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The Daily 202: Syria walk-backs underscore the rashness of Trump’s initial withdrawal announcement

President Trump reiterated on Jan. 6 that the United States would be pulling its troops out of Syria, but he suggested the move might not happen soon. (Video: Reuters)

with Joanie Greve

With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Tweet first, ask questions later.

That’s been President Trump’s approach to a host of issues — think of the transgender troop ban — but perhaps nowhere more so than on Syria.

Since his abrupt announcement three weeks ago that he was immediately pulling U.S. forces out of the country, the president has appeared to vacillate under pressure from hawkish Republicans. And his own top aides have contradicted him as they lay out conditions for withdrawal that create wiggle room to keep boots on the ground.

“I never said we're doing it that quickly, but we're decimating ISIS,” Trump told reporters Sunday morning as he headed for Camp David. “With that being said, we're pulling out of Syria. But … we won't be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.”

That’s a big but. It’s also at odds with Trump’s initial announcement that the U.S. would depart within 30 days and that the Islamic State has been defeated, not “decimated.”

Meanwhile, visiting Jerusalem to reassure Israeli leaders on Sunday, White House national security adviser John Bolton acknowledged that pockets of the Islamic State remain undefeated and argued that a quick pullout could endanger U.S. forces. He pledged that the Kurds in Syria would be protected and added that “the defense of Israel and other friends in the region is absolutely assured.”

“The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement,” Bolton said during a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

National security advisor John Bolton said on Jan. 6 the withdrawal of troops depends on a guarantee that Turkey will not target Kurdish forces. (Video: Reuters)

-- Two fresh data points from Sunday show that the Islamic State, while in retreat, has not been vanquished.

1. A missile attack by the Islamic State wounded two British soldiers and killed at least one Kurdish fighter they were with in eastern Syria, per the AP. It’s the first known casualty by coalition forces since Trump announced the pullout.

2. Kurdish forces in Syria said Sunday that they had captured two American citizens hiding out in the country’s final Islamic State stronghold,” per Louisa Loveluck and Erin Cunningham. “In a statement, the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, identified the detainees as Warren Christopher Clark, 34, and Zaid Abed al-Hamid, 35. … In a sign of how far some of the group’s members had traveled as their battlefields shrank, the SDF said Sunday that Clark and Hamid had been captured hundreds of miles from Mosul, in the Hajin area of eastern Syria. … Clark was a Texas resident and worked as a substitute teacher in the Houston area before traveling to Saudi Arabia and Turkey to teach English … He reportedly converted to Islam in 2004 and later became radicalized online.”

-- Moreover, the U.S.-led coalition appears to have ramped up active military operations in the wake of Trump’s announcement. “Between December 16 and December 29, US-led coalition military forces conducted 469 air and artillery strikes targeting ISIS in Syria,” CNN reports. “The strikes were carried out against ISIS fighters, buildings, oil facilities, vehicles, tunnels, weapons caches and improvised explosive device facilities … Prior to that period the coalition had been averaging about 200 strikes per week in Syria as fighting around the ISIS-held town of Hajin ramped up.”

-- “Among the policy decisions still to be made is what to do about the tens of thousands of Syrian Kurdish fighters that U.S. forces have trained, armed and advised to carry out the ground war against the Islamic State,” Karen DeYoung and Karoun Demirjian report. “While Trump has expressed confidence that Turkey, which controls its own Syrian force opposed to both the Kurds and to President Bashar al-Assad, is capable of picking up the remaining fight against the Islamic State, Pentagon and State Department officials question Turkish priorities and capabilities. … Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have stated repeatedly in recent months that driving Iran from Syria was also an objective for both the United States and Israel. But Trump appeared to indicate Sunday that both Iran and Russia, whose forces in Syria back Assad, were potential U.S. allies against the Islamic State.”

During a Jan. 2 Cabinet meeting, President Trump said his decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal had significantly weakened Iran. (Video: The Washington Post)

-- These are the kinds of significant questions that would typically be hashed out during an interagency process before a public announcement. A review of the timeline illustrates how erratic the Trump administration’s rhetoric has been:

Dec. 14: What triggered all this was a phone call from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Trump was briefed before to warn the Turkish leader not to invade Syria, as he had been threatening to do,” per David Ignatius. “But Trump instead told Erdogan: ‘You know what? It’s yours. I’m leaving.’”

