This morning's top headlines: Wednesday, March 15
(10) updates to this series since
A conservative judge in Texas has raised questions about an effort to overturn the decades-old approval of a leading abortion drug, in a case that could threaten the country’s most common method to end pregnancies. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk heard hours of arguments Wednesday on a Christian conservative group's request to revoke or suspend the U.S. approval of mifepristone. Such a step would be an unprecedented challenge to the FDA. The judge said he would rule “as soon as possible,” without giving any clear indication of how he might rule. Mifepristone, when combined with a second pill, was approved in 2000 and the standard method for medication abortion in the U.S.
President Joe Biden says his administration is focused “intensely” on lowering health care costs. He is also taking aim at “MAGA” Republicans who he says are intent on dialing back Medicare coverage for millions of Americans. Biden used a speech Wednesday in Las Vegas, where he was wrapping a three-day Western swing, to make the case there are stark differences in how Democrats are tackling skyrocketing drug prices compared with their Republican counterparts. The remarks could serve as an early preview of the expected reelection campaign ahead as Biden aims to make his efforts at lowering drug costs central to his policy and political agenda.
The U.S. military says a Russian warplane struck the propeller of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday, causing American forces to bring the unmanned aircraft down in international waters. The U.S. European Command says two Russian Su-27 fighter jets “conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept” of the MQ-9 drone in international airspace over the Black Sea. The State Department calls it a “brazen violation of international law.” Moscow says the U.S. drone maneuvered sharply and crashed into water following an encounter with Russian fighter jets scrambled to intercept it near Crimea, but insists its warplanes didn’t fire their weapons or hit the drone.
President Joe Biden has announced fresh measures meant to curb gun violence, detailing the changes from the scene of a mass shooting in California that left 11 dead. Tuesday’s action does not change U.S. government policy. Rather, it directs federal agencies to ensure compliance with existing laws and procedures — a typical feature of executive orders issued by presidents when they confront the limits of their own power to act without cooperation from Congress. The president said he’d signed the executive order aimed at increasing background checks to buy guns, promoting more secure firearms storage and ensuring U.S. law enforcement agencies get more out of a bipartisan gun control law enacted last summer.
Embattled U.S. Rep. George Santos of New York has filed paperwork indicating his intent to run for reelection, even as he faces calls to resign. The congressman is facing ongoing criminal and ethics investigations surrounding his successful congressional campaign and much of his personal life. Tuesday's filing with the Federal Election Commission does not mean that he will run for a second term. But it allows his campaign committees to continue raising money to pay for election debts and to possibly finance legal bills he might accrue to defend himself against any charges brought against him.
Forecasters are warning of more flooding and potentially damaging winds as a new atmospheric river pushes into a swamped California. Nearly 27,000 people are under evacuation orders statewide due to flooding and landslide risks. Tuesday's storm also brought damaging winds with gusts up to 70 miles per hour. There were numerous reports of falling trees and more than 330,000 utility customers are without power. The National Weather Service says the storm is spreading light-to-moderate rain over northern and central California but is moving faster than expected and most of the rainfall will shift southward. California has been battered by 10 previous atmospheric rivers this winter.
A winter storm is dumping heavy, wet snow in parts of the Northeast, causing power outages to tens of thousands, widespread closures of schools and government offices, dangerous driving conditions and a plane to slide off a taxiway. The storm’s path Tuesday included parts of New England, upstate New York, northeastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey. Snow totals were expected to range from a few inches to a few feet, depending on the location. More than 2,100 flights traveling to, from or within the U.S. were canceled, with Boston and New York City area airports seeing the highest numbers.
After barreling through Mozambique and Malawi since late last week and killing hundreds and displacing thousands more, Cyclone Freddy is set to move away from land Wednesday, which should bring some relief to southern African regions that have been ravaged by its torrential rain and powerful winds. The cyclone has killed at least 199 people in Malawi’s southern region and within and around Blantyre, the country’s financial hub, according to local authorities. In neighboring Mozambique, officials say at least 20 people have died since the storm made landfall in the port town of Quelimane on Saturday night.
A special prosecutor who doubles as a state legislator is stepping down from her role in the manslaughter case against actor Alec Baldwin in the death of a cinematographer on a New Mexico film set. Republican state Rep. Andrea Reeb said Tuesday that she has stepped down as special prosecutor to ensure justice is served. Baldwin’s legal team in February sought to disqualify Reeb based on constitutional provisions that safeguard the separation of powers between distinct branches of government. Reeb says she doesn't want to cloud the real issue at hand. Baldwin and weapons supervisor Hannah Gutierrez-Reed have pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter.
Jamarius Burton made a go-ahead jumper with 10 seconds left and Pitt edged Mississippi State 60-59 in a back-and-forth First Four game Tuesday night that featured 21 lead changes — most in the NCAA Tournament in five years. In the earlier First Four game, Isaac Mushila had 15 points and 12 rebounds as Texas A&M-Corpus Christi held off Southeast Missouri State to earn the first NCAA Tournament win in program history.