The Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Syria fallout




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Turkey began a fast-moving air and ground offensive in northeastern Syria on Wednesday aimed at destroying an American-backed Kurdish militia. The U.S. military, which vacated the area on Monday on President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE’s orders, did nothing during six hours of air strikes that sent petrified civilians fleeing as Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies crossed the border (The Associated Press).


Turkey’s move to root out United States-allied Kurdish forces in Syria accelerated rapidly after Trump gave the operation his tacit approval during a phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday.


But three days of searing bipartisan criticism of his abrupt decision to move 50 to 100 U.S. forces out of the region before strikes began forced the president to amend his narrative.


His detractors, including Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBiden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Let's give thanks to Republican defenders of democracy MORE (R-S.C.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Biden and reproductive health rights Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls MORE (R-Ky.), say the president’s decision could destabilize the Middle East and encourage ISIS, Iran, Russia and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to continue grabs for power.


The Hill: Congress is set for showdown with Trump over the Kurds.


The president’s policy statements shifted again on Wednesday when he said NATO member Turkey had “invaded” Syria. “The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea," he elaborated in a statement (The Hill).


Having commended the Kurds all week, the president later did an about-face to offer a new defense of Turkey’s assault on the stateless fighters, arguing the Kurds did not help the United States during World War II — a remark that left many puzzled.


And as somebody wrote in a very, very powerful article today, they didn’t help us in the second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy, as an example. They mentioned names of different battles. But they’re there to help us with their land and that’s a different thing,” Trump told reporters. Although the president did not cite the article he had in mind, it was presumed to be a reference to a commentary for TownHall by trial lawyer Kurt Schlichter.


Trump also said on Wednesday that he was open to imposing sanctions on Turkey if the Turks do not treat the Kurds humanely (Reuters). 


Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBiden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden faces challenges, opportunities in Middle East O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' MORE said the president could redeploy U.S. forces he ordered withdrawn, if necessary, to respond to ISIS threats. “It’s certainly the case that the president is mindful that ISIS might begin to rise up again. And so the president has said, when they do, we’ll come back and we’ll get this,” Pompeo said during a Sinclair media interview on Wednesday. “We will – we will go where we need to go to keep the American people safe from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, whether that’s in Syria or Afghanistan.” 


A member of U.S. special forces in Syria serving with Kurdish forces spoke by phone with Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin, who did not identify the soldier but tweeted his vigorous defense of the Kurds, now under Turkish attack. “I’m ashamed for the first time in my career,” Griffin quoted the soldier as saying.  


Erdoğan, who is scheduled to meet with Trump in the Oval Office on Nov. 13, announced Turkey’s military offensive on Twitter, asserting that his forces were battling terrorists, which is how Ankara perceives Syrian Kurds who have throttled Islamic State fighters at the behest of the U.S. military.


Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” Erdoğan tweeted


Reuters: Syrian Kurds outgunned but vow to inflict toll on Turkish army.


Trump has repeatedly maintained that ISIS was “defeated,” as measured by territory it once held, an assertion frequently challenged by counterterrorism experts. The time for the U.S. military to get out of the Middle East is now, the president said this week.


“Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years. USA should never have been in Middle East. Moved our 50 soldiers out. Turkey MUST take over captured ISIS fighters that Europe refused to have returned,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!”


Analysis & Perspectives:


Elliot Ackerman: Trump betrays an ally at the Turkish border.


Carl Hulse: For once, Republicans break with Trump, but not on impeachment.


David Ignatius: Trump has opened the door for an Islamic State resurgence in Syria.


Hemin Kobane: Turkey wants to destroy us. Trump just gave them a green light.


Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky: Trump’s incoherent Syria pullback should surprise no one.


Alaa Elassar: Who are the Kurds in Syria and why are they under attack?





IMPEACHMENT WATCH: Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden transition adds new members to coronavirus task force MORE called for Trump’s impeachment during a speech on Wednesday as he continues to deal with the fallout from the Ukraine saga and constant attacks from Team Trump and the president’s allies. 


Biden’s announcement came over two weeks after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Governors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight MORE (D-Calif.) officially supported the inquiry into the president’s actions and dealings regarding Ukraine and push to investigate Biden and his son Hunter Biden. In his speech, Biden said that Trump has “violated his oath of office” and “committed impeachable acts.”


