The Hill's Morning Report - Pompeo condemns Iran for 'act of war' while Trump moves with caution

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The United States on Wednesday officially accused Iran of “an act of war” against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, but it was not President TrumpDonald John TrumpFed saw risks to US economy fading before coronavirus spread quickened Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Britain announces immigration policy barring unskilled migrants MORE who spoke of war. It was Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo condemns China's expulsion of WSJ journalists Wall Street Journal 'deeply disappointed' by China's expulsion of journalists China expels three Wall Street Journal reporters MORE, who traveled to Jeddah to consult Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about options to deter Tehran’s aggressions.


Trump said he was not keen to order anything that might embroil the United States in military action in the Middle East, and he defended his caution against criticism by some conservatives that the United States appears weak to the Iranians.


“It’s a sign of strength,” the president countered, adding no specifics to his instruction to the Treasury Department to levy new sanctions on Iran.


“We have plenty of time to do some dastardly things,” Trump told reporters. “There are many options. There’s the ultimate option and there are options a lot less than that.”


The Hill: Trump said he was considering a range of potential actions against Iran.


In Jeddah, Saudi officials displayed what they said was evidence that Iran was responsible for Saturday’s missile and drone strikes deep inside the country. Iran continues to deny involvement in the attacks that damaged the world’s biggest crude oil processing facility and initially knocked out half of Saudi output. Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading oil exporter (Reuters).


Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy of economic sanctions imposed on Iran has been designed to curb its nuclear capabilities and has succeeded in pressuring Iran’s leaders, but Trump’s approach has not deterred Iran’s aggressive behavior, according to analysts and lawmakers.


“We’re working to build out a coalition to develop a plan to deter them,” Pompeo added, arguing that Americans in Saudi Arabia has been placed at risk. “We want to work to make sure infrastructure and resources are put in place such that attacks like this would be less successful than this one appears to have been.”


John BoltonJohn BoltonOvernight Defense: Dem senator met with Iranian foreign minister | Meeting draws criticism from right | Lawmakers push back at Pentagon funding for wall We should listen to John Bolton The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms MORE, who was recently jettisoned as Trump’s third national security adviser, let loose on Wednesday at a private lunch, offering criticism of the president’s failure to respond to the Iranian attack on an American drone earlier this summer. He argued it set the stage for the Islamic Republic’s aggression in recent months because Trump did not retaliate after the shootdown (Politico).


Trump on Wednesday named as his fourth national security adviser the administration’s hostage negotiator Robert O’Brien, a lawyer who previously worked with Bolton (The Hill). O’Brien’s ascent is seen as a plus for Pompeo, who was among his champions to get the job (The New York Times).


Jason Rezaian: The Saudi-Iran rivalry isn’t new, but it’s getting riskier by the hour.


Max Boot: In his showdown with Iran, Trump blinks.


Josh Rogin: Trump could hit back against Iran inside Syria.


P.W. Singer: The future of war is already here.


Jonathan Stevenson: Trump’s national security yes man is in for a bumpy ride.





CONGRESS: Senate Republicans are taking a wait-and-see approach after the White House released a proposal to expand background checks, one that isn’t considered a final product by any means. As the president withholds support, lawmakers are in the dark about what he’ll eventually back.


The proposal, which is a version of the 2013 bill sponsored by Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE (R-Pa.) and Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinLawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall Overnight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Senate Democrats pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit MORE (D-W.Va.), arrived early Wednesday and has been treated as a trial balloon by members, many of whom reacted cautiously. 


“There are some ideas floating around that different members of the administration are coming up with, and at this point it’s probably too early to say” if Republicans will support it, said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran As many as eight GOP senators expected to vote to curb Trump's power to attack Iran MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican. “Our members are going to be very — proceed with caution — very skeptical of some of the ideas that have been put out there in the past, but I think they’re willing to listen.”


According to Toomey, the blueprint was drafted by Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Barr threatens tech's prized legal shield If Roger Stone were a narco, he'd be in the clear MORE, who has been on Capitol Hill for the last two days meeting with lawmakers about gun violence and the proposal (The Hill). 


The memo floats the idea of conducting background checks for all commercial sales through a federally licensed firearms dealer or a newly created class of licensed transfer agents.


