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February 22, 2019

Reproductive health organizations that refer patients to abortion providers are about to lose major federal funding.

Reflecting conservative calls to "defund Planned Parenthood," the Trump administration on Friday issued a new rule that excludes abortion providers and abortion referrers from Title X funding. Once it takes effect, the family planning program will largely direct its $286 million budget to faith-based reproductive health groups, The Washington Post reports.

The rule, which will take effect 60 days after it's published on the federal register in the next few days, doesn't completely strip Planned Parenthood's funding, Politico notes. But it still means it and other providers can't conduct abortions or issue referrals at the same facilities it uses for other reproductive services, such as STD and breast cancer screenings. If Planned Parenthood violates those standards, it won't be able to access about $60 million in annual funding it gets from Title X.

President Trump's Department of Health and Human Services issued a first draft of the report last year, NPR says. The newest edition comes as Trump has ramped up his anti-abortion rhetoric, and governors, state attorneys general, and advocates have already promised they'll challenge it legally. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 28, 2019

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe is almost done.

In a Monday press conference, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker was asked about his view of the probe into whether President Trump's campaign was involved with Russian interference in the 2016 election, seeing as he's been critical of it in the past. "I have been fully briefed on the investigation and I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report," Whitaker responded, adding that "I am comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed" and "right now ... I think the investigation is close to being completed."

Whitaker's comment is the furthest any senior official in the Trump administration has gone in talking about the probe, The Washington Post notes. It comes just days after Trump's longtime adviser was arrested on seven counts in relation to the investigation, including obstruction of an official proceeding, witness tampering, and making false statements.

The Monday conference was unrelated to the Mueller investigation; it was focused on the criminal charges levied against Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei and its CFO. Whitaker said he hopes to receive Mueller's reporter as soon as possible. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 28, 2019

The longest government shutdown in history may have ended, but its damage to the economy is far from over.

Throughout the 35-day shutdown prompted by President Trump's demand for border wall funding, 800,000 federal employees went unpaid and six government departments went unfunded. That cost the American economy $11 billion, $3 billion of which will never be recovered, an analysis released Monday by the Congressional Budget Office reveals.

The nonpartisan CBO calculated that the shutdown caused a federal discretionary spending to drop $18 billion in a little over a month. That led the GDP in the last quarter of 2018 to drop by $3 billion, or .1 percent. The GDP in the first quarter of 2019 is then expected to drop another $8 billion, or .2 percent, per the report. That GDP drop will mostly rebound by the end of fiscal year 2019, but an estimated .02 percent of America's annual GDP will not , the CBO says.

Beyond the impact of federal government spending losses, the CBO also noted "much more significant effects on individual businesses and workers." About 800,000 federal workers didn't receive paychecks for five weeks, and federal contractors won't receive any at all. That caused them to spend less at "private-sector entities," some of which "will never recoup that lost income," the report says.

A separate CBO economic outlook report released Monday also found that, if taxation and spending remains unchanged, the federal deficit will grow to an annual total of $1 trillion in next decade. Read more about it at The Week. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 21, 2018

Defense Secretary James Mattis' departure doesn't just sum up the major opposition to President Trump's withdrawal from Syria. It also represents a whole new "phase" in Trump's foreign policy, The Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg says in an analysis published Friday.

After Trump declared ISIS defeated in Syria and moved to immediately withdraw from the country, Mattis submitted a resignation letter with no kind words for the president. Mattis was one of Trump's longest-standing senior officials in a tumultuous White House and had led the Pentagon through two distinct "phases" of Trump's foreign policy, Goldberg outlines in the paragraph below.

Mattis' departure also means that the United States is entering the third phase of Trump’s foreign policy. In the first year of his presidency, Trump paid attention mainly to domestic issues, and did not afflict America’s diplomatic and national-security establishment with an undue number of his ignorant and damaging foreign-policy views. In the second year, he became more destructively engaged, but he listened, on occasion, to those in his administration who possessed actual expertise in foreign policy. We are now entering the third year of his presidency, and third phase of his foreign policy: Trump alone, besieged, but believing, perhaps more than ever, in the inerrancy of his beliefs. [The Atlantic]

While former President Barack Obama dismissed Mattis as head of U.S. Central Command three years ago, he held on because he "understood ... Trump's intellectual, ideological, and characterological defects," Goldberg says. Without Mattis' guidance, "the dangerous part begins," he adds. Read Goldberg's insightful anaylsis in full at The Atlantic. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 13, 2018

The Senate voted Thursday, 56-41, to withdraw American support for Saudi Arabia's coalition in Yemen's war. Just minutes later, they unanimously voted to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder, reports The Washington Post.

Both moves are major rejections of President Trump, seeing as he never wavered in his support of the kingdom despite Khashoggi's murder and apparent human rights violations against Yemeni civilians. The vote to revoke military support also called into question Trump's war powers, but will likely expire before Trump gets a chance to sign or veto it, The New York Times says, making its passage largely symbolic.

Khashoggi's October murder in Turkey's Saudi consulate set a wave of lawmakers against the president, even those who usually back Trump's policies. While Trump repeatedly refused to accept the CIA's reported findings that bin Salman directed the killing, allies such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vehemently countered him. As it turns out, every Republican and Democrat voted against the president Thursday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said.

The other Senate move on Thursday comes days after several humanitarian groups implored the federal government to withdraw its military support in the Yemeni civil war. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were backing efforts to fight Houthi rebels in the country, putting millions at risk of famine along the way. The House just squashed a similar resolution earlier this week to end Saudi support, the Times notes. Still, this shows there's a powerful coalition of Saudi skeptics in the Senate. Kathryn Krawczyk

April 13, 2017

On Thursday, the United States dropped a 21,000-pound bomb on Afghanistan in an attempt to disrupt Islamic State fighters. While the bomb — nicknamed the "mother of all bombs," or the "MOAB" — has been around since at least 2003, Thursday marked the first time it had ever been used in combat.

One of the major questions about the Trump administration's use of the MOAB is why former Presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush never used the weapon in their respective conflicts and wars even though it was available. A 2003 article about the MOAB tests reveals it was never thought to be a realistic option:

Military analysts in the U.S. say that because the 21,000-pound massive ordnance air burst, or MOAB, is so huge, it can be dropped only from a military cargo plane that flies slowly and at relatively low altitudes, making the plane vulnerable to antiaircraft weapons. And because the bomb causes devastation across such a broad swath, it is unlikely to be used against anything but a large concentration of entrenched enemy troops — just the kind of target likely to be armed with antiaircraft weapons.

"It's really quite improbable that it would be used," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a defense think tank in Arlington, Va.

"The Pentagon is committed to avoiding large concentrations of civilians, and it is committed to avoiding putting its pilots and its planes at unnecessary risk. The only real use for this kind of indiscriminate terror weapon is to scare the bejesus out of Saddam Hussein."

The MOAB shares the same acronym as Hussein's memorable threat in 1990 that he would wage the "mother of all battles" against U.S. troops. [The Los Angeles Times]

Back when the MOAB was first developed, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld countered criticism of its creation with an ominous claim: "There is a psychological component to all aspects of warfare." Jeva Lange

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