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Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 17, 2019

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Harold Maass
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1.

Saudi Arabia says weapons in oil attack were made by Iran

Saudi Arabia on Monday said that the weapons used to attack its oil facilities over the weekend were Iranian made. The allegation contradicted claims by Yemeni Houthi rebels that they were behind the drone attacks. The Houthis, who are fighting a Saudi-backed coalition that supports Yemen's government, also threatened further strikes. Iran has denied responsibility. The Trump administration has blamed Iran and its proxies, and President Trump warned the U.S. is "locked and loaded" but said he did not want war. As tensions rose between Washington and Tehran, Iran's supreme leader announced Tuesday "there will be no talks with the U.S. at any level," dousing speculation of a possible meeting between the two countries' presidents at the United Nations in late September. [The Washington Post, The Associated Press]

2.

Deadly bomb hits Afghan president's campaign rally

A bomb blast killed at least 24 people at a campaign rally for Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, on Tuesday. At least 31 other people were wounded. Ghani was inside a building when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated the bomb outside. Ghani has been campaigning in his re-election bid mostly by video conference ahead of the Sept. 28 vote, which is taking place under threat of attacks by Taliban insurgents. The Taliban has vowed to disrupt the vote. Hours after the blast at the rally, another blast hit near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Few details on the second explosion were immediately available, and no group claimed responsibility for either blast. [The New York Times, The Associated Press]

3.

Israel votes with Netanyahu's future on the line

Israeli voters go to the polls Tuesday in an election that will determine whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stays in power. It is the country's second national election in five months, coming after Netanyahu's failed effort to form a governing coalition. Netanyahu, seeking a fourth straight term with corruption charges against him looming, is the longest serving leader in Israel's history. Ahead of the vote, he promised to annex Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, and touted his relationship with President Trump. Retired military chief Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White party was even with Netanyahu's Likud in polls ahead of the vote. Gantz said he offered a fresh start. Either side was expected to have trouble forming a majority coalition. [The Washington Post, Politico]

4.

Manhattan prosecutors subpoena Trump tax returns

Manhattan state prosecutors on Monday subpoenaed President Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA, for eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns. This subpoena reportedly was issued late last month under an ongoing investigation into the hush-money payment made to keep porn star Stormy Daniels quiet about her alleged affair with Trump prior to the 2016 presidential election. Trump has denied the affair. Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was previously sentenced to three years in prison for his role in paying Daniels to keep quiet. New York prosecutors are examining whether the Trump Organization violated state laws when reimbursing Cohen. Tax returns would only be made public if they became evidence in a criminal case. [The New York Times]

5.

Judiciary Chair Nadler says Trump 'ought to be impeached'

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said on Monday he believes President Trump should be impeached, but he's not sure the general public is convinced. He said the Judiciary Committee will continue to make it a priority to investigate Trump. "Personally, I think the president ought to be impeached," Nadler said. But "we cannot impeach the president against the will of the American people." Nadler said his job for now is to keep sharing most of the evidence against Trump with the public through continued impeachment hearings. Those public appearances are especially essential because the Senate won't vote for Trump's removal, Nadler said, but the House still has a duty to "vindicate the Constitution." [WNYC]

6.

Trump makes pitch to Hispanic voters in bid to flip New Mexico

President Trump wooed Hispanic voters in a New Mexico rally Monday, launching a bid to flip the blue state. "We love our Hispanics," Trump told the crowd. Trump said Hispanic voters should support him because his border wall would curb drug smuggling and illegal immigration. "At the whole center of this crisis is the drugs that are pouring in, and you understand that when other people don't understand it," he said. Trump lost New Mexico by eight percentage points in 2016, and Republicans lost key races there in 2018. Critics said the state's voters dislike Trump's aggressive immigration policies and white-identity politics. "I'm very skeptical that New Mexico is up for grabs for him," said Chris Luchini, chair of the state's Libertarian Party. [NBC News, Politico]

7.

House launches investigation of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao

The House Oversight Committee on Monday started an investigation into whether Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao improperly used her Cabinet position to benefit her family's company. Two Democratic leaders, Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), sent a letter asking Chao to hand over documents regarding the Foremost Group, a company owned by Chao's father and sisters that transports goods between China and the U.S. The committee also asked why Chao hadn't fulfilled a promise to sell her stake in construction giant Vulcan Materials. Chao denies any wrongdoing. The Transportation Department said it looked forward to responding to the committee, and said negative reports about Chao's family were "stale and only attempt to undermine her long career of public service." [The Associated Press]

8.

Working Families Party backs Warren

The Working Families Party announced Monday that it was endorsing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for the Democratic nomination to challenge President Trump in 2020. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) got the party's backing in 2016. The labor-focused group has explicitly opposed former Vice President Joe Biden. In a ranked ballot vote of tens of thousands of WFP members, Warren beat out five other candidates, earning 60.9 percent support. Sanders, meanwhile, ended up with 35.8 percent. The Working Families Party's national director called on other progressive groups to raise their voices early to dethrone Biden's spot at the top of the polls. The group interviewed five candidates it was considering for an endorsement: Warren, Sanders, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. [The New York Times]

9.

Johnson discusses Brexit with European Commission leader

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday held his first face-to-face meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss revising the ill-fated agreement on the terms of Britain's exit from the European Union. Protesters booed Johnson as he visited Luxembourg for the meeting. The two sides failed to make concrete progress. Johnson dropped out of a planned news conference because of raucous anti-Brexit protests, but said he remained optimistic. "Yes, there is a good chance of a deal," he said. Johnson has vowed to lead Britain out of the 28-nation trading bloc on Oct. 31, with or without a deal. British lawmakers are trying to block a no-deal Brexit, which Johnson's critics say would be disastrous for Britain's economy. [The Associated Press]

10.

ISIS releases purported message from fugitive leader

The Islamic State on Monday released audio in which a man it identified as the group's fugitive leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, urges followers to carry out attacks against security forces wherever possible, and calls for assaults on prisons where ISIS members are being held. Baghdadi also urged ISIS supporters to remember the group's fighters who held out before being captured when the group's self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria fell. The half-hour recording was released by the Islamist extremist group's al-Furqan media wing. The audio's authenticity was not immediately questioned but could not be confirmed. Baghdadi is among the world's most wanted fugitives, with the U.S. offering $25 million for credible information on where he is hiding. [The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal]