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House war powers vote unlikely to rein in Trump

President Donald Trump at his campaign rally Thursday

President Donald Trump at his campaign rally Thursday in Toledo, Ohio. Credit: AFP via Getty Images/Saul Loeb

Pelosi's power shortage

Speaker Nancy Pelosi led the House to approve a resolution on Thursday asserting that if President Donald Trump wants to hit Iran again, he needs to get permission from Congress first.

Pelosi called it a move with "real teeth” because “it is a statement of the Congress of the United States.” But it also is nonbinding and not likely to get through the Senate in similar form, if it passes there at all.

Trump, speaking with reporters, voiced limited interest in seeking opinions from Capitol Hill. "It would all depend on the circumstance. I don't have to. And you shouldn't have to, because you have to make split-second decisions … in certain cases I wouldn't even mind doing it."

The vote was 224-194, with eight Democratic defections. Three Republicans crossed over to Pelosi's side, the most surprising of them Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a high-profile Trump backer. "Killing [Iranian Gen. Qassem] Soleimani was the right decision, but engaging in another forever war in the Middle East would be the wrong decision, and that's why I'm voting for this resolution," Gaetz said.

Most Democrats and a handful of Republicans remain skeptical that killing Soleimani was worth the longer-term risks. Trump added to the confusion by asserting a new rationale. "We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy," Trump said.

If evidence backed that up, The Washington Post noted, it would be strange for lawmakers to be so underwhelmed. Asked to explain, Trump said, "I think it was obvious, if you look at the protests.” But the pro-Iranian groups who laid siege to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad withdrew days before Soleimani was killed. That couldn't have been the "imminent" attack if it was already over. At an Ohio rally Thursday night, Trump said Soleimani was looking at other embassies.

The White House was asked for clarification but didn't provide one. A new USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll found a 52% to 34% majority of Americans deemed Trump's behavior with Iran "reckless," and by 52 to 8%, those polled said the killing of Soleimani made it more likely that Iran would develop nuclear weapons. But don't expect Congress to take decisions out of Trump's hands.

Janison: Deadly miscalculations

The apparent shootdown of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 outside Tehran at the cost of 176 lives is a sad reminder of how the chaos of crisis and conflict can bring unintended and horrific consequences. Competence on either side cannot be presumed, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Emerging U.S., Canadian and British intelligence assessments indicate Iranian surface-to-air missiles were fired at the passenger plane because it was misidentified as a hostile aircraft, hours after Iran rained missiles on U.S. bases in Iraq.

The Boeing 737 "was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood,” Trump said Thursday. “Someone could have made a mistake.”

There's a tragic precedent from an earlier era of U.S.-Iranian tensions. In 1988, after a chain of errors, the U.S. Navy's guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf that was mistaken for a fighter jet, killing 290 people. President Ronald Reagan later issued a letter of regret to the Iranian government.

NATO name game

Trump's sudden enthusiasm for NATO and an idea for the alliance to take on a bigger role in the Middle East hasn't been echoed so far in other Western capitals.

Undeterred, the president said Thursday he raised the idea the day before with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Trump's idea is to invite Middle Eastern nations to join, too, "so we can come home, or largely come home." If Trump hasn't signed on partners, at least he has a name:

“ ‘NATO,’ right? And then you have ‘M.E.’ — Middle East. You'll call it ‘NATOME’ (pronounced nay-TOW-me). I said, ‘What a beautiful name.’ ‘NATOME.’ I'm good at names, right? ‘USMCA.’ Like the song ‘YMCA.’ … Nobody could remember ‘USMCA.’ I said, ‘Think of the song, YMCA.’ Now everybody says it. They don't remember the previous name of the bad deal, OK — commonly known as ‘NAFTA.’ ”

Pelosi: Don't rush me

Under increasing pressure, including from the restless in her rank and file, to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate, Pelosi on Thursday stood her ground. She said the Senate first must show they will hold a fair trial that includes witnesses and documents, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.

But Pelosi also indicated the holdout won't last much longer.

“I'm not withholding indefinitely. I will send them over when I'm ready. And that will probably be soon,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference. “But we want to see what they are willing to do and the manner in which they will do it.”

Democrats want former national security adviser John Bolton called as a witness on Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate opponents. Trump on Thursday suggested he could block Bolton from testifying, citing presidential privilege.