However, among Senate Republicans, the main question continues to crop up: What will Trump support, and will he support this proposal? The answer could make or break negotiations.


"My question to the attorney general ... was what is the president going to support? What is the president going to put forward?” Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleySenate Democrats introduce legislation to change impeachment trial rules Hillicon Valley: DOJ indicts four Chinese military officers over Equifax hack | Amazon seeks Trump deposition in 'war cloud' lawsuit | Inside Trump's budget | Republican proposes FTC overhaul GOP senator proposes overhauling federal agency to confront Big Tech MORE (R-Mo.) said, adding that he needs to “evaluate” the proposal. "I need to evaluate it. It's more sort of a, I don't want to say thought experiment ... but it's more in the way that here's some ideas that one could turn into a concrete proposal” (The Hill).  


Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on his return to Washington that he has not seen the document, but called the proposal a “series of concepts.”


“We’re looking at many different things … [W]e’re throwing out many different ideas to Republicans and Democrats, see where they all come out. And that was the document you were talking — I haven’t seen that document,” Trump said. “But we’re throwing a lot of ideas out, but we’re always going to be watching extremely closely the second amendment.”   


“And about a week ago we asked Bill [Barr] to get involved, and those are ideas that we’re talking to Republicans, Democrats, everybody about. Some they like, some they don’t like,” Trump said. “Just a series of concepts.”


The Washington Post: Trump administration plan on gun background checks draws NRA opposition.





> Funding fiasco: Spending talks hit another setback on Wednesday amid an entrenched fight over funding for the president’s border wall as Senate Democrats blocked a bill to fund most of the federal government with 11 days left before the Sept. 30 deadline to avoid a shutdown.  


Senators voted 51-44 on taking up a House-passed bill that was expected to be the vehicle for any Senate funding action. The bill needed 60 votes to pass. Republicans tried to pressure Democrats into supporting the measure ahead of the failed vote Wednesday.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKentucky state official says foreign adversaries 'routinely' scan election systems Don't let 'welfare for all' advocates derail administration's food stamp program reforms Whistleblower retaliation: Stop confusing unlawful attacks with politics MORE (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of also sinking defense legislation over an immigration fight with Trump.  


“We’ve seen our Democratic colleagues suggest that they may try to shoehorn their long-standing disagreements with President Trump into this appropriations process even though we all agreed not to insist on poison pills,” McConnell said.


Across the halls of Congress, House Democrats filed legislation for a stopgap spending bill that would extend government funding until Nov. 21, with a floor vote on the measure expected today. 


“While the House did its work, the Senate appropriations process is far behind. Because of this delay, we must pass a continuing resolution to avoid another government shutdown,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyOvernight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' Pentagon transferring .8 billion to border wall Democrats should firmly commit to not bring back earmarks MORE (D-N.Y.) said. 


The final measure included a Democratic demand that the Department of Agriculture report to Congress about the effects of the trade war on farmers, as well as a package of health-related extenders (The Hill).


> Impeachment: House Democrats are struggling to defend their impeachment strategy as the rift between Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDon't let 'welfare for all' advocates derail administration's food stamp program reforms Hillicon Valley: Officials worry about Nevada caucus technology after Iowa | Pelosi joins pressure campaign on Huawei | Workers at Kickstarter vote to unionize | Bezos launches B climate initiative Pelosi joins pressure campaign on Huawei MORE (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTrump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Nadler demands answers from Barr on 'new channel' for receiving Ukraine info from Giuliani Trump predicts Ocasio-Cortez will launch primary bid against Schumer MORE (D-N.Y.) widens.


A day after Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders repeats with NH primary win, but with narrower victory Trump campaign chief relocating to Washington: report Lewandowski decides against Senate bid MORE testified before the panel, House Democrats on Wednesday offered mixed reviews his appearance which quickly devolved into chaos as the former top Trump aide refused to answer most questions about his role in the president’s alleged efforts to obstruct the investigation of former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE.


Some lawmakers made clear their disappointment with his testimony, headlined by Pelosi, who reportedly told lawmakers that Lewandowski should have been held in contempt “then and there,” according to Politico. Others echoed the speaker and believed it went poorly.


