The Biden Administration Invests in High-Speed Rail

Happy Monday! When driving over the river and through the woods this holiday season, we recommend following a few simple rules of the road. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t drive through treacherous blizzards. And please don’t crash into the presidential motorcade.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • During fighting in eastern Gaza City on Friday, the Israeli military mistakenly shot and killed three Israeli hostages who had escaped Hamas captivity and were waving a white flag—an episode that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “broke the entire nation’s heart,” though he vowed Israel would continue to fight “until the end, until we dismantle Hamas, until we return all our hostages.” Over the weekend, chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Herzi Halevi, accepted responsibility for the incident. “The shooting at the hostages was against the rules of engagement. It is forbidden to shoot at someone who raises a white flag and seeks to surrender,” he said in a statement released Saturday. “However, this shooting was carried out during combat and under pressure.”  On Saturday, Qatari News outlet Al Jazeera claimed one of their cameramen, Samer Abu Daqqa, was killed by shrapnel from an Israeli missile attack, “as Israeli forces prevented ambulances and rescue workers from reaching him, denying the much-needed emergency treatment.” During continued fighting over the weekend, the IDF reported the capture of nearly 90 terrorists at the Kamal Adwan Hospital, in northern Gaza.
  • U.S. and British naval destroyers shot down a combined 15 drones launched by Houthi militants on Saturday, the latest in a series of aggressive maneuvers targeting commercial ships in the Red Sea by the Iranian-backed rebels. On Friday, several shipping fleet operators, including AP Møller-Mærsk and German company Hapag-Lloyd, announced pauses on ship traffic through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. A ship owned by Hapag-Lloyd came under attack Friday.  
  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić claimed victory on Sunday in the nation’s parliamentary elections, with projections showing Vučić’s Serbian Progressive Party winning 47 percent of the vote and the main opposition coalition, Serbia Against Violence, projected to capture just 23 percent of the vote. Multiple irregularities were reported—and charges of election interference were leveled—on Sunday, including claims from local election observers that individuals from neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina were being bussed to vote in Belgrade. 
  • The Vatican criminal court on Saturday sentenced Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu—the pope’s former chief of staff—to five-and-a-half years in prison after finding him guilty on counts of embezzlement and fraud. Becciu, 75, was the highest-ranking Vatican official to face a trial before the Vatican’s criminal court—his “Trial of the Century” revolved around the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a 350 million euro investment property in London. Becciu’s lawyer said his client will “certainly” appeal the ruling.
  • The House of Representatives voted 310 to 118 on Thursday to pass the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act—an $886 billion package that includes a 5.2 percent pay raise for military personnel, the procurement of new missile-defense systems and weapons, and an extension of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative—though the bulk of future Ukraine military aid is still being debated in Congress. More Democrats (163) than Republicans (147) voted in favor of the legislation, with some conservatives opposing the bill due to concerns about extending warrantless surveillance powers under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Following negotiations with the Senate, the final bill also did not include several provisions championed by House conservatives taking aim at Pentagon policies regarding abortion and diversity. The legislation—having already been passed by the Senate in an 87-13 vote—now awaits President Joe Biden’s signature.
  • Former New York City mayor and Trump campaign lawyer Rudy Giuliani was ordered on Friday to pay $148 million as part of a defamation case brought by two Georgia election workers whom he falsely accused of rigging the 2020 election against former President Donald Trump. Giuliani said he will appeal the decision, and still faces criminal charges in Georgia related to his efforts, along with Trump and 17 others, to overturn the state’s election results.
  • Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, who led the U.S.-allied nation for just over three years, died on Saturday at the age of 86. The 83-year-old crown prince, Sheikh Mishal al-Ahmad al-Sabah, was named his successor. Nawaf served as the Kuwaiti defense minister during Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which sparked the Gulf War.

All Aboard the Future?

President Biden delivers remarks on his Investing in America agenda at the Carpenters International Training Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, on December 8, 2023. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images)
President Biden delivers remarks on his Investing in America agenda at the Carpenters International Training Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, on December 8, 2023. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images)

It’s no secret that President Joe Biden is a big fan of trains—while in the Senate, Biden commuted by train between Washington and Delaware, earning the moniker “Amtrak Joe” and eventually getting Wilmington’s station named after him. Earlier this month, the president sought to double down on his reputation by announcing billions in funding provided through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (better known as the bipartisan infrastructure law) for America’s first high-speed rail (HSR) projects. The federal dollars represent a boon for train enthusiasts as major rail projects spin up, but it remains to be seen whether HSR can become a viable form of transportation in the U.S.

Transit advocates—inspired by the extensive rail networks of Europe and Japan’s pioneering Shinkansen (bullet train) lines—have long dreamed of greater investment in passenger rail and HSR. And thanks in part to the infrastructure law’s funding, some projects that have languished as concepts for decades are starting to take real shape. “If there ever was a time we can make high-speed reality in the U.S. it’s now,” said Andy Byford, the head of Amtrak’s HSR program (and formerly known by New Yorkers as “train daddy” for his improvements to the city’s subway system). “We have the support. We have the funding. We are looking to effect a rail revolution across the U.S.” 

Byford is right—at least when it comes to the money. The Biden administration announced $8.2 billion in funding for 10 rail projects across the country, most of which involve improving existing rail corridors and expanding service. But two involve the creation of what would become the first HSR lines in America. California High-Speed Rail (CSHR), a project to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles with a high-speed line, will receive $3.07 billion in funding through a grant under the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail program established by the infrastructure law. Brightline West, which would connect Los Angeles and Las Vegas, will receive $3 billion. “We’re putting high-speed rail on the fast track,” Biden said in a speech in Las Vegas earlier this month.

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