Russia Signals Retreat from Kherson
Happy Friday! One hundred and four years ago today, in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, fighting in the Great War came to an end.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- Election results—and concessions—continued to roll in on Thursday, though a handful of key races remain undecided. Some updates are included below:
- Senate: Control of the Senate remains up in the air, but appears to be trending in the Democrats’ direction. In Nevada, the race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican challenger Adam Laxalt remains too close to call. Laxalt was leading by less than 1 percentage point as of 3 a.m. ET on Friday, with about 10 percent of the vote still to count. And in Arizona, the race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly and Republican challenger Blake Masters has yet to be called by major network decision desks, but Kelly leads by nearly 6 percentage points with just over 80 percent of the ballots counted. Dave Wasserman, an elections analyst at the Cook Political Report, believes Kelly will squeak out the win.
- House: Control of the House also remains up in the air, but Republicans appear likely to recapture the chamber. President Joe Biden conceded as much speaking with reporters last night. In Colorado, as of Friday morning, incumbent GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert has recaptured a narrow lead over Democratic challenger Adam Frisch in the state’s 3rd Congressional District. And in Montana, Ryan Zinke, former Trump administration interior secretary, narrowly defeated Democrat Monica Tranel in the state’s 1st Congressional District.
- Governors: In Arizona, the race between Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Republican Kari Lake remains too close to call. In Oregon, Democrat Tina Kotek successfully held off a strong challenge from Republican Christine Drazan, leading her by approximately 4 percentage points as of 3 a.m. ET.
- A federal judge issued a ruling Thursday night striking down the Biden administration’s $400 billion student loan forgiveness plan, which would have “canceled” up to $10,000 in federal student loans for Americans earning less than $125,000 per year and up to $20,000 for Americans under that income threshold who received need-based Pell grants for low-income undergraduate students. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit had already temporarily put the plan on hold in a separate case, but U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman on Thursday held that the program was “an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’s legislative power and must be vacated.” The Biden administration has already appealed Pittman’s ruling.
- The Pentagon announced a new $400 million security assistance package for Ukraine on Thursday, tapping into previously approved congressional aid to send Ukraine four Avenger air defense systems, missiles for HAWK air defense systems, additional HIMARS ammunition, artillery and mortar rounds, 100 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs), 400 grenade launchers, cold weather protective gear, and more. The United States has now sent Ukraine approximately $18.6 billion in military aid since Russia’s invasion in late February.
- Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh—a leader in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—claimed Thursday that Iran had successfully built a hypersonic missile capable of evading air-defense systems around the world, though he did not provide evidence for the assertion and there have been no public reports of a such a weapon being tested.
- President Joe Biden announced on Thursday his intent to nominate Danny Werfel—a partner at Boston Consulting Group—to serve as the next commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. Werfel briefly ran the agency on an acting basis in 2013 and served as Office of Management and Budget controller in the George W. Bush administration.
- Nicole made landfall on Florida’s east coast as a Category 1 hurricane on Thursday, the latest in the calendar year that a hurricane has hit that area on record. It has since weakened to a tropical storm, dumping heavy rain and leaving more than 50,000 Floridian households without power as of Friday morning.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced yesterday she will extend proxy voting in the House through Christmas Day, allowing representatives to continue voting remotely until days before the new Congress is sworn in.
- The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—rose by 7,000 week-over-week to a seasonally adjusted 225,000 last week. The measure is up from earlier this year, but it remains near historic lows, signaling the labor market—though cooling—continues to be tight.
- The average number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States increased about 10 percent over the past two weeks according to CDC data, while the average number of daily deaths attributed to the virus—a lagging indicator—fell 9 percent. About 21,300 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, up from approximately 21,100 two weeks ago.
Is Kherson’s ‘Forever’ Occupation Ending?
About six weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin said illegally annexed regions of Ukraine, including Kherson, would be part of Russia “forever.” But maybe “forever” means different things in different places. For the city of Kherson, it’s turning out to mean “a couple of months, tops.”
At a televised meeting of top defense officials on Wednesday, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, Russia’s top invasion commander, said Russian troop positions on the west bank of the Dnipro River had become untenable. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the writing on the wall official, ordering a Russian withdrawal. “I agree with your conclusions and proposals,” Shoigu said, per a translation. “For us, the life and health of Russian servicemen is always a priority.”’
Ukrainian officials worry the announcement is a feint, but they’ve also seen a withdrawal coming. A Ukrainian counteroffensive has been driving toward the city in recent weeks, pummeling vulnerable Russian supply lines to cut off Russian occupiers in the area. A key shipping hub on the Dnipro River’s west bank in southern Ukraine, Kherson is the only regional capital Russia has captured since its invasion began more than eight months ago, and its loss will be a blow to morale.