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Trump agrees to keep U.S. troops in Syria for undetermined period of time to defeat ISIS

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“The president made his displeasure clear about any kind of long-term presence in Syria,” the official said, adding that Trump was trying “light a fire” under his team to get the military mission wrapped up.

Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and John Sullivan, the acting U.S. secretary of state, were in the meeting, which took place Tuesday after Trump’s comments on Syria at a joint press conference with the Baltic heads of state, along with Mattis. John Bolton, Trump’s nominee to replace H.R. McMaster, as national security adviser, was not in attendance, nor was Mike Pompeo, Trump’s CIA director and pick to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, according to the official.

The official said Trump told his aides that he expects partner governments in the region to make good on verbal pledges to help pay for reconstruction. In the meeting, according to two U.S. officials, Trump said the Saudis would provide as much as $4 billion in stabilization efforts for Syria.

The U.S. has around 2,000 forces on the ground in Syria fighting ISIS.

Tuesday’s meeting followed a scramble by Trump’s national security aides to address his recent threat to pull out all U.S. forces from Syria.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump said he wanted to get out of Syria and bring U.S. troops back home — only moments after his top advisers said publicly that the fight against ISIS was not finished.

 A convoy of U.S. troops drive on a road leading to the tense front line with Turkish-backed fighters in Manbij, north Syria, on Saturday. Hussein Malla / AP

“I want to get back, I want to rebuild our nation,” Trump said, reiterating comments about withdrawal that he made last week. “It’s time. We were very successful against ISIS; we’ll be successful against anybody militarily, but sometimes it’s time to come back home. And we’re thinking about that very seriously.”

The president, speaking at a joint news conference at the White House with the leaders of the Baltic states, did not give a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops but said a decision would be made soon.

Just minutes earlier, however, the president’s envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Brett McGurk, had stressed that the job was not finished.

“We are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission,” McGurk said, standing alongside Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “Our mission is not over. And we are going to complete that mission.”

U.S. and coalition partners on the ground have taken control of almost 95 percent of the territory in Syria once held by ISIS, but U.S. officials have said their remaining presence will prove difficult to eliminate quickly and could take months.

Votel, for his part, stressed on Tuesday the importance of stabilization in Syria, and said the U.S. military can help.

“The hard part, I think, is in front of us, and that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes,” Votel said.

In a statement Wednesday, the White House said the U.S. mission in Syria was “coming to a rapid end.”

“The military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed. The United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “We will continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans. We expect countries in the region and beyond, plus the United Nations, to work toward peace and ensure that ISIS never re-emerges.”

But Nick Rasmussen, former director of the National Counterterrrorism Center and an MSNBC and NBC News national security and intelligence analyst, said Wednesday that the U.S. should exercise caution in declaring victory over the terrorist group.

“There is still a significant ISIS problem we’re dealing with. When you use words like defeat and destroy, that’s a pretty high bar to get to in terms of eliminating a terrorist organization,” Rasmussen said.

Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube reported from Washington, and Adam Edelman from New York.

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Boris Johnson given 'final warning' to reach new deal with EU to stop Belfast riots

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BORIS Johnson has been given a “final warning” to reach a deal with the EU by the former leader of the Conservative Party William Hague.

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As GOP sticks with Trump, grassroots energy on the right has gone missing

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WASHINGTON — Tax Day 2009 was the start of the Tea Party protests against Barack Obama’s agenda.

But as we approach April 15, 2021 — even with the tax-filing deadline extended to May 17 — it’s become noticeable just how quiet the conservative grassroots have been during President Biden’s first three months in office.

Part of it is due to the fact that Biden has never been the lightning rod for the right that Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and even AOC are.

But another part is the 2020 defeated candidate who decided to stick around: Donald Trump.

In the 21st century, we’ve seen grassroots political movements — whether real, AstroTurf, or activated by cable news — replace defeated presidential candidates and unpopular presidents. (With the previous leadership either politically discredited by the results or voluntarily leaving day-to-day politics, new players rush to fill the vacuum and voters look for signals as to what they should be doing next and how their party can rebrand.)

The anti-war protests during George W. Bush’s presidency blossomed after John Kerry’s loss in 2004.

The Tea Party came alive after John McCain’s defeat in 2008, as well as Bush 43’s exit from the political stage.

