The Hill's Morning Report - Deescalation: US-Iran conflict eases




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President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Don Lemon explains handling of segment after Trump criticism NPR reporter after Pompeo clash: Journalists don't interview government officials to score 'political points' Lawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet MORE on Wednesday took a step backward from continued military aggression against Iran and endorsed less lethal tools to try to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and to pressure it to change its “behavior.”


During a brief White House statement that produced sighs of relief in global capitals and on Wall Street, Trump announced that Iran’s ballistic missile strikes against two U.S. bases located inside Iraq resulted in little damage and no American or Iraqi casualties and ended with Iran “standing down.”


The Hill: Trump takes an off-ramp in the Iran crisis.


The president defended his decision last week to order the drone killing in Baghdad of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s Quds Force, arguing it saved American lives and conveyed a warning to terrorists that “if you value your own life, you will not threaten the lives of our people.”


Trump ordered unspecified additional economic sanctions against Iran — a country already so strangled by U.S. sanctions that the president in September declared the country “broke.” He said Iran would not be “allowed” to have a nuclear weapon on his watch, but he also appeared to concede that tearing up the Obama-era international nuclear deal signed with Iran in 2015, as he did in 2018, would not halt Tehran’s race to become a nuclear power.


“Break away,” Trump advised France, Germany, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and the European Union, referring to the nuclear pact they helped craft with Iran that lifted sanctions in exchange for restrictions and inspections intended to slow its nuclear capabilities.  


In a surprise move, the president said he would ask the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a post-World War II military alliance he has often criticized, to “become more involved in the Middle East process.” He did not explain either a “process” or role he envisioned for NATO.


Shortly after Trump spoke, top administration officials fanned out to brief House and Senate lawmakers on Capitol Hill, fielding tough questions about the intelligence Trump relied on to justify killing Soleimani as an imminent threat.


Democratic lawmakers, along with several Republican senators, exited closed-door sessions saying they were dissatisfied with vague answers from Trump’s national security team and the political spin they heard.


The Hill: Democrats “utterly unpersuaded” by evidence behind Trump’s Soleimani drone strike. 


Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe self-fulfilling Iran prophecy No patriotic poll bump for Trump, but Soleimani strike may still help him politically Senators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it MORE (R-Utah) objected that Trump’s briefers told lawmakers, “‘We can’t have dissension within our ranks, within our government, or else it sends the wrong signal to the Iranians.’ I just think that’s completely wrong.”


Niall Stanage: The Memo: Trump turns down the heat.


The House will vote today on a resolution that would limit Trump’s war-making power against Iran. Congressional debate about the War Powers Act also dogged Trump’s predecessors, former Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, but since 2001, the post-9/11 risks of terror attacks have persuaded lawmakers to grant the commander in chief the authority to take military action against U.S. enemies and ask Congress for its support later.


The Hill: House to vote today to limit Trump’s war-making power against Iran.


The Hill: Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers.


Although the president suggested Iran retreated from escalating to the brink of war, ballistic missiles may yet be overtaken by clandestine cyberattacks authorized by Tehran or its proxies.


The Washington Post reported, citing unnamed Trump administration officials, that Iraqis and intelligence sources conveyed to the United States in advance that missile attacks against U.S. facilities would be Tehran’s retaliatory response to Soleimani’s killing. “It’s not luck that no one got killed,” a senior defense official said. 


The heads-up, even without specifics about intended targets, gave military commanders sufficient time to move U.S. troops to safe, fortified positions at bases in Iraq. The New York Times also detailed how the administration prepared during the early-alert window that began on Tuesday at 2 p.m.


The next moves by Tehran may not be as transparent. Iran has the ability to access private sector and government computers in the United States and to “burn down the system,” warned Christopher Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security’s computer security arm.


The New York Times: Iran’s retaliation with missiles may be “concluded,” but cyberwarfare threat grows.


CNN: FBI, Homeland Security warn of Iranian terror and cyber threat in new intelligence bulletin.





IMPEACHMENT WATCH: The wait is on for Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats offer mixed reactions to Trump's Mideast peace plan James Taylor to perform at awards ceremony for Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week Trump offers two-state peace plan for Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid skepticism MORE (D-Calif.) to send the two articles of impeachment to the Senate, especially as some within her own party are clamoring for her to do so more than three weeks after the House made Trump the third president to impeached in U.S. history.


