The Hill's Morning Report - Trump confronts crisis with Iran, Iraq

 

 

 

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE returned to Washington on Sunday to face a cascading crisis in Iran and Iraq prompted by the U.S. drone killing of a top Iranian general — a strike Trump said he ordered last week to prevent a war, not start one.

 

Escalating tensions in the Middle East prompted the scheduling of an emergency NATO meeting today in Brussels as the global debate about potential repercussions and questions about the U.S. strategy with Iran became more urgent with each breaking news alert over the weekend. 

 

On Sunday, Iran officially voided its commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal, which was officially condemned by Trump during his 2018 reversal of U.S. policy negotiated under former President Obama. Iraq’s parliament, agitated about the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani at the Baghdad International Airport along with six others, voted on Sunday to oust U.S. and foreign troops, a decision Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo explodes at NPR reporter, asks if she could find Ukraine on a map Huawei endangers Western values The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democrats turn to obstruction charge MORE said the United States would not heed.

 

Trump, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on Sunday night, said Iran will suffer consequences if the government retaliates against the United States. “If it happens it happens. If they do anything there will be major retaliation,” he vowed.

 

The president threatened Iraq with U.S. economic sanctions if the government tries to expel U.S. forces. “We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before, ever” the president said. “It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame” (Reuters).

 

Meanwhile in Iraq, rockets struck inside the international zone in Baghdad close to the U.S. Embassy. Six people were injured.

 

Also on Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS shifted its attention to prepare for the new threats emerging in the Middle East. 

 

Before ending his vacation in Florida, Trump warned Tehran on Twitter not to retaliate for Soleimani’s killing, pointing to “52” potential targets inside Iran, including culturally important locations, that he said are in the Pentagon’s sights.

 

Trump challenged assertions that military destruction of cultural heritage sites is a violation of international law and a potential war crime. “They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way,” he said (The Associated Press).

 

Trump also leaned on social media with what he asserted was an official notification to lawmakers as commander in chief, advising Congress in a tweet that the U.S. will attack Iran if Tehran harms Americans or U.S. security. The administration and some GOP lawmakers believe Trump is not required to seek congressional approval for military action if he responds to threats of terrorism or defends vital U.S. national interests.

 

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Social Security emerges as flash point in Biden-Sanders fight | Dems urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency | Trump to sign USMCA next week Veronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address MORE (D-Calif.) announced in a statement late Sunday that the House will vote this week on a resolution that could limit Trump’s war powers against Iran. The resolution “reasserts Congress’s long-established oversight responsibilities by mandating that if no further congressional action is taken, the administration’s military hostilities with regard to Iran cease within 30 days,” Pelosi advised colleagues. A similar resolution has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineIran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner House war powers sponsor expects to take up Senate version of resolution Sens. Kaine, Lee: 'We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it' MORE (D-Va.).

 

The Hill: Congress to clash over Trump’s war powers.

 

The New York Times: Killing of Iranian general upends Mideast.

 

Amid the swirl of Sunday’s events, the State Department championed a Pompeo sound bite that administration critics challenged soon after the secretary spoke to five television networks. It’s very clear the world’s a safer place,” the secretary said Sunday. “Qassem Soleimani no longer walks the planet. President Trump made the right decision to stop Soleimani from the terror campaign that he’d been engaged in against America and prevent the future plans that he had.”

 

The Hill: The administration’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran is “absolutely” effective, Pompeo said. The strategy is working, we’re going to stay the course, and we will protect and defend the American people at every step.”

 

The only evident consensus heard among lawmakers poised to return to Washington this week — and faced with a looming Senate trial to determine if Trump will be removed from office — was that Soleimani was indeed a dangerous enemy of the United States.

 

Democratic lawmakers who complained Congress was not consulted before the deadly drone attack continue to ask the administration to explain intelligence that Soleimani posed an imminent threat on Thursday. Some Democrats said the Iranian general, mourned by thousands of Iranians who marched for his funeral, managed to stir in death what he sought in life: renewed calls in the Middle East to force the United States out of Iraq.