“If our objective is to draw out facts and shape the narrative for the American people, that wasn’t a great way to start,” said Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanAmerica needs a transformative transportation bill: It will take walking and biking to get there Overnight Energy: Trump credits economic progress to environmental rollbacks | Vote to subpoena Interior delayed by prayer breakfast | Dems hit agency for delaying energy efficiency funds Ex-Obama EPA chief expresses skepticism on carbon capture MORE (D-Calif.), a supporter of impeachment (The Hill). 


The Washington Post: House Democrats eager to impeach Trump struggle to galvanize public support.


> Intel: Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson is expected to appear before the House Intelligence Committee in a classified session closed to the public on Thursday as the committee seeks information about a whistleblower complaint involving communications between Trump and a foreign leader, reportedly by phone, about an unspecified topic. 


According to The Washington Post, the complaint has triggered a battle between the intelligence community and Congress, with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTop intelligence community lawyer leaving position Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Democrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump MORE (D-Calif.) pushing intelligence officials to reveal details about the whistleblower complaint. 


While Atkinson determined the complaint to be credible and troubling enough to be considered a matter of “urgent concern,” a legal threshold that ordinarily requires notification of congressional oversight committees, Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, has refused to share details of the communications with lawmakers. This has set off accusations that Maguire is “improperly protecting the president improperly,” according to the Post.


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POLITICS: Allies of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE worry that the electability argument the former vice president has made central to his campaign is losing steam and showing signs that it won’t be able to hold up over time. 


According to a report by Amie Parnes, one longtime Democratic donor who has contributed to Biden's campaign and once believed he was the only formidable candidate to defeat the president, says Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll 2020 Democratic candidates support Las Vegas casino workers on debate day Sanders takes lead in new Hill/HarrisX poll MORE (D-Mass.) is making a large dent in the argument. 


"She's rocking and rolling. She's taking from Kamala [Harris], she's taking from Bernie [Sanders] and she could eventually take from Biden," the donor said about Warren, who continues to ascend in the 2020 primary race 


Most recently, Warren made waves when she attracted 20,000 to a campaign rally in New York earlier this week and continued to be effective in rolling out policy proposals.





As for Biden, he remains the front-runner for the party’s nod, forcing his rivals to figure out a way to top him. However, as Niall Stanage writes, the path is far from clear as Biden has proved a durable leader in the clubhouse.


Biden sits atop primary polls despite multiple subpar debate performances and several negative storylines centering on his gaffes along the campaign trail and in interviews. However, the only two candidates who have attacked him relentlessly and with force — Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe CNN signs Andrew Yang as contributor How the media fall in and out of love with candidates MORE (D-Calif.) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro — have suffered backlashes. 


Meanwhile, the two non-Biden front-runners have shied away from attacking Biden in a personal way. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE (I-Vt.) has sought to highlight policy differences rather than personal ones. However, Warren has had as much success as anyone by simply leaving him alone and allowing others to go on the offensive against the former vice president.


The Hill: Warren shows signs of broadening her base.


The New York Times: Joe Biden believes in the good will of Republicans. Is that naïve?


Outside of the top tier of candidates, Harris has seen her support in public opinion polls crater in recent weeks, headlined by a new Politico poll that saw her support fall 8 percentage points, demonstrating the latest sign that her presidential bid has lost momentum after her high-profile performance in the first debate.


As Julia Manchester reports, strategists blame a number of factors, including what some see as her inconsistency on policy issues such as “Medicare for All” and criminal justice reform — a problem at a time when Sanders and Warren have articulated a clear progressive vision, while Biden is widely associated with centrist stances on key issues.  


“The biggest problem for Kamala Harris right now is people are asking what does Kamala Harris stand for,” said Andrew Feldman, a Democratic strategist. “And that is not a good question for people to be asking about a presidential candidate or any campaign.” 


The Atlantic: The Democratic debates aren't pleasing anyone.


> Sanford speaks: Former Rep. Mark SanfordMark SanfordTrump challenger Bill Weld rules out 2020 independent bid Judge throws out lawsuit against South Carolina GOP for canceling 2020 primary The Hill's Campaign Report: Late bids surprise 2020 Democratic field MORE (R-S.C.) is blaming the president for the "destruction" of the Republican brand in a new interview with The Hill’s Scott Wong, saying, "This movie does not end well" for the GOP.