Pelosi has continued to hold back sending the articles despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump allies throw jabs at Bolton over book's claims GOP confident of win on witnesses Collins Senate bid threatens to spark GOP rift in Georgia MORE’s (R-Ky.) announcement that he has the votes to start the Senate trial under the precedent set by the 1999 impeachment of former President Clinton and without agreeing on a deal over witnesses. But the wait has drawn the ire of some Democrats who believe she should send them over sooner rather than later. 


“If we’re going to do it, she should send them over. I don’t see what good delay does,” said Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinExtreme Risk Protection Order Act will help keep guns out of the wrong hands California Democrat Christy Smith launches first TV ad in bid for Katie Hill's former House seat Biden wins endorsement of Sacramento mayor MORE (D-Calif.), echoing remarks made by Sens. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyLawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision Democratic senator on proposal to read Bolton manuscript in classified setting: 'Total bulls---t' Republicans show little enthusiasm for impeachment witness swap MORE (D-Conn.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump lawyers to offer closing arguments on day 7 Senators ready for question time in impeachment trial The Hill's Morning Report - Report of Bolton tell-all manuscript roils Trump defense MORE (D-W.Va.) on Tuesday (The Hill). 


Pelosi indicated on Wednesday that she won’t send them over until the text of the Senate resolution emerges (The Hill). 


“We are waiting to see what the terms are,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday morning. “As I said from the beginning, how we choose our managers depends on what the arena … we are going into.”


The Hill: House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats push back on Trump's efforts to take credit for the economy This week: Senate barrels toward showdown on impeachment witnesses The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules MORE (D-Md.) says House Dems reserving option to subpoena John BoltonJohn BoltonTrump allies throw jabs at Bolton over book's claims GOP confident of win on witnesses Giuliani calls Bolton a 'backstabber' over Ukraine allegations MORE.


The Washington Post: GOP leaders spar over adding House members to Trump’s impeachment defense team.


McConnell, however, indicated that there will not be any negotiating with Pelosi or House Democrats over how the impeachment process will work in the upper chamber (The Hill). 


“There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure,” McConnell said. “The House Democrats’ turn is over.” 


“My Democratic friends are losing patience,” McConnell said, referring to the comments by Murphy, Manchin and Sen. Angus KingAngus KingSenators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses Collins walks impeachment tightrope The Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two MORE (I-Maine), adding that Pelosi has an “endless appetite for these cynical games.” 


The Associated Press: Impeachment standoff deepens, testing McConnell and Pelosi.


The Hill: Pressure building on Pelosi over articles of impeachment. 


Roll Call: Chief Justice John Roberts would hold the gavel, but not the power, at Trump impeachment trial.


The Associated Press: Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOvernight Defense: White House threatens to veto House Iran bills | Dems 'frustrated' after Iran briefing | Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision White House Correspondents' Association blasts State for 'punitive action' against NPR Senate Democrat demands State Department reinstate NPR reporter on Pompeo trip MORE (D-N.J.): Impeachment trial could be "big blow" to my campaign.





POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Is former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPerry delegation talking points stressed pushing Ukraine to deal with 'corruption' GOP senator airs anti-Biden ad in Iowa amid impeachment trial Biden photobombs live national news broadcast at one of his rallies MORE the 2020 version of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHill.TV's Krystal Ball: Failure to embrace Sanders as nominee would 'destroy' Democratic Party Clinton says she feels the 'urge' to defeat Trump in 2020 Can Democrats flip the Texas House? Today's result will provide a clue MORE? It’s a question some Democrats are being forced to examine as the primary battle nears the Iowa caucuses and Biden finds himself locked in a fight with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersNew campaign ad goes after Sanders by mentioning heart attack Biden on whether Sanders can unify party as nominee: 'It depends' Steyer rebukes Biden for arguing with supporter he thought was Sanders voter MORE (I-Vt.) in early primary states. 


As Amie Parnes writes, the question cropped up again after a recent Iowa town hall when he was asked whether he was running a better campaign than Clinton’s in 2016, but the answer remains a tough one for Democrats who still worry about some of Biden’s more glaring weaknesses heading into the early voting season. 


"No one wants déjà vu," said one Democratic strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns. "And the big fear is that it will be just that."


The Hill: Poll: Trump tied with Biden in Arizona.


The New York Times: How Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden on whether Sanders can unify party as nominee: 'It depends' Overnight Health Care — Presented by Philip Morris International — HHS has no plans to declare emergency over coronavirus | GOP senator calls for travel ban to stop outbreak | Warren releases plan to contain infectious diseases Biden lines up high-profile surrogates to campaign in Iowa MORE (D-Mass.) is being squeezed by two Democratic factions.


