Impeachment Hearings, Ukraine, Denmark: Your Thursday Briefing
We’re covering the impeachment hearings in the U.S. and their weakening effect on Ukraine, as well as a surprise from China’s president in Greece.
Gravity and divisiveness at first open impeachment hearing
The U.S. Congress opened its third set of formal impeachment hearings in modern history.
In a nationally televised session from a stately committee room, William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and another diplomat, George Kent, sketched out a tale of foreign policymaking distorted by President Trump’s political vendettas, leaving a country facing Russian aggression caught in the middle.
Mr. Trump’s Republican defenders dismissed the diplomats as part of a “politicized bureaucracy” who offered only hearsay and supposition, and they raged against a process they called unfair and illegitimate.
Speed-watch: The hearing went on for hours, but our video recap covers the highlights in just about four minutes. And if you have five minutes, this description by our veteran Washington reporter captures the historic moment.
More Trump challenges: The Supreme Court will most likely be faced with deciding whether Mr. Trump’s accounting firm will have to turn over eight years of his financial records to a House committee — a blockbuster case over the separation of powers.
And a report based on hundreds of leaked emails shows that Stephen Miller, an adviser with a direct hand in shaping Mr. Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, promoted theories popular with white nationalist groups before joining the administration.
Collateral damage in Ukraine
The impeachment spectacle in the U.S. is weakening President Volodymyr Zelensky’s position as he works toward possible face-to-face talks with President Vladimir Putin of Russia on ending the war in Ukraine’s east.
The cloud of controversy surrounding U.S.-Ukraine relations means the U.S. is no longer presenting a united front to Russia or providing its usual level of diplomatic support to Ukraine at a crucial time.
Quotable: Ukraine is now “kind of naked,” said Oksana Syroid, who heads the Self Reliance Party, which supports closer ties with Washington. “We are alone confronting Russia.”
Russia’s messaging: The impeachment revelations are strengthening a core element of Kremlin propaganda — that Washington sees Ukraine only as a means to its own ends. Russia makes a parallel case over the U.S.’s abandonment of its former Kurdish allies in northeastern Syria.
Who will fight the Islamic State now?
Diplomats from some 35 nations and international organizations will meet today in Washington with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The U.S. will ask the participants, including representatives of France, Britain, Germany and Saudi Arabia, to stick with the campaign to eradicate the Islamic State. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in a U.S. raid last month.
But confusion over the Trump administration’s policy, according to several diplomats, has fomented doubt on making agreements that could be reversed by Mr. Trump.
Conflicting messages: On Wednesday, President Trump said that he kept U.S. troops in northeast Syria for just one reason. “We have the oil,” Mr. Trump said. “The oil is secure.”
But on Tuesday, a top State Department official on Syria said that the troops were focused on securing “the enduring defeat of ISIS,” and that the oil fields were a “secondary mission.”
At the White House: Mr. Trump gave Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a warm welcome, offering little sign of frustration over the Turkish incursion into Syria last month. “I’m a big fan,” Mr. Trump said during a joint news conference. “My dear friend,” Mr. Erdogan responded.
Denmark resumes long-abandoned border checks
The Danish authorities, struggling to quell a wave of bombings attributed to Swedish gangs, have introduced passport controls at the border with Sweden for the first time since the 1950s.
For now, only air travelers from Sweden will be exempted.
Sweden has been rocked by more than 100 explosions in the first 10 months of this year, and at least 13 blasts have hit Copenhagen, although the police have not linked them all to Sweden.
The cause: Officials say Swedish gang violence has been spilling out of low-income suburbs, fed by surplus weapons left over from Yugoslavia’s civil war. The role of Sweden’s long policy of open arms for immigrants and refugees is a matter of sharp political debate.
If you have some time, this is worth it
Tom Hanks is as nice as you think he is
He once stopped a film shoot to escort a bride and her father to a chapel. He sends his friends heartwarming notes written on a typewriter. He rarely plays villains because he doesn’t “get them.”
Our reporter spoke to the actor known as the Everyman of film, ahead of the release of the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” in which he stars as Mister Rogers.
Here’s what else is happening
Hong Kong: In a turning point, the territory’s government closed down kindergartens, primary schools and secondary schools for the first time in the wake of escalating unrest.
Bolivia: The interim president, Jeanine Añez Chavez, met with advisers to appoint a new cabinet, even as former President Evo Morales said he would return to the country “if the people ask me.” Thousands of his supporters marched in La Paz, the capital.
Germany: A member of the far-right AfD party was removed from a parliamentary post after circulating remarks widely viewed as anti-Semitic.
Israel-Gaza: The two are teetering between a quick resolution to clashes this week and a possible escalation that could lead to a broader conflict.
Parthenon marbles: In his first state visit to Greece this week, President Xi Jinping of China deepened economic ties, and also voiced support for the return of the Parthenon marbles, priceless artifacts taken from Athens in the 19th century and now held by the British Museum.
Snapshot: Above, St. Mark’s Square in Venice this week. The Italian city has been submerged under an exceptional “acqua alta” — the highest tide in 50 years. Damage is estimated in the hundreds of millions of euros, and conditions are expected to worsen this week.
Carry-on scheme: It started with a 22-pound cat named Viktor and a dream of keeping him out of an airplane’s cargo hold. It ended when Aeroflot noticed the owner’s incriminating posts on social media.
What we’re reading: This five-part series from The Seattle Times about endangered orcas, which just won an international science journalism award. “It’s hard not to remember the orca mother who carried her dead calf around for more than two weeks,” writes Remy Tumin, on the Briefings team. “This explains — in breathtaking scale — the human impact of it all.”
Now, a break from the news
Cook: When only a burger will satisfy, make a Juicy Lucy.
Read: Few people have shaped the mainstream art worlds more successfully than the musician David Byrne and the producer David Binder. Here they are in conversation.
Smarter Living: Creating new habits isn’t easy, especially as we approach resolution season. Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, shared her 10 favorite microsteps to help you make changes in your life.
And now for the Back Story on …
Stocks vs. the economy
The trade war seems never-ending, signs of economic trouble are popping up around the world, there’s an impeachment inquiry in Washington. And stocks are at a record high?
Here’s why: The trade war is hurting big manufacturing-based economies, but what drives the U.S. economy is consumer spending. And thanks to a strong job market, Americans are still shopping.
To help keep U.S. growth going, the Federal Reserve has been cutting interest rates. That lifts stocks by encouraging borrowing and spending. And low interest rates make stocks more attractive than bonds.
Put it together and you get what Wall Street calls the TINA market — “there is no alternative.” If big economies outside the U.S. are in worse shape, and the usual alternatives to stocks are less attractive, then there’s not much else to do but buy American stocks.
One caution: Even as markets hit records, stocks aren’t exactly ripping higher, and Wall Street’s happy-go-lucky mood can evaporate in an instant. In August, all it took was an angry presidential tweet about China to send the market into a tailspin.
That’s it for this briefing. Hope you (and the markets) are in for smooth sailing.
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Mohammed Hadi, our director of business news, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is a guide to the impeachment hearings (and some sharp questions from an 8-year-old).
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: “German food puns are the ___!” (5 letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Three cheers for Kirk Johnson, who retired from The Times on Tuesday after 38 years as a reporter and correspondent.
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