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September 12, 2018

The Trump administration has rolled back refugee programs so substantially that the U.S. is on track to admit just 22,000 refugees this year — one quarter of the number admitted in 2016, Reuters reported Wednesday.

The number of forcibly displaced people in the world, 68.5 million, is at a record high this year, but the U.S. took in fewer refugees than at any other point in the past four decades, when the modern refugee program began. President Trump set a low ceiling of 45,000 for refugee admission in 2018, and the number of arrivals lagged far behind that.

The "travel ban" pushed by the Trump administration has also affected refugee resettlement statistics. Trump signed a disputed executive order that created a stricter vetting process for people from 11 countries, mostly in the Middle East and Africa. Refugees from those nations now make up less than 2 percent of the admissions, whereas they used to account for 36 percent of U.S. refugees.

Nearly two-thirds of the officials who used to conduct refugee interviews have been reassigned to asylum screenings, reports Reuters, focusing on migrants already in the country instead of people who qualify for U.N. refugee status.

President Trump is expected to determine 2019's refugee ceiling this month. Reuters reports that some administration officials who supported maintaining or increasing the cap no longer work in their positions, sparking fears among advocates that the number will soon be even lower. Read more at Reuters. Summer Meza

1:23 p.m.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke participated in a Reddit Ask Me Anything Thursday and likely began regretting that decision almost immediately.

When the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate took to Reddit to answer users' questions, things spiraled out of control right away, with his very first answer being absolutely pummeled with downvotes and currently sitting at negative 2,700 points. On Reddit, users can either upvote a comment to give it positive karma or downvote a comment to give it negative karma. This first response was to a question about how O'Rourke intends to "confiscate the millions of AR-15s," with O'Rourke writing that "Americans will comply with the law."

The reception on Reddit wasn't much friendlier from there, with the second highest-voted question in the entire thread being, "Why aren't you running for Senate?" O'Rourke's reply, in which he says he's running to be "the leader that we need and are missing right now," currently has negative 1,200 points, and that score just keeps dropping.

Another one of the top questions was, "Do you still drink alcohol following your drunk driving incident?" O'Rourke, who was arrested for drunk driving in 1998 when he was 26, said that "I don't drive if I've had a drink."

O'Rourke was also massively downvoted after responding to a question about prison reform but then deleting and re-posting his answer to remove a reference to restoring voting rights. He would later edit his new comment to say he "made a mistake" and "didn't realize you could edit." O'Rourke chose not to reply to numerous brutal questions that received hundreds of upvotes, including one asking why his "policies changed dramatically" since his "failed Senate run." Some of his replies were received more positively, but four currently have scores with negative karma.

Eventually, O'Rourke just went off to go take questions on the Beto2020 subreddit while thanking users who participated in the main thread for "engaging with me." Boy, did they ever. Brendan Morrow

12:23 p.m.

At least 30 people are dead and 40 are injured in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province after a U.S. drone strike mistook them for an ISIS target, Reuters reports.

U.S. forces "conducted a precision strike" on a group of ISIS militants on Thursday morning, and had heard "reports" of civilian casualties, a U.S. military spokesman tells CBS News reports. Afghan officials and tribal leaders meanwhile say the strike "accidentally" targeted a group of about 200 farmers who had pitched tents after a day of gathering pine nuts, per Reuters.

About 150 farmers and laborers had just finished working when the attack happened, Haidar Khan, who owns the pine nut fields, told Reuters. "The workers had lit a bonfire and were sitting together when a drone targeted them," tribal elder Malik Rahat Gul similarly said. But a Nangarhar province spokesperson said only nine bodies had been recovered so far, and U.S. officials are countering the reported deaths altogether.

ISIS combatants often "intentionally kill and hide behind civilians, as well as use dishonest claims of non-combatant casualties as propaganda weapons," U.S. spokesperson Colonel Sonny Leggett told CBS News. The alleged casualties, Leggett said, may be a "ploy" to distract from a Taliban suicide attack on a hospital in southern Afghanistan that happened around the same time. The car bomb attack killed at least 20 people and injured 95 others, Afghan officials say. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:53 a.m.

President Trump denied a report Thursday that he made a troubling "promise" to a foreign leader that left a whistleblower alarmed, insisting he would never say anything "inappropriate" on such a call.

Trump responded Thursday to a report from The Washington Post that an official in the U.S. intelligence community filed a complaint in August about the president's communications with a foreign leader. Trump reportedly made a "promise" on a phone call that the whistleblower found so troubling they filed a complaint to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who marked it of "urgent concern."

The president denied this report by asking if anyone is "dumb enough" to believe he would "say something inappropriate" to a foreign leader on a phone call since "there may be many people listening" to it. That seemed to be suggesting that he only wouldn't say anything inappropriate because people are listening in, although he then added that he would "only do what is right anyway."

It wasn't hard for reporters to fact-check Trump's assertion that the idea of him saying something inappropriate to a foreign leader is so unbelievable, with The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey recalling the president telling Russian officials in the Oval Office that he fired FBI Director James Comey, a "real nut job," and that this has now taken "pressure" off himself. Trump also reportedly revealed highly classified information in a 2017 Oval Office meeting with Russia's foreign minister and ambassador.