 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCommerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  Veronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address Senators press DHS over visa approval for Pensacola naval base shooter MORE (R-Fla.) challenged the president’s detractors on Sunday, arguing that Trump showed “tremendous restraint” in ordering the air attacks that killed Soleimani.

 

With the Iran situation taking center stage alongside the impending impeachment trial in the Senate and against the backdrop of a presidential race, 2020 already is making history. 

 

Perspectives & Analysis:

Ryan C. Crocker: The long battle with Iran.

Oona A. Hathaway: The Soleimani strike defied the U.S. Constitution.

Tom Rogan: With a small step and a big one, Iran just escalated against America.

Joe Lieberman: The Democrats and Iran.

 

 

 



LEADING THE DAY

IMPEACHMENT WATCH: Congress is facing a pivotal week on the impeachment front as lawmakers continue to hunker down along partisan lines and wait for the House to send the pair of articles to the Senate.

 

The Senate and House will return to Washington today and tomorrow, respectively, with impeachment atop the agenda for the upper chamber despite few signs that a breakthrough between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerVeronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democrats turn to obstruction charge Liberal super PAC to run digital ads slamming Trump over Medicare comments MORE (D-N.Y.) will be reached. 

 

As Jordain Carney writes in her preview of the coming week, the Senate leaders continued their back-and-forth on the Senate floor on Friday, but conversations between the two have not retreated behind closed doors, as they have not met since before the Christmas break. Schumer kept up his requests over the weekend to have four key Trump administration figures testify at the Senate trial, imploring four Senate Republicans to break ranks and back the call, but McConnell remains unbowed by the pressure. 

 

“What I have consistently said is very simple: The structure for this impeachment trial should track with the structure of the Clinton trial,” the GOP leader said, outlining what has been his position, despite pressure tactics by Democrats, for weeks. Schumer accused McConnell of “finger pointing” and “name calling.”  

 

At the center of the fight is process, as Democrats are pushing for one resolution from the start of the trial outlining rules and a deal to call witnesses. McConnell, however, wants two: one at the start on the rules and a second, after opening arguments and questions from senators, that would determine which, if any, witnesses would be called.  

 

The fight has been brewing since Pelosi declined to immediately transfer the articles to the Senate, saying she wants more details on what a trial would look like in the Senate before deciding on impeachment managers. The transfer is expected to take place this week, according to some House and Senate Democrats. 

 

 

 

 

Some lawmakers are getting antsy for the trial to kick off. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment MORE (R-S.C.) told Fox News on Sunday that he wants the Senate to change the rules to start the trial if Pelosi does not transfer the pair of articles.

 

“My goal is to start this trial in the next coming days. If we don’t get the articles this week, then we need to take matters in our own hands and change the rules,” Graham said. “This thing needs to be over with in January” (Reuters).

 

Paul Kane: Least deliberative Senate faces weighty task of holding Trump’s impeachment trial.

 

The New York Times: Iran uncertainty grips Congress as impeachment looms.

 

Meanwhile, the situation in Iran has reared its head into the impeachment saga. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKlobuchar plans campaign rallies across Iowa despite impeachment trial Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Wyden asks NSA to investigate White House cybersecurity | Commerce withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon objects | Warren calls on Brazil to drop Greenwald charges Warren pledges to release Trump records if elected MORE (D-Mass.) told CNN’s “State of the Union” that it’s “reasonable to ask” about the timing of the Trump administration's operation targeting Soleimani.

 

“The question we have to focus on is why now, why not a month ago, why not a month from now. The answer from the administration seems to be they can’t keep their stories straight,” Warren said. 

 

“I think people are reasonably asking about his timing and why the administration seems to keep having all different answers,” she said later in the interview. “I think it is a reasonable question to ask” (The Hill).



IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Bedlam has broken out in Iowa as little continues to separate the top tier of Democratic candidates less than a month out from the first-in-the-nation caucus and the chance to draw first blood in the battle for the party’s nomination. 

