State of the Union, Global Warming, Beto O’Rourke: Your Wednesday Evening Briefing – The New York Times

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Good evening. Here’s the latest.


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1. A day after President Trump warned that “ridiculous partisan investigations” could harm the nation, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would not be cowed by Mr. Trump’s “all-out threat” to drop their inquiries into the administration.

Among the gears of oversight the Democrats set in motion: The House Intelligence Committee reopened and significantly broadened the Russia-Trump campaign investigation that Republicans closed last year. “It’s our congressional responsibility, and if we didn’t do it, we would be delinquent in that,” Ms. Pelosi said.

Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address itself put the Democratic resurgence on full display, our chief Washington correspondent writes. That was particularly evident with Democratic congresswomen who created a sea of white.

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2. 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record. The only warmer years? 2017, 2016 and 2015.

NASA scientists announced that the Earth’s average surface temperature for the year was more than 1 degree Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, above the average of the late 19th century — among the highest in nearly 140 years of record-keeping.

“We’re no longer talking about a situation where global warming is something in the future,” said the director of the group that conducted the analysis. “It’s here. It’s now.”


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3. The crisis in Virginia’s state Democratic Party is deepening.

Gov. Ralph Northam has not been seen in public since Sunday after coming under siege for a racist photo in his medical school yearbook.

Today, his line of succession was shaken. The woman who said Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax assaulted her in 2004 issued a statement with a searing account of the encounter.

Hours earlier, Virginia’s attorney general, Mark Herring, above, admitted that he too had put on blackface, when he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia in 1980.

If all three were to resign without immediate replacements, the governor’s post would fall to the Republican House speaker, Kirk Cox.


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4. The sexual abuse of nuns has been the Catholic Church’s long overshadowed scandal, until now.

Pope Francis’ acknowledgment of the problem comes after decades of allegations and seeming Vatican inaction, which has now collided with the #MeToo era.

“I was so happy,” said Lucetta Scaraffia, the author of an article denouncing the abuse of nuns and religious lay women by priests that was published this month in Women Church World, a magazine distributed alongside the Vatican’s newspaper. Above, Pope Francis being greeted by a group of nuns at the Vatican last week.

Experts say there is no shortage of factors contributing to the abuse, its cover-up and the lack of action inside the Vatican, including the medieval idea that holy men are preyed upon by seductive temptresses.


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5. In the last two weeks, thousands of people have been streaming out of the Syrian village of Baghuz, the last speck of land under Islamic State control in Iraq and Syria.

As Syrian government forces and U.S.-backed fighters close in, the militants are now trapped in an area about the size of Central Park. The military operation to take Baghuz has stalled as commanders negotiate an end to the siege with the Islamic State, according to officials. Above, a woman in her 20s was buried after she died trying to flee the area.

Our correspondent is on the ground with a photographer for what could be the final days of the Islamic State’s caliphate in the region where it was born. She notes, however, that the group still has many fighters there and that it is flourishing elsewhere, like the Philippines and Nigeria.

6. Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who drew national attention in his failed Senate race last year, is trying to decide if he wants to run for president.

So he has been driving around the country, introducing himself to strangers. But he is alone, and, in his words, in and out of “a funk.”

In an hourlong phone interview, he said he was reminded of a time more than 20 years ago, when he was a 23-year-old, live-in nanny in Manhattan and reeling from the breakup of his punk band and with his girlfriend, above.

“I just didn’t ever want to feel like that or be in that place or that position again,” he said. “So that lately has felt kind of strange, maybe with some echoes.”


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6. Around noon today, we published an article by our tech columnist, Kevin Roose, on the furor over pay practices that drew accusations of tip theft at two app-based delivery companies, Instacart and DoorDash.

Around 3 p.m., one of them announced it was halting the practice.

In a blog post, Apoorva Mehta, Instacart’s chief executive, admitted that the company had “fallen short” with a policy put in place last year that applied workers’ tips toward guaranteed minimum payments of $10 per order, rather than letting the tips be added to the $10. Above, an Instacart personal shopper checks his shopping list.

Separately, Spotify said it would buy two podcast companies. The company’s chief executive predicted that around 20 percent of all Spotify listening would eventually involve something other than music.

CreditMonica Almeida for The New York Times

7. It’s rare for a fan to be killed by a ball at a baseball game. But it happened at Dodger Stadium in August.

Jana Brody’s mother died four days after she was struck on the head by a foul ball. Ms. Brody compared the ball to a bullet, and is now demanding higher netting to protect fans. Netting had been extended to within 70 feet of the plate, but that was just shy of her mother’s loge-level seat behind home plate.

The peril comes both from new stadiums designed to bring fans closer to the action and this era’s bigger, faster and stronger players. “These guys hit balls hard, and they’re throwing 100-mile-an-hour pitches,” Ms. Brody said.


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9. Interesting news from our science desk:

Scientists long believed that the slender, nectar-sipping beaks of hummingbirds evolved to fit nectar-bearing flowers, but some have been shaped into dangerous weapons. A decade of research shows that males use their beaks like swords to fend off rival mates. Check out the video.

We also take a look at Earth’s mismatched auroras. The Northern and Southern Lights come from opposite ends of the planet’s magnetic field but are hardly mirror images. Space physicists have recently discovered the cause of the auroral asymmetry: the angle at which the sun’s solar wind and magnetic field approaches Earth.

Also, did a seal eat your vacation photos? You can get them back: A New Zealand scientist found your USB drive in seal poop.


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10. Finally, we end with relationship advice from an unlikely duo.

Walt Frazier, left, and Mike Breen, right, have been the New York Knicks’ broadcasting team for 20 years. Mr. Frazier, an All-Star guard and former Knick, is known for his colorful wardrobe and lyrical analysis. Mr. Breen is a lifelong Knicks fan whose sports idol was, and still is, Mr. Frazier.

They shared the keys to maintaining their rock-solid relationship: mutual respect and concern, laughing a lot and agreeing to disagree, for starters.

“Mike’s the play-by-play man, and I’m the color analyst,” Mr. Frazier said. “I know that he always goes first, he leads and I follow. It’s no different than having a dance partner.”

Have a rock-solid night.


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