1/ The White House warned Israel that its “high intensity” war in Gaza needs to “transition to the next lower intensity phase in a matter of weeks, not months.” National security adviser Jake Sullivan called for Israel to end its large-scale ground campaign in the Gaza Strip and to adopt more surgical and precise tactics in its war against Hamas. Biden administration officials believe that moving to lower-intensity fighting will decrease civilian casualties, allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza, and decrease the risk for regional war. The rate of civilian deaths in Gaza has outpaced those of other conflict zones in the 21st century, including “the deadliest moments of U.S.-led attacks in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, which were themselves widely criticized by human rights groups.” More than 18,700 Palestinians have been killed, with 70% of them women and children. The vast majority of its 2.2 million people are displaced, and around half the population faces starvation. Nevertheless, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told Sullivan that Hamas will be destroyed, but “it will last more than several months, but we will win.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also pledged to press ahead with the offensive, saying: “Nothing will stop us. We are going on to the end, until victory, nothing less.” Earlier this week, Biden warned Israel that “indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza was costing it the support of the international community. (Axios / Washington Post / NBC News / New York Times / CNN / ABC News / Associated Press)
2/ Putin suggested that Western support for Ukraine is collapsing and that there would be no peace until Russia achieves its goals. Putin vaguely defined the goals of his “special military operation” as the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of Ukraine – the same false justifications that he used to launch the invasion nearly two years ago. Putin’s annual, four-hour news conference, called “Results of the Year with Vladimir Putin,” comes the same week that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Capitol Hill to make a last-ditch plea for more U.S. military aid. Congressional Republicans, however, have refused to approve additional aid for Ukraine unless it includes unrelated U.S.-Mexico border security reforms. European Union leaders, meanwhile, agreed to open negotiations for Ukraine to join the bloc. (NBC News / ABC News / New York Times / Washington Post / CNBC)
3/ The House and Senate have approved a $886 billion defense policy bill. The National Defense Authorization Act now heads to Biden’s desk for his expected signature. The annual defense bill provides a 5.2% pay raise for military personnel – the largest raise for service members in more than two decades – but also temporarily reauthorizes a controversial, warrantless surveillance program. Notably, many of the conservative provisions, like policies to restrict abortion access and transgender healthcare for service members, were stripped from the package. (NBC News / Washington Post / New York Times / Politico / Wall Street Journal)
4/ Without evidence of high crimes or misdemeanors, House Republicans voted to authorize a bogus impeachment inquiry into Biden. Republicans allege that Biden and his family engaged in an “influence peddling” scheme and took payments from foreign adversaries, despite a yearlong investigation by Republicans on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees that hasn’t produced any evidence of wrongdoing. Following the 221 to 212 party-line vote, Biden denounced the inquiry as “baseless” and accused Republicans of ignoring the country’s “pressing challenges […] Instead of doing anything to help make Americans’ lives better, they are focused on attacking me with lies. Instead of doing their job on the urgent work that needs to be done, they are choosing to waste time.” Republicans are also moving to hold Hunter Biden in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with their subpoena to testify privately. Hunter Biden said he is willing to testify publicly, citing concerns about Republicans manipulating any private testimony. (ABC News / New York Times / Washington Post/ Associated Press / NPR / Bloomberg / CBS News / NBC News / Axios)
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