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January 24, 2017

At his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), President Trump's nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget, clarified that he does not think Social Security or Medicare are "unconstitutional" — despite his vote in the South Carolina Senate in 2009 declaring both programs exactly that. He also reassured the Senate Budget Committee that his description of Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme" was simply a way of explaining the program's cash flow. "I wouldn't read too much into [my] description of it as a Ponzi scheme," Mulvaney said.

However, while Mulvaney said he would not "be arguing to the president of the United States" that either of those programs are "unconstitutional," he did indicate he would push Trump to make changes to entitlement programs, which Trump has promised not to cut. "The only thing I know to do is tell the president the truth," Mulvaney said, arguing that the programs are not sustainable and that funds would soon run dry; he suggested means-testing Medicare or raising the retirement age for Social Security.

Even before Mulvaney's hearing began, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was tweeting his concerns, suggesting Mulvaney's nomination meant Trump "doesn't intend to not cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid":

Watch Sanders question Mulvaney below. Becca Stanek

10:01 a.m.

The U.S. will withdraw its more than 2,000 troops from Syria immediately, a defense official tells The Washington Post.

Officials told The New York Times on Wednesday that President Trump was "considering" removing all the troops "as quickly as possible," and The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday their removal from at least northeast Syria was finalized. Now, an anonymous official tells the Post that Trump decided Tuesday to remove all troops from the country, concluding its "campaign against the Islamic State." Trump went on to declare victory against ISIS in a tweet Wednesday.

Trump has spent months pushing to get troops out of Syria, despite objection from top officials who say continued U.S. presence could counter a potential return of ISIS. Officials also said America should maintain its influence in the area to prevent other world powers such as Russia and Iran from stepping in. Their prodding reportedly convinced Trump to backtrack in August, but Wednesday's revelation seems to show Trump is back to his old promise.

The "full" withdrawal of about 2,000 U.S. troops will be "rapid," an official also told CNN on Wednesday. It's meant to back up Trump's insistence that America has defeated ISIS forces in the region, sources told the Journal. It comes after a nasty phone call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, in which Erdogan "threatened to launch an assault on America's Kurdish partners in Syria," the Journal writes.

An official announcement of the move "could come as early as Wednesday," but some Pentagon officials are still trying to talk Trump out of it, the Times says.

8:49 a.m.

Disney fans ain't never had a Genie like Will Smith.

The first images of Smith's version of the character in Disney's live-action Aladdin were revealed Wednesday via Entertainment Weekly. The first thing you'll notice is that he's not blue like in the animated version, although that doesn't mean he won't appear that way in the movie at all. EW reports that "the final version of Will Smith's Genie in his blue floating lamp form isn't quite finished."

Smith certainly has large shoes to fill by taking over for the late Robin Williams, but he told EW that he hopes to deliver a take on the character that is "an homage to Robin Williams" but still "musically different." Indeed, he said he'll be bringing some "hip-hop flavor" to the Disney universe, with one executive describing the character as part Fresh Prince, part Hitch. The "flavor of the character" will be "different enough" from the Williams version so that it's not trying to "compete" with it, Smith explained.

Entertainment Weekly's cover story reveals some other details about the movie: Smith's Genie will definitely be singing "Friend Like Me," and Jasmine will get a new solo number that wasn't in the original film. She'll also have a best friend character to play off of, with director Guy Ritchie saying he hopes to make her a "more rounded character.".

Disney's Aladdin hits theaters on May 24. Brendan Morrow

8:07 a.m.

Two years after Elon Musk, frustrated by traffic, dreamed up a high-speed tunneling system, we now have a glimpse at the concept in action.

Musk's Boring Company on Tuesday unveiled its first test tunnel in Hawthorne, California; it's 1.14 miles long and cost $10 million to construct, per CNN. The idea is eventually to have cars zip through the high-tech tunneling system at up to 150 miles per hour, but for this demonstration, the cars traveled closer to 35 miles per hour. Musk has described this as a "weird little Disney ride in the middle of L.A.," and indeed, a CNN reporter who tried it out observed that it "felt like an amusement park ride."

Musk believes tunnels could be an "actual solution to the soul-crushing burden of traffic," CNBC reports. The company hopes to build tunnels in Los Angeles and Chicago. Musk originally planned to have 16 people transported at a time via pods, but that idea was scrapped in favor of what's "much more like an underground highway," Musk told The New York Times.

Don't expect to use Boring Company tunnels for your commute anytime soon, though. Musk admits that they're "obviously at the early stages here" and called this example a prototype. Check out a video demonstration of the tunnel posted to The Boring Company's Twitter page below. Brendan Morrow

7:39 a.m.

President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, claimed Sunday that nobody ever signed a letter of intent to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. It turns out, he was wrong: Trump himself signed the letter.

