations of ineligible migrants—and establish clear frameworks about burden sharing among EU members when dealing with large waves of migrants. “The new rules, once adopted, will make the European asylum system more effective and will increase the solidarity between member states by enabling to lighten the load on those member states where most migrants arrive,” the European Commission said in a statement. The changes must be approved by each of the 27 member nations and ratified by the European Parliament.
- The National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that the median existing-home sales price in the U.S. hit $387,600 in November—up 4 percent year-over-year and the fifth consecutive month of year-over-year price increases. Sales of previously owned homes increased 0.8 percent from October, ending 5 months of decline, but were still down 7.3 percent year-over-year.
- The Census Bureau released its annual population estimates on Tuesday, showing that American population growth is returning to pre-pandemic levels. The population increased by 0.5 percent in 2023—up 1.6 million people to 334,914,895—with the South accounting for 87 percent of the growth. Congressional reapportionment won’t happen again until after 2030, but if the trends hold steady, political power in Congress could become further concentrated in the South—the country’s most populous region.
An End-of-Year Constitutional Crisis
In a 4-3 decision released Tuesday night, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in Anderson v. Griswold that former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and conduct on January 6, 2021, render him disqualified from returning to office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.
Nothing like a little constitutional crisis to end the year.
The Colorado decision opened the door to the judicial branch deciding what candidates will be allowed to appear on the November 2024 ballot, setting up the most consequential election-related legal dispute since Bush v. Gore ended the recount process in Florida more than two decades ago. While the ruling immediately evoked a variety of strong reactions from legal scholars and politicians alike, the one thing virtually everyone agrees on is that the U.S. Supreme Court needs to settle the question—and quickly.