The Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran?




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Talk of military confrontation escalated over the weekend as U.S. leaders described what should happen next after two oil tankers were reportedly attacked at sea in the Middle East last week.


The United States blames the tanker explosions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, but Iran has strenuously denied involvement.


Today, Iran announced it will break from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal within 10 days and exceed limits set on is uranium stockpile, warning that the country has a need for uranium enriched up to 20 percent, a step away from weapons-grade (The Associated Press). Iran says its situation is the result of the increased sanctions and gradual fraying of the international nuclear pact following the Trump administration’s withdrawal last year.


Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoJudge rules American-born woman who joined ISIS not a US citizen Human rights: Help or hindrance to toppling dictators? The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing MORE continued to defend intelligence that he says makes clear that Iran’s elite military unit initiated an attack on ships sailing in the Gulf of Oman.


The secretary repeated Sunday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE does not want war in the Middle East but has not ruled out a range of possible responses, including military action.


"The United States is considering a full range of options,” Pompeo told CBS News in an interview. “We are confident that we can take a set of actions that can restore deterrence which is our mission set.”


Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonTom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Schumer concerned by Army's use of TikTok, other Chinese social media platforms Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE (R-Ark.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged Trump to order a military strike against Iran.


“The president has the authorization to act to defend American interests,” Cotton told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “What I'm talking about is not like what we've seen in Iraq for the last 16 years or Afghanistan for the last 18 years, but retaliatory military strikes against Iran that make it clear we will not tolerate any kind of attacks on commercial shipping on the open seas,” he said.


House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump on Schiff: 'He will not make the LSU football team' Trump knocks testimony from 'Never Trumpers' at Louisiana rally Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens MORE (D-Calif.) affirmed the administration’s intelligence implicating Iran but warned on Sunday that Pompeo and White House national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonTrump files to dismiss lawsuit from Bolton aide on impeachment testimony Scarborough: Trump is either 'an agent of Russia' or 'a useful idiot' Are Democrats building a collapsible impeachment? MORE, whose hawkish views of Tehran are well known, have narrowed Trump’s options to avert use of military force (The Hill).


Schiff called the idea that a sustained pressure campaign could force Iran back to the negotiating table “dangerously naive,”,” saying Iranian aggression was proof that the U.S. withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal “has not made us safer.”


South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule Ocasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field MORE (D), who deployed to Afghanistan in 2017 as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Navy Reserve and is now seeking the presidency, said the Trump administration embraced a policy of aggravating tensions with Iran’s government when it tore up participation in a nuclear deal negotiated under former President Obama.


“Any negotiation is going to have to meet the needs and the realities of the moment. Unfortunately, the moment we're in is one where the United States influence in this region has diminished because of the way that we have withdrawn,” Buttigieg said, echoing cautious misgivings voiced by leading Democrats.


“So, what we're going to have to do is re-engage with our partners, re-engage with anybody who has an interest in stability in the region and do whatever we can to once again meet the objective of stopping Iran from developing nuclear capabilities, which is exactly what that [2015 nuclear] deal was doing,” he added.


The New York Times: “Full-scale economic warfare”: The question now is whether escalation of tensions prevails inside the White House and in Tehran or if instincts to back away from direct confrontation kick in.


The Washington Post: A standoff with Iran exposes Trump’s credibility issues as some allies seek additional proof of tanker attack.


The Hill: Five things to know about last week’s attack.


Christopher J. Bolan, opinion contributor, Defense One: Deterrence is failing, partially because Iran has no idea what the United States really wants. U.S. policymakers need to conduct an honest assessment of where and why U.S. policies have failed to deter Iranian actions.


James Downie, opinions editor, The Washington Post: The danger of Sen. Cotton.





CONGRESS: Senate Republicans are worried that another government shutdown could be coming down the rails as concern grows that the president’s demands for border funding could harm their ability to strike a spending deal with Democrats.


As Alexander Bolton reports, once again, the president wants $5 billion to fund his border wall as part of ongoing talks toward a potential deal on spending caps and the debt ceiling. While Senate Republicans are anxious to strike a deal and avoid a government shutdown, the president is viewing any deal through a political lens and wants to rev up his conservative base ahead of the 2020 election.


Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule Lawmakers aim for agreement on top-line spending by next week MORE (R-Ala.) and Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyCongress hunts for path out of spending stalemate This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Senators press NSA official over shuttered phone surveillance program MORE (D-Vt.) are on the verge of a deal, but Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump files to dismiss lawsuit from Bolton aide on impeachment testimony OMB official to testify in impeachment probe if subpoenaed after others refused Kent, Taylor say they're not 'Never Trumpers' after Trump Twitter offensive MORE, the acting White House chief of staff, is pushing back against raising the debt-limit, and Trump remains wary of agreeing to any deal that could garner criticism from the House Freedom Caucus and conservative media outlets.


