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The Daily 202: Is President Trump surrendering America’s moral high ground?

January 26, 2017 3:36 PM
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The Daily 202: Is President Trump surrendering America’s moral high ground?

THE BIG IDEA: Not even a week into Donald Trump’s presidency, some liberal internationalists find themselves privately pining for George W. Bush.

Despite acts of brutality that were perpetrated on his watch, Bush always insisted publicly that the United States did not torture. He understood that copping to the enhanced interrogation techniques he had secretly approved could undercut our moral standing on the world stage, provide terrorists a potent recruiting tool and give our enemies an excuse to torture Americans.

Trump doesn’t think like that. “I have spoken as recently as 24 hours ago with people at the highest level of intelligence,” the new president told ABC News in an interview that aired last night, “and I asked them the question, 'Does it work? Does torture work?' and the answer was, 'Yes, absolutely.'"

Explaining why he wants to reconsider the use of waterboarding, Trump added: “We're not playing on an even field. … As far as I'm concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.”

Mike Pompeo was reportedly “blindsided” yesterday when he found out about the draft order to consider reopening black sites and resuming waterboarding. During his recent confirmation hearing, the new CIA director promised senators that he would “absolutely not” resume waterboarding.

Trump’s statement is also surprising because Jim Mattis, his new defense secretary, is an outspoken critic of the technique’s usefulness. “I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I do better with that than I do with torture,” he has said.

-- Yes, Bush invaded Iraq without sign-off from the United Nations Security Council. But he tried earnestly to get it. And he made a big deal about building a coalition of the willing.

Not only is Trump talking about “taking the oil” and eschewing multilateralism, but he is poised to propose a 40 percent reduction in voluntary U.S. support for the U.N. and other global bodies, according to a draft of a forthcoming order obtained by The Post. A separate order would limit U.S. participation in some treaties.

“Trump’s new U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, has pledged to put U.S. interests first and use the leverage of disproportionate U.S. funding of the body. But the draft order would go much further, and with an apparent goal of slashing U.S. participation across a swath of U.N. agencies and activities to which the Trump administration objects on fiscal or ideological grounds,” Juliet Eilperin and Anne Gearan report. “The draft order could reverse or roll back funding for … international peacekeeping missions and U.S. support for development work.”

The new team at the State Department is separately conducting a review of all foreign aid doled out during Barack Obama’s final months in office, including a controversial release of $220 million to Palestinians just hours before Trump assumed the presidency. The review involves dozens, if not hundreds, of foreign aid allocations, Carol Morello reports.

-- After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush bent over backwards to say that Muslims were not the enemy. U.S. generals relentlessly made the case that we need Muslim allies to battle terrorism. Trump neither thinks nor talks this way.

The new White House says it plans to follow through on the president’s promise to begin “extreme vetting” of would-be immigrants. A draft executive order, which Trump could sign today or tomorrow, would block entry to the United States for 30 days for anyone from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. It would also bar entry for all refugees for 120 days and for those from Syria indefinitely. “While all are Muslim-majority countries, the list does not include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and numerous other Muslim-majority countries,” Abigail Hauslohner and Karen DeYoung report.

Trump scoffs when asked whether his new immigration policies will stoke anger in the Muslim world and motivate Islamic State terrorists. “Anger? There’s plenty of anger right now. How can you have more?” Trump asked interviewer David Muir last night. “The world is a mess. The world is as angry as it gets. What? You think this is gonna cause a little more anger? The world is an angry place!”

“A blanket ban would compromise this nation’s long-standing position as a sanctuary for desperate and innocent people,” the Post’s independent Editorial Board argues this morning. “As a backdoor way for Mr. Trump to partially make good on his proposed Muslim ban, it also would be an affront to this country’s status as an example of religious tolerance.”

-- Bush made the promotion of democracy a central aim of U.S. foreign policy. Trump explicitly rejects this doctrine.

“It is the right of all nations to put their own interests first,” the new president said during his inaugural address last Friday. “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone.”