Dec. 19: Trump announces the withdrawal. “Our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now,” he said in a video posted to Twitter. “We won.”

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria,” Trump added, “my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

Dec. 20: Jim Mattis resigned as defense secretary during what one senior administration official described that day as a disagreement in the Oval Office, in which Mattis sought to persuade the president to stand down on the Syria withdrawal but was rejected.

“Getting out of Syria was no surprise,” Trump tweeted. “I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. … Time to come home.”

Indeed, Trump had declared extemporaneously in March during a speech in Ohio: “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now!” Then he backed off in the face of resistance from aides and the brass — just like he might be doing again.

Dec. 24: Trump declared that “Saudi Arabia has now agreed to spend the necessary money needed to help rebuild Syria, instead of the United States.” The Saudis responded that they had not made any financial pledges since August, when the State Department announced that Riyadh had committed $100 million to a stabilization fund.

Dec. 26: Trump told reporters on Air Force One during his flight to Iraq that he would reject any request from generals to again extend his deadline for pulling out. “They said again, recently, ‘Can we have more time?’” Trump said of U.S. generals. “I said: ‘Nope! You can’t have any more time! You’ve had enough time!’ We’ve knocked them out.”

Speaking to the troops, Trump criticized their commanders for failing to meet the previous deadlines he set. “We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” the president said.

Dec. 30: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters after eating lunch with Trump at the White House that the president reassured him the Syria decision was more of a “pause situation” than a withdrawal.

Dec. 31: “ISIS is mostly gone,” Trump tweeted. “We’re slowly sending our troops back home.”

Jan. 3: Trump said during a Cabinet meeting that Iran’s leadership “can do what they want” in Syria.

Jan. 4: In response to reports that Trump extended his deadline for pulling out from 30 days to four months, one of four senior administration officials speaking to reporters during a background briefing said, “We have no timeline for our forces to withdraw from Syria.”

President Trump defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria during an unannounced visit to Iraq on Dec. 26. (Video: The Washington Post)

-- All these recalibrations have underscored just how rash that initial announcement was. Trump’s words pack less of a punch when allies and adversaries alike take them less seriously. President Barack Obama also learned this the hard way when he said Assad using chemical weapons would be a “red line” and then didn’t forcefully respond when he did.

-- Cleanup on Aisle Nine: Senior administration officials are fanning out across the Middle East this week on a handholding mission to reassure anxious allies. Bolton will visit Turkey on Tuesday. Pompeo has stops scheduled in eight countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt and Jordan.

-- For his part, Trump continues to insist on unflinching loyalty. The chief of staff at the Pentagon has been forced out of his post because of White House concerns about his close ties to Mattis, the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold reports: “The Pentagon announced that Kevin Sweeney, a retired Navy rear admiral who had worked closely with Mr. Mattis, had stepped down. … Mr. Sweeney had worked alongside Mr. Mattis at several points during his career, including when Mr. Mattis was still in uniform … The bond was a source of concern to the White House, the U.S. officials said, adding the appointment of Pat Shanahan as acting secretary by [Trump] last month was seen as an opportunity to remove Mr. Sweeney. …

“Mr. Sweeney had expressed a desire to stay on at the Pentagon as recently as last week,” per the Journal. “Some officials believed he would provide continuity during the transition from Mr. Mattis to Mr. Shanahan. But, under pressure from the White House, Mr. Shanahan informed Mr. Sweeney on Friday that he was removing him as chief of staff Friday.”

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-- “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book” took home surprise honors at a Golden Globes ceremony marked by a Hollywood consensus on the need for industry change, television critic Hank Stuever reports. “The stars are bored. It’s their own fault, really, and it’s mostly a good thing: They’re woke and on board with Hollywood’s attempts at a corrective course on diversity and equal rights, which is why Sunday night’s telecast of the 76th annual Golden Globe Awards on NBC lacked the boozy, loosey-goosey tension of its renowned past. But is that really such a sacrifice, in exchange for solidarity? This was a by-the-book but overlong awards show, gentle on the jokes and heavy on the adulation.

