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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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Mattis told the president the Pentagon was already reducing the number of U.S. forces and would continue to do so, though he did not give the president a set time frame for the end of the U.S. mission in Syria, the official said. The official said Trump “wasn’t thrilled about that either,” but agreed to give the effort more time.

“The president made his displeasure clear about any kind of long-term presence in Syria,” the official said, adding that Trump said he wants other countries in the region to help fund the country’s reconstruction.

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.”

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said earlier Wednesday morning that he and the rest of Trump’s national security team had engaged in “significant” discussions with the White House Tuesday about the future of the U.S. mission in Syria.

The U.S. has around 2,000 forces on the ground fighting the terrorist group.

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 March 31, 2018. 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.

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

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Republicans announce federal bills to ‘restrict the spread’ of critical race theory

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A group of House Republicans on Wednesday took recent attacks on critical race theory a step further by introducing a pair of bills to ban diversity training for federal employees and the military.

Some 30 GOP representatives have signed on to support both the Combatting Racist Training in the Military Act and the Stop CRT Act, Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina said at a news conference in Washington.

The first bill is a companion to legislation introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas that aims to prohibit teaching “Anti-American and racist theories” such as critical race theory at any academic institution related to the U.S. Armed Forces. The Stop CRT Act works to codify former President Donald Trump’s executive order banning diversity and racial equity training for federal employees — an order President Joe Biden reversed in January.

“Critical race theory is a divisive ideology that threatens to poison the American psyche,” Bishop said at the news conference. “For the sake of our children’s future, we must stop this effort to cancel the truth of our founding and our country.”

He said the initial bill “stands for the idea that CRT does not belong in our armed forces. The Stop CRT Act will be the most comprehensive legislation to restrict the spread of CRT.”

The bills are the latest in a string of proposed legislation targeting diversity and anti-racism teaching — which is being characterized as critical race theory — in several states across the country. Such bills in Idaho, Louisiana, Rhode Island and Tennessee target the teaching of anti-racism in schools.

Conservative leaders began focusing on critical race theory after Trump used the decades-old academic term in a September 2020 memo ordering the Office of Management and Budget to stop funding diversity training. Around the same time, educators were using the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2019 New York Times “1619 Project” in the classroom to teach a more holistic history of the country. So, Republican leaders began publicly criticizing both the project and critical race theory, often using the term to describe all anti-racism efforts.

“Many that are condemning critical race theory haven’t read it or studied it intensely,” Jonathan Chism, assistant professor of history at the University of Houston–Downtown and co-editor of “Critical Race Studies Across Disciplines,” previously told NBC. “This is largely predicated on fear: the fear of losing power and influence and privilege. The larger issue that this is all stemming from is a desire to deny the truth about America, about racism.”

Critical race theory is a concept that seeks to understand racism and inequality in the United States by exploring and exposing the ways it affects legal and social systems. The school of thought was founded by academics including Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, Richard Delgado, Kimberlé Crenshaw and others in the 1970s and ‘80s and builds on critical legal studies and radical feminism.

On Wednesday, the Republican leaders said they hope the two proposed bills will continue the work Trump started. The news comes just hours after the Texas House passed a bill to limit what educators can teach about the nation’s history of racism and contentious current events. Dozens of education, business and community groups in the state condemned the bill, noting that it would limit local control. Texas state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, a Democrat from Houston, called the bill “tyranny,” according to The Texas Tribune.

“We have come to this body and have made the decision to tell our teachers how and what to teach,” Johnson told the paper, noting that there is “not one agency that has compelled a teacher to teach critical race theory, so this author literally is legislating nothing — an overreach of power.”

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Biden administration scrambles to stave off gas shortage crisis

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WASHINGTON — Just as Covid-19 seems to be loosening its grip on America, the Biden administration was faced with potentially crippling gas shortages in what risked becoming one of the first large-scale non-pandemic crises to test the White House.

Gas lines, hoarding, price-gouging and even fist fights were reported in the Southeast as thousands of stations ran out of fuel following a cyberattack that shut down a key pipeline serving the East Coast. The administration announced on Wednesday that pipeline was restarting. Colonial Pipeline warned it will still take days to restore the supply.

President Joe Biden pushed to keep Americans optimistic after his White House warned for days that consumers shouldn’t panic buy gas.

“I think you are going to hear some good news in the next 24 hours,” Biden said on Wednesday. “I think we’re going to be getting that under control.”

Republicans and their allies in the conservative media seized on the crisis, comparing Biden to former President Jimmy Carter — who lost re-election after an energy crisis in 1989 led to gas shortages, skyrocketing prices and rationing — and sharing memes saying Biden’s presidency is “out of gas.”

Officials set a target to get the Colonial Pipeline back online by the end of this week. But even before the shutdown, gas prices were climbing as people re-emerge from Covid-19 lockdowns to travel again — the national average broke $3 per gallon for the first time in seven years on Wednesday. Analysts were warning about potential shortages this summer even before the cyberattack.

If the pipeline shutdown had dragged on beyond this week, it could have reverbating affects cross the economy, including grounding flights and slowing supply chains for other needed goods.

