The Hill’s Morning Report – What is Trump’s next move on Iran?
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President Trump on Monday said it “looks” as if Iran is responsible for weekend attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, but he stopped short of definitively blaming Tehran and said he is not “looking” for war.
“I’m not looking to get into [a] new conflict, but sometimes you have to,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. The president said he is not “concerned at all” about a potential war with Iran, adding that he’d “like to avoid it” while boasting the United States is well prepared for any scenario.
Trump’s comments differed from those of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said on Saturday that Iran was behind the sophisticated attacks, not Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who initially claimed responsibility.
The president, suddenly faced with a new set of circumstances with Iran, said he will send his influential adviser Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to discuss next steps, a plan that appeared to open the door to international engagement before deciding what, if any, action to take. U.S. investigators arrived in Saudi Arabia to gather evidence.
World leaders are scheduled to meet next week in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, and the outcome of a Tuesday election in Israel remains uncertain for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who condemns Iran as a powerful enemy of Israel. Trump told reporters he had not pledged U.S. protection to ally Saudi Arabia.
The Hill: Trump says he wants to avoid war with Iran.
Trump, who prior to the attacks said he was willing to negotiate without preconditions with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about a new nuclear deal, is faced with suddenly more complicated terrain. He must decide how to respond to what U.S. officials on Sunday described as coordinated military strikes against Saudi petroleum facilities, which appeared from intelligence data to originate in Iran. Trump has said the United States is “locked and loaded,” but he has also stated his desire to avoid military conflict with Iran.
The Associated Press: Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, announced today “there will be no talks with the U.S. at any level,” according to Iran’s state TV. The remarks apparently are intended to end speculation about a possible U.S.-Iran meeting between the two countries’ presidents at the United Nations next week.
U.S. lawmakers who are worried about the potential for military conflict with Tehran are on high alert, warning Trump that he would need to seek congressional approval before ordering any military action (The Hill).
The New York Times: A Saudi government statement on Monday said, “Initial investigations have indicated that the weapons used in the attack were Iranian weapons.” But the Saudis stopped short of directly blaming Iran for the attack.
The New York Times: Who was behind the Saudi oil attack? What the evidence shows.
The Washington Post: Iran’s strategic use of drones and missiles rattles Middle East rivals.
The Washington Post: Trump’s rationale for helping Saudi Arabia is not about domestic petroleum supplies, he tweeted: “We don’t need Middle Eastern Oil & Gas, & in fact have very few tankers there, but will help our Allies!”
In other administration news: New York state prosecutors in late August subpoenaed eight years of Trump’s corporate and personal tax returns after the Manhattan district attorney’s office opened a criminal investigation into the role that the president and his family business played in hush money payments made in the run-up to the 2016 election, it was learned this week (The New York Times) … The president’s list of candidates to succeed John Bolton as director of the National Security Council has narrowed (Bloomberg) … New York-based Con Edison and eight other U.S. utilities filed a legal challenge on Monday to the Trump administration’s plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants, a policy to ease tougher Obama-era rulemaking (Reuters).
LEADING THE DAY
CONGRESS: As House Democrats try to juggle their legislative agenda and their ongoing push to impeach the president, they’ve been thrown a potential wrench as prominent Democrats make calls for Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh to be impeached and removed from the Supreme Court.
Ever since The New York Times aired a new allegation of sexual misconduct against the justice over the weekend, 2020 Democrats and high-profile progressives have called for Kavanaugh to be impeached. However, as Mike Lillis reports, some House members have not made the same push. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) poured a bucket of cold water on the idea on Monday in a radio interview, saying that the panel’s focus is on Trump and will continue to be.
“We have our hands full with impeaching the president right now and that’s going to take up our limited resources and time for a while,” Nadler said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is almost certain to be asked about it in the coming days as the House reconvenes later today, creating yet another distraction from leadership’s attempted focus on the party’s agenda.
The Hill: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) promises Kavanaugh will not be impeached over “scurrilous” allegations.
However, the distraction is unlikely to go away. Most of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, headlined by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who fundraised off her impeachment support on Monday, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), are calling for Kavanaugh’s impeachment.
As Niall Stanage writes, the new Kavanaugh allegation has sparked a political uproar, albeit one that has been complicated by a misstep by the Times, as it neglected to note that the woman involved is said to have no recollection of the incident, according to friends.
However, Democrats continue to express anger over Kavanaugh and point to the pre-existing allegation of misconduct by Deborah Ramirez. According to the Times, two FBI agents who interviewed Ramirez found her “credible” and the bureau had not interviewed any of the 25 people her lawyers said might have evidence to corroborate her account, rejuvenating the furor on the left over Kavanaugh.
“I think Democrats need to stand on principle. I think Democratic voters expect that, and they expect consistency,” said consultant Tara Dowdell, who also pointed out that Democrats have moved against members of their own party who have been accused of sexual misdeeds, headlined by former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).
