Happy Thursday! The Smithsonian National Zoo’s panda family—Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji—left Washington for China yesterday aboard a FedEx flight, leaving Zoo Atlanta the only remaining place in the United States with the lovable bears (don’t tell Jonah we said that) on display. China’s loan agreement with that zoo expires next year, meaning America could soon be panda-less for the first time in decades. We can only hope this is on the top of Biden’s agenda when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping next week.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- The European Union (EU) on Wednesday endorsed the start of negotiations for Ukraine and Moldova to join the bloc. The European Commission recommended that accession talks be opened as both countries have made progress on the bloc’s various prerequisites, but ultimate membership in the EU could take years and would require Ukraine to make additional reforms reducing corruption and the influence of oligarchs in the country’s economy. “Ukraine continues to face tremendous hardship and tragedy, provoked by Russia’s war of aggression,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday. “And yet, Ukrainians are deeply reforming their country.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine deserves membership for its defense of European values and efforts to reform.
- United States fighter jets conducted an airstrike against weapons facilities used by Iranian proxy groups in eastern Syria, Pentagon officials announced Wednesday. The move comes amidst a major uptick in attacks against U.S. military personnel in the region by Iranian-backed militias since mid-October. “This precision self-defense strike is a response to a series of attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria by IRGC-Quds Force affiliates,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement. “The President has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. personnel, and he directed today’s action to make clear that the United States will defend itself, its personnel, and its interests.” A U.S. military official told reporters yesterday that “a couple” people were at the warehouse when the strike occurred, but that the U.S. believes no civilians were killed.
- Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. expects to see a significant Palestinian role in governing a post-Hamas Gaza, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week that the Israeli military will control the Gaza Strip “for an indefinite period” following the war. “We’re very clear on no reoccupation, just as we’re very clear on no displacement of the Palestinian population,” Blinken said, urging that any future plans “must include Palestinian-led governance and Gaza unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.”
- The House Oversight Committee issued subpoenas on Wednesday for Hunter Biden and James Biden—President Joe Biden’s son and brother—and requested interviews with Hunter’s wife, a former business associate of Hunter’s, and several other Biden family members. The committee “has followed the money and built a record of evidence,” Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer said. “Now, [the committee] is going to bring in members of the Biden family and their associates to question them on this record of evidence.” Hunter’s legal team and the White House decried the development as part of a GOP “smear campaign” against President Biden. “This is a yet another political stunt,” said Abbe Lowell, an attorney for the younger Biden. “Nevertheless, Hunter is eager to have the opportunity, in a public forum and at the right time, to discuss these matters with the Committee.”
- The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a case attempting to keep former President Donald Trump off the state’s primary ballot under the insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment. “There is no state statute that prohibits a major political party from placing on the presidential nomination primary ballot, or sending delegates to the national convention supporting, a candidate who is ineligible to hold office,” Minnesota Chief Justice Natalie Hudson wrote in a brief order. The court did, however, leave open the possibility of a petition challenging Trump’s eligibility for the general election ballot. “The petition must be dismissed,” Hudson wrote, “but without prejudice as to petitioners bringing a petition raising their claims as to the general election.”
- SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, reached a tentative deal with Hollywood studios Wednesday night, ending the strike that had lasted for months. The deal—valued at over $1 billion—reportedly includes increased pay for actors, a streaming participation bonus, boosted pension and health benefits, and compensation stipulations related to the use of AI, among other provisions. “We have achieved a deal of extraordinary scope,” the union said in a statement. The strike was officially suspended last night while the deal is pending full approval.
Miami Vice (Presidential Debate?)
Before the five qualifying candidates took to the debate stage in Miami, Florida, last night, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy gave an ABC News reporter a taste of his strategy: “Be unhinged,” he said.
Twelve minutes into the program, he had lamented that Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, and Elon Musk weren’t co-moderating the debate, and called both former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels.” Promises made, promises kept, we suppose.
Ramaswamy’s “unhinged”-ness aside, the third GOP debate was remarkably tame—and even substantive—compared to the candidates’ first two outings. The five contenders on stage addressed questions on the war in Israel, the economy, and Republicans’ recent electoral struggles under strict instructions from the moderators—Kristen Welker and Lester Holt of NBC News and Hugh Hewitt of Salem Radio—not to interrupt each other, on the threat of receiving fewer questions. But for all its relative depth on policy, the debate nevertheless did little to provide an answer to the only question that mattered: Why one of the Republicans on stage, and not former President Donald Trump?