Trump to propose major cut to anti-drug office: report

By Rachel Roubein – 01/19/18 01:37 PM EST 92
The Trump administration is proposing a major cut to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), seeking to slash the budget of the agency by 95 percent, according to Politico.

ONDCP is responsible for coordinating the government’s drug control activities in the midst of an opioid epidemic that’s killing more people per year than traffic accidents. Last year, the White House proposed the same cut, but it backed down in the face of immense pushback from advocates and lawmakers from both parties.

The proposal would move the two grant programs the office administers — High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas and Drug-Free Communities grants — under the purview of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), respectively. It would cut the office by $340 million, according to Politico.

An Office of Management and Budget (OMB) spokeswoman said she wouldn’t confirm leaked or predecisional documents before the release of the president’s budget, which typically comes out at the beginning of February.

“The President needs ONDCP to be a strong policy council to manage his drug control priorities, especially combatting the opioid epidemic, and coordinate all of the interagency activities,” Meghan Burris said in a statement.

“DOJ and HHS are both major grant management organizations that can look holistically at allocations across law enforcement and drug prevention and treatment resources.”

Jessica Nickel, who heads the Addiction Policy Forum, says it’s her understanding that ONDCP hasn’t received a passback — which is when OMB passes back a draft of a proposed budget to its agency.

Typically, agencies receive their passbacks in late November, and the delay could be an indicator cuts are on the horizon.
Created in 1988, ONDCP is also charged with advising the president on drug-related issues and creating an annual national drug control strategy.

It’s been operating without a Senate-confirmed director. Taylor Weyeneth, 24, — whose only professional experience before ONDCP was on Trump’s presidential campaign — rose from a low-level position to become deputy chief of staff largely due to turnover and vacancies, The Washington Post reported over the weekend.

President Trump’s nominee to lead the office — Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) — withdrew his nomination to helm ONDCP in October. At the time, he faced backlash over a joint Washington Post/60 Minutes investigation that named him the chief advocate of a bill critics say made it harder for the Drug Enforcement Administration to freeze suspicious drug shipments. He has defended his record, and said the bill he championed was different than the version that was ultimately signed into law.

Former officials and advocates say ONDCP serves an important function that’s vital to fighting the country’s drug epidemic.

“ONDCP leads the way on the opioid issue, and I’m afraid of what happens to drug policy if we don’t have a coordinating body to oversee all aspects of the issue,” Regina LaBelle, a former ONDCP chief of staff under President Obama, said.

“For a tiny cost saving measure, to risk lives and to take out our one coordinating office and to make vulnerable some of our key programs, we just think is the wrong policy move,” said Nickel.

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Trump misfires with claim that military would ‘shut down’ during government shutdown

By Salvador Rizzo January 19 at 3:00 AM
No, the military won’t shut down if the government does
The president says the military could be shut down if the government isn’t funded, but all active-duty personnel would stay on the job. (Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)
“A government shutdown will be devastating to our military . . . something the Dems care very little about!”
— President Trump, in a tweet, Jan. 18

“If for any reason it shuts down, the worst thing is what happens to our military. We’re rebuilding our military. We’re making it — we’re bringing it to a level that it’s never been at. And the worst thing is for our military.”
— Trump, remarks to reporters at the Pentagon, Jan. 18

President Trump warns that the U.S. military would be hit hardest by a government shutdown. The president also tweeted Jan. 12 that Democrats in Congress would be “shutting down the military” unless they strike a deal with Republicans that keeps the federal government funded past the end of January.

It’s hard to nail down what Trump is warning about, since he is not especially precise. The president claims at some points that a shutdown would set back one of his priorities — upgrading the military — and at other points that a shutdown means “shutting down the military” or “devastating” it.

The president, with his knack for repetition, has also said or tweeted that “Democrats want to stop paying our troops and government workers” (Jan. 12),  that Democrats will “take desperately needed money away from our military” (Jan. 14), that “our military gets hurt very badly” (Jan. 14), that they “want to take money away from our military” (Jan. 15) and that “the biggest loser will be our rapidly rebuilding military” (Jan. 16).

