The Hill’s Morning Report – Bipartisan uproar over Trump’s Syria move
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President Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria and end U.S. protection for Kurdish fighters upended Middle East policy, roiled advisers, and was met with blistering criticism on Monday from lawmakers and international allies.
It was “time for us to get out,” Trump said, before bending slightly under the weight of public criticism.
The president issued a dire warning to Turkey via Twitter on Monday. But on Sunday, he was less focused on the Syrian Kurds and the impact in the region of Turkey’s planned military offensive than on withdrawing U.S. forces. “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey,” he wrote on Monday.
“There’s no green light. We’re protecting our troops,” a senior administration official told reporters, noting Trump ordered “50 to 100” U.S. troops to safe locations elsewhere in the region. U.S. forces evacuated two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain on Monday, a U.S. official added.
Howls of protest and disbelief were heard in the U.S. Capitol and in Europe. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned the president against “a precipitous withdrawal” that would benefit Russia, Iran, President Bashar Assad of Syria and the Islamic State. McConnell urged the president to “exercise American leadership” (The New York Times).
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally in Congress and a key senator who opposes efforts to remove Trump from office, joined Democrats in saying he wants to block the president’s moves with Turkey, a NATO ally, if possible.
“This impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we’ve made, thrown the region into further chaos; Iran is licking its chops, and if I’m an ISIS fighter, I’ve got a second lease on life,” he said on “Fox & Friends.”
“To those who think ISIS has been defeated, you will soon see; and to Turkey, you have destroyed the relationship, what little you had, with the U.S. Congress, and I will do everything I can to sanction Turkey’s military and their economy if they step one foot into Syria,” Graham added (Defense News).
The U.S. withdrawal will leave Kurdish-led forces in Syria vulnerable to a planned incursion by the Turkish military, which views Kurdish fighters as terrorists. Turkey today said it’s ready to attack Kurdish-led forces (Reuters), and the Pentagon is scrambling to react (The New York Times).
In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he plans to visit Washington to meet with Trump during the first two weeks of November. He said the two leaders would discuss plans for a “safe zone” in Syria and a dispute over F-35 fighter jets (Reuters).
Foreign policy experts and European allies said the United States has become an unreliable partner under Trump, forcing America’s friends into other alliances, including on trade, climate change and the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran (The Washington Post). (For example, the administration is considering withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty, which is opposed by Russia, and gives each member of the 34-nation group the authority to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over other member states on short notice. House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) defended the treaty in a letter to the administration on Monday.)
“Renewed armed hostilities in the northeast [of Syria] will not only exacerbate civilian suffering and lead to massive displacement but will also risk severely undermining current political efforts,” European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič told reporters.
National security experts warned that Trump’s decision to abandon the Kurds would create a chilling effect globally, further eroding American credibility against the backdrop of a rising China and Russia, which is eager to reclaim lost territory (The Washington Post).
The Washington Post: Syrian Kurds see American betrayal and warn the fight against ISIS is now in doubt.
The Hill: Pentagon says U.S. does not endorse Turkey’s operation in Syria.
The Hill: Five things to know about Trump’s decision on Syria, Turkey and the Kurds.
The Hill: Trump defends Syria move: “It’s time to come back home.”
Reuters: Trump’s “seat-of-the-pants approach” to foreign policy.
LEADING THE DAY
IMPEACHMENT: House Democrats are pulling out all the stops in order to maintain the anonymity of the first whistleblower who called into question the president’s discussions with Ukraine, and are considering having the individual testify from a remote location and masking their identity.
The Washington Post reports that the moves are part of an effort to shield the whistleblower from the president’s allies as House investigators move forward with their impeachment push. As the Post reports:
“Democrats overseeing the logistics of the testimony for the House impeachment inquiry are discussing a location away from the Capitol as well as a staff-only session that would prevent lawmakers from attending and asking questions.
“Aides have considered having the whistleblower testify from a separate location via a video hookup in which the camera would obscure the whistleblower’s image and alter his voice, possibly with modification technology. They also are talking about having the whistleblower sit behind a screen or partition. A third option being floated includes audio-only testimony.
“‘[House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)] does not want to burn his identity,’ a senior congressional official said.”
Reports of the anonymity push also come a day after a second whistleblower announced plans to come forward with first hand information regarding the president’s talks with Ukraine about a possible investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
Niall Stanage: GOP discontent deepens on Trump impeachment messaging.
Gerald F. Seib: Republican canaries in the impeachment coal mine.
Elsewhere, Democratic investigators issued subpoenas to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought for documents related to the administration’s call to withhold financial aid to the Ukrainians.
