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February 17, 2017
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The Department of Homeland Security has written a draft memo proposing the mobilization of up to 100,000 National Guard troops in an effort to capture unauthorized immigrants, The Associated Press reported Friday.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer strongly denied that the Trump administration is considering such a deployment and the document does not appear to have come from the White House. A Department of Homeland Security official told reporter Dorey Scheimer that the memo was "a very early, pre-decisional draft … and was never seriously considered by the Department." Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan told Axios that The Associated Press' earlier report that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly authored the memo is incorrect.

"The 11-page document calls for the unprecedented militarization of immigration enforcement as far north as Portland, Oregon, and as far east as New Orleans, Louisiana," AP writes. "If the proposal is implemented, governors in the affected states would have final approval on whether troops under their control participate." AP reports the memo has been circulating among DHS staff for the last two weeks, and that neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to requests for comment before publication.

During his campaign, Trump proposed deporting the 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States, at one point floating the vague idea of a "special deportation task force." "I can't even begin to picture how we would deport 11 million people in a few years where we don't have a police state, where the police can't break down your door at will and take you away without a warrant," former President George W. Bush's secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, told The New York Times last year.

In January, President Trump ordered the hiring of 10,000 federal immigration agents and 5,000 Border Patrol agents. Politico estimates that the 10,000 ICE agents alone could cost $3.9 billion annually. Jeva Lange

10:48 a.m. ET

President Trump denounced anti-Semitism and declared that it is "going to stop and it has to stop" while speaking Tuesday at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. "The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible, and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil," Trump said. He said the FBI and the Justice Department will investigate "possible civil rights violations in connection with threats" to Jewish community centers across the U.S.

The Anti-Defamation League has called on Trump to address anti-Semitism in the wake of recent threats on Jewish community centers. Since early January, 54 Jewish community centers in 27 states have reported threats. Most recently, a community center in Wisconsin was evacuated Monday after a bomb threat was called in, the second in just three weeks.

On Tuesday, Trump heartily agreed when a reporter asked him if he was denouncing anti-Semitism "once and for all." "Oh of course," Trump said. "And I do it — wherever I get a chance, I do it." But when he was asked about the rise of anti-Semitic violence at a press conference last week, Trump did not address the violence directly but rather simply assured reporters he was the "least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen."

Trump received a similar question during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also last week, and only vaguely responded by saying he would "stop racism."

Trump's comments followed a tweet from his daughter Ivanka Trump on Monday night reminding America that it is a "nation built on the principle of religion tolerance," and a tweet from Hillary Clinton early Tuesday urging him to speak out against the violence. Watch Trump's denouncement below. Becca Stanek

10:01 a.m. ET
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Pluto might get a second chance at being a planet. A group of NASA scientists has submitted a request to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to broaden the definition of what classifies as a planet. If the new definition were to win IAU's approval, Pluto — presently considered a "dwarf planet" — and 109 other space objects would become planets.

Pluto lost its planetary status in 2006 after the IAU voted in favor of a new, three-part definition of what it takes to be a planet. Pluto met two of the three criteria, as it orbits around the sun and has sufficient mass to maintain the round shape characteristic of planets. However, Pluto is just not big enough to clear other objects out of its orbital space, and thus it was downgraded from the planetary status it had held since 1930.

Alan Stern, head of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto and one of the scientists behind the new definition, has deemed Pluto's demotion "bulls--t." The scientists argue the definition determined in 2006 is too narrow, and suggest it should be expanded to include all "round objects in space that are smaller than stars." "In the mind of the public, the word 'planet' carries a significance lacking in other words used to describe planetary bodies," the proposal reads. "In the decade following the supposed 'demotion' of Pluto by the International Astronomical Union, many members of the public, in our experience, assume that alleged 'non-planets' cease to be interesting enough to warrant scientific exploration." Becca Stanek

9:39 a.m. ET

Restaurant Brands International is buying Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen to add to a portfolio that includes Burger King and Tim Hortons, The Associated Press reports. Popeyes will be purchased by the company for $1.8 billion.

Many Popeyes fans expressed their outrage over the acquisition:

Popeyes was founded in New Orleans in 1972, but bought by AFC Enterprises in 1992. It has more than 2,600 locations, and joins Restaurant Brands' 20,000 restaurants worldwide. Jeva Lange

9:27 a.m. ET

On Sunday, The New York Times reported that President Trump's personal legal counsel, Michael Cohen, met last month with a colorful Russian-American former Trump business associate, Felix Sater, and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian lawmaker, then delivered a sealed envelope from them to Michael Flynn, Trump's then-national security adviser, with a "peace plan" for Ukraine. The peace deal, proposed by Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Artemenko, would lead to formalizing Russia's occupation of Crimea as a lease and lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Cohen and Sater confirmed the meeting and the envelope delivery. Then on Monday, Cohen backpedaled, telling The Washington Post and NBC News that "the brief meeting took place," but "emphatically" denying "discussing this topic or delivering any documents to the White House and/or General Flynn." He agreed to meet with Sater for coffee, he added, because he's "known Felix for years," and didn't know Sater's friend "would be a guy who wants to run for president of Ukraine." The Times stood by its story, telling The Washington Post that Cohen said "in no uncertain terms that he delivered the Ukraine proposal to Michael Flynn's office at the White House."

