Russia sanctions still under consideration
White House scrambled Monday to walk back U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s weekend announcement that new economic sanctions against Russia are imminent, but stressed the penalties are still being considered.
Haley created a firestorm Sunday when she said the new sanctions would be imposed by the Treasury Department on Monday, when, in fact, no such announcement was planned, according to two officials familiar with the matter.
In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to clarify the situation, but her explanation created more confusion and led to suggestions that President Donald Trump had personally intervened to halt the sanctions from taking effect Monday.
War powers resolution unveiled
The chairman and other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unveiled a bipartisan resolution Monday authorizing the use of military force overseas, accelerating a debate that Congress has been reluctant to have, but that’s taking on new urgency after President Donald Trump’s strikes on Syria.
The resolution from Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Tim Kaine, DVa., would repeal the broad authorizations Congress approved in 2001 and 2002 for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, replacing them with new authority to go after specific “nonstate terrorist groups.” A growing number of critics say Congress should no longer be using the more than decade-old resolutions as legal underpinnings for the fight against extremist groups such as the Islamic State.
It is not at all clear whether the resolution would find enough support to pass the House or Senate.
Transgender troop ban on hold
A U.S. judge in Seattle has ordered President Trump not to ban transgender troops from serving in the military, saying it’s unclear whether recent changes to his administration’s policy are constitutional.
U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman was one of four judges nationwide who blocked Trump late last year from overturning an Obama-era directive allowing transgender troops to serve openly. The Justice Department asked her to dissolve that ruling, citing changes that would allow transgender troops to serve in limited cases.
Because the changes were announced just last month, the sides had not had time to argue whether the policy is discriminatory or whether the military is entitled to set its own policy, given its expertise in what’s needed for national defense, Pechman said in an order Friday. She told the parties to prepare for trial.
EPA violated spending law
An internal government watchdog says the Environmental Protection Agency violated federal spending laws when purchasing a $43,000 soundproof privacy booth for Administrator Scott Pruitt to make private phone calls in his office.
The Government Accountability Office issued its findings Monday in a letter to Senate Democrats who had requested a review of Pruitt’s spending.
GAO General Counsel Thomas Armstrong determined that EPA’s purchase of the booth violated federal law prohibiting agencies from spending more than $5,000 for redecorating, furnishings or other improvements to the offices of presidential appointees without informing Congress.