In letters to the two administration heads, the three committee chairmen leading the House’s impeachment inquiry asked for documents to be provided by Oct. 15.
“The enclosed subpoena demands documents that are necessary for the committees to examine this sequence of these events and the reasons behind the White House’s decision to withhold critical military assistance to Ukraine that was appropriated by Congress to counter Russian aggression,” Schiff, Engel and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote.
Congress had appropriated $250 million to the Defense Department for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. However, the president asked acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to put a hold on the monies in July (The Hill).
Meanwhile, investigators are expected to hear from Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, today as he testifies behind closed doors about his role in the president’s dealings with Ukraine to the three investigatory committees.
As Mike Lillis and Cristina Marcos write, Sondland is the third Trump official to face questioning from lawmakers surrounding the Ukraine affair, following last week’s closed-door testimony from Kurt Volker, Trump’s former envoy to Ukraine, and Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general.
Sondland’s testimony is expected to be politically charged as the ambassador has emerged as a vocal Trump loyalist, having swiftly defended Trump’s dealings with Ukraine despite concerns from other U.S. diplomats.
Investigators are also scheduled to talk to Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, on Friday. George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, did not appear before the investigating committees on Monday for a scheduled deposition (The New York Times).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) made a brief appearance outside his home in Burlington, Vt., on Monday as he continues to recover from a heart attack he suffered a week ago while on the campaign trail and remains sidelined for the foreseeable future from campaign events.
While Sanders recovers, his campaign continued to operate as usual on Monday, releasing a new proposal that would prohibit corporate funding of party conventions, drawing the ire of lobbyists in the process, according to The Hill’s Alex Gangitano.
If Sanders is the Democratic nominee, the senator announced he would ban corporate contributions to the party’s convention in Milwaukee next July, vowing even further that he would invoke mandatory public funding for the Democratic and GOP conventions if he becomes president.
“On the substance side, hosting a convention is a major endeavor that can strap the budgets of parties and cities – the money has to come from somewhere and cutting off corporate donations may further depress interest in hosting a convention,” said Stewart Verdery, CEO of public affairs firm Monument Advocacy.
Sanders is still expected to appear in a week’s time at the fourth Democratic primary debate in Ohio. However, he will not take part in a CNN town hall on LGBTQ rights on Thursday night, which he previously had planned to attend (USA Today).
The Washington Post: Sanders allies urge him to slow down, show a personal side in the aftermath of heart attack.
The Wall Street Journal: Sanders’s heart attack brings age to 2020 forefront.
The New York Times: How will Sanders’s heart attack affect his campaign?
> Biden: Democratic donors are increasingly frustrated with Biden’s campaign, arguing that the former vice president hasn’t shown signs of momentum in recent months when it matters and as the Ukraine saga poses a major threat to his campaign.
Typically major Democratic donors would rush to back the frontrunner at this point in the cycle. However, donors say Biden’s standing hasn’t been strong enough to date, according to a new report from Amie Parnes.
“Look, let’s be honest. He’s a weak frontrunner,” one major donor said. “And we’re in a race in a year when we really can’t afford to lose. I think that’s why so many people are still in wait-and-see mode.”
“A lot of us are really concerned,” another Democratic bundler said. “We think Biden is the strongest out of the lot but he hasn’t exactly shown that he can play the part yet.”
The Washington Post: Biden’s campaign touts $750 billion plan aimed at boosting community colleges.
> Fundraising: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) announced Monday that she posted nearly $5 million in the third fundraising quarter, placing her well behind most of her 2020 rivals as she continues to lag behind in the primary field.
Klobuchar raised $4.8 million in the last three months, with an average contribution size of $29.78, according to the campaign. She did not reveal how much she has in cash on hand. Campaigns have until Oct. 15 to report their financial filings to the Federal Election Commission.
Just prior to her fundraising announcement, the Minnesota Democrat also took a shot at Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) over his do-or-die fundraising push that his team says is allowing him to remain in the Democratic primary chase. Booker posted a $6 million total in the third quarter, due in part to the last-minute push to raise $1.7 million (The Hill).
“People are going to use different fundraising pitches. I wouldn’t have used that one. You know why? Because I am staying in this race till the end,” Klobuchar told reporters in Manchester, N.H., on Sunday. “I’m not going to make threats about getting out of it, but I guess that worked for him to raise some money … That’s just how it is.”
HuffPost: Cory Booker wants to be more than every voter’s 3rd choice.
Washington Free Beacon: County records contradict Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) claim she was fired over pregnancy.
CBS News: Warren stands by account of being pushed out of her first teaching job because of pregnancy.
