Good morning, Power Peeps. Thanks for reading.
Breaking this morning: The Trump administration unveiled plans to require “hundreds of thousands more Americans” receiving food stamps to hold jobs. The move was made through executive action by the Department of Agriculture, which runs the food stamp program, and now says adults without dependents must find work to receive the benefits in areas with unemployment higher than 7 percent, bringing that number down from regions where unemployment was at least 20 percent greater than the national rate, reports The Post's Danielle Paquette and Jeff Stein. More here.
Correction: We originally reported that the Trump administration allowed to states to impose work requirements for food stamp recipients in regions with a 20 percent or more unemployment rate. The story has been corrected to state the requirements were previously permitted only in places with unemployment rates 20 times higher than the national rate.
At the White House
TRUMP VS. 'MY GENERALS': In a big decision that sent his own officials and Republican lawmakers scrambling, President Trump announced yesterday he will immediately begin withdrawing 2,000 troops stationed in Syria. With a swift stroke of the tweet key, Trump declared the United States had “defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”
The move, first reported by the Wall Street Journal and Reuters, is a sharp reversal that “upends plans across the U.S. government — articulated by senior officials as recently as this week — for an ongoing mission to stabilize areas once controlled by the militants,” The Post's Missy Ryan reports. Wednesday's decision was also a rebuke and a sign of the waning influence of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who advised the president to stay in Syria:
- “Once considered among the most influential advisers to a president with no prior government or military experience, Mattis has been repeatedly overruled by Trump in recent months and left out of key discussions as the president pursues his own national security path,” our Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey report.
- Not just Mattis: Chief of Staff and former Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, “also an original member of the 'my generals' club,” per Gearan and Dawsey, “had also argued in favor of keeping the more than 2,000 U.S. forces in Syria. He, along with Mattis and top congressional Republicans, argued that force is an important hedge against terrorism and against Iranian and Russian influence.”
- The key quote on Dec. 11 from Brett McGurk, the administration's special envoy for defeating ISIS: “It would be reckless if we were just to say, ‘Well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now,’” McGurk said. “I think anyone who’s looked at a conflict like this would agree with that.”
Pointing fingers: Unable to provide specifics on the plan for exiting Syria, White House and Pentagon officials directed reporters to one another as lawmakers fired off tweets of indignation and surprise, taking to Hill gaggles to urge Trump to remain in the country as a counterweight to Iran and Russia's influence there. One thing was clear: Trump himself counted the move as a campaign promise fulfilled.
- Details or timeline of the withdrawal?: “It's not that I'm not telling you; it's that I don’t know, quite frankly,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call.
- The official added: Trump “believes very sincerely, and has for a number of years, that we do not have a military role in ending the civil war in Syria, which apparently is the policy that was shared by the previous administration.”
- Then: The president first called for the Pentagon to begin planning for a withdrawal from Syria in April. The Post's Karen DeYoung and Shane Harris reported at the time the timeline, however, was unclear.
- September: DeYoung reports that Trump was persuaded to leave the U.S. troops “indefinitely, not only until the Islamic State was defeated, but also until a political solution to the overall Syria conflict was in place and, in a key part of Trump’s newly announced Iran policy, all Iranian forces and their proxies aiding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had left the country.”
- What now?: “One official familiar with the conversations said that some participants had interpreted Trump’s remarks to mean he expected a withdrawal within six months. But another said that Trump — who has frequently criticized President Barack Obama’s setting of a public deadline for the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq — 'expressed frustration and impatience' while not setting a specific time limit,” Harris and DeYoung wrote.
Meanwhile on the Hill, Trump's Republican allies lashed out against the decision. During a lunch with Vice President Pence shortly after the news broke, lawmakers demanded answers.
- Per Dawsey and Gearan: Republicans told Pence “we did not appreciate reading about this decision in the paper,” said Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
- “I am completely blindsided, and I think there will be a lot of bipartisan concern,” Graham added. “ISIS has been dealt a severe blow but are not defeated. If there has been a decision to withdraw our forces in Syria, the likelihood of their return goes up dramatically,' while Iran, Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad benefit from the U.S. void,” Graham said.
- Trump canceled a meeting with outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who came to the White House to discuss the decision. “It’s obviously a political decision,” Corker told reporters.
- Democrats weren't thrilled, either: A bipartisan group of senators — Graham, Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Angus King (I-Maine), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — fired off a letter to Trump asking him to reconsider, the Hill reported.
- Congressional action: Graham, who spoke with Mattis about the decision, told our colleagues Seung Min Kim and Sean Sullivan “he is working on introducing a Senate resolution pushing back on the decision: 'A lot of bipartisan concern' in the Senate about what Trump did.”
What prompted Trump's announcement now? The Post's Karen DeYoung reported a call Friday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “was the only thing that could have provoked Trump. A senior congressional aide speculated that the call, and the withdrawal, were 'definitely related,'" DeYoung reported.
- The key quote: “The only potential upset in recent days was a threat by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who spoke with Trump at the Group of 20 summit three weeks ago and again on the telephone Friday — to send troops across the border to attack the U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northeast Syria.”
- “Officials familiar with the Friday call said that Erdogan, among other things, had stressed to Trump that the Syrian Kurds were terrorists — allied with Kurdish separatists in his own country — and asked why the United States was supporting them rather than its NATO ally.”
From the official White House transcript:
This isn't the first time Trump has blindsided lawmakers and senior officials with a major decision, spilling the ideological chasm between the president, the Pentagon and many other top advisers into plain view.
