Zelensky Delivers His Wish List to Washington

Happy Friday! If you’re from New Jersey, you know that commuting delays can often inspire some colorful language. Yesterday, however, the hold ups at Newark Penn Station were—and we do not mean to exaggerate—literal bull.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • President Joe Biden urged the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on Thursday to reduce civilian casualties while continuing its military operations against Hamas in Gaza. “I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives, not stop going after Hamas,” Biden said. His comments come just two days after he described Israel’s bombing campaign as indiscriminate at a fundraiser, though White House spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday told reporters he believes the Israelis are “doing everything they can to reduce civilian casualties.” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nentanyahu and his war cabinet in Tel Aviv on Thursday and reportedly pushed Netanyahu to end Israel’s “high intensity” fighting in Gaza and transition to smaller-scale operations. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told Sullivan that the IDF’s campaign to rid the enclave of Hamas is not yet over. “It will last more than several months,” he said. “But we will win and we will destroy them.”
  • Authorities in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands said Thursday that seven people in their countries had been arrested as suspects in terror plots targeting Jews in Europe—four of the people arrested (three in Germany and one in the Netherlands) are Hamas members, according to German officials. It’s unclear whether the three individuals arrested in Denmark were also members of Hamas, though Danish authorities signaled that Jewish institutions were “a special focus” of concern. The Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, said that the people arrested in Denmark were “acting on behalf of the terrorist organization Hamas.” 
  • The European Union (EU) officially opened accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova on Thursday. While it will likely take years before either country becomes an official member of the European bloc, the start of talks marks a big win for Ukraine, which has sought membership for years. “This is a victory for Ukraine,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “A victory that motivates, inspires, and strengthens.” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had opposed opening talks and boycotted the vote yesterday, continuing to block a $52 billion EU aid package to Ukraine.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Thursday that the Senate will remain in session next week in the hopes of reaching a deal with Republicans regarding funding to Ukraine, saying he would hold a vote on an aid package next week regardless. The prospect of such an agreement grew more likely earlier this week when the White House signaled its openness to compromising on border policies in order to secure a deal. “It is going in the right direction, we believe, because those conversations continue and that’s what matters as we talk about the border and border security and moving forward with making sure we get the supplemental done,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said yesterday.
  • The Commerce Department reported Thursday that retail sales—including spending on food and fuel—increased 0.3 percent month-over-month in November after declining 0.2 percent in October. Consumers spent more than expected on bars and restaurants, sporting goods stores, and online retailers as the holiday shopping season heated up.
  • An Associated Press-NORC poll released Thursday showed that many Americans are unsatisfied with the increasingly likely rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in next November’s general election. According to the poll, more than half of the country is unhappy with their current options: 56 percent of respondents said they’d be somewhat or very dissatisfied if Biden becomes the Democratic nominee, and 58 percent said the same if Trump becomes the GOP nominee. The results come as a growing chorus of polls spell potential trouble for Biden’s reelection bid. A Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll published Thursday found that if the election were held today, Trump would beat Biden in seven swing states. The former president’s projected victories in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are within the margin of error in the poll, but greater in Georgia and North Carolina.
  • Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson of Georgia announced Thursday that he would not seek reelection to his seat next year, adding another name to the wave of congressional retirements over the last two months. Ferguson said he and his wife “look[ed] forward to spending more time with our children and grandchildren,” but the Georgian and his family reported receiving death threats after he voted against Rep. Jim Jordan’s short-lived House speakership bid in October. Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel of North Carolina also announced he wouldn’t run for reelection, after Republican-led redistricting reshaped his district in October. Nickel said he would instead explore a Senate run in 2026.

Back in the U.S.A

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and U.S. President Joe Biden shake hands while meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on December 12, 2023 in Washington, D.C.   (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and U.S. President Joe Biden shake hands while meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on December 12, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Russia fired ballistic missiles targeting Kyiv early Wednesday morning, injuring more than 50 people. The attacks came just after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with leaders in Washington to plead his case for more aid—and left empty handed.

The overnight attack on the war-torn nation’s capital was a stark reminder that the war in Ukraine rages on as President Joe Biden and Congress continue to negotiate a deal to reform border policy in exchange for more support to Ukraine. Biden and congressional Democrats echo Zelensky’s concerns that aid is imminently needed to resupply ammunition and stave off a particularly dangerous Russian onslaught this winter. Many Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, agree with these concerns, but argue any foreign aid must be part of a larger legislative package, including border and immigration policy changes. Zelensky’s trip marked his third to the U.S. since the war began, and included perhaps his most urgent plea for help to date—though with the House of Representatives already adjourned until the new year, there’s a very real chance he doesn’t get the military assistance he’s asking for.

As we wrote last week, previously appropriated U.S. aid to Ukraine is running out:

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