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On Syria, from ‘weak’ Obama policy to what Trump policy?

President Donald Trump speaks in Washington, D.C., Tuesday,

President Donald Trump speaks in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, April 4, 2017, about America's business climate. Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

Damascus? Don’t ask us

The suspected chemical-weapons attack that killed scores of people in rebel-held Syrian territory was a “consequence” of the “weakness and irresolution” of former President Barack Obama’s policy for the civil war-ravaged country, said a statement from President Donald Trump.

So what’s Trump’s policy? Hard to say.

Obama wanted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad forced out. White House press secretary Sean Spicer says Assad’s rule has to be accepted as a “political reality.” But Spicer also said, “I think it’s in the best interest of the Syrian people” for Assad not to be in power.

Trump’s statement denounced the “heinous actions” of Syria’s dictator, but made no mention of Assad’s allies, Russia and Iran. That was left to a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, which said, “Russia and Iran also bear great moral responsibility for these deaths.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who unceasingly criticized Obama for doing too little on Syria, said Trump needs to support anti-Assad forces and make the Russians “pay a price” for their involvement. The Trump administration lacks a clear foreign policy doctrine, McCain said.

See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.

What was Rice looking for?

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said his panel may want to interview Obama national security adviser Susan Rice over reports that she sought to “unmask” the identities of Trump transition figures revealed in foreign surveillance reports.

“If the reports are right,” Burr said, “then she will be of interest to us.”

Rice on MSNBC said she never utilized intelligence information for “political purposes — to spy, expose, anything.” But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has pushed for tough investigations of Russian election meddling, said on Fox News, “When it comes to Susan Rice, you need to verify, not trust.”

Rice was a GOP target in the aftermath of the 2012 terrorist killing of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, for putting out wrong information about the cause of the attack.

Gorsuch in homestretch

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday he has the 51 votes he would need to change Senate rules and choke off a promised Democratic filibuster against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch.

First, there will be a vote Thursday to try to stop the filibuster under existing rules. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) stood his ground in opposing Gorsuch and in daring McConnell to trigger the rules change.

See Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.

The take-away: Noise machine

There’s no doubt that the Senate is going to confirm Gorsuch, so the political noise in the background is just that and nothing more, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

The “nuclear option” is a parliamentary device to keep the Democratic minority from frustrating the will of the Republican majority. Despite its doomsdayish connotations, the Capitol would still be standing the day after.

Screening plays

Trump’s plans for “extreme vetting” of foreigners seeking to enter the United States haven’t raised as much controversy as the targeting of Muslim-majority countries. But some of the ideas under consideration are raising doubts about their wisdom and likely effectiveness.

The Wall Street Journal [pay site] reports visitors would be required to disclose mobile-phone contacts, social-media passwords and financial records, and to answer questions about their ideological beliefs. The requirements would apply all over the world, including allies like Germany and France.

Critics say other nations could respond by asking American visitors to likewise surrender private information. As for the mobile phones, a top immigration official from the Obama administration said, “The real bad guys will get rid of their phones. They’ll show up with a clean phone.”

GOP health plan: Still no pulse

Discussions to unite House Republicans behind a health care bill haven’t brought them closer to agreement, and White House officials say not to expect a deal anytime soon. Politico reports.

Vice President Mike Pence, chief of staff Reince Priebus and budget director Mick Mulvaney are among those who have been shuttling between the White House and Capitol Hill to try to revive a repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

Americans’ support for keeping Obamacare has been surging. A new Gallup Poll found 55% approve of the Affordable Care Act, compared with 41% who disapprove. Just after the election, a majority opposed it.

What else is happening

  • Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), an open admirer of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, was Trump’s guest at the White House Tuesday. Rohrabacher — who has also argued that the U.S. should partner with Assad in the Syrian civil war — was invited after defending Trump in a weekend TV interview, a spokesman for the congressman said.
  • The Trump administration is warning U.S. companies applying for H-1B skilled-worker visas that it will investigate and prosecute those who overlook qualified American workers for jobs. The H-1B program is open to a broad range of occupations, including tech workers, professors and even fashion models.
  • Trump never tires of bragging about winning the election, but he did it with the wrong audience Tuesday. Boos erupted when he told a union group, “I had the support of, I would say, almost everybody in this room.” Trump responded: “If anybody wants to make a change, you won’t have so many jobs, that I can tell you.”
  • Trump’s approval rating is 35% in a new Quinnipiac University national poll. But he still enjoys 79% approval among Republicans.
  • Never go against the family? Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant, is taking that risk. He accused Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner of leaking stories to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough to disparage chief White House strategist Steve Bannon.
  • Gary Cohn, director of Trump’s National Economic Council, told CEOs Tuesday that they likely don’t need to worry about their private jets being taxed. The administration is looking for other ways to fund an air-traffic control upgrade.

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