- Mattis in September: " . . . a precipitous withdrawal could enable militants to make a comeback, as they did in Iraq before the Islamic State’s rise in 2014,” per Ryan. “Getting rid of the caliphate doesn’t mean you then blindly say, ‘Okay, we got rid of it,’ march out, and then wonder why the caliphate comes back,” Mattis said.
- National security adviser John Bolton in September: the U.S. would not leave Syria “as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” The Post's Paul Sonne and Ryan reported.
- S.O.S.: A senior administration official told CNN's Jake Tapper that Trump's decision would “put American and allied lives in danger . . . mistake of colossal proportions.”
- Just last week: Coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan said that ISIS had reached the “end of days” but “they still have the capability for coordinated attacks, and the fight is not over.”
- “Like many things in this administration, things go live before people expect them to. So this was a bit of a surprise,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Politico.
- “It was the President's decision to make”: The senior White House official would not comment on Trump's “deliberative process” but disputed the notion that key players like Mattis and Secretary of State Pompeo were caught off guard. " And it was the President's decision to make, and he made it.”
Critics fear the timing of the decision will allow for a resurgence of ISIS.
“Trump himself said on the campaign trail that he may not have liked being in Iraq, but Obama ruined a lot by pulling out too early and not thinking about what would happen next,” David Adesnik, the director of research and a Syria analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told CNN. “Here he is ignoring precisely that lesson.”
Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told NBC News's Courtney Kube and Carol Lee Trump's decision was “extraordinarily shortsighted and naive” and would embolden Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran while hurting the U.S.-aligned Kurdish forces there. “It's a sad state of affairs when our key allies on the ground, who've shed blood and thousands of lives for our fight against ISIS, are to be well and truly abandoned.”
From the Courts
STONE COLD SERIOUS: special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's office has asked the House Intelligence Committee to send his team an official transcript from its interview with Trump adviser Roger Stone, a sign that criminal charges for Stone may be imminent. The Post's Carol D. Leonnig, Ellen Nakashima, Rosalind S. Helderman and Manuel Roig-Franzia broke the story, which marks the first time Mueller has asked the congressional committee for material from its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. More from their story:
Closing in: “The move suggests that the special counsel is moving to finalize his months-long investigation of Stone — a key part of Mueller’s inquiry into whether anyone in President Trump’s orbit coordinated with the Russians,” my colleagues wrote.
Wiki-what? Stone “has been a focus of the special counsel as Mueller probes whether the Trump campaign had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’s release of Democratic emails allegedly hacked by Russian operatives” and he has so far given “conflicting accounts about what prompted him to accurately predict during the 2016 race that WikiLeaks was going to unleash material that would hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.”
Stone, as is his wont, has denied any wrongdoing, telling The Post that “This has devolved into gotcha word games, perjury traps and trumped-up process crimes” and asking, “Where is the evidence of Russian collusion or WikiLeaks collaboration?”
But even if he did . . . Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani told ABC News that Stone wasn't an intermediary between Trump and WikiLeads, saying, “No, I don’t believe so. But again, if Roger Stone gave anybody a heads-up about WikiLeaks’s leaks, that’s not a crime . . . collusion is not a crime.”
Outside the Beltway
DETAINED, WITHOUT WATER: Jakelin Caal, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who illegally entered the U.S. and later died in Border Patrol custody, and her father were held for eight hours in a remote Border Patrol facility with more than 150 other migrants — and they were not provided water, the family's attorneys said, contradicting statements from U.S. officials. Lawyers for Jakelin's father are calling for an independent investigation into the girl's death.
The Post's Robert Moore and Nick Miroff report: “Officials say border agents did everything possible to save the child’s life after she began vomiting on a bus ride . . . to the Lordsburg Border Patrol station . . . Jakelin had gone into seizures and stopped breathing by the time the bus arrived. Emergency responders measured her temperature at 105.9 degrees and sent her by helicopter to an El Paso children’s hospital, where she died 15 hours later of 'dehydration, shock and liver failure.'”
An autopsy has been completed but a cause of death is pending additional tests, the Caal family attorney said.
Jakelin's death has cast new light on the conditions for migrant children in government care, an issue that sparked intense controversy when the administration implemented its now-reversed policy of separating children from their parents at the border. Power Up checked in with ACLU attorneys who have been tracking family separations at the border. They told us that there are still 131 children in U.S. custody because of the family separation policy, and nearly 50 of those children are waiting to be reunited with their parents.
In the Democratic cloakroom as we vote tonight. Just realized I was surrounded by no less than 5 Presidential candidates, and there were only 10 of us in there. This is going to get interesting. 😳— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) December 19, 2018
ABOUT THOSE DEMOCRATS: Fifteen people of minority descent, six veterans, nine business people, ten southerners, twelve Gen Xers -- pick your poison, Democrats! The Washington Post's Kevin Uhrmacher and Michael Scherer have put together a helpful guide for voters attempting to get a head start on figuring out who may try and take on Trump in 2020. (Hint: pretty much everyone.)
So.. what are Democrats looking for? Figure it out here.
If you're trying to weed out the septuagenarians:
If you're uninterested in white men:
If you want to a competitor from Trump country:
Barack Obama played Santa at a D.C. children's hospital:
Thank you @BarackObama for making our patients’ day so much brighter. Your surprise warmed our hallways and put smiles on everyone’s faces! Our patients loved your company…and your gifts! https://t.co/bswxSrA4sQ ❤️ #HolidaysAtChildrens #ObamaAndKids pic.twitter.com/qii53UbSRS— Children's National 🏥 (@childrenshealth) December 19, 2018