The former South Carolina governor and congressman says Trump is refusing to debate him and removing him from primary ballots in places such as his home state and Arizona because "he doesn't feel confident about his ideas in the public square." 


Sanford also left the door open to voting for a Democrat if Trump wins the nomination. While the former South Carolina lawmaker says he does not agree with Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashBarr ensnared in Roger Stone firestorm House passes bipartisan bill to create women's history museum Weld bets on New Hampshire to fuel long shot bid against Trump MORE (Mich.) that impeachment is the way to oust Trump, he would welcome the Independent congressman to the presidential primary race. 


His former House GOP colleagues, especially those in the Freedom Caucus, say Sanford's campaign is a fool's errand, adding that it’s all about Sanford and no one else.


The New York Times: “3 Musketeers” or “3 Stooges”? Republicans challenging Trump may fall in between.


Elsewhere in 2020 news … Rep. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyBudowsky: Bloomberg-Obama or Klobuchar-Kennedy? Kennedy, Markey spar over experience in first Senate primary debate The Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg to face off with rivals at Nevada debate MORE III (D-Mass.) is expected to launch a primary bid against Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyKennedy, Markey spar over experience in first Senate primary debate The Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg to face off with rivals at Nevada debate Massachusetts Democrats question deployment of Border Patrol teams to sanctuary cities MORE (D-Mass.) after floating a possible run in recent weeks. The race will set up a generational contrast between Kennedy, 38, and Markey, 73, who assumed the seat in 2013 after a lengthy career in the House (The Hill).

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Nadler’s House Committee holds a faux hearing in search of a false crime, by Andrew C. McCarthy, opinion contributor, The Hill.


All but two Democratic presidential candidates should drop out now, by Jessica A. Levinson, opinion contributor, The Hill.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” at 9 a.m. ET features first part of a three-part Krystal Ball interview with presidential candidate Andrew YangAndrew YangCNN signs Andrew Yang as contributor Trump seeks split-screen moments in early primary states More accusers come forward after Evelyn Yang breaks silence on alleged assault by OBGYN MORE; New York Times writers Kate Kelly and Robin Pogrebin, co-authors of The Education of Brett Kavanaugh; Kayleigh McEnany, the national press secretary for the Trump reelection campaign; Dan Rosenzweig, CEO of the education technology company Chegg, and higher education specialist Ajita Talwalker Menon, who both talk about resolving resolving college student debt problems. Find Hill.TV programming at or on YouTube at 10 a.m.


The House meets at 10 a.m. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyDon't let 'welfare for all' advocates derail administration's food stamp program reforms Barr has considered resigning over Trump tweets about DOJ: reports Overnight Energy: Green groups to sue over Trump rollback of Obama water rules | GOP climate plan faces pushback from right | Bezos launches B climate initiative MORE (R-Calif.) will hold a press conference at 11:30 a.m.  


The Senate convenes at 9:30 a.m.


The president arrived back at the White House from California shortly after midnight. He has no public schedule today.


Pompeo travels from Saudi Arabia to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to meet with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan to discuss “regional and bilateral issues.”


Economic indicator: The National Association of Realtors’ reports on U.S. existing home sales in August will be released at 10 a.m.


MSNBC, Georgetown University, Our Daily Planet and New York Magazine group-host a climate forum beginning at 9:30 a.m. through Sept. 20 and featuring 2020 presidential candidates, including one Republican. The five top-tier Democrats had not committed by early this week to participating (The Hill). Information and a schedule are HERE.


The Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and By the People Productions host “America in One Room (A1R)” in Dallas today through Sept. 22 to bring a “representative sample of the nation’s voters” together with presidential candidates for discussions about major issues. Information is HERE.


The Washington Monument reopens to the public today after being closed for renovations for three years. Want tickets? WTOP has some information HERE


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Federal Reserve: As expected, the nation’s central bank cut interest rates for a second time in as many months as a hedge against global contraction and a potential future U.S. recession. Seven of the Federal Open Market Committee’s 10 voting members voted to cut rates by 0.25 percentage points, while three officials voted against the move. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard preferred a larger cut of 0.5 percentage points, while Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren and Kansas City Fed President Esther George voted to keep rates steady. Chairman Jerome Powell is reluctant to see the Fed tugged into Trump’s trade war with China, but willing to acknowledge its economic costs. "Tensions have waxed and waned and elevated uncertainty is weighing on U.S.investment and exports," Powell said. "Our business contacts around the country have been telling us that uncertainty about trade policy has discouraged them from investing in their businesses." The president lost no time in again berating Powell and the Fed on Twitter: Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve Fail Again. No 'guts,' no sense, no vision! A terrible communicator!” (The Hill).