"To preserve our Constitution, our democracy, our basic integrity, he should be impeached,” Biden told supporters in Rochester, N.H. “That's not only because of what he's done. The answer to whether he has committed acts sufficient toward impeachment is obvious.”


"We see it in Trump's own words. We see it in the texts from State Department officials that have been made public. We see it in his pulling much of the United States government into his corrupt schemes, individuals within the government, his appointees," Biden said. "We have to remember that impeachment isn't only about what the president has done. It's about the threat the president poses to the nation."


Biden had already called for an inquiry, but he had until Wednesday avoided a direct impeachment call, which many of his 2020 rivals — including Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenInequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift Thomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Inequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift In defense of incrementalism: A call for radical realism MORE (I-Vt.) — have loudly supported in recent months. The former vice president’s remarks also took place days before the fourth Democratic debate, where the issue will surely arise.


Biden’s impeachment announcement also came a day after the White House opened up a new battle front in the impeachment war, saying they would not cooperate with House investigators, including requests and subpoenas for testimony and documents. According to one Biden adviser, Trump’s defiance of Congress helped propel the candidate to his new position. 


“Fifteen days ago, VP Biden said that if Donald Trump and his Administration obstructed Congress' Constitutional right to investigate, it would be a tragedy of his own making, and one that would necessarily lead to impeachment proceedings. These last fifteen days have been a remarkable period in American political history,” the adviser said before detailing the events.





As for Trump, he is leaning into a defense that is checkered throughout by his 2020 strategy in a renewed push to hit back at the Democratic impeachment effort. 


As Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels report, the president is attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the inquiry, attacking the lawmakers leading the effort, decrying the process as a “coup,” accusing the anonymous whistleblower who helped spark the investigation of working with partisan aims, while calling for the impeachment of numerous Democratic officials.  


“This is a con being perpetrated on the United States public,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. 


In the House, Democrats are charging ahead with their inquiry despite the White House’s vow not to cooperate and are daring the president to stonewall the probe. They believe the lack of cooperation will add fuel to allegations that the obstruction itself is an impeachable offense, according to The Hill’s Mike Lillis.


Politico: Trump’s all-out blockade threatens Democrats’ impeachment drive.


The New York Times: On Ukraine aid, “nothing to see here”: Diplomats urged to play down funds’ release.


Bloomberg: Trump urged top aide to help Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiKrebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Trump campaign loses appeal over Pennsylvania race Krebs: I'm 'most upset' I didn't get to say goodbye to my team MORE client facing Justice Department charges.


Paul Kane: Focus on the GOP senators weighing history’s judgment for Trump’s fate.


> Whistleblower: Mark Zaid, the lawyer for the original whistleblower, defended his client’s political past after stories landed and attacks were lobbed charging that the individual had a “professional relationship” with one of the 2020 candidates seeking to unseat the president next year. 


In a series of tweets, Zaid said that while the individual has come into contact with some candidates in both parties in their official capacities as elected officials, the person has never worked on behalf of any candidate and has served as an “apolitical” official for their entire career in government. 


“The whistleblower is not the story,” the whistleblower’s legal team said in a statement. “To date, virtually every substantive allegation has been confirmed by other sources. For that reason the identity of the whistleblower is irrelevant.”


The Hill: Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyThe Hunter Biden problem won't go away Sunday shows preview: Joe Biden wins the 2020 election Sunday shows preview: Election integrity dominates as Nov. 3 nears MORE joins Trump's legal team. C-SPAN tweeted a 2012 video clip relevant to the former congressman’s new role.


Politico: Impeachment threat is helping GOP recruit new candidates.


POLITICS: The president will rally supporters in Minnesota tonight as he makes a renewed push to put a blue state he narrowly lost in 2016 into the red column in 2020. 


Trump, who lost the state by a mere 1.4 percentage points (45,000 votes), counts Minnesota among the states he stands a chance to flip in 2020, along with Nevada, New Hampshire and New Mexico, but some strategists believe pulling off a victory there will be a tall task. 


“Minnesota is definitely an uphill climb for Trump,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist who is from the state. “There’s more Democrats than Republicans in the state, so a lot needs to happen for Trump to win. Specifically: Trump needs to unite and excite every Republican in the state, and hope that a lot of Democrats don’t like the Democratic nominee.” 


