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Trump to cut troops in Afghanistan, but not to zero

Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller announced on Tuesday that the U.S. would draw its troop levels in both Afghanistan and Iraq down to 2,500 by Jan. 15, 2021.

Why it matters: The U.S. currently has roughly 4,500 troops in Afghanistan, so this will be a significant reduction even as it falls short of President Trump's promise to end America's military presence there altogether.

Background: Miller's predecessor, Mark Esper, and other senior Pentagon officials had opposed further troop reductions unless conditions in Afghanistan improved. Trump fired Esper last week, reportedly in part because of his desire to speed up the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Driving the news: Miller took no questions from the press after making the brief announcement.

  • He noted he had discussed the decision with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, both of whom are wary of an expedited U.S. exit.
  • It will be difficult for NATO to maintain its troop presence in Afghanistan — currently around 12,000, per the Washington Post — if U.S. capabilities and infrastructure are no longer in place.
  • Stoltenberg said in a statement on Tuesday that "the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high.”

The state of play: Trump signed a deal with the Taliban this February that called for a U.S. troop withdrawal. That retreat was contingent on peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and on a promise from the Taliban not to allow terror groups like al-Qaeda to use Afghanistan as a base of operations.

  • Those intra-Afghan talks began in September but have made little headway. Violence in Afghanistan has continued and in some cases escalated.

What to watch: Biden has also promised to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, though he has mentioned the idea of leaving a counterterrorism force behind.

  • Congressional Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, have cautioned Trump not to pull out entirely, arguing that would present a vacuum for terrorist groups to fill.
  • Flashback: Trump's national security team convinced him in 2017 to commit to the fight in Afghanistan and actually increase troop levels, rather than exiting entirely as he'd vowed to do.

Worth noting: There are currently about 3,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, with that number already having been reduced from 5,200 in September.

Trump applies extreme pressure on Bill Barr to release so-called Durham Report

President Trump and his allies are piling extreme pressure on Attorney General Bill Barr to release a report that Trump believes could hurt perceived Obama-era enemies — and view Barr's designation of John Durham as special counsel as a stall tactic, sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Speculation over Barr's fate grew on Tuesday, with just 49 days remaining in Trump's presidency, after Barr gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he said the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread fraud that could change the election's outcome.

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CDC to cut guidance on quarantine period for coronavirus exposure

The CDC will soon shorten its guidance for quarantine periods following exposure to COVID-19, AP reported Tuesday and Axios can confirm.

Why it matters: Quarantine helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which can occur before a person knows they're sick or if they're infected without feeling any symptoms. The current recommended period to stay home if exposed to the virus is 14 days. The CDC plans to amend this to 10 days or seven with a negative test, an official told Axios.

  • The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CDC panel: COVID vaccines should go to health workers, long-term care residents first

Health-care workers and nursing home residents should be at the front of the line to get coronavirus vaccines in the United States once they’re cleared and available for public use, an independent CDC panel recommended in a 13-1 emergency vote on Tuesday, per CNBC.

Why it matters: Recent developments in COVID-19 vaccines have accelerated the timeline for distribution as vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna undergo the federal approval process. States are preparing to begin distributing as soon as two weeks from now.

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Obama: Broad slogans like "defund the police" lose people

Former President Barack Obama told Peter Hamby on the Snapchat original political show "Good Luck America" that "snappy" slogans such as "defund the police" can alienate people, making the statements less effective than intended.

What he's saying: "You lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you're actually going to get the changes you want done," Obama told Hamby in an interview that will air Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. EST on Snapchat.

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Nasdaq's ultimatum to America's most powerful corporations

New diversity and inclusion rules are on the table for some of America's most powerful corporations, courtesy of one of its most powerful stock exchanges.

What's new: Nasdaq is threatening to delist companies that won't move toward having at least one woman and at least one underrepresented minority of LGBTQ person on their corporate boards.

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Latinos make up nearly 18% of the U.S. labor force but occupy just 4% of executive roles

Latino professionals have the widest gap between representation in the labor force and executive positions — bigger than that of any other minority group.

Why it matters: Latinos will make up a quarter of the U.S. population by 2050, and scores of U.S. firms profit off of Latino consumers, but this group is absent from the business world's highest and most impactful decision-making positions.

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Salesforce will buy Slack for $28 billion

Salesforce on Tuesday afternoon said it will pay $27.7 billion in cash and stock to buy workplace collaboration platform Slack.

Why it matters: This is the largest software merger since IBM agreed to buy Red Hat in late 2018, and creates a cloud giant that can better compete with Microsoft.

Go deeper: Salesforce rolls the dice on Slack

McConnell circulates revised GOP coronavirus stimulus plan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell circulated a new framework for coronavirus stimulus legislation to Republican members on Tuesday that would establish a fresh round of funding for the small business Paycheck Protection Program and implement widespread liability protections, according to a copy of the plan obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: The revised GOP relief draft comes after McConnell's meeting with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, during which they went over in detail what provisions would get backing from President Trump.

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