Cities: Trump on Wednesday said the Environmental Protection Agency will issue a notice of violation within the week to San Francisco tied to its problem with homeless people living on the streets and related problems. Trump said there is “tremendous pollution” going into the Pacific Ocean from the city “including needles,” adding, “They have to clean it up. We can’t have our cities going to hell.” Flying aboard Air Force One with reporters, Trump said San Francisco, “is in serious violation.” The president has complained that the large numbers of homeless, including in San Francisco and Los Angeles, damage the “prestige” of the well known urban locations (Reuters). Pelosi represents a congressional district that includes San Francisco.


Abortion: The number and rate of abortions in the United States have plunged to the lowest levels seen since the procedure became legal nationwide in 1973, according to new figures released Wednesday, in part because fewer women are becoming pregnant. The Guttmacher Institute, which counts all abortions in the country, noted that the U.S. birth rate, and the abortion rate, declined between 2011 and 2017, the years covered by the new report. A likely factor is increased accessibility of contraception since 2011, the institute said. The Affordable Care Act, enacted in 2010, required most private health insurance plans to cover contraceptives without out-of-pocket costs (The Associated Press).


Canada: Canadian Prime Minister Justin TrudeauJustin Pierre James TrudeauAs global debate around privacy continues, companies are wise to adopt best practices Unlikely duo Bill Maher, Megyn Kelly give #CancelCulture scolding it deserves Iran expected to send Ukraine the black boxes from downed passenger plane MORE apologized on Thursday after a photo emerged of him in brownface at a costume party when he was a teacher in 2001, saying it was “a dumb thing to do.” The photo appears in a yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in British Columbia where the prime minister taught prior to his career in politics. “I’m pissed off at myself, I’m disappointed in myself” Trudeau told reporters a week after he launched his reelection campaign (The Associated Press). 


State Watch: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) on Wednesday banned the sale of flavored e-cigarettes effective immediately (The Hill). ... Nine months after California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin Christopher NewsomCalifornia Gov. Gavin Newsom on the homeless: 'We own this issue' California moves to allow voters to switch party registration on Election Day GOP lawmaker accuses California public pension fund of investing in blacklisted Chinese companies MORE (D) was inaugurated and sent the state legislature a progressive agenda, several of his top priorities were abandoned in committee or left for dead on the floor. Newsom spent recent weeks frustrating allies by renegotiating deals they had believed were as good as done (The Hill). … Puerto Rico is trying to make a case to the Trump administration to release disaster relief funds to the territory that were approved by Congress following Hurricane Maria. Two years after the hurricane walloped the island, less than $2 billion of $8.3 billion in federal redevelopment funds authorized by Congress and grudgingly approved by the president have made it to Puerto Rico (The Hill).





And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by today’s reopening of the Washington Monument after three years of renovations, we’re eager for some smart guesses about the obelisk that rises from the center of the nation’s capital.


Email your responses to and/or, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.


At one time, the Washington Monument was the tallest free-standing structure in the world. What eclipsed it?


  1. Empire State Building
  2. Chrysler Building
  3. Eiffel Tower
  4. CN Tower


Which American political party is considered responsible for the halt in construction of the monument from 1854 to 1877?


  1. Know-Nothing Party
  2. Whig Party 
  3. Democratic Party
  4. Free Soil Party

While the monument is the tallest structure in Washington, D.C., it is not considered a building because it does not have successive occupiable floors. What is the tallest habitable building in Washington?


  1. Trump Hotel (Old Post Office Building)
  2. Washington National Cathedral
  3. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
  4. United States Capitol


In what year did the Continental Congress vote to create an “equestrian statue” of George Washington, which was ultimately scrapped because he did not want to use public monies for the memorial?


  1. 1780
  2. 1783
  3. 1787
  4. 1790