“That could happen. In 2016, a lot of Minnesota Republicans didn’t support Trump. He’s done a really good job consolidating their support since then,” Conant continued. “Minnesota Democrats [who] win statewide tend to be more like Tim WalzTim WalzThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans Former Minnesota Democratic leader quits party Minnesota to close bars, restaurants, gyms for four weeks: report MORE & Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE than [Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarMeet the three Democrats who could lead foreign affairs in the House Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far GOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' MORE (D-Minn.)] and Elizabeth Warren. The Twin Cities are really liberal, but there’s a lot of union Democrats in northern Minnesota [who] are more moderate.” 


The rally comes as Trump feuds with another Democrat, this time Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who wanted to charge the reelection campaign about $500,000 for extra security needed to put on the rally. Trump’s campaign labeled Frey as a “radical leftist mayor,” and argued that he was “abusing the power of his office and attempting to extort President Trump’s re-election campaign by conjuring a phony and outlandish bill for security in an effort to block a scheduled Keep America Great rally.” 


The back and forth with Frey is by no means his only high-profile spat with a Minnesota Democrat. Trump has frequently warred with Omar in recent months. Ironically, the Minneapolis rally will take place in Omar’s district. 


The rally is also Trump’s first since House Democrats opened their impeachment inquiry against him and will take place as he takes body shots from all sides over the situation in Syria. As Brett Samuels writes, the one-two combo and Trump's tendency to lash out during free-wheeling rallies sets the stage for what could be a fiery event. 


The rally will also play as counterprogramming to the 2020 Democratic town hall on LGBTQ issues, which CNN is hosting. 


The New York Times: Trump is serious about carrying Minnesota, the one that got away in 2016.


The Associated Press: “Welcome to Minneapolis”: Trump rally roils liberal bastion.





The president’s battle with Biden took another turn on Wednesday after his attacks came in the form of a new 30-second ad by his reelection campaign, which Trump also tweeted out.


Biden’s team bashed the new ad, arguing its claims are “comprehensively-debunked conspiracy theory”


“It’s puzzling that Donald Trump claims he’d ’love’ to run against Joe Biden, seeing as how he just sent his administration into a tailspin by trying to bully a foreign country into spreading a comprehensively-debunked conspiracy theory about the vice president,” said Andrew Bates, a Biden spokesperson, in a statement. “Donald Trump knows what over 70 polls - including his own internals - have demonstrated: Joe Biden would beat this pathological liar like a drum.”


“Soon Trump will run out of countries he can pressure to bail him out politically, and he will lose the old-fashioned way: an intervention by his own country — courtesy of the American people — in 2020,” Bates added.


The spot is part of a $7 million national ad buy, and will be part of a separate $1 million campaign in early primary states. 


Politico: Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden transition adds new members to coronavirus task force Club for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Biden's political position is tougher than Trump's MORE (D-Calif.) comes up short as Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Calif.) endorses Biden.


NBC News: Sanders says he “misspoke” about scaling back rallies after heart attack, vows 'vigorous' 2020 campaign.


> Shock poll: Just over a year away the 2020 election, half of Americans say they believe the vote will be conducted openly and fairly, according to a new survey that reveals a growing mistrust in the U.S. electoral system.


As Reid Wilson exclusively reports, a new Ipsos Public Affairs for C-SPAN found that 53 percent of registered voters believe next year’s elections will be open and fair, while only 46 percent said they have a great deal or a fair amount of trust and confidence in a fair election outcome.


“The deck is stacked because of all the gerrymandering that’s gone on,” said Charles Flink, a retired teacher who lives in White Oak, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh. “You’ve got huge amounts of money that are buying votes all over the place, blocking minority people from voting, scaring people away from the polls and doing all these kinds of nonsense.” 


The survey results also exhibit a sharp partisan divide between voters of the two parties as 72 percent of GOP voters have confidence in a fair election, compared to only 39 percent for Democrats. 44 percent of independents say they have confidence in a fair and open election. 


The Hill: Planned Parenthood on Wednesday announced it will spend $45 million to defeat Trump and help Democrats try to flip the Senate.

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What makes Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Trump pardons Flynn | Lawmakers lash out at decision | Pentagon nixes Thanksgiving dining hall meals due to COVID-19 Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn Trump pardons Michael Flynn MORE tick? by former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden inches closer to victory Nervous Democrats don't see 2016 nightmare repeating itself Biden's debate strategy is to let Trump be Trump MORE (D-N.Y.), opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2IEszjH


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The House is expected to return to work on Tuesday.


