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The Hill's Morning Report - Trump eyes narrowly focused response to Iran attacks

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Happy hump day! Our newsletter gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the up-early co-creators. Find us @asimendinger and @alweaver22 on Twitter and CLICK HERE to subscribe!



President TrumpDonald TrumpClinton, Bush, Obama reflect on peaceful transition of power on Biden's Inauguration Day Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds MORE, faced with rising tensions in the Middle East, worked on Tuesday to balance international diplomacy with potential punishment, including military action, aimed at Iran following Saturday’s sophisticated missile and drone strikes against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.

 

The president on Tuesday received a menu of possible actions against Iran, and asked for additional ideas, NBC News reported. Trump is interested in a narrowly focused response that would not draw the United States into a military conflict with Iran. One option is a strike by Saudi Arabia, supported by U.S. intelligence.

 

The administration is weighing a range of options for a retaliatory response against Iran, including a cyberattack or physical strike on Iranian oil facilities or Revolutionary Guard assets, according to NBC News. U.S military action did not appear imminent, and officials stressed that no decisions had been made about next steps. However, the Defense Department is working through options to increase its presence in the region, officials said. Iran has denied its involvement in Saturday’s strikes.

 

Reuters: U.S. believes Saudi oil attacks came from southwestern Iran. 

 

USA Today: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoBiden taps career civil servants to acting posts at State, USAID, UN China sanctions Pompeo and more than two dozen US figures China calls Pompeo 'doomsday clown' after its treatment of Uighurs labeled genocide MORE travels to Saudi Arabia to discuss attacks blamed on Iran.

 

Reuters: The Saudi Defense Ministry will present “material evidence and Iranian weapons proving the Iranian regime’s involvement in the terrorist attack” today at a news conference, officials said. Preliminary results showed the attack did not come from Yemen, Saudi officials maintain.

 

Trump said he would prefer not to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next week, amending his interest in such a meeting in the days prior to the attacks, which took place deep into Saudi Arabia (The Hill). 

 

“I never rule anything out, but I prefer not meeting him,” Trump said aboard Air Force One on Tuesday.

 

Iran had said such a meeting would not take place during the U.N. gathering of world leaders in New York, and it’s now possible Iran may skip the assembly entirely. Iran today warned of an “immediate” response to any action taken against it (The Associated Press).

 

On Capitol Hill, the Senate Republican Conference received a briefing on Tuesday from Vice President Pence about Saturday’s attacks and Iran’s suspected involvement. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader Senate presses Biden's pick for secretary of State on Iran, China, Russia and Yemen MORE (R-S.C.), who is up for reelection, tweeted that he is persuaded “such a sophisticated attack could not have occurred without Iran’s blessing and direct involvement.”

 

Graham, who said Iran saw the “measured response” by the United States as “weakness,” urged the administration to “take decisive action to deter further aggression by the Ayatollah and his henchman.”

 

Trump, who plays golf with Graham and has sought his advice on a number of topics, tweeted a barbed reply: “No Lindsey, it was a sign of strength that some people just don’t understand!”

 

Meanwhile, the outcome of Israel’s election on Tuesday pitting Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE, who faced voters for the second time this year, against former Gen. Benny Gantz and the Blue and White party, remains deadlocked today as results continue to be tallied, signaling serious trouble for Netanyahu’s decade of conservative rule. 

 

Parliamentary kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman said today he’ll demand a secular “liberal” unity government between the Likud and Blue and White parties, devoid of the religious and ultra-Orthodox allies Netanyahu leans on. Without Lieberman’s endorsement, both parties appear to have fallen well short of securing a parliamentary majority. “There is one and only option,” Lieberman said, “a national unity government that is broad and liberal and we will not join any other option.” His comments signaled a roadblock for the continuation of Netanyahu’s rule (The Associated Press).

 

On Iran policy, Trump and Netanyahu have been largely on the same page in public. The president earlier this year sought to help the prime minister win reelection, but this time, the White House has seemed determined to stand on the sidelines while Trump has appeared preoccupied with U.S. responses to Iran (Reuters).  