Adding to the Kavanaugh news cycle, CBS News reported late Monday that Leland Keyser, one of the four people Christine Blasey Ford said were at the party where Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her in the summer of 1982, told the Times that she doesn’t believe Ford. She also told the FBI that Ford’s allies pressured her and threatened a smear campaign if she didn’t back up her former classmate.
Politico: “Get real”: Senior Democrats shut down Kavanaugh impeachment push.
> Lewandowski to the Hill: Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are barreling toward a confrontation with the White House after setting a series of key deadlines this week for documents and witness hearings (The Hill).
Tuesday is the deadline for three potential witnesses to provide testimony and for the Department of Homeland Security to provide materials on whether the president dangled pardons to border officials. So far, Corey Lewandowski is the only witness to agree to attend the joint hearing, while former White House aides Rob Porter and Rick Dearborn are not expected to appear. According to CNN, the pair are under White House orders “that they are immune from testifying as former senior presidential advisers.”
While members of the panel have framed Lewandowski’s testimony as a win, Lewandowski is expected to be a steadfast defender of the president today. Some speculate that Lewandowski may use what is projected to be a heated hearing with House Democrats as a way to raise his profile as he decides on a possible bid for the Senate in New Hampshire (The Hill).
> Guns: Prospects for a bipartisan deal on gun control legislation have dimmed significantly as the president and Democratic leadership appear to be miles apart on the key issue at hand: expanding background checks.
As Alexander Bolton reports, Senate Republicans expect Trump to put forward a proposal addressing gun violence later this week, but Democrats predict it is likely to fall far short of what is needed and are already indicating that they may not support it.
Senate Democrats are putting pressure on the president to agree to a gun control bill already approved by the House. However, he has yet to even signal support for a scaled-down background check bill sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), leaving Democrats downcast at the possibility.
> House Dems target Secretary Chao: The House Oversight and Reform Committee launched an investigation on Monday into Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao over whether she has used her office to benefit herself and her family.
The investigation is in response to a number of reports alleging that Chao, the spouse of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has used her role in the Trump administration to boost Foremost Group, a shipping company founded by her father. Chao and McConnell have denied the reports.
“The Committee is examining your misstatements of fact, your actions that may have benefited the company in which you continued to hold shares, and your compliance with ethics and financial disclosure requirements,” Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), chairman of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, wrote in a letter to Chao requesting documents (The Hill).
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IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: The president rallied supporters in New Mexico on Monday night, arguing that his policies have made the state wealthier, particularly on the energy front, and that Democrats would reverse that positive work as they push for the Green New Deal.
“The Democrats want to completely annihilate New Mexico’s economy,” Trump said, pointing to the work on oil and gas under his administration that has increased revenue in the state. “The Democrats will never get the chance because New Mexico will never give them that chance.”
The appearance was the latest by Trump in attempt to flip a blue state and expand the 2020 map. The Trump campaign has targeted New Hampshire, Minnesota, Nevada and Oregon in addition to the Land of Enchantment as they look for success beyond the states that backed him in 2016.
“It’s been quite a while since a Republican won this state,” Trump told supporters, pointing to former President George W. Bush’s 2004 victory in the state.
“I think we’re going to do great here. We’re here because we really think we’re going to turn this state and make it a Republican state” (The Associated Press).
The Hill: Trump seeks to expand the Electoral College map with his New Mexico rally.
The Washington Post: In New Mexico, Trump makes a direct appeal to Hispanic voters.
The Associated Press: During her own campaign rally, Warren decries Trump as “corruption in the flesh.”
> West Coast swing, cont.: The president arrives in California today for a two-day fundraising haul in a state that has made its opposition to the president abundantly clear and has served as the heartbeat of the opposition to his administration’s policies.
Trump will hold fundraisers in Palo Alto and Beverly Hills on Tuesday, with two more scheduled for Wednesday in Los Angeles and San Diego before he returns to Washington.
As Brett Samuels writes, Trump’s planned West Coast swing is an unusual move, as he remains deeply unpopular across parts of the Golden State and repeatedly holds it up to his supporters as a crime-filled region that has been destroyed by left-wing policies. More tellingly, he uses the state as a showcase of what the U.S. could become if he loses his reelection bid next year.
The president’s visit is certain to trigger widespread protests among residents, especially in staunchly liberal areas such as Los Angeles and San Jose, which voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. But Trump’s allies and Republican strategists see a purpose beyond fundraising for trekking west.
According to The Associated Press, Trump is expected to raise more than $15 million during the two-day trip.
The New York Times: Age isn’t hurting 2020 Democratic leaders, to rivals’ chagrin.
> Partisanship: The number of pure independent voters is dwindling sharply, leading to an increase in partisanship as the 2020 presidential race gets underway.
As Julia Manchester notes, according to a Pew Research survey released in March, 81 percent of voters who describe themselves as independents actually lean toward the Republican Party or Democratic Party, while just 7 percent of Americans say they don’t lean toward a party — marking a dwindling pot of true swing voters in a general election fight.