It sounds ominous in any case. But would the military really go AWOL during a shutdown?

The Facts
When the government runs out of money to fund itself, it goes into shutdown mode — offices close, droves of workers get furloughed and many services go offline. A federal statute, the Antideficiency Act, generally bars agencies from spending money that Congress and the president have not appropriated.

But the law has big exceptions, notably for military and intelligence operations, national security, and emergencies involving “the safety of human life or the protection of property.” Trump and the Defense Department would have broad authority to keep running whatever military operations they deemed necessary.

All active-duty military personnel would keep working in the event of a shutdown. There would be no gap in their pay unless the shutdown lasted past Feb. 1, and otherwise they would continue on the job without getting paid until the shutdown ended or until Congress and the president agreed to cover their costs before it ended. (Note: A previous version of this article said the military would be paid up to Feb. 1.)

The last time the government shut down, in 2013, the military remained on the job and legislation to pay service members during the shutdown was signed by President Barack Obama. The same legislation, called the Pay Our Military Act, was used to bring back nearly 350,000 of the 800,000 civilian personnel who had been furloughed by the Defense Department. Because it was unable to pay death benefits to the families of soldiers killed in action, the Pentagon also contracted with a charity that footed those costs until the government could reimburse it.

Ultimately, it’s up to Trump to decide who stays on the job and who goes during a shutdown, said Stan Collender, an expert on the federal budget at Qorvis MSLGroup.

“Not only can the president decide who or what is an essential activity, the president can change his or her mind anytime,” Collender said. “In the past, every president has exempted the military, for obvious reasons.”

According to a 2015 shutdown contingency plan from the Defense Department, the military’s war operations in Afghanistan and against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda would continue, “including preparation of forces for deployment into those conflicts.”

Contractors whose work was fully funded would stay on the job. Although the Defense Department would be barred from executing new contracts, it could keep doing so “where delay in contracting would create an imminent risk to the safety of human life or the protection of property, including endangering national security.”

The 2015 contingency plan called for 78 percent of the Pentagon’s civilian workforce to be furloughed, or nearly 563,000 employees. Civilians who directly support the military would not be furloughed under the plan.

Asked to expand on Trump’s statements, a White House official pointed to comments from the Pentagon’s comptroller, David Norquist, who said, “I cannot emphasize too much how destructive a shutdown is.”

“We’ve talked before about the importance of maintenance on weapons systems and others, but if it’s not an excepted activity, there’ll be work stoppage on many of those maintenance functions,” Norquist said in December. However, Trump or Pentagon officials could designate weapons maintenance as an “excepted activity” under the Antideficiency Act and keep those operations running during a shutdown.

Norquist went on to say that national security efforts would continue during a shutdown. The Pentagon’s top spokesperson, Dana White, separately said, “This department will never shut down.” And Trump himself, in a tweet posted days before the 2013 shutdown, said, “All essential services continue. Don’t believe lies.”

Turning to Trump’s other warning — that a shutdown would endanger his plans to “rebuild” the military — it’s important to keep in mind that a shutdown does not foreclose pathways in Congress for appropriating more money for military upgrades or lifting what’s called a “sequester,” or automatic cuts, on defense spending that would be triggered by a shutdown.

In remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Jan. 18, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said that “the clock on the sequester kicks in” if the government shuts down and that “our military is being used as a bargaining chip for completely unrelated items.”

But Ryan added that he was optimistic both parties could strike a deal on increased military spending, and many Democrats have expressed support for the idea.

“The good news is that Congress has made a bipartisan commitment to funding our national defense,” Ryan said. “Republicans and Democrats work together to send a strong national defense bill to the president’s desk, and right now we are actually engaged in good-faith negotiations to make sure that our budget, that our budget cap agreement reflects those commitments.”

The Pinocchio Test
With the threat of a government shutdown looming, Trump repeatedly has warned that the military could be shut down or devastated and that his plans to “rebuild” the armed forces would be thrown into question. In support of the president’s claims, the White House points to comments from the Pentagon’s comptroller, who said in December that a shutdown could stop maintenance on weapons systems.