 

 

 

 

In other administration news … Faced with a thinned national security staff and increasingly complex foreign policy challenges, Trump on Tuesday identified five current or former members of his administration he says are candidates to succeed John BoltonJohn BoltonPence, other GOP officials expected to skip Trump send-off NSA places former GOP political operative in top lawyer position after Pentagon chief's reported order After insurrection: The national security implications MORE as White House national security adviser. The list includes Robert O’Brien, Maj. Gen. Ricky Waddell, Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, Fred Fleitz and retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg (The New York Times). … The president is expected to nominate Stephen Biegun, the State Department’s special representative for North Korea, to be the next deputy secretary of state, according to reporting by Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin. … Trump plans today while traveling in California to revoke the state’s authority to set stricter auto emissions standards than those set at the federal level, a slap at liberal West Coast challenges to his administration and a rebuke of former President Obama’s efforts to curb greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change (The New York Times). … Trump says homeless people damage the “prestige” of Los Angeles, San Francisco and other populous cities and vows unspecified federal action. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben CarsonBen CarsonTrump's '1776 Report' released on MLK Day receives heavy backlash Biden has an opportunity to win over conservative Christians Ben Carson dismisses 25th Amendment talk: 'As a nation we need to heal' MORE traveled to Los Angeles on Tuesday (The Washington Post).





LEADING THE DAY

CONGRESS: An appearance by Corey LewandowskiCorey LewandowskiSunday shows preview: Riots roil Washington as calls for Trump's removal grow Trump's refusal to concede sows confusion among staff Trump selects Hicks, Bondi, Grenell and other allies for positions MORE, the former campaign manager for the Trump campaign, before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday quickly devolved into a chaotic scene as he largely refused to answer questions on a number of topics, including references to his account of events to former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE and conversations with the president.

 

From the outset, Democrats attempted to confront the witness about references to his recollections in Mueller’s report, especially regarding the president’s request that Lewandowski deliver a 2017 letter to then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHarris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' Sessions, top DOJ officials knew 'zero tolerance' would separate families, watchdog finds MORE asking that Sessions set new limits on Mueller’s probe. Lewandowski told Mueller that he did not want to deliver the message to Sessions and asked former White House aide Rick Dearborn to do it. Dearborn did not. 

 

Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenDenver Post editorial board defends Boebert against 'blatantly sexist and elitist attacks' Pelosi: Trump could be an accessory to murder 'because he instigated that insurrection' Dem lawmaker says GOP Rep. Boebert gave 'large' group tour days ahead of Capitol attack MORE (D-Tenn.) told the former Trump campaign hand that he “chickened out” by not delivering Trump’s message to Sessions, while Rep. Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonHouse Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump Five things to watch during Electoral College battle Hoyer says Trump Georgia call likely criminal, wants 'serious' investigation MORE (D-Ga.) compared the panel’s questioning of Lewandowski to the cleaning of a fish.

 

“Lewandowski, you are like a fish being cleaned with a spoon — very hard to get a clean answer from you,” Johnson said.

 

Throughout, Lewandowski asserted executive privilege despite having not worked in the White House. He repeatedly defended Trump, saying the president “never asked me to do anything illegal.” Trump lauded Lewandowski’s appearance, tweeting at one point that he delivered a “beautiful Opening Statement.” 

 

While he stonewalled lawmakers, Lewandowski had trouble answering questions from Barry Berke, the committee’s counsel, who tripped him up repeatedly and forced Lewandowski to acknowledge that he has been dishonest to members of the media (The Hill).

 

Lewandowski also told Berke that he did not deliver the message to Sessions because it wasn’t “a priority” in his mind.   

 

Lewandowski is among three witnesses the committee has sought to question, including Dearborn and Rob Porter, the former White House staff secretary. Multiple Democrats on the panel called on House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerPelosi names 9 impeachment managers Republicans gauge support for Trump impeachment Clyburn blasts DeVos and Chao for 'running away' from 25th Amendment fight MORE (D-N.Y.) to hold Lewandowski in contempt.