“In the film categories, big winners of the evening included the surprise choice of the Freddie Mercury biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (for best drama); ‘Green Book’ (best musical or comedy); lead acting (drama) awards for Rami Malek (‘Bohemian Rhapsody’) and an utterly surprised Glenn Close (‘The Wife’); and ‘Roma,’ which won best foreign language film and best director (Alfonso Cuarón). In the television categories, Golden Globes went to FX’s ‘The Americans’ (best drama, at long last); Netflix’s ‘The Kominsky Method’ (best comedy, a very Golden Globes-kind of choice); and FX’s ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story’ (best limited series).” Here is the full list of winners.

Texas police announced on Jan. 6 that they had charged a man with capital murder in the shooting death of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes. (Video: Reuters)


  1. A man was charged in the fatal shooting of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes. The killing of Jazmine last week in Houston set off a manhunt amid speculation that it was racially motivated. But authorities said they believe Barnes may have been shot at “as a result of mistaken identity.” (Michael Brice-Saddler)

  2. A Saudi woman who fled to Bangkok in the hope of seeking asylum in Australia will not be immediately deported. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, said she escaped from her family because she feared for her life and is now demanding a meeting with the U.N.'s refugee agency. “If deporting her would result in her death, we definitely wouldn’t want to do that,” the head of Thailand’s immigration bureau said. (Shibani Mahtani)

  3. A Christian ministry in South Carolina is requesting an exemption from the Trump administration to continue imposing a Christians-only rule for its foster-care program. The ministry’s policy violates a regulation put in place during the final days of the Obama administration, which bars religious discrimination for the federally funded program. (Laura Meckler)

  4. Producer Susan Zirinsky will become the first woman to lead CBS News. She will replace David Rhodes, who has held the job since 2011 and is nearing the end of his contract. (LA Times)

  5. The Philadelphia Eagles advanced to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs after defeating the Chicago Bears. The Los Angeles Chargers also beat the Baltimore Ravens in their wild-card matchup. (Adam Kilgore)

  6. A group of soldiers in Gabon staged a failed coup attempt against the central African country’s absent president. Just hours after they seized control of the national broadcaster, four of the five soldiers had been arrested, according to a government spokesman. (Max Bearak)
  7. Belgium has banned ritual slaughters of animals. The move, which went into effect on New Year’s Day, was praised by animal rights advocates and right-wing nationalists, but religious minorities fear they are the target of legal bigotry. (New York Times)

  8. A dispute between dog walkers in a Philadelphia park resulted in a fatal injury. Police say the victim asked another man not to let his dog run around without a leash. The man punched the victim, who fell to the ground and hit his head. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital. (AP)

Lawmakers from both parties discussed on Jan. 6 how a deal could be reached to end the government shutdown. (Video: Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)


-- The Trump administration and Democratic leaders are still at an impasse over the border wall — signaling an indefinite continuation of the partial government shutdown that is now in its third week. Robert Costa, Juliet Eilperin, Damian Paletta and Nick Miroff report: “As agencies sought to deal with cascading problems across the federal bureaucracy, acting White House budget director Russell T. Vought sent congressional leaders a letter detailing the administration’s latest offer to end the shutdown. It demanded $5.7 billion ‘for construction of a steel barrier for the Southwest border’ but also proposed ‘an additional $800 million to address urgent humanitarian needs’ and unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the border. The administration has also signaled it would be willing to restore some version of an Obama-era program that allowed children in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to apply for refugee resettlement in the United States ...

“But a border wall is ‘central to any strategy,’ Vought wrote, and Democrats — who have said the wall should not be tied to an agreement to reopen the government — remained skeptical of any overtures by the president, suggesting that there is no end in sight to the shutdown, which has entered its third week. A Democratic official familiar with the meeting said no progress was made over the weekend, in large part because the White House hasn’t been forthcoming about how the money would be used or why the request is for so much more than the administration sought only a few months ago.”

-- Trump reiterated his threat to declare a national emergency to fund a border wall. Robert Costa, Felicia Sonmez and Nick Miroff report: “Trump also said Sunday that he understood the predicament facing hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are not receiving their paychecks. ‘I can relate, and I’m sure the people who are on the receiving end will make adjustments; they always do,’ Trump said. He claimed that ‘many of those people agree with what I’m doing’: refusing to reopen the government without obtaining funding for his long-promised border wall. And he further backed away from the notion of a concrete wall, telling reporters that he has informed his staff to now say ‘steel barrier.’ ”

-- White House officials have been looking into the possibility of declaring a national emergency at the border for weeks now, according to Bloomberg News’s Justin Sink and Jennifer Jacobs. “Some advisers close to Trump are recommending that he declare a national emergency, despite wide recognition that it would be immediately challenged in court. … But Trump’s consideration of such an extraordinary step indicates that some in the White House see the gambit as the president’s lone way to salvage his wall pledge as the consequences of the shutdown begin to amplify and talks with Democrats fall flat.”