> State Watch: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) is leading his GOP opponents by a double-digit margin ahead of Saturday’s jungle primary as he pushes for a second term in office.
According to a poll by Gray Television, Edwards leads with 45 percent among those planning to vote on Saturday. His closest GOP opponents, businessman Eddie Rispone and Rep. Ralph Abraham (La.), polled at 22 percent and 17 percent support, respectively, while 10 percent of respondents were undecided.
In order to avoid a runoff against either GOP candidate, Edwards needs to win 50 percent of the vote on Saturday.
Another poll conducted by JMC Analytics and Polling also showed Edwards with 45 percent. Rispone followed behind with 20 percent, while Abraham took 19 percent support (The Hill).
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Democratic candidates’ polling and fundraising numbers don’t quite match up, by Brad Bannon, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2LXv9DE
How much should America spend to defend its satellites? By Peter Garretson, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2np5ABK
WHERE AND WHEN
Hill.TV’s “Rising” at 9 a.m. ET features Nina Turner, the national co-chairwoman of the Sanders presidential campaign; Matt Orfalea, video producer with “Rising Up,” who created a Sanders video that went viral; Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute and author of “Goliath,” who discusses the NBA controversy tied to Hong Kong demonstrators and China; and Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), who talks about the state of play on trade. Find Hill.TV programming at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10 a.m.
The House meets at 1 p.m. for a pro forma session; members are expected to return on Oct. 15 for votes.
The Senate convenes at noon for a pro forma session.
The president has lunch with Vice President Pence. At 4:30 p.m., Trump presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Edwin Meese, 87, a long time aide to former President Reagan and a one-time critic of Trump’s candidacy for president.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets at 9 a.m. with Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu at the State Department.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks in Denver this afternoon about “Data Dependence in an Evolving Economy” during the annual meeting of the National Association for Business Economics. The event program is HERE.
➔ Trump’s financial records: A federal judge on Monday dismissed Trump’s argument that as long as he’s president, he cannot be investigated by any prosecutor anywhere for any reason and ruled in favor of the Manhattan district attorney’s demand for the president’s tax returns as part of an investigation into hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign. Trump appealed the decision within minutes and an appeals court blocked the ruling by U.S. Judge Victor Marrero until the court can hear the president’s challenge (The Washington Post). Marrero called the president’s broad claim of immunity from all criminal proceedings “extraordinary” and “an overreach of executive power” at odds with the Constitution (The Associated Press).
➔ Bad blood: Problems continue to mount for Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes as her attorneys said Monday that she has not paid legal fees for nearly a year. The news came after her legal team at Cooley LLP made a request to withdraw from working on her case, arguing that Holmes will never be able to pay them given her financial situation. Holmes, the disgraced founder of the Palo Alto-based blood-testing company that reached a $9 billion valuation at its apex, is facing counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in federal court after an investigation by The Wall Street Journal showed that the company’s machines were not delivering accurate results (The Mercury News).
➔ News media: Journalist Ronan Farrow reports how two investigators tasked with surveilling reporters became embroiled in an international plot to suppress sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein. It’s the first of three installments to be published this week drawn from Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators” (The New Yorker).
➔ Jeopardy!: Alex Trebek is hinting that more than 35 years as host of the popular quiz show may be nearing an end. Chemotherapy has resulted in mouth sores that affect his speaking, and Trebek says he sometimes hears himself slurring words. “I will keep doing it [the show] as long as my skills do not diminish, and they have started to diminish,” he told CTV News (CNN).
And finally … The Oct. 27 Marine Corps Marathon, which winds through Washington and northern Virginia, will attract thousands of non-elite runners again this year. The event’s slogan: “Run with purpose. Finish with pride.”
Many who train to run 26.2 miles have inspiring personal stories and reasons for pushing themselves to the limit. WTOP radio is profiling competitors throughout the month.
Ex-Marine Jorge Garcia, 48, of St. Louis, married with two daughters, describes how tragedy splintered his family when he was young and how the Marine Corps helped him survive. When he was 8, Garcia’s father murdered his mother and he and his brother became wards of the state. He bounced around until he was 17 and forged a signature to enter the military.
“The Marine Corps offered me discipline, offered me structure, and like I said, offered me an opportunity to do something with my life,” he said. “It was definitely a way out.”
Garcia, who now works in the private sector, said running keeps him on the right track mentally and emotionally.
“It gives me that feeling of being free,” he told WTOP. “I guess you could say sometimes I’m running from my problems, but it gives me that opportunity to spend time with my mom and my thoughts — and my solitude. It gives me time to reflect on my past.”