Steve Peoples, The Associated Press: Trump changes terms of 2020 race with Iran turmoil.


The Wall Street Journal: Elizabeth Warren’s base is getting anxious.





> Senate state of play: Senate Republicans are playing defense in this year’s race to maintain their majority, but Democrats likely have a tough fight ahead in their third consecutive bid to retake control of the chamber. 


As Max Greenwood writes in his latest look at the Senate map in 2020, Republicans are defending two dozen seats in November. Democrats need to pick up four seats in 2020 – three if a Democrat is elected president – to take control of the chamber and are looking at flipping a number of seats in states where the president’s approval rating is underwater. 


Complicating matters for Democrats, Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), is among the most vulnerable senators up for reelection this year, gumming up the path for the minority party to regain control of the Senate. Headlining Greenwood’s list of the most vulnerable senators are Jones, Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerOvernight Defense: White House threatens to veto House Iran bills | Dems 'frustrated' after Iran briefing | Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision Foreign Relations Democrats 'deeply frustrated' after Iran briefing GOP leader warns lawmakers on fundraising: 'Getting our ass kicked' MORE (R-Colo.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGOP leader warns lawmakers on fundraising: 'Getting our ass kicked' Progressive group targeting vulnerable GOP senators on impeachment witnesses Senate Republicans face pivotal moment on impeachment witnesses MORE (R-Ariz.).


> Deepfakes: Facebook's global policy chief faced tough questions before a House panel on Wednesday as lawmakers voiced skepticism over the company's efforts to crack down on manipulated videos known as deepfakes ahead of the 2020 elections.  


The social media giant unveiled plans to ban such videos late Monday night, but critics quickly condemned the policy for not going far enough. According to the new guidelines, neither the video of Pelosi edited to make her appear intoxicated, which went viral last year, nor a clip of Biden manipulated to falsely depict white nationalist views would be taken down.


“Big Tech failed to respond to the grave threats posed by deepfakes, as evidenced by Facebook scrambling to announce a new policy that strikes me as wholly inadequate,” said Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyHillicon Valley: UK allows Huawei to build 5G in blow to Trump | Lawmakers warn decision threatens intel sharing | Work on privacy bill inches forward | Facebook restricts travel to China amid virus Lawmakers claim progress on online privacy bill House Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't MORE (D-Ill.), the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce chairwoman, noting that the video of Pelosi has already been viewed millions of times (The Hill).


The Hill: Here’s a look at states in which Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergPoll: 56 percent of Democrats say billionaire politicians more likely to cater to special interests Support for Biden, Sanders ticks up nationally: poll Tim Gunn endorses Bloomberg, joins his LGBTQ+ leadership council MORE’s campaign is investing in ads.

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


The Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonDershowitz: Bolton allegations would not constitute impeachable offense Some considerations for the US-Iran political interchange Starr makes Trump team debut: We are living in an 'age of impeachment' MORE trial cannot serve as the model for the Donald Trump trial, by Allan Lightman, opinion contributor, The Hill.


Tensions with Iran will not be reduced by erratic decisions, by 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.), opinion contributor, The Hill.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, and Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoStage production 'Americano!' tells the life and struggles of a 'Dreamer' Democratic lawmaker says Trump 'doesn't have full command' on Iran Democratic Congressman: Why Progressives have been pushing for War Powers resolution for months MORE (D-Ariz.) to discuss the Iran situation; Zach Montellaro, campaign reporter for Politico, to talk about 2020 primary polling and debate qualifications; and Wesley Yang, columnist for Tablet magazine. Coverage starts at 9 a.m. ET at or on YouTube at 10 a.m. at Rising on YouTube.


The House meets at 10 a.m. Pelosi holds a news conference at 10:45 a.m. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyFox's Wallace: Nadler would pay to have his Clinton impeachment remarks 'expunged from the Earth' McCarthy raises over million in Q4 for House GOP GOP leader warns lawmakers on fundraising: 'Getting our ass kicked' MORE (R-Calif.) holds his weekly press event at 11:30 a.m.


The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and continues to consider executive and judicial nominees for confirmation.


The president will announce proposed National Environmental Policy Act regulations at 11 a.m. and receive his intelligence briefing at 2 p.m. He will also hold a reelection rally in Toledo, Ohio, at 7 p.m.


Vice President Pence will travel to Ohio to introduce the president at a reelection rally. He returns to Washington tonight.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosts discussions about the “2020 State of American Business” from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., including an opening speech by Chamber CEO Tom Donahue, at its headquarters in Washington. Information and webcast HERE.  


