A Trump 180, with a vengeance
The chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians was hardly the first or the worst atrocity committed by Bashar al-Assad’s government in six years of civil war that has killed 400,000 people. But it was the first on President Donald Trump’s watch.
Gone within hours were Trump’s years of expressed indifference over the dictator’s fate and opposition to an expanded U.S. military role in the Middle East country -- a position reaffirmed as recently as this week.
On Trump’s orders, U.S. Navy ships in the Mediterranean launched more than 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles that were fired at the Syrian air base from which the attack on the civilians was said to have been launched.
He decried “the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria” and said, “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled, without specifics, that they would press for international measures to end the conflict in Syria. Less clear was how Trump can succeed after years of such efforts by the Obama administration failed.
In Congress, hawks on Syria like Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) praised Trump’s action. So did Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), with the caveat that Trump needs to “come up with a strategy and consult with Congress before implementing it.”
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Bloom is off the Rosneft
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin believes the U.S. strike is an "aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law." Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin believes the United States launched the strikes under a "far-fetched pretext."
The Russian regime also said it has suspended a deal that was made to prevent air clashes with the United States over Syria.
Syrian officials reported seven people killed in the U.S. missile strikes. The Pentagon acknowledged that Putin's government was warned in advance. And Hillary Clinton -- remember her? -- noted Thursday night she'd called for more aggressive American action in Syria as secretary of state. Differences and similarities are now being assessed between last year's candidates on this exact matter.
Now to be assessed in a new light: Such coziness between pre-administration officials such as Tillerson's dealings as Exxon/Mobil CEO with such entities as the Putin-tied Rosneft oil company. But all may not be as it appears: Back in 2015, it was reported, Putin bade Assad depart from office, which the longtime Russian ally declined to do.
West Wing warpaths
Infighting and power struggles are a constant in Donald Trump’s White House. Even so, the battles raging now, only barely behind the scenes, have grown strikingly intense, according to several reports sourced to insiders.
Steve Bannon threatened to quit the White House over his removal from the National Security Council. Megadonor Rebekah Mercer — a longtime patron, along with her father, Long Islander Robert Mercer — of Bannon’s nationalist proselytizing, played a key role in persuading him to stay on, according to Politico.
Bannon has used epithets from the alt-right insult glossary to denounce his nemesis, Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, as a “globalist” and a “cuck” — the latter term meaning a wishy-washy conservative, according to The Daily Beast.
Hatred between the factions has become irreconcilable, reports the political site Axios. Kushner’s side thinks Bannon and his allies are “clinically nuts,” Axios said.
There is strife, too, at federal agencies, where veteran Republican officials are outmaneuvering upstarts hired from the Trump campaign, Politico also reported.
See Laura Figueroa’s story for Newsday.
Leaks on the other foot?
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes gave up control of his panel’s probe into Russian election meddling Thursday after the House Ethics Committee said it was investigating whether the California Republican made “unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”
The chain of events began after the White House, seeking to move the focus off Russia, called on the panel to investigate leaks and Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that he was wiretapped.
With White House assistance, Nunes last month looked at classified materials and then announced they suggested an effort by Obama administration officials to identify Trump transition figures caught up in surveillance of foreign interests.
Nunes, who acted without consulting his committee, called the allegations against him “entirely false and politically motivated.”
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) is taking over the investigation. See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.
The take-away: Time flies
So far, Trump said Thursday, he’s had “one of the most successful 13 weeks in the history of the presidency.” Actually, it’s only been 11 weeks. And it’s become clear that when he hits the 100-day mark later this month, much will be unfinished, or barely started, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
That includes a tax law overhaul, an infrastructure plan, dialing down strife within the White House and clarity and coherence in foreign policy.
Also carrying over and carrying on for some time to come: the FBI and congressional Russia investigations.
Trump is getting one big win — his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, is expected to earn final approval from the Senate Friday or Saturday,
Senate Republicans cleared the way for confirmation by triggering the “nuclear option” to effectively eliminate the filibuster for high court nominations. See Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.
Closing gaps with China
Trump voiced optimism that his meeting with President Xi Jinping will bring progress in resolving U.S.-Chinese frictions.
The president looked for agreement on a blueprint for more equitable trade relations as well as China “stepping up” pressure on North Korea’s nuclear-missile program. See Ngo’s story for Newsday.
The Trumpthink phenomenon
A Reuters/Ipsos poll finds Republican opinions on many matters will shift when they believe one side is more in line with what’s good for Trump, or what the president believes. For Democrats, the opposite was sometimes true.
The difference was especially dramatic on a conflicts-of-interest question posed to two samples of Republicans.
Only 33 percent agreed with “I don’t care if a government official financially benefits from their position in the government.” But when Trump was named as the government official, 70 percent said it was no problem.
What else is happening
- Twitter went to court to fight a demand from Homeland Security officials to unmask the user behind anti-Trump tweets. The account @ALT_uscis claims to be run by a dissident federal immigration employee.
- Hillary Clinton, interviewed onstage at a Manhattan conference, said Russia’s meddling in the election was an “act of aggression” and there should be an “independent, nonpartisan investigation” to look into potential collusion with the Trump campaign.
- CIA officials told senior lawmakers in private last summer it had information Russia was working to help elect Trump, which did not emerge publicly until after Trump won, the New York Times reports.
- Trump bragged that Rep. Elijah Cummings told him, “You will go down as one of the great presidents.” Not exactly, explained Cummings. He told Trump he “could be a great president if … he takes steps to truly represent all Americans, rather than continuing on the divisive and harmful path he is currently on.”
- Protecting Trump’s large and peripatetic family is straining Secret Service resources to the point that dozens of agents are being temporarily pulled off criminal investigations, The New York Times reports.
- By 58 percent to 28 percent, Americans oppose funding for Trump’s proposed wall on the Mexican border, according to an Associated Press-NORC poll.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former California governor, said Ohio Gov. John Kasich should oppose Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020.