“You also have to get the House Republicans on board so they won’t denounce what the Senate does. Nobody really thinks about that. If they come out against it, then you’re going to have the conservative media say it’s a terrible deal,” said one GOP senator, adding that Mulvaney and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings Lawmakers aim for agreement on top-line spending by next week Mnuchin: White House has no intention for a shutdown MORE are “concerned about the debt and rightfully so.”


Additionally, conservatives do not want to raise the funding for non-defense spending, but it is unlikely Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump knocks testimony from 'Never Trumpers' at Louisiana rally Jordan calls Pelosi accusing Trump of bribery 'ridiculous' USMCA deal close, but not 'imminent,' Democrats say MORE (D-Calif.) will agree to any deal without raising that figure, leaving Senate Republicans with work to do in order to thread the needle.


The Washington Post: GOP in disarray as budget impasse threatens shutdown, deep cuts and default.


The Associated Press: GOP mutters, gently, as Trump sidesteps Senate for top aides.





> Election security legislation continues to hit a wall on Capitol Hill despite special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE's 448-page report detailing Russia's interference attempts and an ongoing push by Democratic lawmakers before time runs out.


House Democrats passed their own sprawling election reform bill earlier this year and are readying another legislative push, but that's dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate, continuing to frustrate Democrats on Capitol Hill.


“I can’t believe Sen. [Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] is not entertaining election security measures right now. ... We don’t have a lot of time left,” said Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocratic senators introduce bill to push ICE to stop 'overuse' of solitary confinement Pentagon watchdog declines to investigate hold on Ukraine aid Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action MORE (D-Ill.).


While some GOP senators, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families MORE (R-S.C.) and Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSaagar Enjeti claims Pelosi's impeachment strategy could hurt 2020 Democrats The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi accuses Trump of 'bribery' in Ukraine dealings GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial MORE (R-N.C.), have backed passing additional legislation, Republican leadership has signaled the effort is going nowhere (The Hill).  


> Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families What are Republicans going to do after Donald Trump leaves office? Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators at White House MORE's (R-Texas) offer to work with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOn The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings Overnight Energy: Perry replacement faces Ukraine questions at hearing | Dem chair demands answers over land agency's relocation | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez drum up support for Green New Deal public housing plan MORE (D-N.Y.) to make birth control available over the counter spurred hopes that there could be bipartisan support for making contraception more accessible, but major obstacles remain before legislation would become law.


As Jessie Hellmann reports, the two parties are far apart on the nitty-gritty, namely the cost of birth control and how it is paid for. The two major sticking points will likely complicate efforts to craft a compromise bill between the liberal rock star and the tea party favorite.


> House Democrats are weighing legislation to scrap the executive rule that bars the Justice Department from indicting a sitting president in the wake of Mueller citing the rule as the main reason he did not recommend or consider charging the president with obstruction of justice.


Democrats are putting together legislation focused on protecting elections from foreign influence, but some lawmakers have their sights set higher with legislation to nullify the Department of Justice's long-standing rule that Mueller cited.


“It's definitely on the menu,” said Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyBrindisi, Lamb recommended for Armed Services, Transportation Committees Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation MORE (D-Va.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “I'm in favor of expanding enforcement tools and accountability tools, and that's definitely one of them.”


Even if Democrats were to pass legislation through the House, a bill of this nature would almost certainly be dead on arrival in the Senate and would not be able to win a signature from the president (The Hill).


The Washington Post: Push to impeach Trump stalls amid Democrats’ deference to — and fear of — Pelosi.


Ron Fournier: Will impeachment backfire on Democrats? Not if they do it right.


The Hill: New push to regulate self-driving cars faces tough road.


POLITICS & 2020: All eyes will be on the president on Tuesday when he launches his reelection campaign with a rally in Orlando, Fla., in the face of polls showing him trailing former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California MORE and others in states that are crucial to his 2020 reelection hopes.


Along with his standing in states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, the president is suffering from mediocre approval ratings, as Niall Stanage writes. Nevertheless, Trump campaign aides insist he can expand the electoral map from his narrow win in 2016, and they mock pundits who put a lot of stock in polls, given what happened nearly three years ago.


Additionally, Trump aides believe the ongoing Democratic battle for the nomination will ultimately help the incumbent. Two dozen candidates are warming up critiques of one another, including Biden, who has come under siege at times from progressives over the past month.


