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The U.S. Embassy in Havana last month
The U.S. Embassy in Havana last month (Alejandro Ernesto / EP/Shutterstock)

The Trump administration Friday ordered a permanent reduction in U.S. personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, the most significant step yet in reversing former President Obama’s efforts to restore full diplomatic ties with Cuba.

In response to a string of mysterious ailments reported by two dozen American officials or their relatives stationed in Havana, the State Department last year ordered a temporary transfer out of Cuba of most key personnel and their families.

Friday’s order makes the staff reduction permanent by declaring Havana an “unaccompanied post,” meaning no families are permitted, and by assigning only “the minimum personnel necessary to perform core diplomatic and consular functions.” The statement did not give a number, but it’s believed to be fewer than 30, the same size as the skeleton staff that has been working in the mission since the first departures were ordered.

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No one knows how special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s sprawling investigation into Russian political interference and potential White House obstruction will end, but Mueller is already changing how the nation’s capital does business.

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(Alex Wong / Getty Images)

After two weeks of shifting musings on gun measures, President Trump is expected to miss a self-imposed deadline to produce specific proposals on Friday, according to aides — in the latest sign of how chaos in the White House is hampering policymaking.

Lawmakers from both parties have told Trump they can succeed in passing the comprehensive package of gun safety proposals he's asked for only if he leads the debate, and provides Republicans with political cover to stand up to the formidable gun lobbies in a perilous election year. Even so, many fear the president won't keep his word given his reversals in the past, notably on immigration and healthcare.

The difficulties the administration has had in forging and communicating a policy to respond to the shooting deaths of 17 students and staff members at a Florida high school two weeks ago highlight how, more than a year into his tenure, Trump has been unable to translate his impulses into actual legislative proposals, or stick to positions long enough to do so.

(Mandel Ngan / AFP)

President Trump reassured the National Rifle Assn. in a Thursday evening meeting of his support for 2nd Amendment gun rights but stuck by his proposal to set a minimum federal age of 21 to buy long guns, his press secretary said on Friday. 

Sarah Huckabee Sanders also indicated that Trump does not support universal background checks for gun buyers, which would expand to include sales at gun shows and over the internet that are currently exempt. The president wants to improve the current system but is “not necessarily” in favor of background checks for all gun purchases, she said.

Trump’s Oval Office meeting with NRA lobbyist Chris Cox, which was not listed on his public schedule, came a day after he’d rattled his allies among gun rights groups by telling lawmakers to send him a bill with a number of limits on gun ownership, including the age limit to buy assault weapons like the one used last month in the mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school and several others.

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President Trump on Friday morning brushed off concerns about the effect of his plans for steep new tariffs, tweeting that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”

His administration must “protect our country and our workers,” Trump said in apparent defense of his plans for a 25% tariff on steel imports and 10% on aluminum, which he announced to his staff’s surprise on Thursday. Global financial markets fell significantly in response, and analysts attributed that to fears of a trade war between the United States and China. 

Trump seemed to single out China without naming it: When “a certain country” gets “cute,” he wrote, “don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!”

Roberta Jacobson
Roberta Jacobson (Associated Press)

Roberta Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and one of the State Department’s most experienced Latin America hands, said Thursday that she is quitting even as U.S. relations with Mexico appear to have nose dived.

Jacobson, who spent 31 years as a diplomat, becomes the latest veteran foreign service officer to step down in what has become an unusual exodus of departing senior talent under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Joseph Yun, special representative on North Korea, resigned earlier this week, and John Feeley, the U.S. ambassador to Panama, announced his decision to leave in January. Feeley said he could no longer advocate for U.S. policy in the Trump administration.

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President Trump on Wednesday threatened to delay building border barriers in California until his long-promised wall goes up elsewhere, seemingly slinging another arrow in his running battle with the nation’s most populous state.

President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump near the casket of Billy Graham.
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump near the casket of Billy Graham. (Aaron P. Bernstein / Associated Press)

A casket bearing the body of Billy Graham lay in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday, but it signaled more than the death of a religious leader who had befriended and counseled presidents for decades.

It also marked two historic passages: the political activism by white evangelicals that has redefined the Republican Party, and the threat to that power as their numbers ebb in a changing America.