Gaza borders remain shut and Senate’s first-ever mental health caucus : Morning Rundown

In today’s newsletter: Biden warns Israel against re-occupying Gaza. Companies are trying to get insurance to cover their weight loss drugs. And Rite Aid files for bankruptcy. Here’s what to know today.

Gaza border remains closed to evacuees

A hopeful crowd gathered at the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing this morning as it remained uncertain whether or when the only non-Israeli-controlled exit out of Gaza would re-open. All sides are denying any cease-fire agreement to allow foreign national Palestinians to evacuate to Egypt and allow much-needed aid in. 

Israelis living near the northern border with Lebanon are being evacuated from the area, where Israel has been trading fire with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. In the port city of Haifa, Americans who want to get out of Israel are waiting to board a cruise ship that will take them to Cyprus where they can then take commercial flights home.

Officials have now identified and notified the families of 199 Israeli hostages captured during the surprise attack led by Hamas. The Israeli military had put the number of hostages at 155 yesterday.

Israel’s Security Cabinet will meet today at 1 p.m. ET, the Prime Minister’s office announced this morning. The meeting comes amid mounting speculation over when an expected ground offensive by Israel into Gaza will begin.

Ahead of the expected offensive, President Joe Biden has cautioned Israel against occupying Gaza. While he emphasized that he believes Hamas should be completely eliminated, he said there needs to be a path to a Palestinian state.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken returned to Israel this morning after a diplomacy tour of the Middle East aimed at preventing the Hamas-Israel war from spilling over into the broader region.

Follow live updates.

More on the Israel-Hamas war:

Trump’s rivals scrap for second — in campaign cash as well as polls

Republican presidential candidates, from left, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former President Donald Trump and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.Getty Images; AFP

Donald Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination seem to have a money problem that mirrors their polling problems.

None of them are flush with the kind of cash that would suggest they are poised to take down a front-runner, according to an NBC News analysis of quarterly fundraising reports. No one else in the field has built the type of small-donor operation that can be tapped again and again to replenish funds

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The non-Trump candidates will rely on the support of aligned super PACs, funded primarily by megadonors, to pay for expensive television ads and other campaign-adjacent activities, as the candidates fight for scraps while Trump continues to dominate national polling. 

Suzanne Somers, star of ‘Three’s Company,’ dies at 76

Suzanne Somers during her Las Vegas residency on May 23, 2015.
]Suzanne Somers during her Las Vegas residency on May 23, 2015.Denise Truscello / Getty Images for Westgate Las Vegas Resorts

Actor Suzanne Somers, known for roles in the TV show “Three’s Company” and “Step By Step,” died while surrounded by family a day before her 77th birthday. “Instead, they will celebrate her extraordinary life,” Somers’ longtime publicist R. Couri Hay said. It wasn’t immediately clear how Somers passed, but the actor “survived an aggressive form of breast cancer for over 23 years,” Hay said.

Exclusive: Senators form a bipartisan Mental Health Caucus 

Senators Alex Padilla, a Democrat from California, and Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, don’t have much in common and their paths to Washington couldn’t have been more different. 

Yet, they have happened to bond over their experiences caring for loved ones undergoing mental health crises. Their conversations led to them launching the first ever caucus that would solely focus on mental health. They aim to use funds already appropriated as part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to ensure that states and local governments understand the scope of resources at their disposal to help address mental health.

Rite Aid files for bankruptcy amid slowing sales, opioid litigation 

Rite Aid filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in New Jersey and said it would begin restructuring to significantly reduce its debt. Rite Aid has struggled to keep up with its bigger rivals, CVS and Walgreens, as they focused on healthcare and made sizable investments to match.

The drugstore chain has been grappling with slowing sales, debt and a slew of lawsuits that allege the company helped fuel the nation’s opioid epidemic by oversupplying painkillers.

Here’s what it would take for insurance to cover weight loss drugs

The makers of popular drugs Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro are trying to prove that they have other health benefits beyond just weight loss and diabetes treatment. Insurance companies don’t typically cover weight loss medications, stemming from a 2003 law that prohibits Medicare from covering them. 

Clinical trials are underway to see whether the drugs can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and other chronic diseases in people with obesity, which would make it easier for patients to get coverage.

Politics in Brief

Reproductive rights: Many of the Republicans running for state legislature in Virginia have said that they want to go further on abortion than Glenn Youngkin’s proposed 15-week ban. 

Biden’s re-election campaign: The Democratic National Committee, President Biden’s 2024 campaign, and a fundraising organization powering Democratic state parties collectively raised more than $71 million in the third quarter, though the campaign didn’t disclose how much it raised specifically. 

Local elections: Republican Jeff Landry, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, will be Louisiana’s next governor, flipping the seat previously held by a Democrat. 

Staff Pick: Finding work with a criminal record

A "Help Wanted: sign is posted at a restaurant amid a still-robust labor market on February 2 in Los Angeles, Calif.
A “Help Wanted: sign is posted at a restaurant amid a still-robust labor market on February 2 in Los Angeles, Calif.

People who are trying to get a fresh start after incarceration are sometimes left with few options for finding work. In this story, Shannon Pettypiece interviews folks who have had multiple unsuccessful job searches or, in some cases, were hired and then quickly fired after the employers’ background checks revealed their past convictions. This is an insightful and compassionate story that sheds a light not just on the people involved, but also on the economic impact of the challenges they face. – Bryan Logan, business news editor

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