“It’s hard to take the polling seriously after 2016,” said one Republican strategist with ties to the White House. “Trump is branding each one of these Democratic candidates while they have their knives out for each other.”


The New York Times: Trump wants to neutralize Democrats on health care. Republicans say let it go.


Politico’s Gabby Orr: Trump campaign makes a radical break from 2016:


“President Donald Trump is sitting on a war chest topping $40 million, has boots on the ground spread across nine regions crucial to his 2020 map and owns a sprawling network of volunteers who’ve been rigorously trained for the months ahead.  


“When he takes the stage Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., to announce his bid for reelection, Trump will be joined by 20,000 guests whose personal information — names, zip codes, phone numbers — was meticulously recorded when they requested tickets to the rally. First-time attendees will receive relentless emails and texts in the coming weeks, reminding them they can help ‘Keep America Great’ by contributing $5, $10 or $15. Some maxed-out donors who gave generously to his 2016 campaign will trek to Florida to witness what they delivered — and decide whether to give big again.  


“It’s a straightforward strategy to get the president four more years in the White House: be the political juggernaut Trump lacked in 2016.”


The Associated Press: Four years in, Trump fondly recalls Trump Tower campaign launch.


The New York Times: Trump campaign to purge pollsters after leak of dismal results.


The Atlantic: This isn’t going according to plan for Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandMaloney primary challenger calls on her to return, donate previous campaign donations from Trump Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee She Should Run launches initiative to expand number of women in political process MORE (D-N.Y.).


The New York Times: Wall Street donors are swooning for Mayor Pete. They like Biden and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule Democratic senators introduce bill to push ICE to stop 'overuse' of solitary confinement MORE (D-Calif.) too.


Paul Kane: Pro-impeachment Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashWhat are Republicans going to do after Donald Trump leaves office? Trump allies assail impeachment on process while House Democrats promise open hearings soon Hoyer: We are going to move as fast 'as the facts and truth dictate' on open hearings MORE (R-Mich.) insists he hasn’t changed but Republican Party has.

The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: and We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!


Killing the messenger: Trump administration vs. the intelligence community, by Nabeel Khoury, opinion contributor, The Hill.


Hong Kong people have spoken truth to power, The Financial Times editorial board.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features Scott Dworkin, co-founder of The Democratic Coalition, to discuss the Meet The Candidates 2020 book series, and Pennsylvania state Reps. Jordan Harris (D) and Sheryl Delozier (R) to talk about their Meek Mill-backed probation reform bill at 9 a.m. ET at or on YouTube at 10 a.m. at Rising on YouTube.


The House returns Tuesday at noon.


The Senate convenes at 3 p.m.


The president has lunch with Vice President Pence at 12:30 p.m.


Pence at 2:30 p.m., following lunch with Trump, meets with Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvinia in the Roosevelt Room.


Mnuchin meets at 10:30 a.m. with Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg at the Treasury Department.


Pompeo meets with Italy’s Salvini at 9 a.m. at the State Department.


Powerless: A blackout left tens of millions of people without electricity in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay on Sunday after a cascading failure on an interconnected power grid. Nearly half of Argentina’s 44 million people were in the dark early in the day, but power was subsequently restored to most of Uruguay’s 3 million people and to most of those affected in Paraguay. Today, electricity has been restored to most of Argentina, but President Mauricio Macri says the cause is “unexplained” (Reuters). Experts blamed crumbling infrastructure in Argentina and poor utility maintenance but the hunt for the cause of the massive power failure has just begun (The Associated Press).


Supreme Court: Court watchers await rulings in 24 cases near the end of the term, including high-profile decisions about a citizenship question on the 2020 census and on partisan gerrymandering (The Hill). … The term’s biggest cases present partisan challenges (The Washington Post).


Movies: “Toy Story 4” from Disney-Pixar is in theaters this week, introducing a new character, “Forky,” to the story. Tom Hanks, the voice of Woody, and Tim Allen, who plays Buzz Lightyear, talked about the endearing and enduring series of toy buddy films during a recent interview with Rotten Tomatoes (YouTube). … Animators pull the strings to reveal Woody’s inner life (The New York Times).


And finally …  Today is the 47th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, a caper that went so spectacularly wrong on June 17, 1972, that it eventually led to the resignation of former President Nixon on Aug. 8, 1974.


It was a security guard, Frank Wills, then 24, who noticed tape on the lock of a stairwell door used by burglars to gain access to the Democratic National Committee headquarters on the sixth floor of the Watergate complex. Wills initially removed the tape during his overnight shift and an hour later realized tape had reappeared. He called the police and logged his actions at 1:47 a.m., setting in motion events that exposed the biggest political corruption scandal in U.S. history.