-- Trump’s press secretary left open the possibility of declaring a national emergency in a Fox News interview. From Politico’s Victoria Guida: “[Sarah] Sanders said Trump ‘is prepared to do what it takes to protect our borders to protect the people of this country.’ ‘We’re looking at exploring every option available that the president has,’ she said. ‘Whatever action he takes will certainly be lawful.’ She also argued that the president isn’t ‘holding anybody hostage’ by not signing legislation that would fund government agencies other than the Department of Homeland Security. ‘He knows it’s better if they can focus on getting all these packages done at once,’ Sanders said.”

-- Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), who is up for reelection next year, said the Senate should vote on the funding bills passed in the House. From the Hill’s Brett Samuels: “Collins said on NBC's ‘Meet the Press’ that she understands [Mitch McConnell] is in a difficult spot because the president may not sign bills passed by the Democratic-held House, but pressed for a vote to reopen agencies like Agriculture, Interior, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. ‘I’m frustrated in the situation that we’ve gotten to this point where both sides appear to be intransigent,’ Collins said. ‘It is not a sign of weakness to figure out a middle ground. I think that both sides need to indicate a willingness to listen and to compromise.’”

People are streaming into national parks to find trash cans overflowing and restrooms locked. Volunteers are stepping in to stop conditions from deteriorating. (Video: Luis Velarde, Juca Favela/The Washington Post)

-- Meanwhile, the effects of the shutdown are mounting. From Costa, Eilperin, Paletta and Miroff: “The Department of Housing and Urban Development sent letters to 1,500 landlords Friday as part of a last-minute effort to prevent the eviction of thousands of tenants. A lot of those tenants live in units covered by a HUD program that many agency officials didn’t realize had expired on Jan. 1 and that they are now unable to renew. … Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service officials are trying to determine whether they will be able to pay tax refunds next month, despite the fact that they said last year they would be prohibited from doing so in the event of a government shutdown.”

-- The National Park Service has decided to use entrance fees to pay for expanded operations at popular sites, an unprecedented step that some call illegal. Juliet Eilperin reports: “Under a memorandum signed Saturday by the Interior Department’s acting secretary, David Bernhardt ... park managers will be permitted to bring on additional staff to clean restrooms, haul trash, patrol the parks and open areas that have been shut during the more-than-two-week budget impasse. In a statement Sunday, National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith acknowledged that the administration’s practice of keeping parks open but understaffed has become unsustainable at some of its most beloved sites. … Congressional Democrats and some park advocates question whether the park-fee move is legal, because the fees that parks collect under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act are expressly designated to support visitor services instead of operations and basic maintenance.”

-- Small towns with federal workers are seeing the strain on local businesses. Heather May, Annie Gowen and Joel Achenbach report: “Many of the affected federal workers — including 10,000 people in Utah, 6,200 in West Virginia and 5,500 in Alabama — have salaries far below the average $85,000 for government employees. But those paychecks drive local economies, and workers are starting to make tough choices about how to spend them — eating out less, limiting travel and shopping at food pantries instead of grocery stores — creating a ripple effect through the neighborhoods and towns where they live.”

-- Millions of food-stamp recipients could have their benefits disrupted if the shutdown drags past January. CBS News’s Grace Segers reports: “The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees SNAP at the federal level, is one of the agencies unfunded during the partial government shutdown. Although SNAP is automatically renewed, it has not been allocated funding from Congress beyond January. Congress has appropriated $3 billion in emergency funds for SNAP distribution, but that would not cover all of February's obligations.”