 

According to a new CBS News poll released Sunday morning, three Democrats — Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to Clinton: 'This is not the kind of rhetoric that we need' Conservative reporter on Sanders: He's not a 'yes man' Human Rights Campaign president rips Sanders's embrace of Rogan endorsement MORE (I-Vt.), former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSchiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Conservative reporter on Sanders: He's not a 'yes man' Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment MORE and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegPoll: 68 percent of Democrats say it 'makes no difference' if a candidate is a billionaire CNN to host two straight nights of Democratic town halls before NH primary Poll shows tight general election battle between Trump and top Democrats MORE — are tied for the top spot in the state with 23 percent, a precursor to what will be a frantic final push to take home the Hawkeye State (The Hill). 

 

As Jonathan Easley writes in his preview of coming attractions, it’s anybody’s ballgame in Iowa, as half a dozen candidates have reason to believe that the state will set them on the path to the nomination.

 

Political operatives on the ground are buzzing about Sanders’s ascendant campaign on the heels of his shock-and-awe fourth quarter fundraising, although Buttigieg is matching the Vermont Independent in terms of crowds and on-the-ground enthusiasm.

 

As for Biden, he continues to be the national front-runner, and, unlike Buttigieg, an Iowa victory for him is not considered an absolutely necessity en route to winning the party’s nomination. The former vice president’s top argument to voters is still that he is the person in the Democratic field to take on Trump, and the polls show it.   

 

Sitting just behind the trio is Warren, who is trying to find the spark that put her campaign in the top tier through October before she lost altitude in recent months. She is banking on her staff and infrastructure in the state to make it happen. Iowa Democrats say there is no true favorite and that unless someone unexpectedly breaks out in the final stretch run, they’re bracing for a candidate pile up near the top, with no one receiving a clear plurality of the vote.

 

“You could see the field being split so many ways and the contest getting pushed out to New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Super Tuesday,” said Peter Leo, a Warren supporter and the chairman of the Carroll County Democrats in Western Iowa. “It’s hard to see someone pulling away and getting 30 or 40 percent and emerging as the clear front-runner out of Iowa. It’s really wild.”

 

The Washington Post: Crowded Democratic presidential field sprints toward ‘jump ball’ in crucial Iowa caucuses.

 

Dan Balz: Two endorsements highlight the quandary for Democrats as they look for a nominee.

 

The Hill: Biden receives endorsements from three swing-district Democrats.

 

The Washington Post: Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBlack caucus in Nevada: 'Notion that Biden has all of black vote is not true' The Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two Patrick backs reparations in unveiling 'Equity Agenda for Black Americans' MORE (D-N.J.) probably won’t make the next debate. His Iowa supporters say it doesn’t matter.

 

 

 

 

> Biden’s bid: While Iowa and the early states are fresh in view for Biden, he is doing something unlike others in the primary race: running a general election campaign during the Democratic primary. 

 

As Amie Parnes writes, although most of the others in the field are pitching themselves squarely to the base, Biden's message, for the most part, is targeting centrists and independents, a move typically reserved for the general election.

 

"Biden’s strength has always been to fuse pragmatism and progressivism," said former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelWith surge in anti-Semitism, political leaders need to be aggressive and reflective in response Pelosi and Schumer were right with the strategy to delay impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Deescalation: US-Iran conflict eases MORE (D-N.Y.), former chairman of the House Democratic campaign arm, who believes Biden has the best chance of beating the president. "And the polling is pretty consistent that most Democrats want a candidate who can defeat Donald Trump and reflect their core values at the same time. Biden is trying to dominate that lane." 

 

Though the strategy can be risky for primary candidates, Democrats say the strategy works well for Biden. They argue that the former vice president can hang in the 2020 primary race and not bleed supporters given his position as the preeminent moderate in the field. 

 

NBC News: The unsinkable Joe Biden? Many months and many gaffes later, he’s is still ahead.

