April 25, 2016

President Obama is sending 250 more U.S. military personnel to combat the Islamic State in Syria, bringing the total U.S. military force in the war-torn country to about 300, according to U.S. officials. Obama will announce the new deployment Monday morning in Hanover, Germany. When Obama sent the first 50 U.S. special operations forces to Syria last year, officials described the move as a counterterrorism operation, and the increase is being explained as an effort to assist local forces as they chip away at ISIS territory.

A major focus of the new deployment "will be trying to get more Sunni Arabs to join the fight alongside Kurdish units in northeastern Syria," The Wall Street Journal reports. The U.S. has relied heavily on the Kurdish forces so far, but the Obama administration believes Sunni Arabs will need to get more involved to pry ISIS from Arab enclaves surrounding Raqqa, the de facto ISIS headquarters. The U.S. personnel won't directly engage in combat, but they will be close to the front lines, and the ultimate goal will be assisting and guiding Kurdish and Sunni Arab forces to take Raqqa, CNN reports, noting that that battle will likely be long and difficult. You can learn more in the CNN report below. Peter Weber

12:46 p.m.

President Trump backtracked Wednesday on his 2016 campaign promise to protect funding for entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, suggesting in an interview with CNBC that he would be open to slashing "at some point" them since they're "the easiest" thing to cut.

Well, unsurprisingly, that didn't sit well with his Democratic opponents, who quickly pounced on the comment.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is one of the leading candidates in the Democratic presidential primary, used Trump's words to call for an expansion of such programs, while the House Ways and Means Committee called the suggestion "unacceptable." Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) thinks it's a warning from Trump that people should take seriously.

Trump's reasoning for possibly cutting entitlements is that the trajectory of the country's economic growth could one day allow for it. But don't expect that to change any minds on the other side of the political aisle. Tim O'Donnell

12:44 p.m.

Oprah Winfrey is facing mounting criticism after withdrawing from a documentary about the sexual misconduct allegations against Russell Simmons, a decision activists are slamming as "callous."

Winfrey was originally attached as executive producer of the upcoming documentary focusing on the Simmons allegations, On the Record, but she removed her name from it earlier this month. Although Winfrey said in a statement she "unequivocally believes and supports the women," she says she had concerns about "some inconsistencies in the stories." Simmons has denied the allegations against him.

"This latest turn of events has been extraordinarily disorienting and upsetting," domestic violence activist Sil Lai Abrams, who has accused Simmons of rape, told the Reporter.

Equality Now global director Yasmeen Hassan also criticized Winfrey, telling the Reporter her decision was "callous" and saying, "There needs to be a lot more explanation given to these women, at the very least. This feels mind-boggling and is very bad for the #MeToo movement."

Women and Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein additionally described the situation as "one of the saddest moments for the #MeToo movement," adding, "Just think how hard it is going to be for women, particularly women of color, to come forward next time when they have been thrown under the bus by none other than Oprah."

The Reporter notes that although Winfrey has cited alleged inconsistencies, especially in the account of the film's central accuser Drew Dixon, the Times' report on Dixon's allegations "was well vetted." Winfrey reportedly had additional issues with the film, including concerns over whether "the two filmmakers, who are white, captured the nuances of hip-hop culture and the struggles of black women," the Times writes. On the Record is still scheduled to have its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 25. Brendan Morrow

12:10 p.m.

One giant energy provider is taking a small chunk of climate change into its own hands.

Arizona Public Service Co., the largest utility provider in Arizona, will swear off coal power by the end of the decade, it announced Wednesday. That's seven years earlier than the company previously pledged, and comes under the purview of a CEO who just took that job in December, AZ Central reports.

As it stands, APS gets 22 percent of its energy from its coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant and Cholla Power Plant. Cholla is slated for closure in 2025, and while Four Corners wasn't supposed to close until 2038, Wednesday's announcement bumped that down to 2031. In addition, CEO Jeff Guldner said Wednesday that APS would completely shift to carbon-free power by 2050. APS does own the largest nuclear power plant in the country, and plans to use that Palo Verde plant to achieve its green energy goals.

