Up First briefing: Congress announces new spending deal; Lloyd Austin’s hospital stay


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Today’s top stories

Congressional leaders reached an agreement yesterday that would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year and avoid a government shutdown. The text must now be finalized, and Congress must pass the bills before the Jan. 19 deadline. The top-line figure includes $886 billion for defense and $704 billion for non-defense spending.

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  • House Speaker Mike Johnson and President Biden agreed to essentially the same amount of spending that Biden and ousted speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to last year in a deal that ultimately helped doom McCarthy, NPR’s Eric McDaniel reports on Up First. This has upset some anti-compromise Republicans, who wanted to leverage the looming government funding deadline to get more policy concessions for things like abortion access and a southern U.S. border wall.

Tensions continue to rise on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where the Israeli army has regularly traded fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and Israeli offensive in Gaza. A recent killing of a top Hamas leader in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, has added to concerns of a full-scale war. Israel has not admitted involvement.

  • NPR’s Lauren Frayer reports from near the Israel-Lebanon border, where she’s been hearing warplanes, air sirens and booms of weaponry. Many Israelis have been evacuated. She spoke to one man who stayed behind to work as an essential worker, who described his home as a “ghost town.”

Senior White House and Pentagon officials are demanding answers after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin failed to inform them and the president for days about his Jan. 1 hospitalization for complications from a recent elective surgery. Austin remains at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

  • Austin’s current condition and the details of the medical procedure and complications are unknown, reports NPR’s Tom Bowman. Bowman has covered the Pentagon for a long time and says he’s never seen anything like this.

The Federal Aviation Committee ordered the grounding and immediate inspection of about 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes this weekend after an Alaska Airlines aircraft suffered a mid-flight emergency. The plane was forced to land after a door plug blew out midair, leaving a hole next to two unoccupied seats.

Deep dive

Respiratory illnesses like the flu, RSV and COVID have climbed after the holidays — though COVID levels are still far below what they were at the height of the pandemic. Many wonder how they’ve avoided COVID infections while in close contact with roommates and family members. Here’s the science behind the spread:

  • By now, most immune systems can recognize the virus and initiate an immune response, meaning symptoms may show before you are contagious.
  • The infectious window and the amount of virus shedding vary from person to person.
  • For a pathogen to cause disease, you must be exposed to enough of it to overcome your immune system. Masks, open windows and HEPA filters can reduce the amount of virus in the air.

Picture show

Art plays a big role in Israel and the Palestinian community. Since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks, many artists have confronted heavy emotions through their craft. Six Israeli and Palestinian artists share stories of fear, anger, sadness and pain with NPR as they reflect on how the war in Gaza has affected their lives. Read their reflections and see photos of what they’ve been working on.

Check out npr.org/mideastupdates for more coverage and analysis of the conflict.

3 things to know before you go

  1. The No. 1 Michigan Wolverines and No. 2 Washington Huskies will face off tonight at the NCAA Championship game in Houston. Here’s how to watch and what’s at stake.
  2. The Navajo Nation has raised objections against plans to send human remains to the moon as part of a rocket launch this week. It says the launch would desecrate a sacred place in Navajo cosmology.
  3. So You Think You Can Dance producer and choreographer Nigel Lythgoe has stepped down from the show amid allegations of sexual assault.

This newsletter was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.