Choose your crisis
These are even tenser days than were imagined just a week ago, when just the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump was looming, not the threat of escalating tit-for-tat military reprisals between the U.S. and Iran.
Trump's got a solution for that. "Congress & the President should not be wasting their time and energy on a continuation of the totally partisan Impeachment Hoax when we have so many important matters pending," he tweeted on Monday.
If Trump has an end game in mind on Iran, it's not apparent. The next move seems to be Iran's. The Trump administration advertised its drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani as a deterrent to Iranian attacks, but the U.S. is braced for Iran to hit back out and the question is less whether it will happen but when, where and how hard. Security is even tighter at the White House itself, Politico reported.
On Rush Limbaugh's radio show Monday, Trump was asked to explain how killing Soleimani made America safer. “People are being scared to death … that this is going to start World War III,” Limbaugh said.
Trump had more to say about the past than what's ahead. “This should have been done for the last 15 to 20 years, him in particular,” Trump said, blaming former President Barack Obama in particular. And now what? "We’ll see what happens, we’ll see what the response is,” the president said.
Bestowing praise on Trump, Limbaugh observed that Iran wasn’t used to “a president like you.”
Well, who is? House Democrats plan to vote this week on a resolution to restrain Trump’s military actions. In the Senate, Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia said he believes at least some Republicans will vote for his war powers resolution aimed at forcing Trump to back down on Iran or get approval from Congress.
Pentagon boss: Won't club culture
Though Trump doubled down Sunday on warnings that he considered Iranian cultural sites to be fair targets, despite international laws to the contrary, Defense Secretary Mark Esper seems to disagree.
"We will follow the laws of armed conflict," Esper told CNN Monday. When pressed if that meant not targeting Iranian cultural sites, Esper replied, "That's the laws of armed conflict."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he tried to explain to Trump why it's a bad idea. "We're trying to show solidarity with the Iranian people. Their culture is not my problem," Graham said. He said Trump responded, 'We all do all kind of kind of bad things.' But I said, 'Yeah I don't want to be like them.' "
Baghdad bugout blooper
A U.S. military foul-up Monday didn't exactly enhance confidence that all is under control.
With Iraq moving toward asking U.S. forces to leave the country, the U.S.-led military coalition sent a letter to Iraqi officials informing them that the troops would be relocating “to prepare for onward movement.”
Soon after it became public, Esper hurriedly told reporters the U.S. had not made any decision to leave Iraq.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the letter "was a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released.” Milley added: "Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That’s not what’s happening."
Janison: Putin's angles
Russia has invested more years in cultivating its relationship with Iran than with Trump. It even recently conducted joint military exercises with the Islamic Republic, notes Newsday's Dan Janison. But no one expects Vladimir Putin to get directly involved.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke to his Iranian counterpart after Soleimani's killing and "expressed his condolences," a statement from Moscow said. Lavrov also agreed the U.S. actions "grossly violate the norms of international law.”
Russia could see one benefit, though, from the fallout. Oil prices are up amid the crisis. Russia has 11% of the world's production.
Bolton landing in witness chair?
Democrats fighting Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Senate impeachment trial rules saw their prospects brightening as former national security adviser John Bolton revealed that he would testify if subpoenaed.
Bolton had a box-seat view of efforts by the president, top aides and Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations against Democrats. Former Bolton aide Fiona Hill testified at the House inquiry that Bolton referred to the scheme as a "drug deal" and denounced Giuliani as a “hand grenade” who could blow up U.S. foreign policy goals.
Because it will take a Senate majority vote to call witnesses, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it was “now up to four Senate Republicans to support bringing in Mr. Bolton” and the others he has proposed. If they resist, "they would make absolutely clear they are participating in a cover up," Schumer said.
At least one Senate Republican was ready to hear from Bolton. “He has firsthand information,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters.
Giuliani, meanwhile, asked by CNN about Bolton's reported disdain for him, replied: "He never said anything to me. Maybe he's a bit passive aggressive."
Lost and founders
Trump spent much of his time on Limbaugh's show commiserating about impeachment. He evidently was upset at how Democrats often cite the intentions of the Founding Fathers to justify bringing the case.
"This was not what they had in mind. As they call them, the Founders, right? They keep saying the founders, founders. But the founders didn’t have this in mind?” Trump said, laughing, and then adding, “I’ve never heard the word founders so much in my life.”
He said the investigations of him "found nothing" and “even I was very impressed with how clean I am, Rush.”
Pompeo won't do hit and run
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a chief proponent of Trump's decision to kill Soleimani, has ended his flirtation with leaving the job to run for Senate from his home state of Kansas, The Washington Post, The New York Times and others reported.
Pompeo told McConnell of his decision on Monday. Republicans who tried to recruit him thought he would be a dominant candidate to keep a seat opening up in GOP hands and help protect the party's Senate majority.
What else is happening:
- Trump's obsession with crowd size gave an opening for Iran's foreign minister to troll him on Twitter. Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted four photos of mass throngs of mourners for Soleimani and said, "Have you EVER seen such a sea of humanity in your life, @realdonaldtrump?"
- Donald Trump Jr. posted an Instagram photo on Monday holding an AR-15-style rifle featuring an image of the kind of cross used during the crusades, the medieval-era religious wars between Muslims and Christians, The Washington Post reported. It also had an illustration of Hillary Clinton behind bars.
- TV's "Judge Judy" — Judith Sheindlin — endorsed Michael Bloomberg for president in a 30-second TV ad. The billionaire's campaign also announced its paid campaign staff now has 800 people.
- Days after ending his candidacy, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro announced he's endorsing Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination.
- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Bernie Sanders supporter, told New York Magazine that the Democratic Party “can be too big of a tent." She said, “In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party, but in America, we are."
- Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is seeking the Libertarian Party's 2020 nomination. A former Republican, then an independent, he briefly ran for president as a Democrat in 2016.