-- Some federal prison employees expressed frustration about serving meals of steak and Cornish hen to inmates as they work without pay. Cleve R. Wootson Jr. reports: “For inmates at [Florida’s Coleman Federal Correctional Complex], New Year’s Day lunch was grilled steak, steamed rice with gravy, black-eyed peas, green beans, macaroni and cheese, a choice of garlic biscuits or whole wheat bread and an assortment of holiday pies. The feast was served by not-particularly-festive prison guards and workers who have no idea when they will receive their next paycheck — but who have to come to work anyway because they work in crucial public safety jobs.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren campaigned in northwest Iowa as part of her inaugural appearances in the first presidential caucus state. (Video: Alice Li/The Washington Post)

2020 WATCH:

-- Joe Biden is nearing a final decision on a 2020 presidential run. The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns report: “[Biden] has told allies he is skeptical the other Democrats eyeing the White House can defeat [Trump], an assessment that foreshadows a clash between the veteran Washington insider and the more liberal and fresh-faced contenders for the party’s 2020 nomination. … Yet Mr. Biden’s skepticism about the field could alienate female and minority voters who are excited that several women and African-Americans are expected to run. … More broadly, debate around Mr. Biden’s possible candidacy illustrates the dueling visions in the party and particularly the divisions between its pragmatic and liberal wing. … But Mr. Biden has indicated that he is leaning toward running and will most likely make a decision within the next two weeks.

-- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) zeroed in on her 2020 message during an Iowa visit as she conspicuously avoided using Trump’s name. Annie Linskey and Chelsea Janes report: “She aimed directly at voters tempted by [Trump’s] angry populism in 2016 but avoided mentions of Trump himself almost entirely. … For Warren, virtually every position she advocated was, in policy terms, a repudiation of the president and the course he has set for the nation in his first two years. That was true from specifics — her demand that presidential candidates release their taxes, which the president has refused to do — to the generic — her repeated lament that the middle class has been hollowed out as economic and political fairness has been lost.”

-- “Trump has become the silence between the notes of Warren's speeches, which portray an economic system that has been rigged, for decades, to favor the wealthy,” David Weigel writes. “When Warren talks about the fights she's been through, she focuses on the ‘million dollars a day’ that bank lobbyists spent, unsuccessfully, to stop the creation of the financial-industry regulatory agency she proposed and initially ran, and on her evisceration of former Wells Fargo chief executive John Stumpf, which was a factor in his resignation. It's a return to the rhetoric that worked so well for her in 2012, affirming her status as an icon of the left.”

-- In a blog Warren wrote between 2005 and 2008, the then-Harvard law professor criticized Biden for a vote he cast in the Senate. NBC News’s Jack Bohrer reports: “In March of 2006, Warren wrote that Biden's 2005 vote in favor of the bankruptcy bill that spurred her foray into blogging made him part of ‘a bi-partisan coalition to prefer powerful corporation [sic] over hard-working families.’ ‘For years, Senator Joe Biden vied with Republican Senators Charles Grassley and [Orrin] Hatch for head cheerleader for this bill,’ Warren wrote. ‘Even as he tried to position his national image as a strong supporter of women, Senator Biden was twisting arms to get the bankruptcy bill through Congress.’”

-- Warren’s Senate colleagues are not jumping to endorse her — or any of her prospective challengers. Politico’s Burgess Everett reports: “Even Sen. Ed Markey isn’t ready to endorse his fellow Massachusetts Democrat, at least not yet. ‘When she is moving forward, we’re going to be talking,’ Markey said as he prepared for Warren’s swearing in to another term in the Senate. ‘I’ve just got to get today done.’ Warren’s hard-edged brand of progressive politics has annoyed some of her colleagues at times, but the lack of support from her caucus isn’t personal. With a wide open Democratic primary, including perhaps a half-dozen of Warren’s own colleagues set to join the race, there’s no sense in getting out ahead of anyone, according to a dozen Democratic senators from across the ideological spectrum.”

-- Trump’s campaign is devoting extensive resources to ensure the 2020 Republican convention is a smooth advertisement for his reelection. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “The president’s reelection campaign is intent on avoiding the kind of circus that unfolded on the convention floor in 2016, when Never Trump Republicans loudly protested his nomination before a national TV audience. … For Trump adversaries, the possibilities for mischief in Charlotte would be endless. They could attempt headline-grabbing floor protests, demand prime-time speaking slots for presidential detractors, or even wage a long-shot bid to nominate someone else. The campaign is so focused on ensuring the convention is a smooth-running affair devoid of presidential critics that it’s building out an entire wing of the campaign devoted solely to the endeavor. The initiative appears to be unique in both how early it's been launched and how far-reaching it is.”