A federal law generally bars agencies from continuing to work at taxpayer expense during a shutdown, but that law provides major exceptions for military and intelligence operations, national security and emergencies.

The Defense Department’s most recent contingency plan for a shutdown says all active-duty military personnel would stay on the job, as well as 22 percent of its civilian employees. Moreover, the president has broad authority to decide who stays on the job during a shutdown — an authority that extends to maintenance workers for military weapons systems. Trump himself tweeted in 2013 that the government continues to run “essential services” during a shutdown.

The president also claimed that a shutdown would set back efforts to upgrade the military’s resources and increase defense spending. But those efforts are bipartisan, as Ryan said, and are likely to survive a shutdown.

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One Year In, Trump’s Middle East Policy Is Imploding

By Robin Wright

January 19, 2018
Three of President Trump’s four major initiatives in the world’s most volatile region are failing.
Last May, over a working lunch with the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, at the White House, President Trump vowed to broker the final, elusive phase of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. “It’s something, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years,” the new President opined. Trump said that his Administration had a “very, very good chance” to get it done. “And I think you feel the same way,” he told Abbas. The Palestinian leader responded, “We have hope.” He praised Trump for his “courageous stewardship, wisdom [and] negotiating ability.”

As Trump marks a year in office, his ambitious foreign policy in the world’s most volatile region is in tatters. Vice-President Mike Pence arrives in the Middle East this weekend, with stops in Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, amid growing anger at the Trump Administration, little to show for its pledges, and almost no prospect of progress anytime soon, while getting sucked into longer-term military commitments to preserve its few gains. Abbas—who has staked his political career on making peace with Israel—has refused to even see Pence.

The Arab-Israeli peace process—the President’s most robust initiative—imploded last month, after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv. “Today is the day that the Oslo Accords end,” Abbas raged in a two-hour speech, on January 14th. “We will not accept the U.S. to be a mediator, because after what they have done to us—a believer shall not be stung twice in the same place.” What had been promised as “the deal of the century,” he said, had turned into “the slap of the century.”

Trump had four goals in the Middle East when he came into office, beginning with energizing the peace process. The second was wrapping up the war against the Islamic State launched by his predecessor, in 2014. The third was checking Iran’s influence in the region and wringing out new concessions on its nuclear program. The fourth was deepening support for a certain type of Arab leader, notably Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and the Saudi royal family. “We must seek partners, not perfection,” Trump said, in a speech in Riyadh, the first leg of his first foreign trip as President.

Paul Salem, a vice-president at the Middle East Institute, in Washington, and the son of a former Lebanese foreign minister, gives Trump a C, at best. “In some areas, his policy is going well,” he said. “The war on ISIS, started in the Obama years, is a major success. But in some areas it’s going terribly, including the peace process, which is considerably worse.”

“The real problem,” he said, “is that, a year into the Administration, it’s still not clear who or what the Administration is. It has not consolidated its decision-making. Who’s in charge? Does Tillerson speak for the U.S. government? Does Kushner? A lot of people in the Middle East are still dumbfounded. Add to that the President is mercurial and unpredictable. He might have one position on Monday and another on Tuesday. That makes people in the region wonder. At least with Putin, you know who you’re dealing with. What he says on Monday will hold on Friday.”

Questions are not limited to the Middle East. A Gallup poll released on Thursday reported that global disapproval of U.S. leadership hit a record high in 2017. Ironically, the highest disapproval of the Trump Administration—eighty-three per cent—was in Norway, a country that Trump cited this month as a preferred source of immigrants.

The backlash on the Jerusalem decision also extends far beyond the Middle East. Last month, the United States had to exert its veto at the U.N. Security Council to block a resolution demanding that the White House rescind its decision. The other fourteen members supported the rebuke. A few days later, the U.N. General Assembly (of all member states) overwhelmingly denounced Trump’s decision. The vote was a hundred and twenty-eight countries for the resolution (including all major U.S. allies except Israel) to only nine votes against it (by marginal international players, such as Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Togo). Thirty-five countries—many recipients of U.S. aid—abstained after the Administration threatened to withhold financial support to countries that voted for the resolution.

