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Kim Jong Un looks up at the sky at what is said to have been a missile launch on Aug. 29, 2017. Photo: KRT via AP Video

North Korea has launched an intercontinental ballistic missile toward South Korea for the first time in two months. Japan detected radio signals last night that North Korea may have been preparing to fire a missile, per Reuters. South Korea has fired pinpoint missiles into the water in response, Defense Secretary General James Mattis told reporters.

Why it matters: The missile "went higher, frankly, than any previous shots they have taken," Mattis said. "It's a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that could threaten everywhere in the world basically," he said.

Be smart: Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer tells Axios: "Small tit for tat for the [U.S. government's] state sponsor of terror announcement. This shouldn't be a headline."

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Congress grants waiver for retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to lead Pentagon

Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd Austin. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Both chambers of Congress on Thursday voted to grant retired Gen. Lloyd Austin a waiver to lead the Pentagon, clearing the path to confirmation for President Biden's nominee for defense secretary.

Why it matters: Austin's nomination received pushback from some lawmakers, including Democrats, who cited a law that requires officers be out of the military for at least seven years before taking the job — a statute intended to reinforce the tradition of civilian control of the Pentagon.

McConnell proposes February impeachment trial

Sen. Mitch McConnell Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is proposing that the impeachment trial of former President Trump begin in mid-February to allow for due process.

Why it matters: The impeachment trial is likely to grind other Senate business to a halt, including the confirmation process for President Biden's Cabinet nominees.