The Senate convenes on Friday at 2:15 p.m. for a pro forma session.


The president departs the White House this afternoon for Minneapolis to hold a reelection rally at 8 p.m. Trump is scheduled to return to the White House after midnight.


Vice President Pence will also travel to Minnesota to meet with Minneapolis Police Officers in the afternoon and then take a tour of Safety Signs, a family-owned business in Lakeville. Pence will introduce Trump at 7 p.m. at their campaign rally held at the Target Center.


Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinBiden's Treasury pick will have lengthy to-do list on taxes On The Money: Initial jobless claims rise for 2nd week | Dow dips below 30K | Mnuchin draws fire for COVID-19 relief move | Manhattan DA appeals dismissal of Manafort charges Mnuchin to put 5B in COVID-19 relief funds beyond successor's reach MORE participates in U.S.-China trade talks today and Friday.


Pompeo meets with El Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill at 8 a.m. at the State Department.


Economic indicator: The Consumer Price Index for September will be released at 8:30 a.m.  


Washington’s Humane Rescue Alliance is preparing for its 32nd annual “Bark Ball” fundraiser on Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. at the Washington Hilton. Up first: Charitably minded online bidding opened on Monday to all comers for more than 200 donated items. Find ticket info for the black-tie ball (canine guests welcome), plus event details HERE.


State Watch: California will become the first state in the country to allow pharmacies to dispense HIV-prevention drugs without a doctor’s prescription (The New York Times). …Louisiana is now a new hub for immigrant detention under Trump (The Associated Press).


Alleged leaker: Federal officials arrested a counterterrorism analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency when he showed up for work on Wednesday. They charged Henry Frese, 30, of Alexandria, Va., with leaking top-secret details about foreign countries’ weapons systems to two journalists, including a reporter with whom he was apparently romantically involved. Frese “was caught red-handed disclosing sensitive national security information,” the Justice Department said. The two journalists were not identified (The Washington Post). The government detailed the FBI's surveillance of phone calls and direct messages on Twitter between Frese and two journalists, who apparently both covered national security (The Hill).


Economy: The Federal Reserve at its September meeting exchanged mixed views about the risk of recession, according to official minutes of the discussion released on Wednesday. Several Fed governors referenced some statistical models that found the likelihood of a recession had “increased notably in recent months.” But several officials stressed that such models were difficult to interpret. Seven of the central bank’s 17 policymakers last month indicated they think there will be one more rate cut this year on top of the reductions in July and September (Reuters). Fed officials also expressed concerns last month about the effect on hiring and consumer spending of a slowing economy (The New York Times).


MLB Playoffs: The Washington Nationals pulled off a massive upset Wednesday night out West and defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-3, in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. The Nats used the long ball to do the trick, launching back-to-back home runs in the 8th inning off Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw and a grand slam in the 10th inning by Howie Kendrick to punch their ticket to the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Game 1 is slated for Friday at Busch Stadium (ESPN). 


Boeing 737 Max: American Airlines said Wednesday it expects federal officials to sign off on software updates and other changes to Boeing’s 737 Max jets later this year and plans to resume passenger service on the aircraft on Jan. 16. The Federal Aviation Administration insists there is no timeline for returning the planes to service, and said it has not given airlines a date when the aircraft’s grounding will be lifted (The Washington Post).





And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by pro basketball in the headlines, we’re eager for some smart guesses about the NBA, basketball and China.


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


In 2002, who became the first Chinese-born player to appear in an NBA game?


  1. Yao Ming
  2. Wang Zhizhi
  3. Yi Jianlian
  4. Jeremy Lin


How tall is Yao Ming, who is known as one of the best Chinese basketball players of all time?


  1. 7 feet
  2. 7 feet 2 inches
  3. 7 feet 4 inches
  4. 7 feet 6 inches


What former NBA star became a household name in China by playing seven seasons and averaging 20 points per game in the Chinese Basketball Association from 2011 to 2018? 


  1. Allen Iverson
  2. Stephon Marbury
  3. Josh Smith
  4. Spud Webb 


In November 2017, what NCAA program had three of its basketball players arrested for shoplifting while in China during a preseason tour? 


  1. Stanford University
  2. University of Southern California
  3. Arizona State University
  4. University of California, Los Angeles