And the Women’s March — the day after Trump’s inauguration — came after Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss.

Sure, conservatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene are raising lots of money.

Also to be sure, there’s always been lots of grassroots energy behind Trump (though that has dissipated after Jan. 6).

But when we’re talking about grassroots movement and energy to bolster a political party and stop the opposition’s agenda, the energy on the right has been largely MIA.

And it’s all taking place in a political environment where Nikki Haley says she won’t run in 2024 if Trump does, as well as where Sen. Rick Scott, the chair of the GOP’s Senate campaign arm, is presenting Trump with a trophy bowl.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

6: The number of women who developed rare blood clots after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, prompting federal health agencies to call for a pause on its use.

5: The number of Democratic pollsters who have signed on to a statement acknowledging “major errors” in 2020 polling.

31,401,163: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 70,733 more than yesterday morning.)

566,645: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 548 more than yesterday morning.)

189,692,045: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

20.3 percent: The share of Americans who are fully vaccinated.

16: The number of days left for Biden to reach his 100-day vaccination goal.

Just asking

Another school shooting. Another police officer killing a Black man during a traffic stop.

Why aren’t guns and police reform higher on the political agenda?

Remembering when Ron DeSantis’ own mail-in ballot got rejected

Here’s another angle to the continuing story of GOP-led state legislatures trying to place more restrictions on access to the ballot: There’s no guarantee that GOP skepticism of mail-in voting will be a permanent feature of every election in the future. After all, it wasn’t before 2020.

Case in point: Florida, where Republicans once dominated in mail voting, particularly with older voters — and where both former President Trump and now-Gov. Ron DeSantis made frequent use of the method.

In fact, as Noah Pransky of NBCLX reminds us, then-Rep. DeSantis had his own ballot rejected in 2016 due to a mismatched signature. (Pransky himself reported on the ballot’s rejection back in 2018.)

Pransky writes:

“When then-Congressman Ron DeSantis cast his mail ballot for Florida’s primary election in 2016, election workers in his hometown flagged the signature as a mismatch.”

“When DeSantis provided the canvassing board a new signature as a backup to the signatures already on-file, they determined that handwriting also had “no similarities” to the signature on DeSantis’ ballot and rejected the vote, according to Flagler County elections officials.”

More: “DeSantis’s public voting history — obtained through public records requests from the St. Johns and Flagler supervisors of elections — shows he regularly took advantage of Florida’s no-excuse absentee option, casting votes by mail in six out of seven elections between March 2016 and August 2020. The only time he voted in-person during that period was at a well-choreographed photo opportunity, when he appeared atop the ballot during his 2018 gubernatorial run.”

“Now, DeSantis is leading the charge in Florida to change how voters obtain a mail ballot, as well as how easily they can drop it off at their local elections offices.”

Still More: “[He] is also advocating a change to voter signature-matching that would order elections officials to use only a voter’s most-recent signature to determine authenticity.”

McCrory expected to jump into N.C. Senate race

Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday is expected to announce a bid for the state’s vacated Senate seat next year, and he’ll be joining a potentially crowded GOP field of candidates, NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell writes.

The field already includes Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., who took a shot at McCrory on Twitter, and it could also include Trump daughter-in-law Lara Trump, as well as Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Top private law firms are joining forces to form a “SWAT team”-style response to new voting restrictions, NBC’s Jane Timm writes.

The Biden administration is increasingly at odds with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over the coronavirus surge in her state.

The NCAA says it won’t hold championship events in states that restrict transgender athletes’ participation in sports.

Ohio Republican Senate candidate Bernie Moreno has cast himself as a big Trump fan. That wasn’t always the case, NBC’s Henry Gomez notes.

Speaking of Trump and GOP candidates, one Republican in Texas is taking an explicitly anti-Trump stance.

Progressive Democrat Charles Booker is mulling a race against Rand Paul.

How much difference would Biden’s proposed new actions on guns actually make?

The New York Times checks in on Andrew Cuomo’s continuing attempts to ride out his scandals.



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Nicola Sturgeon lifts travel ban as Scots to resume meeting outdoors from Friday

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NICOLA STURGEON has lifted Scotland’s travel ban as six adults from up to six households can meet outdoors from Friday anywhere across Scotland.

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