Bush, during his second inaugural, declared: “It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

Irony alert: Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the start of the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt — “a fleeting moment where it looked as though the Muslim world was tilting toward Western values,” Annie Linskey notes on the front page of the Boston Globe.

-- Bush had warm relations with Mexico. His first foreign trip, less than a month after taking office, was to San Cristobal for a bilateral sit-down with Vicente Fox. One of 43’s deepest regrets remains his failure to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.

Trump is now publicly feuding with the president of Mexico over who will pay for the border wall.

Enrique Peña Nieto reiterated last night that his country will never pony up, under any circumstance. In a video released last night, Peña Nieto said Mexico "offers but also demands respect." And said that the 50 Mexican consulates across the U.S. will "turn into places to defend rights of Mexicans. Where a Mexican needs legal help, they will be there.”

-- Other western countries are looking to fill the vacuum being created by America’s turn inward. The Dutch government just announced that it wants to help set up an international abortion fund to offset the money that NGOs are going to lose because of Trump reinstating the Mexico City policy. The Dutch development ministry says as many as 20 other nations have indicated that they might support the country's effort, per Rick Noack.

-- Outside of Europe, an untold number of our fellow humans – living under despots and longing for self-rule – yearn for the kind of American leadership that Trump feels is too burdensome. Bana al-Abed, the 7-year-old Syrian girl who used her widely-followed Twitter account to chronicle her life in war-torn Aleppo and who has been called the “Anne Frank” of our era, wrote an open letter to President Trump begging him to save her friends. “Can you please save the children and people of Syria?” she writes. “You must do something for the children of Syria because they are like your children and deserve peace like you.” (Read more on the letter here.)

-- Trump spent most of his interview with ABC boasting about himself. Jenna Johnson writes up a pretty stunning exchange: “The way President Trump tells it, the meandering, falsehood-filled, self-involved speech that he gave at the [CIA] headquarters was one of the greatest addresses ever given.”

“That speech was a home run,” Trump told David Muir. “See what Fox said. They said it was one of the great speeches. They showed the people applauding and screaming. … I got a standing ovation. In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl, and they said it was equal. It lasted for a long period of time.”

Four times, the president referred to himself in the third-person. Trump plugged an “extraordinary poll” that he said found that people “loved and liked” his inaugural address, insisted he could have “very, very easily” won the popular vote in the election – which concluded more than 11 weeks ago – had he simply tried. And he said a recent visitor told him that their meeting “was the single greatest meeting I've ever had with anybody.”

Crowd size still really matters to the new president: “As the two toured Trump's new home, the president stopped in front of a framed photo of his inauguration crowd. ‘Here's a picture of the crowd,’ the president explained to the nation he now leads. ‘Now, the audience was the biggest ever, but this crowd was massive. Look how far back it goes … And I would actually take that camera and take your time [scanning the crowd] if you want to know the truth.’” (Read the full transcript here.)

-- In the ABC interview, Trump said construction of the wall will begin within “months.” Earlier Wednesday, he signed measures to create more detention centers, add thousands of Border Patrol agents and cut off funds for so-called “sanctuary cities” that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation. "We are going to restore the rule of law in the United States," Trump told a crowd of DHS employees, who applauded several times during his remarks. "Beginning today, the United States gets control of its borders." (David Nakamura)

-- Paul Ryan said last night on MSNBC that Congress will front the money for the wall. A financial reimbursement from Mexico will come later, both Trump and Ryan now say. Construction industry analysts have said the total costs of a barrier could approach $20 billion.

-- Republican Rep. Will Hurd, whose Texas district includes more miles of U.S.-Mexico border than any other, slammed Trump’s announcement as "the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border”: “Each section of the border faces unique geographical, cultural, and technological challenges that would be best addressed with a flexible, sector-by-sector approach that empowers the agents on the ground with the resources they need,” he said in a statement last night. (Elise Viebeck)

-- Here are five other logistical obstacles Trump will face building a border wall, via Kevin Schaul and Samuel Granados: “We drove the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border — from Brownsville, Tex., to San Diego, with crossings into Mexico scattered throughout — talking to locals and experts about President Trump’s promise to build the wall. … Five notable challenges to building the wall that we observed along the journey. 1. The terrain is very rough in some areas. 2. Unlike Arizona, New Mexico and California, most of Texas is privately owned. 3. Most of the border is natural, but a human-made barrier is not. 4. Surveillance makes the barrier effective. 5. Migrants are determined and often have few options.”

-- Why does the president falsely believe that as many as five million voted illegally? The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush has the stunning answer: When Trump huddled with top House and Senate leaders at the White House on Monday, he backed up his assertions of rampant voter fraud by citing a vague anecdote from a German golfer who is not eligible to vote in the United States. The witnesses described the story this way: [Bernhard] Langer, a 59-year-old native of Bavaria, Germany … was standing in line at a polling place near his home in Florida on Election Day, the president explained, when an official informed Mr. Langer he would not be able to vote. Ahead of and behind Mr. Langer were voters who did not look as if they should be allowed to vote, Mr. Trump said, according to the staff members — but they were nonetheless permitted to cast provisional ballots. The president threw out the names of Latin American countries that the voters might have come from. … The anecdote, the aides said, was greeted with silence, and Mr. Trump was prodded to change the subject by [Reince Priebus] and [John Cornyn] … In the emerging Trump era, the story was a memorable example, for the legislators and the country, of how an off-the-cuff yarn — unverifiable and of confusing origin — became a prime policy mover for a president whose fact-gathering owes more to the oral tradition than the written word.”

-- If it's possible that millions of illegal votes were cast, isn't it possible that such massive fraud could have also helped him? No, says Trump. In fact, zero illegal votes were cast for him, he told ABC last night. “Of those votes cast, none of 'em come to me. None of 'em come to me. They would all be for the other side. None of 'em come to me,” Trump said. He added later: “Those were Hillary votes.” Recall that he won by about 80,00 votes in the three states that mattered. (Philip Bump)

-- Sean Spicer suggested during his briefing that the investigation will focus on large states where Trump didn’t compete. They wouldn't want to focus on the places he won...

-- Oh, and it turns out that multiple Trump staffers, including Steve Bannon and Steven Mnuchin, as well as a first daughter Tiffany, are registered to vote in two states.

-- “It is unclear who will investigate," Sari Horwitz and Jenna Johnson report. “The president could set up an independent commission or task force to look into the claims, which have already been disproved by many national studies. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the president’s investigation would examine ‘the integrity of our voting system’ and not just the 2016 election. The Justice Department, which investigates claims of election crimes, has not historically launched a criminal investigation at the request of a president. An attorney general could order an investigation, but Trump’s nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has not yet been confirmed, and his spokeswoman declined to comment. Justice officials said they knew nothing about an investigation into voter fraud and referred questions to the White House.”

-- Trump announced a new team of ethics lawyers, hours after his family business announced it was hiring a longtime GOP lawyer to ensure the Trump Organization minimizes conflict of interest concerns. Drew Harwell and Tom Hamburger report: “At the White House, the team will be led by Stefan C. Passantino, a [former Newt Gingrich adviser] and election-law expert in private practice who will have the title of deputy assistant to the president for compliance and ethics matters.” The Trump Organization named veteran GOP lawyer and former Bush adviser Bobby Burchfield to serve as an outside ethics adviser.

-- Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida doubled its new member initiation fee to $200,000 after the election, prompting criticism that the newly-minted president is already profiting off his power. Drew Harwell reports: “The increase … could boost the revenue of the Palm Beach club Trump has called the ‘Winter White House.’ It could also directly benefit his private fortune because he has refused to divest his business holdings while in the Oval Office. Since his election victory, Mar-a-Lago has assumed a prized role in Trump’s presidency, rivaling Trump Tower as a focal point of his lifestyle and ambitions. [And] the club’s deep-pocketed clientele are offered the opportunity to encounter the president when he is relaxing at his vacation home. The club is ‘certainly a lot more crowded now that he’s president,’ [said] Jeff Greene, a Florida billionaire and Mar-a-Lago member ... At a recent dinner, Greene said, the crowds were massive, adding, ‘It never used to be that packed.’”

-- Trump's sons are looking to capitalize on their dad's presidency by pursuing an ambitious expansion plan across the country. Bloomberg’s Hui-Yong Yu and Caleb Melby report: “There are 26 major metropolitan areas in the U.S., and we’re in five,” Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger said after a panel discussion at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles. “I don’t see any reason that we couldn’t be in all of them eventually." Having Trump hotels in 26 cities would triple the current total. Danziger, who joined Trump Hotels in August 2015, said that Trump Hotels is considering opening luxury properties in Dallas, Seattle, Denver and San Francisco."

-- At least four top staffers in the Trump administration have accounts on an RNC's email server, Newsweek reports, including Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, Sean Spicer and Steve Bannon. It’s the same one that the Bush administration was accused of using to evade transparency rules after claiming to have “lost” 22 million emails. It’s unclear how or if the staffers are using the account, but the move comes after Trump repeatedly attacked Clinton on the campaign trail for her use of a private email server at the State Department. Now, the new staff risks repeating the same mistake.

-- “Wilbur Ross and the Era of Billionaire Rule,” by Bloomberg Businessweek’s Max Abelson: “Trump’s proposed cabinet has a net worth of more than $6 billion. Ross is by far the richest … [and] how he achieved his fortune—a well-known Wall Street tale of ‘vulture’ investing at its shrewdest—takes on a different cast in light of his nomination. Ross got rich in part with government assistance, taking advantage of bankruptcy laws and tariffs and having others pick up the bill for pensions owed to employees. He’s been on both sides of perhaps the most pivotal issue of the 2016 campaign—free trade—depending on how it affected his own wealth. If confirmed as Commerce secretary, as is widely anticipated, Ross would be expected by Trump’s electorate to deliver on promises of working-class jobs and an industrial renaissance. Yet he would have the means to continue rewarding the Establishment. Even before taking office, he’s pushed policies that would enrich private investors in public projects.”

-- Trump will take his first trip on Air Force One today so he can speak to congressional Republicans at noon in Philadelphia. Mike Pence, flying up separately (because POTUS and VPOTUS never travel on the same aircraft), speaks at 2 p.m.

-- Republicans arrived to Philly hoping to forge a game plan to reshape the health-care system and overhaul tax policy, envisioning that their legislation could finally become law after years of facing off with the Obama White House. “Instead, they found themselves in an all-too-common battle, trying to explain, defend and deflect the latest round of controversial statements by Trump," Paul Kane reports. "Any hope that Trump would avoid distracting fights once he entered the Oval Office faded … as several hundred GOP lawmakers loaded onto a rented Amtrak train to head north for a two-day retreat half a mile from Independence Hall. Filing down an escalator and onto the platform at Washington’s Union Station, House and Senate Republicans smiled and largely avoided questions from the assembled members of the news media … Formally known as the ‘Congress of Tomorrow,’ the GOP retreat’s early steps felt a lot like the campaign of last year.”

-- Senate Democrats are not allowing reporters to attend their retreat in West Virginia this week. But Politico’s Burgess Everett obtained the agenda. Among the planned sessions: “A discussion with Trump voters,” “Speaking to those who feel invisible in rural America,” “Listening to those who feel unheard,” and “Rising America — they feel unheard too.”

-- Smart frame by Abby Phillip and Ashley Parker: “During the campaign, many of Trump’s supporters and even his advisers said they took many of the candidate’s most far-reaching promises seriously – but not literally. Now … Trump is showing that at least some of them were indeed meant literally — putting him at odds not only with critics but with some members of his own party. … [But] Trump’s moves have alarmed Democrats, some of whom were cautiously optimistic that they could work with Trump as a self-proclaimed non-ideological dealmaker but who now see him fulfilling their worst fears.”

-- Unlike most Republicans, Trump does not believe in federalism. He has signaled sweeping intervention into the way state and local officials carry out policing, treat immigrants, and run elections – setting off a wave of defiance and apprehensive from some of America’s largest cities. Katie Zezima, Wesley Lowery and Jose A. DelReal report: “In an executive order signed Wednesday, Trump directed the Department of Homeland Security to find ways to defund cities and jurisdictions out of step with his immigration priorities. That action — which could cost sanctuary cities … millions of dollars — is the latest in a series of moves where Trump has appeared willing to step on state-level or municipal prerogatives. In the scuffle, U.S. mayors have emerged as key players in the resistance to Trump’s agenda. At the center of the sanctuary city debate is a disagreement over whether local police officers should be required to help immigration officials enforce federal immigration laws. Many liberal mayors, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and New York City’s Bill De Blasio, have argued that requiring local police departments to assist immigration agents with deportations could sow distrust among immigrant populations. It could also discourage undocumented victims or witnesses from coming forward to report crimes."

-- Trump -- who flew cross-country hundreds of nights during the campaign to sleep in his own bed -- spoke to the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman about how his new home stacks up to the Trump Tower. “His mornings, he said, are spent as they were in Trump Tower. He rises before 6 a.m., watches television tuned to a cable channel first in the residence, and later in a small dining room in the West Wing, and looks through the morning newspapers … But his meetings now begin at 9 a.m., earlier than they used to, which significantly curtails his television time. Still, Mr. Trump, who does not read books, is able to end his evenings with plenty of television. Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, went back to New York … and so Mr. Trump has the television — and his old, unsecured Android phone, to the protests of some of his aides — to keep him company. ‘It’s a beautiful residence, it’s very elegant,’ Mr. Trump said, deploying one of his highest forms of praise.”

-- “One of the two leading finalists to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, Judge Thomas Hardiman, has a quiet but influential ally in the high-stakes legal drama: Trump’s sister," Politico’s Shane Goldmacher reports: “Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who serves with Hardiman on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, has spoken to her brother in favor of elevating him to the high court … ‘Maryanne is high on Hardiman,’ said one adviser who has spoken directly with the president about the matter. ‘They are regularly sitting together, deciding cases together, participating together in oral arguments,’ said appellate lawyer Matthew Stiegler … Stiegler was among those who see Barry’s hidden hand behind the steady ascent of Hardiman, who was among the lesser-known judges under consideration.”

-- A document provided last month to governors offers an early look at the wide array of projects that could be funded under Trump’s sweeping infrastructure project. John Wagner scoops: “Projects listed in the document include rehabilitation of some major airports and rail stations, such as Union Station in Washington. It includes highway and bridge projects, such as an overhaul of the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Virginia. And it includes mass-transit projects, such as the proposed Purple Line light-rail system in Maryland. There are also potential overhauls of the nation’s air traffic control system, hydroelectric plants and energy grid, as well as ports and waterways.” The list comes after the National Governor’s Association polled each state for help compiling three to five projects apiece to forward to Trump’s team. While there is no dollar figure attached to individual projects on the list, a letter sent by the NGA says the “initial spend” on projects is expected to be $150 billion during 2017, with the effort continuing over additional years.

-- Federal agents are reinvestigating dozens of Syrian refugees already in the U.S. after discovering a vetting lapse that allowed some who had potentially negative background information in their files to enter the country. The LA Times’ Del Quentin Wilber and Brian Bennett scoop: Agents have not concluded that any of the refugees should have been rejected for entry, but at a minimum would have triggered further investigation. The refugees whose cases are under review include one who failed a polygraph test when he applied to work at a U.S. military installation overseas and another who may have been in communication with an Islamic State leader.

-- Trump tapped the longtime manager of a private equity fund, Philip Bilden, to be the next secretary of the Navy. He is a former Army captain. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)

-- Greenpeace-affiliated protesters were arrested after they scaled a 270-foot construction crane in downtown Washington and unfurled a large banner reading: “Resist.” Five protesters spent the day on the arm of the crane, while two chained themselves to the tower, blocking potential arrest efforts by police and preventing the crane operator from reaching the controls. (Peter Hermann and Mandy McLaren)

-- “Trump’s election may have inspired a birth control boom,” Vox’s Sarah Kliff reports. IUD insertions have spiked since the election. A new data set found the percent of IUD prescriptions and procedures increased 19 percent between October and December. No similar pattern was observed at the end of 2015.

-- An anonymous group of people claiming to be National Park Service employees created a Twitter account using the agency’s official logo and unleashed on the Trump administration for “muzzling” federal workers, Darryl Fears and Kayla Epstein report. The move comes after the White House barred the federal agencies from speaking to the press and public through social media.

-- D.C. officials warned that Washington could lose millions -- or even billions -- in annual federal assistance following Trump’s order to crack down on sanctuary cities and limit their funding. Aaron C. Davis, Peter Jamison and Fenit Nirappil report: “[Budget officials] said the use of the word ‘funds’ could include a wide range of federal assistance to the city, including even $2.5 billion in annual Medicaid contributions, or roughly 20 percent of the city’s total annual spending.” Still, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the District would remain a sanctuary city, even as she said the impact to the city remained entirely unclear.

-- When British Prime Minister Theresa May travels to the White House to meet Trump on Friday, the two will have much in common to discuss, Griff Witte and Anne Gearan report. “Yet beneath the similarities lie profound differences in style and substance that make the two leaders less the second coming of the Thatcher-Reagan transatlantic lovefest and more a geopolitical odd couple. May is everything that Trump is not: a careful, low-key and pragmatic member of the political establishment with a decades-long career in elective office. She holds mainstream positions on critical issues such as trade and security [and] prizes the NATO military alliance and holds skeptical views of Russia — uncertain ground with Trump. Whether those differences dominate their meeting or they manage to bond over their shared circumstances, this could be a critical moment for both leaders."

May probably has more to gain or lose from the visit, experts say. But the diplomacy will be “exceptionally tricky”: “She cannot afford to antagonize the famously thin-skinned Trump, because she needs his support for a trade deal. But if she does not challenge him, said [London politics professor Tim Bale], then ‘she’ll be seen to be sucking up to someone who shouldn’t be sucked up to and who can’t be relied upon. That could backfire at home, and it could do damage to her relations with other European leaders."

-- The Japanese remain wary about the future under Trump – but they have taken a far more immediate liking to the new first daughter. Anna Fifield reports from Tokyo: Ivanka Trump is widely revered as the “perfect woman” in the highly patriarchal society, and the popularity of her brands has skyrocketed as women wonder, breathlessly, how the put-together mother and career woman seems to have it all.” “She is a good example that a woman can do an outstanding job and handle a misogynist father like Trump, without pushing too much of a feminist agenda or confronting men too much,” said one blogger in Japan. “That is something that Japanese women want but have a hard time doing in a still male-dominated society.”

-- Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, the Times of Israel reports. In a statement, Netanyahu’s office said Giuliani delivered a “personal message” from Trump to the prime minister, in anticipation of their scheduled meeting in early February.

-- The Post’s Ishaan Tharoor calls Trump “the U.S.’s first Latin American president”: “If it weren't clear before the inauguration, it certainly is now: Trump's presidency represents a radical departure from the norms of American politics. Yet to observers elsewhere, Trumpism feels deeply familiar. Trump may want to stop the flow of migrants and goods from south of the border, but he has imported a political style ingrained in Latin American politics: that of the nationalist demagogue. A number of Latin American analysts have suggested over the past year that it's useful to view Trump through the lens of the ‘caudillo,’ or strongman. It's a tradition that extends from the last days of Simón Bolivar, South America's great liberator, to the current bluster of leaders … Sure, Trump is no military despot like Chile's late Augusto Pinochet … nor is he a defiant autocrat like the late Hugo Chávez … But to those who have lived under such leaders, it feels like Trump has been taking notes.”

-- Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii met with President Bashar al-Assad during her secret trip to Syria last week and, now that she's returned, is downplaying his responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. "Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria," she told CNN’s Jake Tapper last night. "In order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur, there has to be a conversation with him." She added that the Syrians she met with told her there are “no moderate rebels” in the country.

-- Why the blowback matters: Gabbard is one of the most hyper-ambitious members of Congress. She resigned as a vice chair of the DNC last year so she could support Bernie Sanders, which many in Hawaii’s political class perceived as a strategically-motivated play to position herself for a future statewide run.

Disruption of the American political system: “Disrupting the U.S. is usually Putin’s default setting (see also: Syria), because Putin believes that which weakens the U.S., usually strengthens Russia. Remember, Putin views democracy as an existential threat to his regime, and the more distracted the U.S. is with internal political matters, the less it will be fomenting color revolutions and attempting to unseat dictators (e.g. Assad). Cracks in the U.S. political system – especially in a bedrock piece of it like elections – also plays to a favorite Kremlin theme, namely that democracy is a fatally flawed, hypocritical system, and that autocracies, such as Russia’s or China’s, are no worse, and in many ways better.”

Disrupting and discrediting the U.S. intelligence system: “It is difficult to imagine Putin himself doing a better job of scripting what Trump has said about the U.S. Intelligence Community in the wake of the hacks. … This is a win on two levels for Putin. First … Russians always believe that U.S. intelligence enjoys much more political power than it really does. So Putin probably believes the CIA, NSA, and FBI have been badly hobbled, and their influence with the White House seriously eroded. Second, on an emotional level, it must please the former KGB officer in Putin to see his arch enemies take hits from the incoming president. Morale, the Kremlin probably assumes, must be low inside U.S. intelligence. This can only be good for Russia.”

Recognition of Russia as an equal, at least on cyber: “It is worth recalling that a great deal of what drives Russian foreign policy is Putin, and Russia’s need to feel they are strategic players on the world stage. … Search on your computer how many times senior Russian officials use terms like ‘respecting Russia’ and ‘Russia is a great power.’”

Intense American focus on the hack, not the larger influence operation: “The hacking of the DNC, as well as other targets in the U.S., has caused a great dust storm of media and public attention on all things cyber, which is excellent news for the other, arguably more important parts of the much larger Russian influence operation.”

-- Mike Rounds of South Dakota is going to play an important role in one of the Senate’s two Russia investigations. From Karoun Demirjian: “In the next week or two, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, his committee will launch its official investigation into how best to deter and counteract cyber-threats posed by countries such as Russia. He plans to do so with at least one full committee hearing. … Following that, at an undetermined point in the future, the plan is to hand off the day-to-day of that investigation to the head of a new cyber-security subcommittee.”

Backstory: Lindsey Graham was supposed to chair this new subcommittee. BUT it would have been his third gavel, so under the conference rules he’d need to get a waiver from GOP leadership. They might not have wanted to give someone willing to criticize the president a bigger platform to highlight Trump’s links to Russia. So McCain is giving the spot to Rounds, but he’s also giving himself a spot on the subcommittee.

Rounds will not have a free hand: In an interview with Karoun, Rounds said he has confidence in the new administration because of James Mattis as Pentagon chief. Rounds also said that he is “not looking for a fight” with the Trump administration, but added that he is prepared “to go wherever the information takes us,” promising “we’re going to get results.”

The obscure South Dakotan has lobbied for cyber security responses in relatively quiet anonymity, but his signature mark in the arena is the current law, passed as part of a massive defense bill last year, insisting the Pentagon define when a cyber breach or attack constitutes an act of war. “His goal now is to craft policy describing what to do in the event of a cyber attack,” Karoun reports. “He would not outline his ideal terms, pledge to fully publicize the results or endorse new sanctions on Russia. … But Rounds said that would-be hackers and adversaries should understand there will be ‘serious repercussions’ for anyone trying in the future to interfere with an election through cyberspace.”