The U.S. military said on Jan. 6 it had killed Yemeni militant Jamal al-Badawi, a suspected planner of the deadly bombing of a Navy destroyer, the USS Cole. (Video: Reuters)


-- Trump tweeted that the al-Qaeda operative accused of organizing the 2000 bombing on the USS Cole, Jamal al-Badawi, was killed in a U.S. airstrike. Felicia Sonmez reports: “U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, confirmed Badawi’s death Sunday afternoon. … Seventeen American sailors were killed and more than 40 were injured in the Oct. 12, 2000, attack, in which al-Qaeda suicide bombers pulled up to the refueling destroyer in an explosives-laden boat and blasted a hole in its hull.”

-- With Trump seemingly offering to play the role of mediator, Serbia and Kosovo appear to inching closer to peace talks. Anne Gearan reports: “Kosovo President Hashim Thaci made a previously unreported diplomatic trip to Berlin last month, where he met with U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell, a Trump confidant. Thaci pledged then that he would reverse course on punitive tariffs imposed on all Serb goods. … Serbia has never recognized Kosovo’s independence and has warned of an armed intervention over the latest disagreements. … Trump sent personal letters to the leaders of both countries last month, urging them to return to peace talks and offering the possibility of a joint White House invitation.”

-- Trump’s trade war is increasingly disrupting U.S. factory operations as more firms contemplate moving elsewhere. The New York Times’s Peter S. Goodman reports: “In the United States, factories that buy steel and aluminum — now more expensive — are struggling to pass on extra costs to their customers. Some are losing orders to overseas competitors that can buy metal free of American tariffs. Companies that import electronics and other parts are scrambling to remain profitable while exploring alternatives, such as moving plants beyond reach of the duties. … The tariffs have been sold to Americans as a means of forcing multinational companies to make their products in the United States, abandoning China, Mexico and other low-cost centers of industry. But the tariffs are threatening jobs that are already here.”

-- A South Korean newspaper reported that Trump and Kim Jong Un may meet in Hanoi for a second nuclear summit. From Bloomberg News’s Jihye Lee: “U.S. officials have met their North Korean counterparts in Hanoi for discussions to adjust scheduling for the talks, [the South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo] said, citing high-level diplomatic sources in Seoul and Washington it did not identify. … Vietnam is a long-standing ally of Pyongyang that has good relations with Washington. Speculation about the country’s prospects as a summit site grew following North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho’s visit there from Nov. 29-Dec. 2.”

-- A top royal adviser Saudi officials have named as a key suspect in the killing of Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi has dropped out of sight. Kareem Fahim reports: “So in the seven weeks since [Saud al-Qahtani] was placed under investigation, only rumors have filled the silence. He was spotted recently in the coastal city of Jiddah, a resident said, and in the offices of the royal court here in the capital, according to a person who works with the government. Other accounts put Qahtani, once a top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in a remote corner of the kingdom, laying low. The government’s treatment of Qahtani is being closely watched in Washington and other foreign capitals as a test of whether Saudi Arabia is sincere about prosecuting everyone found to be involved in Khashoggi’s killing, including senior officials.”

-- Scientists say the high-pitched noise that diplomats in Havana complained about before displaying mysterious neurological symptoms may have been caused by one of the region’s insects. The Guardian’s Ian Sample reports: “[A] fresh analysis of the audio recording has revealed what scientists in the UK and the US now believe is the true source of the piercing din: it is the song of the Indies short-tailed cricket, known formally as Anurogryllus celerinictus. … The identification of the sound source does not mean that an attack of some sort did not happen, but it casts doubt over the sound being responsible for the diplomats’ health problems.”

-- British Prime Minister Theresa May urged Parliament members to back her Brexit deal when it comes up for another vote this month. Politico’s Laura Kayali reports: “She refused to rule out repeated votes on the same deal if she loses the first time round. … ‘Don’t let the search for the perfect Brexit be the enemy of the good,’ May said, a reference to the criticisms of hard-line Brexiteers and EU supporters such as former European Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who argue the deal undermines British sovereignty and should be rejected. … May slammed MPs asking for a second referendum. ‘It would divide our country and we wouldn’t be able to organize a referendum before March 29 [when Brexit will take effect],’ she said, pointing out it would therefore require an extension of Article 50 (the treaty article allowing withdrawals from the EU).”