CNN on Tuesday obtained a copy of the Trump Tower Moscow letter of intent, which is from October 2015 and has Trump's signature on it. Although this was a non-binding agreement, its discovery is significant considering Giuliani claimed during an interview just two days earlier that "there was a letter of intent to go forward, but no one signed it."

While Trump repeatedly denied during the 2016 presidential election having any business in Russia, he was negotiating a major real-estate deal in the country. The deal did not end up moving forward. Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty last month to lying to the Senate about when these negotiations ended; he originally said they stopped by January 2016 but later admitted they continued for longer. Giuliani in a Sunday interview suggested the conversations continued all the way up to November 2016. Brendan Morrow

6:56 a.m.

With about a quarter of the federal government set to shut down at midnight on Friday and Congress and the White House still at an impasse over President Trump's demands for money for a border wall, the Senate Appropriations Committee is drafting a continuing resolution to finance the nine unfunded Cabinet-level departments at current levels through early February, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said late Tuesday. Lawmakers appear resigned to this short-term fix, eager to avoid a third partial shutdown this year, though Republicans are not sure what Trump would be willing to sign.

Trump isn't saying much, either. Earlier Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders softened the administration's opposition to any legislation that doesn't give Trump $5 billion for his wall. Instead, Sanders said Trump would accept $1.6 billion and find the remaining $3.4 billion from other agencies. There are "other ways" to fund the wall, she said, and Trump "has asked every agency to look and see if they have money that can be used." Trump has previous suggested he would raid the Pentagon budget for the money.

A $5 billion down payment on Trump's wall would be only 0.1 percent of the federal budget, The Washington Post notes, "but even moving around that amount of money could be considered illegal without congressional approval." On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proposed giving Trump $1.6 billion for border fencing and repairs plus another $1 billion from previously approved funding that Trump could use on the border wall, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said no. "We cannot support the offer they made of a billion-dollar slush fund for the president to implement his very wrong immigration policies," Pelosi said. "So, that won't happen."

McConnell said he feels comfortable predicting that the government won't shut down before Christmas. Peter Weber

5:16 a.m.

Stephen Colbert had incoming House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Tuesday's Late Show, and he wasted little time with niceties. "Is there something you know that you can't tell me, that would just blow my brains out?" he asked. "Yes," Schiff said, but he appeared to be joking. Still, in the public domain, "when you think about what we've seen in the last few weeks, it's really quite shocking," he added. He started with ex-Trump fixer Michael Cohen's revelations about Trump's business negotiating with Russia for a Moscow building well into the 2016 campaign.

The presumptive GOP nominee for president was "misleading the country and privately seeking the Kremlin's help to make a deal — and what we've seen subsequently is that not only was he hiding this from the country, the Kremlin was helping in the cover-up," Schiff said. "Wait, are you saying the Russians lied to us?" Colbert asked in mock outrage. Schiff laughed, briefly. "We expect the Russians to lie," he said. "We expect a president of the United States to be telling the truth, and therein lies the problem."

"For two years, we've had this deeply unethical man running the country, and for two years, the Republican Congress has done nothing to oversee any of the allegations of malfeasance — and that stops now," Schiff said. "One of the most basic rules of doing investigation is you follow the money. We were not allowed to follow the money," but it's now incumbent to find out what leverage Russia and Saudi Arabia have over the president. "Is foreign funding influencing U.S. policy in a way that's not in our national interest?" Schiff asked. "I think it would be negligent for us not to find out."

Colbert and Schiff discussed other areas of inquiry, and Colbert ended with a final observation: "I've interviewed you several times before. I've never seen you look this happy." Watch below. Peter Weber

4:10 a.m.

On Tuesday, Nevada boldly went where no man-minority state legislature has gone before. With Las Vegas county officials appointing two women to fill vacancies in the state Assembly — Rochelle Thuy Nguyen and Beatrice "Bea" Angela Duran, both Democrats — Nevada officially became the first state with an overall female majority in the state legislature. The Assembly will now be 55 percent female, with women holding 23 of 42 seats — enough to overcome the slight male majority in the state Senate, where women hold nine of 21 seats.

Nevada and Colorado both elected female-majority lower houses in November, following the lead of New Hampshire's 2009-10 state Senate. But "it is unprecedented at this point to see a majority female legislature overall," says Kelly Dittmar, an assistant professor at Rutgers, whose Center for American Women and Politics tracks female political representation. When lawmakers are sworn in next year, women will hold 28.6 percent of state legislative seats in the U.S., up from 24.3 percent a decade ago.

Nevada will also be represented nationally in January by two female U.S. senators and a House delegation with two women and two men; voters elected three female Nevada Supreme Court justices as well, giving women a 4-3 majority on the court. According to the last census, Nevada is 49.8 percent female, the Los Angeles Times notes. Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak (D), whose final meeting as Clark County Commission chairman involved voting to appoint Duran and Nguyen, called the female-majority legislature "a great milestone!" Peter Weber

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