Several states declared an emergency. Seven-in-ten gas stations in the Charlotte, North Carolina area ran out of at least one kind of fuel by Wednesday, while prices had risen to $6.99 a gallon at at least one Richmond, Virginia station. And airlines have already had to scramble to conserve fuel at affected airports.

East Coast cities have been relying on fuel stored in giant tanks, but it could only last a matter of days. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warned in its daily situation report, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, that if the pipeline stayed offline beyond Wednesday, there could be “widespread impacts on the fuel supply in the Southeast and Central Atlantic Markets.”

“I understand and I am doing everything I can using every lever of government to ensure we reduce the impact on the American people and their lives,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters when asked to summarize Biden’s message to the country.

The White House characterization of the gas crunch shifted as the pipeline shutdown dragged on, with officials stopping short on Monday of calling it “shortage” but then employing the term repeatedly on Wednesday.

High octane politics

Pump politics have lost some octane in recent years thanks to low prices, but gas prices have long been a touchy political issue, since they are felt personally and immediately by voters and impact nearly every part of the economy.

When gas prices spiked in 2008, they became a central issue in that year’s presidential campaign. Republican John McCain attacked Democrat Barack Obama in TV ads for opposing more domestic oil production and his vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin popularized the phrase, “Drill, baby, drill!”

Now, even when the pipeline returns to operation, gas prices — and gas politics — are likely on the rise again after the Covid-19 pandemic halted travel and parts of the fuel supply chain.

“Rising gas prices are a sign Americans are getting back out into the world — attending baseball games, going to concerts, taking a road trip — basically staying anywhere but at home,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. “This summer may see some blockbuster demand for fuel as well, as Americans find it very challenging to travel internationally, leading many to stay in the confines of U.S. borders, boosting some weeks to potentially record gasoline demand.”

The White House has scrambled to find alternate ways to deliver fuel to areas impacted by the pipeline closure.

The administration issued an emergency declaration Sunday to allow truckers to drive on more overtime hours and with less sleep than federal restrictions normally allow in an effort to deliver more oil and gas, which was followed by a waiver Tuesday temporarily allowing the impacted states to sell dirtier gasoline than would normally be allowed under environmental regulations.

Officials also said they were preparing to temporarily waive the Jones Act, which would allow foreign-flagged ships and vessels to deliver fuel to the Eastern seaboard should the need arise, and they said they were working to enlist rail operators from around the country to transport fuel to the affected areas.

Panic buying

Republicans are not going to let a good crisis go to waste and see an opportunity to undercut Biden as he has enjoyed months of relatively favorable economic news.

“President Biden’s leadership is non-existent,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said on Fox News. “Gas prices are through the roof and people are now waiting in line. There was a major hack by Russia, likely. President Biden doesn’t want to confront that. You’re looking at home prices… We’re seeing inflation starting to go through the roof.”

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Fox News that the fact that a Russian cybergang could hobble the U.S. economy made Biden look weak, while Republican senators like Marco Rubio, of Florida, and Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee, said the pipeline disruption showed Biden was wrong to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline — even though that pipeline would have carried crude oil from Canada to ports on the Gulf Coast for export, not gasoline for domestic use.

Others argued Biden was too slow to act and should have mobilized government resources before lines began to form at gas stations. Tucker Carlson said on his top-rated Fox News show that “the White House approves of this disaster,” because it would advance Biden’s environmentalist agenda to “close every gas station in the entire United States” in the move to electric vehicles.

But experts and local officials of both parties say panic buying, not the genuine supply disruption from the cyberattack, is responsible for much of the shortages now. “Panic buying of gas right now will create this artificial demand that will make all of this worse,” said AAA spokesperson Morgan Dean.

On Monday, demand for gas was up about 40 percent from the previous week as people rushed to fill up and shortages were being reported in parts of the country that don’t get their gasoline from the compromised pipeline, such as South Florida, which gets its fuel from oil tankers, and Arizona, which get its fuel from other pipelines.

“Please do not fill up your car unless you need to and do not fill multiple containers. Overreacting creates more of a shortage,” Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey said Tuesday, when data showed just one-in-200 of her state’s gas stations were experiencing outages.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission even felt compelled to remind people via social media not to fill plastic bags with gas.

“Obviously people made a run on the pumps after the media coverage got so extensive coming out of the weekend, which has created certainly a supply issue here in the state of Georgia,” the state’s Republican Gov. Kemp said on Fox News Business. “It is frustrating that people are panic buying. We tried to ask people to use good common sense. Get what they need, not more than they need. And that’s fallen on deaf ears for some.”

To ease the gas crunch in the next few days before the pipeline comes back on, it’s a message the Biden administration hopes more people wills start to listen.

“We understand that there are shortages resulting from the Colonial Pipeline shutdown,” Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday at the White House. “This is a time to be sensible.”



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US-UK travel: Boris Johnson will urge Joe Biden to drop Covid travel restrictions

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BORIS JOHNSON is expected to urge US President Joe Biden to drop flight restrictions between America and the UK, according to reports.

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