-- If Britain leaves the European Union without a deal, it could reverberate across other E.U. countries, including the Netherlands. Michael Birnbaum reports: “The Netherlands — Britain’s main trading partner on mainland Europe — is among the most-prepared for the possibility that Britons will leave the E.U. on March 29 without a deal to manage the withdrawal. Leaders here fear that the best efforts of a nation that loves to be prepared may not be enough to safeguard against the mess. And Britain’s other trading partnerships in Europe could be even worse off. … Irish lawmakers may have to set aside all other business this month to pass 45 pieces of emergency legislation aimed at mitigating the impact of Brexit. France is building roads, warehouses and checkpoints near its ports in preparation for new customs controls.”


-- Democratic operatives with ties to a disinformation campaign in last year’s Alabama Senate race, which was inspired by Russian tactics, are attempting to distance themselves from the effort. Craig Timberg, Tony Romm, Aaron C. Davis and Elizabeth Dwoskin report: “Recent revelations about Project Birmingham … have shocked Democrats in Alabama and Washington. And news of the effort has underscored the warnings of disinformation experts who long have said that threats to honest, transparent political discourse in the age of social media are as likely to be domestic as foreign. … But all those who have acknowledged playing a role in Project Birmingham have denied knowing the full extent of the activities described in [a document on the operation]. Project Birmingham got its funding from Internet billionaire Reid Hoffman, who emerged as a leading underwriter of Democratic causes after the 2016 election. While acknowledging his money ended up paying for Project Birmingham, Hoffman said he did not know how his funds were used until details began to emerge in the New York Times and The Post.”

-- One Facebook page tied to the disinformation campaign impersonated Baptist prohibitionists who allegedly supported Republican Roy Moore’s candidacy. The New York Times’s Scott Shane and Alan Blinder report: “The ‘Dry Alabama’ Facebook page, illustrated with stark images of car wrecks and videos of families ruined by drink, had a blunt message: Alcohol is the devil’s work, and the state should ban it entirely. Along with a companion Twitter feed, the Facebook page appeared to be the work of Baptist teetotalers who supported [Moore]. ‘Pray for Roy Moore,’ one tweet exhorted. In fact, the Dry Alabama campaign, not previously reported, was the stealth creation of progressive Democrats who were out to defeat Mr. Moore — the second such secret effort to be unmasked.”

-- Nancy Pelosi downplayed the possibility that House Democrats would attempt to impeach Trump without bipartisan support to do so after hearing the findings from Robert Mueller’s investigation. Brian Fung reports: “Democrats are unlikely to pursue a path of impeachment without Republican backing, Pelosi hinted. That could hinge significantly on whether Mueller’s probe uncovers concrete evidence of wrongdoing. ‘If and when the time comes for impeachment,’ she said, ‘it will have to be something that has such a crescendo in a bipartisan way.’ Pelosi’s remarks were echoed Sunday by House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who said calls for Trump’s impeachment were a ‘distraction’ from Democrats' ‘substantive agenda.’”

-- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said he wants to share the panel’s testimony transcripts with Mueller to determine whether any witnesses have committed perjury. “I don’t want to go into enumerating particularly who I have concerns about, but I do have concerns about certainly multiple witnesses,” Schiff said on CNN. “Bob Mueller, by virtue of the fact that he has been able to conduct this investigation using tools that we didn’t have in our committee, meaning compulsion, is in a better position to determine, OK, who was telling the truth? Who wasn’t? And who can I make a case against in terms of perjury?” (Politico)


Bill Kristol, who once served as Dan Quayle's chief of staff, underscored the odd nature of Vice President Pence taking meetings with congressional staffers on shutdown negotiations:

The Post's Fact Checker columnist added this:

A Democratic senator proposed blocking all other legislation until the Senate takes up the House-passed bills:

Another House Democrat used a map to mock Trump's proposed border wall:

In an interview with CBS's “60 Minutes,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said that she believes Trump is a racist but that he's “a symptom of a problem.” “The president certainly didn't invent racism. But he's certainly given a voice to it and expanded it and created a platform for those things,” Ocasio-Cortez told Anderson Cooper. A White House spokesman responded: “Cong. Ocasio-Cortez's sheer ignorance on the matter can't cover the fact that President Trump supported and passed historic criminal justice reform … [and] has repeatedly condemned racism and bigotry in all forms.”