Strategists say that tend is being reflected on the 2020 trail, where Trump is primarily focused on rallying his base and tossing out red meat for his supporters to chew on. Meanwhile, Democrats are increasingly moving to the left on issues such as health care and taxes, reflecting a more progressive and younger party as they vie for the party’s nomination.
> White House contender Andrew Yang, who has relished unconventional appearances that help him break into social media and news headlines, announced on Monday that he will sit down with comedian Shane Gillis, who was fired from “Saturday Night Live” on Monday just days after he had been hired as a new cast member. Gillis lost his new job after YouTube video surfaced in which he denigrated Asians with slurs and caricatures. Gillis offered an apology, and Yang extended a media-centered olive branch the comedian accepted (Fox News).
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
Kavanaugh remains guilty until proven innocent, according to Democrats, by Jonathan Turley, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2kDftdU
Iran’s strength and strategy show with Saudi oilfield attacks, by Simon Henderson, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2mfW4Qs
WHERE AND WHEN
Hill.TV’s “Rising” at 9 a.m. ET features former CIA Director and retired Army Gen. David Petraeus to discuss the war in Afghanistan and U.S.-Iran relations; Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council, who talks about the drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities on Saturday and U.S.-Iran relations; and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who weighs in about calls to regulate big tech. Find Hill.TV programming at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10 a.m.
The House meets at noon.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and resume consideration of the nomination of John Rakolta Jr. to be U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.
The president departs Albuquerque, N.M. for California, where he will hold fundraisers for his reelection campaign in Palo Alto and Beverly Hills. He will remain in Los Angeles overnight.
Vice President Pence will speak about the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement at the Heritage Foundation in Washington at 11 a.m. At 3 p.m., he’ll speak at a naturalization ceremony at the White House South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to mark Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.
The 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) opens today in New York City through Sept. 30. The UNGA high-level General Debate begins Sept. 24.
Publishers of the Almanac of American Politics, a tome beloved by political nerds everywhere, hold a launch event for the 2020 edition from 5 to 7 p.m. at Kramerbooks & Afterwords in Washington. NPR congressional correspondent Sue Davis, a former Almanac researcher, will moderate brief remarks. Information about the 2020 edition is HERE.
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➔ Israel: Israelis today cast ballots for the second time in less than six months in an election that could see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win a record fifth term, or end his decade-long dominance of Israeli politics. He is competing against formidable challengers and could yet face possible criminal charges in three corruption cases after the election (Reuters). Trump, who revels in a close alliance with Netanyahu, predicted on Monday a “50-50 election” in Israel. “It’s going to be very close,” he told reporters. “[The election] is very close. I call on all citizens of Israel to come vote,” Netanyahu said today, his voice hoarse after weeks of campaigning, as he cast his ballot in Jerusalem (The Associated Press). On the eve of the election, Netanyahu promised to annex “all the settlements” on the West Bank (The Associated Press). The ruling party results on Tuesday could launch former Netanyahu deputy Avigdor Liberman to become a kingmaker on a path to one day replace Netanyahu, or cast him into political oblivion (The New York Times).
➔ Afghanistan: An explosion by a suicide bomber today near an election rally attended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani killed 24 people and injured 31 others, but Ghani was unhurt, officials reported. The Taliban have vowed to intensify clashes with Afghan and foreign forces to try to dissuade people from voting in the Sept. 28 presidential election, when Ghani will bid for a second five-year term (Reuters).
➔ Opioids: Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy filing on Sunday was the centerpiece of a settlement intended to shield the company and its owners from more than 2,500 lawsuits tied to its role in creating the U.S. opioid crisis. But not every state agreed to the terms. The holdouts, led by New York, say the settlement is not nearly enough, and it will take years to resolve. States are expected to try to pursue Purdue’s owners, the Sackler family, for a full reckoning (The Hill).
➔ Federal Reserve: The nation’s central bank is expected at the end of a policy meeting on Wednesday to issue its second interest rate cut in just a matter of months, lowering borrowing costs amid rising fears of a global recession. Trump has become more animated about his critiques of the Fed’s monetary policy as the U.S.-China trade war continues, and his reelection bid next year hinges, in part, on the health of the economy, according to recent polls (The Hill).
➔ Coral reefs: Here’s the nicest news of the morning! A surprise rescue of Jamaica’s coral reefs shows that nature can heal, thanks to some ingenuity and one constant underwater gardner. Meet 68-year-old Everton Simpson and his “coral nursery” (The Associated Press).
And finally … “We the People…” On this day in 1787, America’s founders signed the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia. People will gather today on Independence Mall in the City of Brotherly Love to mark Constitution Day. In Washington, the National Archives will host programs and events to commemorate Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. Information is HERE.
Pop quiz: How many delegates in 1787 signed the Constitution in order to create a more perfect union?