 

"Mr. Lewandowski, your behavior in this hearing room has been completely unacceptable. It is part of a pattern of a White House desperate for the American people not to hear the truth," Nadler said after committee members concluded their questioning.   

 

"I’ve been asked several times today whether the committee will hold you in contempt. It is certainly under consideration," Nadler said.

 

Lewandowski also tried to make the most out of his appearance. During a mid-afternoon break, the former Trump aide announced the launch of a new website promoting a possible Senate bid in New Hampshire that featured pictures of Lewandowski and the president.

 

“President Trump said Corey will be a ‘fantastic’ Senator … ‘great for New Hampshire’ and ‘great for America.’ Add your support for Corey to run for U.S. Senate,” the site reads.

 

Jonathan Allen: Lewandowski pumps life into assertions of obstruction of justice by Trump.

 

 

 

 

> Retirements galore: Another House Republican announced his planned exit from Congress on Tuesday, adding to the party’s recent wave of retirements fresh off an annual GOP retreat, which focused on a path to clawing back the majority next year. 

 

Rep. Paul CookPaul Joseph CookHouse Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money following Treasury delays The 14 other key races to watch on Super Tuesday MORE (R-Calif.) announced he will leave Congress next year, making him the 18th House Republican to announce a decision to forfeit a run for reelection in 2020. Instead, Cook said he would run for a seat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, underscoring the challenges for GOP leaders to convince rank-and-file members to stay in the House as members of the minority. 

 

Cook’s decision to run for local office instead of reelection to Congress isn’t without precedent. Former Rep. Janice HahnJanice Kay HahnHispanic Democrats build capital with big primary wins Los Angeles County, city to end curfew The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US MORE (D-Calif.) chose to run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors instead of another term in the minority in 2016, while ex-Rep. Candice MillerCandice Sue MillerThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump eyes narrowly focused response to Iran attacks GOP struggles with retirement wave Women poised to take charge in Dem majority MORE (R-Mich.) opted for a stint as Macomb County public works Commissioner the same year. 

 

Hours before Cook's announcement, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyBiden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear Congressional leaders present Biden, Harris with flags flown during inauguration Biden urges Americans to join together in appeal for unity MORE (R-Calif.) downplayed the pile-up of GOP lawmakers who plan to depart Congress (The Hill).

 

“All the retirements except one this cycle [are] in a safe seat,” McCarthy told “Fox & Friends.“ “I think it’s healthy. I had one member come to me who’s been on the ballot since 1988 and he says, ‘I can’t give you a hundred percent to go win the majority. So let’s bring some new people in at the same time.’”

 

Five GOP open seats in 2020 are seen as toss-ups, leaning Republican, or leaning Democratic according to the Cook Political Report (no relation to Rep. Cook).

 

> Kavanaugh: An aggressive push by progressives to impeach Associate Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughLIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing Harris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Why we need Section 230 more than ever MORE is falling flat on Capitol Hill as top Democrats continue to oppose it and argue about whether it’s a politically prudent move.

 

While Rep. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyBelfast's Troubles echo in today's Washington Federal government carries out 13th and final execution under Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (D-Mass.) introduced a resolution Tuesday calling for an impeachment inquiry, Democratic leaders are signaling they want nothing to do with it as they try to juggle the already perilous fight over impeaching the president with their party agenda.

 

Some Democrats warned on Tuesday that it’s time to move on, noting that an impeachment effort would face a GOP buzzsaw even if it got through the House.

 

“We should be focused on making sure this never, ever happens again. We need a functional background investigation process from the FBI,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official Democrats torn on impeachment trial timing Senate Democrats call on Biden to immediately invoke Defense Production Act MORE (D-Conn. “I think it’s highly unlikely you’re going to get an impeachment vote through the United States Senate, so our best remedy may just be trying to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”   

 

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats seize on GOP donor fallout Senior Democrat says Hawley, Cruz should step down from Judiciary Hawley, Cruz face rising anger, possible censure MORE (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, echoed Murphy and argued that those pushing for impeachment are over their skis. 

 

“We seem to have a habit of wanting to get to the verdict before we’ve gathered the evidence. I don’t, as a former prosecutor, approve of that habit,” Whitehouse said (The Hill).