“All of these nations . . . take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us,” Trump responded. “Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us—we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

The Trump Administration takes credit for the final phase of the war against ISIS, but at a cost of what now appears to be open-ended military engagement in Syria. On Friday, the State Department said it intends to keep some two thousand troops in Syria to find ISIS remnants, to insure stabilization of the war-ravaged country, and to help with political transition.

“ISIS is still present. The military campaign against the so-called caliphate in the Euphrates Valley is not over,” a senior State Department official told reporters. “There is heavy fighting. It’s going on as we speak.” Some fighters are now regrouping, and the U.S.-led coalition carried out fifty-three air strikes in Syria this week. “They still have the potential to more than disrupt any attempts at stabilization, much less political transformation and transition in Syria,” the official added. “And so the enduring defeat of this malignant presence is an absolute requirement in Syria, as in Iraq, for any future progress.”

U.N. peace talks between the Assad regime and the opposition remain deadlocked seven years after the Syrian war erupted. Washington has limited diplomatic input on an issue dominated by Russia and Iran. The U.S.-backed opposition is fractured and politically inept.

On Iran, Trump’s tough talk has jeopardized the most important agreement limiting the spread of nuclear weapons in a quarter century. The 2015 deal, with the world’s six major powers, had also eased tensions between revolutionary Iran and the international community. The President’s unilateral decision not to waive sanctions on Iran—as promised in the deal—split with Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia.

This month, European officials told me that Trump’s effort to scuttle the Iran deal was undermining transatlantic relationships at the heart of U.S. security. “The deal is working, the International Atomic Energy Agency has certified it nine times already, and it is crucial for the security of Europe and the world,” the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said. Other European officials fear that Trump’s go-it-alone strategy on nuclear arms will imperil the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has been the foundation of all efforts to contain nuclear weapons.

Trump’s choice of Arab allies, who tend to be autocratic rulers, has also alarmed Middle East experts and human-rights groups. A Human Rights Watch report on Egypt, published in September, chronicled torture that had reached “epidemic” proportions. Last week, the group noted that Sisi’s government “chose to end the year by carrying out executions following unjust trials.” After Trump won the Republican nomination, Sisi was the first world leader to telephone the candidate and then to meet him on the sidelines of the United Nations, two months before the election.

In the meantime, long-standing allies—countries, such as Tunisia, undergoing fragile political transitions—are being all but ignored. Protests swept more than two dozen towns and cities in Tunisia this month over price hikes for fuel, food staples, and services and new taxes on phone calls, Internet usage, hotels, and big imports, such as cars. Since 2011, the year that the Arab Spring was launched, when a young Tunisian street vender set himself alight to protest corruption, poverty, and injustice, food prices have increased annually by as much as eight per cent.

Tunisia has also begun to cut back on public-sector jobs—at a time when unemployment is already fifteen per cent and twice as high among the young, including university graduates. During the weeklong protests, Tunisia witnessed the birth of a new protest movement—“What are we waiting for?” or #Fech_Nestannew. The phrase has been spray-painted on public walls and fences across the country and has taken off on social media.

“Our friends will never question our support,” Trump vowed in his Riyadh speech. “Our partnerships will advance security through stability, not through radical disruption.” But Tunisia’s economic woes are mirrored in other countries, from Morocco and Egypt to Yemen and Lebanon. Countries trying to introduce reforms—to modernize economies and attract foreign investors or lenders—face growing anger from constituencies that expect more after the Arab uprisings.

“The reforms are welcome and break with the old status quo,” Rabah Arezki, the World Bank’s chief economist for the Middle East and North Africa, told me. “But they didn’t bring the kind of benefits, in the short run, in terms of what was expected. And they did raise the cost of living without helping or changing the basic dynamics.”

“The old social contract, where jobs were offered to support the population, is no longer possible, because coffers are empty and population growth is so rapid that it’s impossible to pay for all these public jobs,” he added. “The challenges are enormous, and the risk of continued violence and instability are hig

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