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June 26, 2017
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White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer released a blunt statement Monday night about Syria, claiming the United States has "identified potential preparations for another chemical attack by the [Bashar al-] Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children."

The White House says it has seen activities "similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017, chemical weapons attack." The U.S. is in Syria to "eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria," the statement continued. "If, however Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price." Catherine Garcia

June 26, 2017
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Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) tweeted Monday evening that she will vote no on a motion to advance the Senate health-care bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

Collins made the announcement a few hours after the Congressional Budget Office released its preliminary analysis of the Senate Republicans' health-care proposal, which estimates that in 10 years, if the plan passes, 22 million more people would be uninsured than if the Affordable Care Act remained the law. "I want to work with my GOP and Dem colleagues to fix the flaws in ACA," she tweeted. "CBO analysis shows Senate bill won't do it. I will vote no on mtp," meaning motion to proceed.

"CBO says 22 million people lose insurance," she continued. "Medicaid cuts hurt most vulnerable Americans; access to health care in rural areas threatened. Senate bill doesn't fix ACA problems for rural Maine. Our hospitals are already struggling. 1 in 5 Mainers are on Medicaid." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who wants a vote on the BCRA this week, cannot afford to lose more than two votes, and now at least eight GOP senators have publicly noted their displeasure with the bill. Catherine Garcia

June 26, 2017
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The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Monday released its cost estimate of Senate Republicans' health-care bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act. The CBO score revealed that by next year, 15 million additional people would be uninsured under the plan, as opposed to under ObamaCare, the current law. The CBO attributed this steep drop to the fact that the "penalty for not having insurance would be eliminated" under the BCRA.

By 2026, 22 million more people would be uninsured under the BCRA, the CBO said. The organization had predicted 23 million more individuals would be uninsured under the House GOP's health-care bill than ObamaCare; the BCRA is the Senate's version of the House measure, which passed early last month.

The CBO also estimated that the BCRA would reduce the federal deficit over the next decade by $321 billion — $202 billion more in savings than the estimate for the House bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is pushing for a vote on the BCRA this week. Five Republican senators have already announced their opposition to the bill unveiled last week; Republicans can only lose two votes and still pass the bill. Becca Stanek

June 26, 2017

The Supreme Court handed down the final opinions of its nine-month term Monday, with a 5-4 decision on the death penalty case Davila v. Davis, a 5-4 decision on the securities case California Public Employees' Retirement System v. ANZ Securities, Inc., and a 7-2 decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer.

Likely the biggest news out of the court Monday is the announcement that the justices agreed to review President Trump's travel ban in October, which bars immigration from six majority-Muslim nations. In the meantime, the justices lifted the injunction against the ban, meaning it can be enforced except against individuals who have a "bona fide relationship" to the U.S., including a relative in America. The ruling "represents a setback for immigration rights and civil liberties groups that had bottled up two executive orders through legal action, exacerbating the president's battles with federal courts that began during the election campaign," USA Today writes.

"This means that the government can enforce the travel ban with regard to people who don't have a relationship to the United States, but not with regard to the named challengers or people like them — for example, who have relatives who want to come," added SCOTUSblog's Amy Howe.

The court will additionally review Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, testing if a bakery had a constitutional right to break a state anti-discrimination law when it refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. Jeva Lange

June 26, 2017
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On Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May and her top Conservative Party deputies signed a pact with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland in which the DUP will support May's minority government in most key votes, starting with the queen's speech later this week. There will be no formal coalition government, and the DUP will be free to vote against May's government on issues that don't threaten her government. May fell nine votes short of a majority in the House of Commons in a snap election, and the main opposition Labour Party is demanding to know what financial benefits the DUP is getting out of supporting the Tories; according to reports, the Democratic Unionists had sought $2.5 billion in extra funding for Northern Ireland, plus better treatment for military veterans. Peter Weber

June 24, 2017
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The U.K.'s Houses of Parliament were hit with a cyberattack Friday evening consisting of "unauthorized attempts to access parliamentary user accounts," a representative of Parliament said Saturday. Members of Parliament were informed of the situation Friday night when they had difficulty accessing their email accounts remotely.

"We are continuing to investigate this incident and take further measures to secure the computer network," the representative said. "We have systems in place to protect member and staff accounts and are taking the necessary steps to protect our systems."

It is unclear how many MPs were affected or who is responsible for the attack. Bonnie Kristian

June 23, 2017
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Senior U.S. defense officials admitted that American troops have been involved in the interrogation of suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen where horrific, extreme torture is reported to take place in more than a dozen secret prisons, The Associated Press reports. The American officials "denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses," AP adds.

Hundreds — perhaps thousands — of men are held in the prison network, which is run by Yemeni forces and by the United Arab Emirates. The Associated Press' report is based off of interviews with 10 former detainees as well as officials in the Yemeni government and military. No one interviewed by AP said Americans were involved directly in the torture of prisoners, although a Yemeni officer recalled at least two detainees being brought to American "polygraph" and "psychological" experts for interrogations, an accusation U.S. officials have denied.

The account of torture in the prisons is extremely disturbing:

At one main detention complex at Riyan airport in the southern city of Mukalla, former inmates described being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the "grill" [in which "the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire"] and sexually assaulted. According to a member of the Hadramawt Elite, a Yemeni security force set up by the UAE, American forces were at times only yards away. [...]

"We could hear the screams," said a former detainee held for six months at Riyan airport. "The entire place is gripped by fear. Almost everyone is sick, the rest are near death. Anyone who complains heads directly to the torture chamber." [The Associated Press]

In response to the AP report, chief Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White said: "We always adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct. We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights." Read the full findings here. Jeva Lange

June 23, 2017

On Friday, The Washington Post published an extraordinary, comprehensive report of the Obama administration's actions in the face of mounting evidence that Russia severely affected the U.S. presidential election last year. "It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend," one senior Obama administration official confessed.

Read some of the biggest revelations below and the full report here. Jeva Lange

1. The initial August 2016 intelligence report that linked Putin directly to a cyber campaign to throw off the U.S. election was intensely secretive:

The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President's Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report's distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid. [The Washington Post]

2. Obama's most severe response to the hacking hinged on hidden cyber "bombs":

Obama ... approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia's infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project ... was still in its planning stages when Obama left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability. [The Washington Post]

3. When eventually told about the hack, key congressional Democrats and Republicans split on how to react:

"The Dems were, 'Hey, we have to tell the public,'" recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia's aim of sapping confidence in the system. [The Washington Post]

4. The assumption that Hillary Clinton would win the election dulled the administration's response:

"Our primary interest in August, September, and October was to prevent [Russia] from doing the max they could do," said a senior administration official. "We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures."

The assumption that [Hillary] Clinton would win contributed to the lack of urgency. [The Washington Post]

5. Russia is on the verge of getting away with everything:

In political terms, Russia's interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy [...] And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences. [The Washington Post]

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