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IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLITICS: Most Senate Democrats are staying neutral in the race for the  Democratic presidential nod. However, there's a growing sense in the caucus that life would be easier if former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenKaty Perry and her 'Firework' close out inauguration TV special Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Tom Hanks: After years of 'troubling rancor,' Inauguration Day 'is about witnessing the permanence of our American ideal' MORE takes home the party’s nomination instead of his closest competitors and two of their colleagues, Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Top Senate Democrat backs waiver for Biden Pentagon nominee Consumer bureau director resigns after Biden's inauguration MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Sanders's inauguration look promptly gets a bobblehead Booker brings girlfriend, actress Rosario Dawson, to inauguration MORE (I-Vt.).  

 

According to a report by Alexander Bolton, Democrats acknowledge that if the nomination goes to Warren or Sanders — both of whom are far to the left of most Senate Democrats — it will create immediate tensions within the party. 

 

Many don’t want to take sides in a battle that is pitting colleagues against one another, and senators obviously don’t want to create bad blood with any contenders — who will either return to the Senate or end up at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  Yet a number of Democrats privately acknowledge that if Warren or Sanders wins the nomination, it will create immediate tension within the party as their best-known proposals, such as Medicare for All and free college education, have scant support within their caucus. 

 

“The senators have a great confidence in their own ability with a friendly White House to say, ‘We like a lot of that, but we don’t like all of it,’” one Democratic senator said. “We’re not going to just do what they ask because they ask.”

 

Senate Democrats also acknowledge that it will be easier to win Senate races in conservative-leaning states such as Alabama, North Carolina, Iowa and Georgia if Biden is on top of the Democratic ticket rather than Warren or Sanders against Trump next year.

 

The Associated Press: Warren nabs 2020 backing of Iowa’s state treasurer.

 

The Washington Post: Biden, Sanders take fight over health care to union workers.

 

Politico: Trump hopes to seize a core Democratic voting bloc: Organized labor.

 

 

 

 

> Voter suppression: During a speech at George Washington University on Tuesday, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader Clinton says it meant 'great deal' to hold inauguration weeks after riot MORE argued that the United States faces a “crisis in democracy” as a result of voter suppression aimed at keeping women and people of color from the polls. 

 

In her address, Clinton accused the GOP of rolling back voter protections and employing tactics aimed at keeping racial minorities from casting ballots. The former secretary of State said that she has been counseling Democratic White House hopefuls specifically to warn them about voter suppression, hacking, fake news stories and a lack of election security in 2016, all of which she believes played a role in her election loss to the president, adding that failing to address those issues could lead to defeat for the party once again next year.  

 

“This is one of those moments we stand at a crossroads of our own a crisis in democracy,” Clinton said. “Racists and white supremacist views are lifted up in the media and the White House. Hard fought for civil rights are stripped back. Rule of law is being undermined, our norms and institutions ... are under assault, and that includes the single most important fight of our times … the fight to protect the right to vote” (The Hill).

 

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board: Don’t cancel the GOP primaries.

 

> Presidential age: Former President Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterTrump's pardons harshly criticized by legal experts Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official Biden says he spoke to Jimmy Carter on eve of inauguration MORE, who turns 95 in a few weeks, says he couldn’t have managed the presidency at age 80. Carter didn’t tie his comments to any of his fellow Democrats running for president, but two leading 2020 candidates, Biden and Sanders, would turn 80 during their terms if elected. 

 

“I hope there’s an age limit,” Carter reportedly said with a laugh while answering questions during his annual report on Tuesday at the Carter Center in Atlanta. “If I were just 80 years old, if I was 15 years younger, I don’t believe I could undertake the duties I experienced when I was president” (The Associated Press).

 

Politico: Mayor Pete vs. Beto: The battle is back on.