 

The New York Times: Missing from Democratic 2020 ad wars: Attacks on rivals.

 

Ross Douthat: Bernie Sanders, socialism’s Reagan?

 

Politico: Vice President Pence hits the campaign trail for Trump — and himself.



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

In fire-ravaged Australia, climate denial goes up in smoke, by Jennifer Mills, a volunteer firefighter in Australia and opinion contributor, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/2QJiG7C

 

From Obamacare in the 2010s to what in the 2020s? by Max Nisen, opinion contributor, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/35saxtF



WHERE AND WHEN

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features Eric Byler, filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Australia, who describes the impact of months of brush fires there; Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, discusses the U.S. situation with Iran and Iraq; Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief for The Intercept, talks about the 2020 presidential campaign landscape, as does freelance journalist Zaid Jilani. Coverage starts at 9 a.m. ET at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10 a.m. at Rising on YouTube.

 

The House will return at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

 

The Senate reconvenes today at 3 p.m. and will resume consideration of the nomination of Jovita Carranza to become administrator of the Small Business Administration. Votes will resume in the chamber at 5:30 p.m. 

 

The president participates in a credentialing ceremony for newly appointed ambassadors to Washington, D.C., in the Oval Office at 11:45 a.m. Trump receives his intelligence briefing at 12:15 p.m. in the Oval Office. He will have lunch with Pence in the White House private dining room at 1 p.m.

 

Pence will also participate in a ceremonial swearing-in at 2:30 p.m. of Aurelia Skipwith, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. At 5 p.m., the vice president will participate in the swearing-in of Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.).

 

Pompeo meets with Saudi Deputy Minister of Defense Khalid bin Salman Al Saud at the State Department at 11 a.m.



ELSEWHERE

Defense Department personnel killed by al Qaeda-linked group in Kenya: Al-Shabaab extremists overran a key military base used by U.S. counterterror forces in Kenya before dawn on Sunday, killing three U.S. Department of Defense personnel and destroying several U.S. aircraft and vehicles before they were repelled, U.S. and Kenyan authorities said. The strike at the Manda Bay Airfield was the terror group’s first attack against U.S. forces in the East African country. The military called the security situation “fluid” after an assault in which five attackers were killed (The Associated Press). One U.S. military service member and two U.S. defense contractors were the casualties and other Americans were wounded (Reuters).

 

Protecting whales from outer space: The New England Aquarium of Boston and the Draper Laboratory in Cambridge are partnering to better protect whales by monitoring them from space. The two organizations believe high-tech solutions are needed to conserve the whale population and are working to use data gathered from satellites, sonar and radar to monitor them moving forward. The project is called “Counting Whales From Space” (The Associated Press).

 

 

 



THE CLOSER

And finally …  Sunday night’s Golden Globes awards show on NBC turned out to be a decidedly political affair with earnest celebrity warnings about war (and Trump), shout-outs to Obama and references to climate change. That was after host Ricky Gervais admonished the night’s assemblage of entertainers not to deliver political speeches.  

 

Winners of the golden statuettes included Sam Mendes (Best Director and Best Picture/Drama) for his World War I epic “1917,” which opened in theaters on Friday, and Quentin Tarantino’s 1960s fantasia “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” which won Best Picture in the comedy/musical category (Los Angeles Times).

 

The Associated Press reports other winners HERE and Variety has the complete list.

 

Two of the industry’s beloved figures, Tom Hanks and Ellen DeGeneres, received lifetime achievement awards, earning standing ovations.

 

The Hill: Patricia Arquette: United States “on the brink of war.”

 

The Hill: Jennifer Aniston shares a call for action with Russell Crowe amid Australian wildfires. Crowe, who was unable to be there in person, won for his starring role in Showtime’s “The Loudest Voice.”

 

The Hill: Joaquin Phoenix calls on celebrities to make sacrifices.

 

The Hill: Michelle Williams touts abortion rights. The actress was honored at the Golden Globes for her role in FX’s “Fosse/Verdon.”