Ocasio-Cortez also defended past false statements:

A National Review editor criticized the new congresswoman's response:

An LA Times editor noted this of Republicans' response to Ocasio-Cortez's tax proposal:

Ocasio-Cortez accused Republicans of holding the government hostage:

Warren highlighted her Iowa visit:

An MSNC host posed this question:


-- Politico Magazine, “Jerry Brown’s Midnight in America,” by John F. Harris: “At age 80, Brown is leaving the governorship of the nation’s largest state in a few hours, at noon on Monday. If this departure seems a bit reluctant—he pauses slightly, before demurring when I ask him if he wishes he could keep his job—it is emphatically on his own terms. A leader who at times has been treated as a figure of ridicule has vindicated his place as one of the most serious people in American life across two generations. … He is not full of warm words about the native wisdom of the people: They strike him as scared, easily prone to distraction and cynical manipulation. He is not more optimistic than ever: He is worried the planet is hurtling toward catastrophe.”


“Christian Bale Thanks Satan For Inspiring Dick Cheney Role In Golden Globes Speech,” from HuffPost: “Christian Bale won a Golden Globe for his role as Dick Cheney in ‘Vice,’ taking the time in his acceptance speech to thank Satan for inspiration in playing the former vice president … Upon heading up to the stage to accept his Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, the 44-year-old Bale thanked ‘Vice’ director Adam McKay for casting him to play someone ‘absolutely charisma-free and reviled by everybody’ … ‘What do you think, Mitch McConnell next?’ Bale quipped before adding: ‘Thank you to Satan for giving me inspiration’ on how to play Cheney.”



“Dan Crenshaw rebukes Democrat for 'cowardly' speech calling Trump supporters alcohol-addicted, drug abusers,” from the Washington Examiner: “Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, issued a stern admonishment Sunday of a House Democrat who recently compared [Trump] to Adolf Hitler and described his supporters as being alcohol-addicted and prone to drug abuse. In a two-minute video the freshman GOP lawmaker chastised Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., for the combative speech he delivered last week. ‘President Trump is a lot of things, but he's not Hitler. He didn't kill millions of people. He didn't star a world war. He doesn't have any concentration camps,’ Crenshaw said."



Trump will have lunch with Pence and then receive his intelligence briefing.


“Well, I’m in no hurry. I have ‘acting.’ And my actings are doing really great.” – Trump on filling empty Cabinet posts. (Felicia Sonmez)



-- It will be cloudier and colder than yesterday’s weather in D.C. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “A chilly wind from the northeast (about 10 mph) means temperatures a good 15 degrees lower than they were yesterday. Highs struggle to reach 40 and it’s cloudier than not.”

-- The Wizards beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City, a first for the Washington franchise. (Candace Buckner)

-- The Capitals won against the Red Wings 3-2. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- Mayor Muriel Bowser’s nominee for D.C. schools chancellor is expected to endure a rigorous confirmation process following recent education-related scandals. Perry Stein reports: “Several D.C. Council members offered blistering critiques of the school system in speeches last week as they were sworn in for their next terms. The 13-member council approves mayoral nominations and will review Bowser’s selection of Lewis D. Ferebee as schools chancellor. … The District’s top education job became vacant nearly a year ago when Antwan Wilson, barely a year into his stint as chancellor, was forced to resign after it was discovered that he skirted city rules to get one of his children a spot in a coveted high school.”

-- The Maryland General Assembly will convene Wednesday for a 90-day session. Ovetta Wiggins and Arelis R. Hernández report: “Lawmakers are primed to take up many of the progressive issues they championed during their 2018 campaigns, with some Democrats and advocates pushing for a $15 minimum wage, an expansion of prekindergarten and an individual mandate for health insurance. Meanwhile, Gov. Larry Hogan (R), whose national profile has taken off since his decisive reelection, has pledged to continue to ‘reach across the aisle’ to lower student debt, attract and retain jobs, increase development in urban areas, improve education and reduce crime.”


Pro-Brexit demonstrators set off smoke bombs in London:

Hundreds of pro-Brexit protesters demonstrated in London on Jan. 5, setting off smoke bombs and burning a European Union flag. (Video: Storyful)

Jeff Bridges delivered a (somewhat rambling) speech at the Golden Globes as he accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award:

Jeff Bridges gave an epic, long, winding acceptance speech after receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2019 Golden Globes. (Video: Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

The Chicago Bears' mascot had a dramatic response to his team's missed field goal: