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Vox Sentences: Trump is weighing military action against Syria

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Trump considers military action against Assad; McConnell goes nuclear in the Senate; China’s Xi Jinping visits Mar-a-Lago.


Trump is weighing military action against Assad

President Trump Holds CEO Town Hall On US Business Climate At White House
President Trump speaking in DC earlier this week
Win McNamee/Getty Images
  • Reports indicate that the US government is weighing military action in Syria, and that “an immediate, overnight strike” is one option under consideration. [Associated Press / Julia Pace and Vivian Salama]
  • Both President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have signaled a change in the US’s stance on Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad following a chemical attack on Syrian civilians that is widely suspected to have been carried out by Assad’s regime. [Associated Press / Julia Pace and Vivian Salama]
  • Trump has said “something should happen” to Assad, and Tillerson has said of the Syrian strongman, who attacked his own citizens with chemical weapons in 2013, “With the acts that he has taken, it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people.” [The Hill / Max Greenwood]
  • Meetings on the topic are expected to occur at Mar-a-Lago tonight, where Trump is hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping. Reportedly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster have already been in discussions on possible military action, and Mattis will meet with Trump in person in Florida. [Reuters / Phil Stewart]
  • Meanwhile, the US (along with Britain and France) is pushing the UN Security Council to approve a resolution condemning Assad for the attack and pressuring Syria to cooperate with investigators — though negotiations are ongoing through Thursday night. [Reuters]
  • The UN’s action at this stage is important. Without Security Council approval, US military action against Syria could violate the terms of the UN charter. This was likely one of the things stopping President Obama from doing more to combat Assad — since no condemnation of Assad has been able to get past the UNSC so far. [New York Times / Jack L. Goldsmith]
  • The reason: Russia, which has a history of basically unconditional support for Assad’s regime. As evidence and accounts of Assad’s crimes against humanity have stacked up, other means of international intervention have lagged as well. In 2014, Russia and China blocked a UN resolution that would have put war crimes committed in the Syrian civil war under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. [New Yorker / Ben Taub]
  • But Russia might be waffling. Vladimir Putin called the mounting evidence that the attack was carried out by Assad’s regime “groundless accusations.” But hours after Putin’s quote made headlines, his spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told the Associated Press that “unconditional support is not possible in this current world.” [Guardian / Matthew Weaver, Rowena Mason, Martin Chulov, Emma Graham-Harrison]
  • The reason might have something to do with Trump — because as long as Putin backs Assad, a seismic shift in Trump’s position on Syria is inevitably a shift in position on Russia too. Trump campaigned on keeping America out of foreign conflicts, and shady ties between Trump’s associates and the Russian government are under FBI investigation — but Trump said of the chemical attack in Syria, “It’s very possible … that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed.” [Vox / Yochi Dreazen]
  • If Trump does decide to attack Syria, it’s unclear what the fallout will be — and what the cost might be to Syrian civilians. Many foreign policy experts warned that American intervention couldn’t “fix” Syria when Obama was weighing it — which is no less true now that the intervenor would be Trump. [Vox / Emma Ashford]
  • And then there are the conflicts Trump's inherited: An airstrike monitoring group has said that civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria due to US-led airstrikes have surged in the past few months. [Washington Post / Thomas Gibbons-Neff​]

Nuclear (option) fallout

Protestors Hold Sit In To Protest Gorsuch Nomination To The Supreme Court
Demonstrators from Democracy Spring protest against Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
  • As of today, the Senate no longer requires 60 votes to confirm a Supreme Court nominee; it only needs a simple majority of 51. [Associated Press / Erica Werner]
  • The lead-up: Most Democrats attempted to block the nomination of President Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, by refusing to grant the 60 votes needed for cloture (which would allow the Senate to vote on Gorsuch’s nomination after 30 more hours). The centerpiece of their effort was a 15-hour speech from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). [Vox / Jeff Stein]
  • The main action: On Thursday morning, 45 Democrats stood firm against cloture — failing the vote. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed amending the Senate’s rules so that only 51 votes are needed to advance a nominee going forward, not 60. His rule change was approved in a party-line vote — allowing cloture to then be invoked with the same 55 votes that had failed to get it over the threshold the first time. [New York Times / Wilson Andrews, Audrey Carlsen, Jasmine C. Lee, Alicia Parlapiano, Anjali Singhvi]
  • The rule change, known at the nuclear option, indeed makes it possible to confirm Gorsuch’s nomination with a simple majority. But more importantly, it also threatens to fundamentally reshape the makeup of the court, as increasingly ideologically extreme judges could be nominated and confirmed in the future without the need for at least some bipartisan agreement on nominees. [New York Times / Matt Flegenheimer]
  • Tomorrow there will be a final Senate vote on Gorsuch, and Republicans are optimistic he will sail through the confirmation vote, given that there are 52 Republicans in the Senate and the new threshold for confirmation is only 51 votes. [Washington Post / Ed O’Keefe]
  • As for the state of affairs in the Senate, after Gorsuch is confirmed (which seems nearly inevitable), the next battle could be over the legislative filibuster. Like the original Senate rule for Supreme Court nominees, it can only be broken by 60 votes, but it is used when the Senate is voting on bills. [Washington Post / James Hohmann]
  • Taking the long view, though, losing the filibuster might not be such a bad thing. As Steven Waldman points out in the Times, without the filibuster, during Obama and Bush’s presidencies alone, a massive amount of legislation that could have been broadly beneficial to Americans could have been passed. He lists: “The Toomey-Manchin background check bill for guns; the provision allowing people to have a ‘public option’ for health care on the Obamacare exchanges; comprehensive immigration reform; an increase in the minimum wage; and the bipartisan campaign finance bill, called the Disclose Act.” [New York Times / Steven Waldman]
  • It’s also worth noting that Cornell law professor Josh Chafetz argued in a 2010 paper that the modern use of the filibuster is unconstitutional. Today in the Washington Post, he argues that the death of the filibuster was inevitable, and frames its problems thusly: “We would never allow legislators to entrench themselves in office by requiring supermajorities to unseat them, so why should we allow a functionally similar threshold for what those legislators do in office?” [Josh Chafetz / Washington Post​]

Nuclear (fallout) option

Chinese President Xi Jinping Arrives To West Palm Beach For Visit With President Trump
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping after he arrived at Palm Beach International Airport.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • President Trump is face to face with China’s President Xi Jinping for a 24-hour summit running through Friday — and North Korea’s nuclear program is likely to be at the top of the agenda. [CNN / Jeremy Diamond]
  • After all, it was only days ago that Trump told the Financial Times the US would “solve North Korea” on its own if China wouldn’t step in to help diffuse the growing threat that North Korea’s nuclear program represents. [Financial Times / Lionel Barber, Demetri Sevastopulo, Gillian Tett]
  • Then on Wednesday, North Korea launched a projectile that seemed to be an extended-range missile. It traveled less than its projected range before crashing into the sea, but it’s the latest indicator that North Korea may be closer to its goal of hitting the US with a long-range missile — and many are wondering if the timing of its launch might have been a cryptically strategic effort to influence the US/China summit. [Reuters / James Pearson, Ju-min Park]
  • Trade is another major topic the two are slated to discuss. Trump has claimed that the US has “been treated unfairly and [has] made terrible trade deals with China for many, many years.“ He promised, “That’s one of the things we are going to be talking about.” [Washington Post / David Nakamura]
  • The tense negotiations ahead of the two leaders may seem to cry for some relaxed conversation on the golf course à la the visit from Japan’s Shinzo Abe, but don’t expect it. Former Chairman Mao Zedong called golf a “sport for millionaires,” and the stigma has stuck around: Since 2011 China has closed one-sixth of its golf courses. [Guardian / Benjamin Haas]
  • But don’t expect Xi to make a scene: It’s widely reported that his biggest goal for this summit is to meet with Trump without an embarrassing incident. “Ensuring President Xi does not lose face is a top priority for China,” a Chinese official told Reuters. [Reuters / Steve Holland]
  • It’s hard to project how an interaction between the two leaders will play out, because it’s actually up for debate how much authority Xi has. As Isaac Stone Fish writes for the Atlantic: “How much leeway does Xi have to make on-the-spot decisions, particularly those involving China’s support for North Korea, or the militarization of the South China Sea? Can he compromise on trade? Does he have institutional support to change China’s future? The answer to at least one of those questions may well be no, meaning that Trump will be negotiating with someone without a solid grip on the reins of power, in thrall to the top of the party.” [Atlantic / Isaac Stone Fish]

Miscellaneous

  • Steve Bannon is reportedly going around calling Jared Kushner a “globalist” and a “cuck,” in case you were wondering if the White House was functioning at all. [Daily Beast / Asawin Suebsaeng]
  • Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari is using his Medium blog to call the head of JPMorgan Chase a two-faced hypocrite, and it's just great. [Medium / Neel Kashkari]
  • The conspiracy theorist and filmmaker David Crowley, a favorite of Alex Jones's, killed his wife, his 4-year-old daughter, and himself in 2014, when he was 28. He left behind a diary that is one of the few firsthand accounts of the onset of psychosis. [New Yorker / Alec Wilkinson]
  • Uber and Lyft have obviously taken market share from taxis. But they've also cut into another business: ambulances to the ER. And that’s not great. [STAT / Leah Samuel]
  • It's really easy to get scammed at the hospital, by getting out-of-network charges or private rooms your insurer doesn't cover. Here's how to avoid it. [Medium / Elisabeth Rosenthal]

Verbatim

  • “Unsecured light objects may become projectiles.” [National Weather Service via Washington Post / David Streit and Jason Samenow]
  • “Many of the Mormon Romney-backers I spoke to talked about his call to public service in spiritual terms — with some even making half-joking references to ‘White Horse Prophecy,’ a bit of apocryphal LDS folk doctrine that predicts the US Constitution will one day ‘hang by a thread’ and Mormons will have to save it.” [The Atlantic / McKay Coppins]
  • “I also suffer from a more complicated affliction, which I am happy to explain, called Resting Bitch Personality.” [The Hairpin / Silvia Killingsworth]
  • “‘I’m on the Russian payroll now, when you work at Sputnik you’re being paid by the Russians,’ former Breitbart investigative reporter Lee Stranahan told me. ‘That’s what it is. I don’t have any qualms about it. Nothing about it really affects my position on stuff that I’ve had for years now.’” [The Atlantic / Rosie Gray]
  • “We are conjoined twins at the DMV and NYPD. Forever. And neither of us minds.” [The Guardian / Lisa Selin Davis]

Watch this: Why Neil Gorsuch is the wrong justice for a divided country

The time for a compromise nominee is now. [Vox / Matteen Mokalla, Ezra Klein]


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