A turning point in the history of Congress

Hakeem Jeffries makes history as the first Black lawmaker to lead a major party in Congress. Dozens of tornadoes struck overnight as storms swept through the South. And new minerals, never seen on Earth, were found in a meteorite.

👋 Hey! I'm Laura Davis. It's Wednesday. And it's time for the news!

🎶 But first, ready to find out how much Beyoncé you listened to this year? Spotify Wrapped is here.

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Hakeem Jeffries elected House Democratic leader

House Democrats elected New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to lead their party in the next Congress, succeeding Nancy Pelosi. Jeffries will make history as the first Black lawmaker to lead a major party in Congress. Jeffries, 52, who has served in the House since 2013 and is chair of the House Democratic Caucus, marks a generational change in the party after two decades of leadership under Pelosi. “Hakeem Jeffries’ elevation as House Democratic leader is a turning point in the history of the United States Congress,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on the Senate floor Wednesday. Keep reading.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 17.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 17.

At least 2 dead after wild storms march across the South

More than 20 possible tornadoes slashed through the Southeast, killing at least two people Wednesday and damaging homes as a line of intense weather rolled from Texas to Georgia and as far north as Indiana. In Alabama, a possible early-morning tornado just north of Montgomery killed a 39-year-old woman and her 8-year-old son when a tree fell on their mobile home, authorities said. The boy's father was hospitalized, and several homes and other buildings were damaged, officials said.

👉 More updates: At least 2 injured in Louisiana, customers trapped in Mississippi grocery store.

Eutaw Police Chief Tommy Johnson surveys the damage to one of the buildings in the Sagewood Apartments complex in Eutaw, Ala., on Wednesday, the day after a small tornado hit the town located in Greene County. No injuries were reported from the storm.
Eutaw Police Chief Tommy Johnson surveys the damage to one of the buildings in the Sagewood Apartments complex in Eutaw, Ala., on Wednesday, the day after a small tornado hit the town located in Greene County. No injuries were reported from the storm.

What everyone's talking about

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House passes legislation to prevent rail strike, provide paid sick leave

The House overwhelmingly passed legislation Wednesday afternoon that would avert a freight rail strike the White House fears could cripple the U.S. economy. Lawmakers also passed a related measure that would provide seven days of additional paid sick leave to rail workers, who don't get any paid sick leave. Both measures now head to the Senate.

  • What to know: With a Dec. 9 deadline looming, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday the House was intervening with "great reluctance" but said the prospect of a strike that would cost the economy $2 billion every day made action necessary. Congress, under the Railway Labor Act, has the power to step in and impose a contract on both the unions and the railway companies. 

  • What railroad workers want: Rail workers moved toward a strike over unmet demands for better pay and working conditions after almost three years of unfruitful contract negotiations. In particular, rail workers have cited a lack of sick leave, inability to routinely visit the doctor or tend to family emergencies, and weekslong stretches of being on call. 

Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14 in Atlanta.
Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14 in Atlanta.

Lawsuit targets herbal supplement seller after Florida nurse's death

At low doses, kratom has pain-relieving and energy-boosting effects, similar to coffee. At higher doses, it can produce an opioid-like and euphoric state that has led to a steady growth of abuse worldwide, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. And it also can cause seizures, respiratory failure and, at times, death. A Florida family accuses Grow LLC, the Idaho-based manufacturer, of knowing its customers were at risk of addiction, overdose and death but doing little to warn against the danger. Keep reading.

Real quick

Welcome to Earth, space minerals!

Two minerals never seen on Earth were discovered in a gigantic meteorite weighing 16.5 tons, offering researchers possible clues about how the space rocks are formed. The minerals, completely new to science, were found in a 2.5-ounce slice of the El Ali meteorite in Somalia, which was discovered in 2020, the University of Alberta said. Researchers also said they may have identified a third new mineral, though it was still being reviewed. "Whenever you find a new mineral, it means that the actual geological conditions, the chemistry of the rock, was different than what’s been found before," said Chris Herd, curator of the University of Alberta’s Meteorite Collection.

A piece of the meteorite containing two newly discovered minerals.
A piece of the meteorite containing two newly discovered minerals.

A break from the news

Laura L. Davis is an Audience Editor at USA TODAY. Send her an email at laura@usatoday.com or follow along with her adventures – and misadventures – on Twitter. Support quality journalism like this? Subscribe to USA TODAY here.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The Short List: Hakeem Jeffries, tornadoes, severe weather, freight rail strike, kratom overdose. Wednesday's news.