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



OPINION

The Fed’s confusions, by Douglas Carr, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2m0FljS

 

Iran’s drone attacks are a threat to Trump, by Dov S. Zakheim, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2khSvsm



WHERE AND WHEN

Hill.TV’s “Rising” at 9 a.m. ET features an interview with presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardTulsi Gabbard blasts new House rules on gender neutral language as 'height of hypocrisy' A vaccine, a Burrito and more: 7 lighter, memorable moments from 2020 Growing number of House Republicans warm to proxy voting MORE (D-Hawaii); economics professor Richard Wolff, who argues the organized labor movement is on the rise; actresses Laura and Vanessa Marano, on their advocacy before Congress to protect girls from sexual exploitation; and Jeff Lyash, president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, on the future for the nation’s largest public utility, which he represents. Find Hill.TV programming at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10 a.m.

 

The House meets at 10 a.m. The House Judiciary Committee meets at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

 

The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee holds a hearing at 10 a.m. about “mass violence, extremism and digital responsibility” to learn how tech companies are working with law enforcement on removal of violent content online. 

 

The president, who is in Los Angeles, speaks this morning to a joint 2020 fundraising committee breakfast there, followed by a joint fundraising committee lunch and roundtable with donors in San Diego. The president will visit a section of wall at the U.S. southern border in Otay Mesa, Calif., at 5:30 p.m. ET. Trump will return to Washington from San Diego, departing the West Coast around 7:30 p.m. ET. 

 

Pence meets with Moldovan Prime Minister Maia Sandu at 2 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room. 

 

Pompeo arrives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, today to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss “efforts to counter Iranian aggression in the region.” The secretary will then travel to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, through Sept. 19 to meet with Prince Mohammed bin Zayed to discuss “regional and bilateral issues.”

 

The Federal Reserve ends a two-day policy meeting with a statement and a news conference at 2:30 p.m. with Chairman Jerome Powell.



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ELSEWHERE

Journalism: Renowned and admired Washington journalist Cokie Roberts, a veteran of NPR and ABC News and a longtime contributor to PBS's “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” died at age 75 on Tuesday after complications from breast cancer, her family said in a statement. Roberts, considered a pioneer among female journalists who joined NPR in 1978, became a bestselling author and Emmy Award winner, known for her distinctive coverage of politics and Congress. She was a member of a well-known political family. Her father, the late Rep. Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., a former Democratic House majority leader from Louisiana who was a member of the Warren Commission, disappeared in a plane over Alaska in 1972. Her mother, Lindy Boggs, served in the House for 17 years and later became U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Roberts married veteran journalist Steven Roberts in 1966 (NPR).

 

 

 

 

Banking: The federal Consumer Financial Protection Board has requested information from Bank of America regarding possible unauthorized consumer bank, credit card and other account openings going back to March 2014. The action is the latest inquiry by federal banking regulators into industry practices in the wake of a Wells Fargo scandal involving more than 3.5 million unauthorized consumer accounts opened by bank staff (Bloomberg Law). 

 

Who turns down a raise?   University of Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett declined a hike in his compensation while extending his contract for another year, the university announced this week. Coming off a 2019 national title win, Bennett asked that the money be used to pay his staff more and for improvements to his program as well as other Virginia teams (NBC News).



THE CLOSER

And finally … Baseball reached a new milestone a week ago, for better or worse, when Baltimore Orioles infielder Jonathan Villar rounded the bases, marking the 6,106th home run of 2019, breaking a record set two years ago

 

While a lot has been made of the ball Major League Baseball has used in 2019, FiveThirtyEight delves deep into what else is behind the home run surge: backspin. As Travis Sawchik writes:

 

“Backspin often works in favor of the hitter, as it creates a Magnus effect, which pushes up on the baseball to create lift. But there can also be too much of a rise effect. When studying golf balls, researchers have found that when too much spin is added at certain launch angles, there is a “ballooning” effect. For baseball hitters, that means that excessive spin might lead to batted balls traveling higher, but not farther.”  

 

“Alan Nathan, physics professor emeritus at the University of Illinois and MLB consultant, says there are optimum spin levels in baseball for batters. “Not only does the lift increase with the spin, but it’s really only been in the last few years that we’ve realized that the air drag also increases with the spin,” Nathan told FiveThirtyEight. “So that slows the ball down.”