“When we start allowing national security advisers to just go up and say whatever they want to say, we can’t do that,” Trump said.

Bloomberg in flyover country

Besides filling the air with ads, Michael Bloomberg is looking to be seen on the ground in parts of the heartland previously unfamiliar to the billionaire ex-New York City mayor.

In a 17-hour fly-around chronicled in The New York Times, he said he was visiting parts of America “that in all of my 77 years before, I never got a chance to see.” He told his hosts at a soybean farm in rural Minnesota: "I eat what you grow.” They thanked him for his business.

Bloomberg's big spending in pursuit of the Democratic nomination does seem to be winning voters' attention. In a poll in Michigan, his lead over Trump — 6 points — was second only to Joe Biden's 7 points, The Detroit News reported. Trump shocked Democrats by winning Michigan in 2016.

2 out of 3 for Biden?

New polling in three of the four early states on the Democratic calendar suggest Biden's campaign hasn't lost its legs.

In New Hampshire, a Monmouth poll finds the top four Democrats within 5 points of each other, which is about the same as the margin of error. There, Pete Buttigieg has 20%, followed by Biden at 19%; Bernie Sanders, 18%; and Elizabeth Warren, 15%. The primary is Feb. 11.

Fox News polls show Biden with a 21-point lead in South Carolina and a 6-point advantage over Sanders in Nevada. The surprise is that Tom Steyer, the other Democratic billionaire in the race, is running second in South Carolina and third in Nevada.

Steyer has paid for ad blitzes in both states, which vote later in February, and the showing makes him the sixth qualifier for next Tuesday's debate.

New polling is due Friday from Iowa, whose Feb. 3 caucuses are the first nominating contest on the calendar.

Is Trump curing cancer?

Trump looked to claim credit on Thursday for wins in the war on cancer. "U.S. Cancer Death Rate Lowest In Recorded History! A lot of good news coming out of this Administration," Trump tweeted.

A fact-check of Trump came from the American Cancer Society, whose stats in a report issued Wednesday showed the cancer death rate at a record low in 2017, Trump's first year in office.

The society's CEO, Gary M. Reedy, said the improvement for the 26th year in a row had nothing to do with Trump or his administration. It reflects "prevention, early detection and treatment advances that occurred in prior years," Reedy said.

Trump has proposed billions in cuts in federal cancer research budgets, but Congress refused to go along. Reedy said Trump could help the cause by supporting increases in research funding, new tobacco control policies and "increasing access to comprehensive health care."

Lock her up not

A Justice Department inquiry launched more than two years ago to mollify Trump and his allies clamoring for more investigations of Hillary Clinton has effectively ended with no tangible results, The Washington Post reported.

Current and former law enforcement officials said they never expected the effort, which looked at the Clinton Foundation, to produce much of anything.

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions put John Huber, the U.S. attorney in Utah, on the case after Trump tweeted, “Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary and the Dems.”

What else is happening:

  • Trump takes plenty of policy and messaging cues from watching Fox News, but is Pelosi getting inspiration from CNN? Time magazine reports she began to consider holding back the articles of impeachment from the Senate after the idea was floated on CNN by commentator John Dean, the Watergate figure.
  • Executives at health systems serving Long Island contend the "Medicare for All" plans pushed by Democrats Sanders and Warren would lead to hospital closures, longer patient delays and a drastic cut in research and development funds, reports Newsday's David Reich-Hale. Industry analysts said some health care systems could be overstating their losses.
  • Trump declared himself a "big believer" that climate change is "not a hoax." As he approved new regulations rolling back rules requiring federal agencies to consider climate change when approving infrastructure projects, Trump said, "I want clean air, I want clean water. I also want jobs, though."
  • Bloomberg told ABC News he's not planning to release women who settled hostile-work-environment allegations with his company from confidentiality agreements, which would allow them to speak about their experiences.
  • Warren's win of an endorsement from ex-contender Julián Castro was part of a broader effort to get support from 2020 dropouts so she can portray herself as a unifying consensus candidate, The Washington Post reported.
  • Buttigieg, who has struggled to find African American support, picked up an endorsement from Maryland's Rep. Anthony G. Brown on Thursday. Brown is the first member of the Congressional Black Caucus to side with the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor.
  • Trump has won two court decisions in recent days to remove obstacles to building his Mexican border wall, The New York Times reported.

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