In neighboring New Mexico, where the Four Corners plant is located, utility provider Public Service New Mexico has pledged to go carbon-free by 2040. California and Colorado also have laws that mandate completely carbon-free energy by 2040 and 2045, respectively. More states taking the plunge is essential for minimizing greenhouse gases, seeing as the U.S. is the second biggest emissions producer in the world, and that a full quarter of its emissions come from energy production. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:21 a.m.

President Trump on Wednesday downplayed the injuries suffered by U.S. soldiers following retaliatory Iranian missile strikes on a military base in Iraq earlier this month.

Speaking to reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump was asked why he has repeatedly said no Americans were hurt in the strikes despite reports that 11 U.S. service members were airlifted for medical reasons. The president said he was told the soldiers had "headaches" and he doesn't consider the injuries to be as serious as others he's seen in the past, such as the loss of limbs.

The comment quickly stirred up some backlash — CNN's Chris Cillizza called Trump's description of the injuries "problematic" considering some of the patients are still being evaluated. He also brought up Trump's personal history which includes five deferments from serving in the Vietnam War, four of which were the result of bone spurs in his heels.

The president was also chastised by Mark Hertling, a retired Army officer who served as the commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe and the Seventh Army. Hertling said that blasts like the one in Iraq can result in various long-term effects, some of them quite severe. Trump, he said, was "dangerously wrong" in his dismissal. Tim O'Donnell

10:08 a.m.

It's hard to make jokes during an impeachment, but Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is making it work.

Booker is among the 100 senators acting as jurors in the impeachment trial of President Trump, and all of them have to stash their electronics in marked cubbies while they're inside the Senate chambers. But as Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) documented on his Instagram Wednesday morning, Booker is using his cubby to store a snack that doubles as an excellent visual gag.

Booker may have dropped out of the presidential race earlier this month, but this joke probably would've earned him a boost from corny dads everywhere. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:05 a.m.

An attack on a U.S. military base in Kenya by al-Shabab fighters that killed three Americans earlier this month mostly flew under the radar amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran. But it's now raising questions about the effectiveness of the U.S. military's presence on the African continent, The New York Times reports.

There's still a lot that's unclear about al-Shabab's breach of the base, and the military's Africa Command has remained tight-lipped in the aftermath. Nobody is sure why the base — which is home to valuable surveillance aircraft — wasn't better protected, and there's also been some criticism of the Kenyan security forces who are being trained by the deployed U.S. troops.

At the Manda Bay base, the Kenyan forces are relied upon heavily to protect the airfield since there aren't enough American forces to stand perimeter security, a Defense Department official told the Times. But their performance during the skirmish with al-Shabab reportedly frustrated American officials. For example, the Kenyan forces announced they captured six of the attackers, all of whom were released after it turned out they were bystanders.

Some have taken their speculation a bit further. One person briefed on an inquiry into the attack told the Times that investigators are looking into the possibility that the al-Shabab fighters received aid from Kenyan staff on the base, although one American official said the attackers likely made their move after patiently observing the routines of American soldiers. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

9:41 a.m.

One of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination this year is now suing the last one.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has filed a defamation lawsuit against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for suggesting in an interview last year that she's a "Russian asset."

Clinton during a podcast appearance in October said that an unnamed Democratic candidate for president is "the favorite of the Russians." She then said that Jill Stein is "also a Russian asset," seeming to suggest the unnamed Democrat is one as well. While Clinton didn't mention the candidate she was referring to, when later asked if she was talking about Gabbard, her spokesperson told CNN, "If the nesting doll fits."

Gabbard at the time tore into Clinton as the "queen of warmongers" in response to her comments, and she demanded in November that Clinton "immediately hold a press conference to verbally retract — in full — your comments," as well as release a statement saying she made a "grave mistake" and that "I support and admire" Gabbard's work. Clinton did not do so.

The lawsuit filed against Clinton contends that her comments caused Gabbard "to lose potential donors and potential voters" and that she "has suffered significant actual damages, personally and professionally, that are estimated to exceed $50 million — and continue to this day." The campaign is seeking "compensatory damages and an injunction prohibiting the further publication of Clinton's defamatory statements." Clinton hasn't commented on the lawsuit. Brendan Morrow

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