April 8, 2019

The United States is officially designating Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization, President Trump announced on Monday.

This move caps a month of escalating rhetoric against Iran and its backing of militia groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, and it's the first time that the U.S. has branded an entire foreign government entity as a terrorist entity, The Associated Press reports.

Iran has said it will retaliate, and Iranian lawmakers have reportedly prepared legislation to label the U.S. military a terrorist group, per NPR.

Trump in a statement said that this "unprecedented" step "recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft." He also said that this "underscores the fact that Iran's actions are fundamentally different from those of other governments."

This move had faced opposition from top officials at the Pentagon and C.I.A., as they feared it would "allow hard-line Iranian officials to justify deadly operations against Americans overseas," The New York Times reports. Sanctions will be imposed on the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a result of this designation, and those who do business with them can face criminal charges. "If you are doing business with the IRGC, you will be bankrolling terroristm," Trump said. Brendan Morrow

January 25, 2021

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday night said that since Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) promised they have no intention to vote to abolish the 60-vote legislative filibuster, he will support a power-sharing agreement with Democrats.

With Democrats in control of the House and Senate, some lawmakers have called for the elimination of the filibuster, and McConnell spent days stalling and trying to get Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to guarantee he would preserve it. The Senate is split 50-50; the last time this happened was in 2001, and the party with the vice presidency controlled the floor agenda.

In a statement, McConnell said he is ready to move forward on a deal "modeled" on the 2001 "precedent" after Sinema and Manchin said they "agree with President Biden's and my view that no Senate majority should destroy the right of future minorities of both parties to help shape legislation."

Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer, said Democrats are "glad Sen. McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand. We look forward to organizing the Senate under Democratic control and start getting big, bold things done for the American people." Catherine Garcia

January 25, 2021

An Ohio state senator who questioned the hygiene of Black people has been tasked with leading a state health panel, over the objection of several lawmakers.

During a hearing last June, state Sen. Steve Huffman (R), a physician, said he understood that "African Americans have a higher incidence of chronic conditions and that makes them more susceptible to death from COVID. But why does it not make them more susceptible just to get COVID?" He questioned whether "the colored population" washed their hands, wore masks, or practiced social distancing "as well as other groups. ... Could that be the explanation for why the higher incidence?"

After an immediate backlash, Huffman apologized for his remarks.

This month, Huffman was appointed by Senate President Matt Huffman (R), his cousin, to lead the Ohio Senate Health Committee, which reviews legislation about health care and human services. This angered multiple lawmakers, including state Rep. Catherine Ingram (D), who said Huffman's "racist and problematic remarks" are proof he is not fit to head the committee.

In a statement to CNN, Huffman said he is "one of the few doctors in the legislature," and is "proud" to have been named chair of the Ohio Senate Health Committee. The question he asked in June was "awkwardly worded" and "unfortunately hurt many people," Huffman said, adding that he has since attended "classes on diversity and inclusion." Catherine Garcia

January 25, 2021

The Minnesota Department of Health announced on Monday it has recorded the first known case in the U.S. of the highly transmissible COVID-19 variant that has been spreading through Brazil.

Known as the P.1 variant, it was detected amid a surge of cases in Manaus, Brazil. Minnesota health officials said the patient is a resident of the Twin Cities area who recently traveled to Brazil, and the strain was found via genomic sequencing of random blood samples. The person was tested on Jan. 9, and is now in isolation. Ruth Lynfield, Minnesota's state epidemiologist, said this is a reminder why "it is so important to limit travel during a pandemic as much as possible."

Scientists are closely studying three COVID-19 variants: P. 1, as well as B.1.1.7, first detected in the United Kingdom, and B1.351, first identified in South Africa. Virologists said the variants are independent of one another but there is some overlap in the mutations. The U.K. variant is spreading now in the U.S., but the South Africa variant has not yet been detected. Virologists are especially concerned that the Brazil and South Africa variants contain mutations that may evade the protections of some antibodies.

William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, told The Washington Post on Monday the Brazil variant is "probably the one causing the most concern among people watching this. It is fair to say that P.1 is the object of very, very serious attention and concern among epidemiologists. We don't know why it has been so successful in Manaus." Catherine Garcia

January 25, 2021

The nine House impeachment managers on Monday evening delivered the article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump to the Senate.

On Jan. 13, the House impeached Trump on a charge of inciting an insurrection, in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), serving as lead impeachment manager, made the transfer official by reading the article on the Senate floor.

Trump's second impeachment trial is set to begin the week of Feb. 8, giving both sides time to prepare. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), president pro tempore of the Senate, will preside over the trial; Chief Justice John Roberts presided over Trump's 2020 impeachment trial, but because Trump is out of office, Roberts is no longer constitutionally obligated to take on this role. On Tuesday, the senators will be sworn in as jurors. Catherine Garcia

January 25, 2021

The Senate on Monday voted 84-15 to confirm Janet Yellen as secretary of the Treasury, making her the first woman in U.S. history to ever hold the job.

As Treasury secretary, Yellen, a labor economist and former Federal Reserve chair, will collaborate closely with President Biden as he works on getting Congress to pass his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. If the package is approved, she will also be responsible for ensuring that direct relief payments are distributed to Americans.

During her confirmation hearing, Yellen said Congress must "act big" in order to get the economy going and to ease the suffering of American workers and families hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. "The relief bill late last year was just a down payment to get us through the next few months," Yellen said. "We have a long way to go before our economy fully recovers." Catherine Garcia

January 25, 2021

The possibility of conflict with Iran prompted the U.S. military to begin using several extra ports and bases in Saudi Arabia for the first time over the course of the last year, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The decision appears geared toward expanding the ability to operate militarily and complicating Iran's options in Saudi Arabia should tensions with Tehran, which is at odds with both Washington and Riyadh, boil over in the future. "What it does is to give us options, and options are always a good thing for a commander to have," Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, told the Journal.

McKenzie explained that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are negotiating infrastructure plans for the coastal port of Yanbu as well as two air bases to make them more usable for the U.S. military. He said additional sites that have not been revealed are under consideration.

As the Journal notes, the Biden administration has promised to take a tougher stance on human rights issues within Saudi Arabia, but the military base expansion effort — which began under the Trump administration — suggests Washington will continue to count Saudi Arabia as a key ally. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

January 25, 2021

The world's ice is melting so fast that sea level rise predictions can't keep up.

In the 1990s, the Earth's ice was melting at a rate of about 760 billion tons per year. That has surged 60 percent to an average of 1.2 trillion tons per year in the 2010s, a study published Monday in the journal The Cryosphere estimates. And as another study published earlier this month in Science Advances makes clear, the problem is feeding into itself.

Climate change is largely responsible for the huge ice melt surge, the Cryosphere study reports. In fact, about three percent of all the energy trapped within the Earth's systems because of climate change has gone toward that ice melt, the study estimates. "That’s like more than 10,000 'Back to the Future' lightning strikes per second of energy melting ice around-the-clock since 1994," William Colgan, an ice-sheet expert at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, told The Washington Post. "That is just a bonkers amount of energy."

Climate change not only melts ice sheets on land, but also warms ocean waters to melt glaciers from the bottom up as well. Past sea level rise projections have failed to account for this glacial undercutting by "at least a factor of 2" the Science Advances study found.

"Together, the two studies present a worrying picture," the Post writes. The first study found "the ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," study author Thomas Slater said in a statement. But the second reveals that the panel's sea level projections, which were already criticized as too conservative, may have underestimated the role of glacial undercutting in accelerating ice melt even more. Read more at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

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