Ukraine Airlines crash: Authorities in Iran said they recovered the so-called black boxes from the Boeing 737-800 passenger jet that crashed shortly after takeoff on Wednesday in Tehran bound for Ukraine with 176 people aboard. All passengers and crew members perished in a fiery disaster that Iran immediately blamed on mechanical troubles. Officials in the United States, Canada and Ukraine said the crash should be fully investigated, but it was unclear how much access to the cockpit conversations and instrument data international investigators may be granted. 


Reuters reported that the initial assessment of Western intelligence agencies was that the plane had not been brought down by a missile. There was evidence one of the jet’s engines overheated, according to one unnamed source from Canada. Among the victims of the crash were at least 63 Canadians, prompting Canadian officials to seek Tehran’s cooperation and to offer technical assistance (The Associated Press). 


Supreme Court: Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgJames Taylor to perform at awards ceremony for Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week On The Trail: Why 2020 is the most important election in our lifetime Supreme Court sharply divided over state aid for religious schools MORE, who has battled recurring health problems during decades on the high court, sounded a positive note this week about the state of her health. "I'm cancer free," she told CNN during an interview on Tuesday. "That's good." The 86-year-old justice, appointed by former President Clinton, was treated for a cancerous pancreatic tumor in August. Previously, Ginsburg was treated for breast cancer and early stage lung cancer (The Hill).


In The Know: Prince Harry and Meghan MarkleMeghan MarkleMegxit, Trump and the generational divide Prince Harry blames 'powerful' media for stepping away from royals Harry and Meghan to give up royal titles, no longer receive money from royal family MORE announced on Wednesday that they plan to take a “step back” as senior members of the British royal family, a revelation that surprised Buckingham Palace. According to a statement, the couple plan to become financially independent and will split their time along with their son between the United Kingdom and the United States. Harry, 35, is sixth in the line of succession to the British throne and, unlike his American wife, has been in the public eye his entire life (The Associated Press).





“Jeopardy!” It’s a two-man battle just two nights into the “Jeopardy!” competition to crown the show’s greatest competitor. James Holzhauer, who made waves on the show in 2019, won the second match of the “greatest of all time” competition, giving him and Ken Jennings a win apiece heading into Thursday’s third match. Holzhauer won handily on Wednesday, piling up 82,414 points and defeating Jennings by more than 25,000 points. The first contestant to win three matches will be crowned the GOAT. The third match airs at 8 p.m. tonight on ABC (The New York Times). 


And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! 


Puerto Rico has suffered more than its share of natural disasters, including an earthquake on Tuesday that measured a magnitude 6.4, followed by strong aftershocks. Trump approved a federal emergency declaration for the territory on Wednesday.


As it happens, on this day in history — on Jan. 9, 1857, and again on Jan. 9, 1982 — major temblors led the news, rattling New England and California, respectively. With that in mind, this week’s puzzle explores readers’ tectonic knowledge.


Email your responses to and/or, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will take a bow in Friday’s newsletter.


News media reports this week explained that Puerto Rico is squeezed between two tectonic plates that create an undersea fault zone. What are the two troublesome plates called?   


  1.   San Juan and San Andreas
  2.   San Juan and Culebra
  3.   Panama and Cocos
  4.   Caribbean and North American


Which two U.S. states have experienced the most recorded earthquakes since the 1700s?


  1.   California and Alaska
  2.   California and Hawaii
  3.   Kansas and Colorado
  4.   Alaska and Texas


The federal government employs on-duty seismologists who monitor earthquake activity around the world 24/7 through the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC). The center seeks to publish the magnitude and location of quakes within minutes. Which of these serves as the home agency for the center?


  1.   U.S. Geological Survey
  2.   Environmental Protection Agency
  3.   National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  4.   Federal Emergency Management Agency


Former President Obama was in office when a magnitude-3.4 earthquake hit Washington, D.C., in July 2010 and when a magnitude-5.8 temblor struck the nation’s capital in August 2011, damaging the Washington Monument. He felt neither one. Why?


  1.   The White House is fortified like a bunker, preventing any sensation of the ground shaking.
  2.   Obama said he was fast asleep at the White House during the 2010 quake and was playing golf on Martha’s Vineyard during the 2011 event.
  3.   The former president was so accustomed to volcano activity during his childhood in Hawaii that he said he was oblivious to D.C. earthquakes.
  4.   The U.S. Secret Service received enough advance warning to quickly get the president aloft in Marine One during both incidents.