-- The Leading Authorities speaker’s bureau deleted marketing materials from its website that advertised joint paid appearances featuring Clinton manager Robby Mook and Trump manager Corey Lewandowski. The firm said the material had been generated by their own team, not Mook or Lewandowski, and said the two “want to be clear they have not teamed up.” (Buzzfeed)

-- What prompted Trump’s war with CNN? New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reports that there may be a personal dimension at play: “… Trump has told White House staffers that he feels personally betrayed by CNN chief Jeff Zucker. Trump complains that Zucker should be programming CNN more favorably toward him because of their long relationship, which can be traced back to 2004 when Zucker put The Apprentice on NBC. Trump has also said … Zucker owes him because Trump helped get him the job at CNN. According to CNN sources, Trump’s claim that he assisted Zucker in landing the top job at the network is false. Trump seems to have gotten the idea because he praised Zucker to Turner Broadcasting’s then-CEO Phil Kent at a charity dinner in the fall of 2012, a few months before CNN hired Zucker. But CNN sources say Turner had already decided to hire Zucker ... ‘This is entirely personal,’ one CNN high-level source said. ‘Trump thinks just because he’s known Jeff that CNN should be covering him like Fox News does.’”

-- Bloomberg Businessweek, “The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World," by Brad Stone: “In January 2009 the three founders of a little-known website called decided at the last minute to attend the inauguration of Barack Obama. [They] were all in their mid-20s and had no tickets to the festivities, or winter clothes, or even a firm grasp of the week’s schedule. But they saw an opportunity … By day [the founders] passed out AirBed & Breakfast fliers at the Dupont Circle Metro station. ‘Rent your room! Rent your room!’ they cried to the bundled-up commuters, who mostly ignored them. At night they met other AirBed & Breakfast hosts in the city, talked their way into inaugural parties, and answered multiple e-mails from a disgruntled customer—the guest in the basement bedroom. In a barrage of complaints, she said she was certain she smelled marijuana, that the juice she’d left in the fridge had been taken, and that the house didn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. At one point she threatened to call the police. Chesky, Gebbia, and Blecharczyk sat just a few feet above her head, typing out apologetic replies …”

At the White House: Trump receives his daily briefing, travels to Philadelphia to meet with Republican lawmakers on retreat, returns to Washington to meet with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) -- the two guys taking point on tax reform -- and then signs an executive order, presumably on immigration.

On Capitol Hill: The Senate and House are out for the rest of the week. Senate Democrats are at a closed-press retreat in West Virginia, and Republicans from both chambers are doing a joint retreat in Philly.

British Prime Minister Theresa May will address members of Congress at the retreat before traveling to Washington to meet with Trump on Friday.

-- Some possible A.M. showers and a windy afternoon ahead, per today’s Capital Weather Gang forecast: “There is a decent chance for a shower or two around the morning commute. The showers depart quickly as much drier air comes pouring in behind the cold front that marks the end of our mild spell. Winds steadily pick up the pace reaching 10-20 mph, gusting to 35 mph by midday. Temperatures struggle to go up much but, given that they start as a relatively high point, mid-to-upper 50s are still achievable through early afternoon, before starting to descend.”

-- Another Virginia school board has declined to move forward with policies that would affirm protections for LGBT students or employees. From Moriah Balingit: “The Loudoun County School Board voted down two measures that would have clarified that employees are protected from discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The school system is the third in Northern Virginia to delay or decline to add LGBT protections, pointing to pending litigation that has left the law unclear, including a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court in which a transgender boy sued a Virginia school board for the right to use the boys’ bathroom. … The Fairfax County School Board halted an effort to add regulations to its anti-discrimination policy in July to sort out legal issues regarding the regulations. The Prince William County School Board voted in September to postpone a vote on a measure to extend protections to transgender students and staff until June 2017.”

-- After Democrats carried Virginia for three presidential elections in a row, Republicans in the state House are pushing a bill that would end the familiar "winner take all" system of awarding electoral votes and replace it with a system to award them by congressional district. In 2016, Hillary won 49.8 percent of Virginia's popular vote but all of its 13 electoral votes. Had those votes been allocated by congressional district instead, Clinton would have received only 7 while Trump got 6. (Chris Ingraham)

-- Jazz Lewis, a former campaign director to Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) who was Maryland political director for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, was nominated to succeed former state delegate Michael L. Vaughn in the state’s General Assembly. Lewis was chosen by the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee after a packed, hours-long meeting. (Arelis Hernandez)


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