OnPolitics: WNBA star Brittney Griner sentenced to nine years in Russia

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Good afternoon, OnPolitics readers!

After infuriating China over her trip to Taiwan, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met South Korean political leaders in Seoul on Thursday but avoided making direct public comments on relations with Beijing and Taipei that could further inflame regional tensions.

Pelosi, the first House speaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years, said Wednesday in Taipei that America's commitment to the self-governing island's democracy "remains ironclad." In response to Pelosi's show of support for Taiwan, China on Thursday began military exercises, including missile strike training, in six zones surrounding Taiwan, in what could be the biggest of their kind since the mid-1990s.

After visiting Taiwan, Pelosi and other members of her congressional delegation flew to South Korea — a key U.S. ally where about 28,500 American troops are deployed — on Wednesday evening, as part of an Asian tour that included earlier stops in Singapore and Malaysia. After South Korea, Pelosi will travel to Japan.

It's Amy and Ella with today's top stories out of Washington.

WNBA star Brittney Griner found guilty in Russia

A Russian judge sentenced Brittney Griner to nine years in a penal colony after the WNBA star and two-time United States Olympic gold medalist was found guilty of drug possession.

Griner, who entered a guilty plea weeks ago, apologized to her family and wife.

“I made an honest mistake, and I hope that in your ruling, it doesn’t end my life here," Griner said addressing the judge.

Now that the trial has concluded, negotiations to free Griner are expected to continue between Washington and Moscow amid heightened tensions between the two countries.

Griner, who had played for Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014 during the WNBA offseason, was arrested Feb. 17 at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. Russian authorities said she carried vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage; Griner said during the trial that took place in Khmiki, Russia, that she accidentally packed them in haste and pleaded guilty "without intent." The court, however, claimed she committed the crime deliberately.

“The hard work that my parents instilled in me is what brought me to play for the best EuroLeague and Russian team here in Ekaterinburg,” Griner said Thursday from a cage inside the courtroom. “I want to apologize to my teammates, the club, the fans and the city of (Ekaterinburg for) the mistake that I made and the embarrassment I brought.

“This is my second home. All I wanted to do was win a championship and make them proud.”

Real quick: Stories you’ll want to read

Kansas abortion vote could spell trouble for GOP in midterms

Kansas voters on Tuesday turned out in droves to cast votes to protect abortion rights in their state. The state’s answer to the first abortion rights ballot question since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade sent shockwaves across the nation’s political landscape, signaling the issue may be a greater motivator to vote in the midterm elections than previously thought.

Jarrolyn Quinones, 65, a paralegal and Democrat, was "stunned" by the vote in her largely conservative home state, she told USA TODAY late Wednesday morning.

The results taught her something: The abortion issue cuts through partisan politics. Women who feel the same way she does about abortion rights might not have signs in their yard or be from the same political party, but they were silently aligned at the ballot box.

"Women understand their rights are being taken away ... and if they don't act, we will be back in the 1950s," Quinones said. "Regardless if women have different political beliefs or different religious beliefs, they agree they want the right to make their own choices."

If Kansas’ turnout is replicated nationwide in November, it would benefit Democrats, who count on the Roe reversal to improve their odds this fall as the party faces headwinds that include high consumer prices, President Joe Biden's low approval numbers and a historical record that shows midterms typically go against the sitting president's party.

The monkeypox outbreak that has infected more than 6,600 people in the United States is officially a public health emergency, the Biden administration declared Thursday. --Ella & Amy

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: WNBA Brittney Griner trial in Russia concludes,