It's unclear which foreign leader Trump's reportedly troubling conversation might have been with, and on Thursday, The New York Times reports Atkinson wouldn't provide lawmakers with any information about the complaint and would not even confirm whether it involves Trump at all. Brendan Morrow

10:38 a.m.

Vice President Mike Pence's newest hire already seems pretty comfortable in the White House.

Pence has tapped Katie Waldman as his new press secretary, Pence's Chief of Staff Marc Short confirmed to NBC News on Thursday. She was previously a deputy press secretary in the Department of Homeland Security, is currently Sen. Martha McSally's (D-Ariz.) communications director, and, as The Washington Post's Nick Miroff notes, is dating President Trump's adviser Stephen Miller.

Waldman served under former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during the height of the Trump administration's family separation crisis, and with her focus on immigration, became one of the leading defenders of the "zero tolerance" policy. Perhaps uncoincidentally, Miller was reportedly the "architect" of that policy that split migrant children from their parents at the border, as well as several other hardline immigration ideas.

Regardless of who drew it up, Waldman's unflinching defense of the Trump immigration agenda "impressed a lot of people in the administration," one DHS official tells NBC News. "She's shown she has the mettle to handle intense environments," including the intense media scrutiny of DHS throughout the past year, Short added. Waldman starts Oct. 1, and will be Pence's top spokesperson as he and Trump head into an election year. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:42 a.m.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell is sticking around, President Trump says, because, well, sure.

Trump spoke to Fox News for an interview Wednesday after lashing out at Powell as someone with "no 'guts,' no sense, no vision!" The president has lobbied the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates to "zero, or less," and he has in the past argued that he is within his right to fire Powell.

But amid these continued attacks — including Trump last month wondering out loud whether Powell is a bigger enemy of the United States than Chinese President Xi Jinping — Trump says he supposes is here to stay.

"It's safe, yeah, it's safe," Trump said when asked if Powell's job is safe. "I mean, sure, why not?"

Trump went on to simply offer that Powell has "got a job" before again voicing his disappointment with him following the Fed's light rate cut. Powell when asked Wednesday if he has a response to Trump's Twitter attacks said, per CNBC's Eamon Javers, "I don't." Brendan Morrow

9:21 a.m.

There appears to be a third documented instance of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in racist makeup.

On Wednesday evening, Time published a photo of Trudeau in brownface makeup, prompting him to apologize and say he'd also worn blackface in high school. And on Thursday morning, Global News published what seems to be a third documented instance of Trudeau in racist makeup: A grainy video of a man who appears to be Trudeau with his arms, legs, and face covered in dark makeup.

The video is low quality, and features what appears to be several people in blackface. The man said to be Trudeau has painted his face with dark makeup and is wearing a T-shirt that shows his arms are painted as well. When the camera pans down his body, it seems to show his knees — visible through holes in his jeans — are painted too. Global News says it "obtained the video from a source earlier this week but had been attempting to verify it before publishing." The source "would not confirm or deny that it was Trudeau in the video or the time and place of the video," Global News continues. A senior member of Trudeau's Liberal party campaign confirmed it was him.

Following Time's publication Wednesday night, Trudeau said "I should have known better and I didn't. I'm really sorry." He also said he "didn’t consider [the brownface makeup] racist at the time, but now we know better." The video comes just a week after Trudeau launched his re-election campaign, and has sparked condemnation from many of his Liberal party colleagues. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:08 a.m.

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is rolling out his campaign's health care proposal, which he's referring to as "Medicare for all who want it."

Buttigieg, who in last week's Democratic debate drew a contrast between his position on health care reform and the Medicare-for-all proposals from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), announced Thursday new details of his plan to offer a public option alongside private insurance.

"If private insurers are not able to offer something dramatically better, this public plan will create a natural glide-path to Medicare-for-all," Buttigieg says on his website. He also touts that his plan "gives the American people a choice." Other details of his proposal include expanding premium subsidies and automatically enrolling low-income Americans who live in states that didn't expand Medicaid.

In a op-ed for The Washington Post published Thursday, Buttigieg additionally writes that "there's a real difference" between his plan and that of Sanders and Warren, writing that he wouldn't be "flipping a switch and kicking almost 160 million Americans off their private insurance." Vice President Joe Biden's plan is similar to Buttigieg's, as he has proposed adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act.

Buttigieg in his op-ed also argues his opponents are not being "honest and straightforward about the details" of their plans and writes that his, which he says costs $1.5 trillion over a decade, will "bring us together rather than push us even further apart."

The Washington Post's Paige Winfield Cunningham writes that Buttigieg is a "prime example of how most of the Democratic presidential contenders have distanced themselves from the dramatic overhaul envisioned by Sanders," although Vox's Dylan Scott argues the plan is "still ambitious" and "very much reflects the leftward shift of the Democratic mainstream." Brendan Morrow

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