The back-channel diplomacy effort is not illegal, though it is unusual and maybe inconvenient amid federal investigations into Trump's business and political ties to Moscow. The reappearance of Sater is interesting, in any case, not least because he has a colorful history that includes arrests for stabbing a man in the face with a broken glass in a bar fight and for a Mafia-linked stock-fixing scheme, and avoiding jail by working for the CIA and FBI.

Sater's long business history with Trump includes working on several Trump-licensed projects, including the Trump SoHo building and — a decade ago and again in 2015 — a proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Sater's name has popped up a couple of times in the campaign, but despite evidence of their close ties, Trump has sworn in depositions that he wouldn't even recognize Sater's face, as shown in this December 2015 report from ABC News.

The peace proposal did not meet with a positive response in either Kiev or Moscow; Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the plan "absurd," and Ukrainian Ambassador Valeriy Chaly said that Artemenko "is not entitled to present any alternative peace plans on behalf of Ukraine to any foreign government." Peter Weber

9:00 a.m. ET

It might not be all in your head after all. A small team of biopsychologists from Ruhr University Bochum, in Germany, believes they have found evidence proving that whether you are right- or left-hand dominant comes from genetic activity in the spine, not just the brain, Science Alert reports.

Previously, researchers believed that gene activity in the right or left hemisphere of the brain resulted in a person's handedness. Scientists knew that such a preference starts in the eighth week of pregnancy, with unborn children preferring to suck on his or her right or left thumb by week 13.

That's where the new research comes in:

Arm and hand movements are initiated via the motor cortex in the brain. It sends a corresponding signal to the spinal cord, which in turn translates the command into a motion. The motor cortex, however, is not connected to the spinal cord from the beginning. Even before the connection forms, precursors of handedness become apparent. This is why the researchers have assumed that the cause of right respective left preference must be rooted in the spinal cord rather than in the brain. [Ruhr-Universität Bochum]

"These results fundamentally change our understanding of the cause of hemispheric asymmetries," the authors of the study wrote.

And as Science Alert notes, the study is still very small and early to throw out all previous assumptions. That being said, "it's definitely intriguing new evidence that scientists will need to investigate further." Jeva Lange

8:12 a.m. ET

When President Trump, inspired by a Fox News segment, told a crowd this weekend that the nation of Sweden is having "problems like they never thought possible" due to their intake of large numbers of refugees, it left some in Sweden scratching their heads.

One such Swede is Max Karlsson, who is tasked with running the national Twitter account this week. Every week, a new Swede is allowed to run the @Sweden account, and Karlsson used his opportunity to unleash a volley of facts at President Trump:

In addition to the White House's false claim that crime in Sweden is going up (in fact, it has been falling for the past 12 years), Karlsson also took aim at the spread of biased information:

"Let's be clear," Karlsson said. "A lot happened #lastnightinSweden. Things happen all of the time. Just not the things @readDonaldTrump [is] spreading." Read his full thread here. Jeva Lange

7:36 a.m. ET
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By issuing an executive order on Jan. 27 that banned people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, President Trump inadvertently paled the appeal of America to many tourists around the world. The travel industry is already feeling the squeeze: Interest in visiting the U.S. has plummeted since Trump's executive order, The New York Times reports.

Hopper, an airfare prediction app, found that between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1, searches for flights from 122 countries to the U.S. dropped more than 17 percent after the travel ban, compared with the first three weeks of the month. Another travel site, Cheapflights.com, saw international searches drop 38 percent from Jan. 27 to 29, compared to the weekend prior. Swedish travel search engine Flygresor.se found by analyzing 2.5 million searches that interest in visiting the United States dropped 47 percent compared to the same period the year prior.

"This drop was more than a seasonal swing," said Cheapflights.com spokeswoman Emily Fisher. "It was most notable in the days right after the ban was enacted."

The consequences, in the long term, are not insignificant. Tourism-related spending in the U.S. was $1.56 trillion in 2015, and the industry created 7.6 million jobs in the U.S. in the same year.

"It doesn't take a lot of uncertainty or adverse sentiment to affect travel decisions," Adam Sacks of Tourism Economics told The New York Times. Jeva Lange

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