TGIF Power People. Tell your friends to sign up before the weekend. Thanks for waking up with us.
IRAN WATCH: The controversy over President Trump's racist remarks consumed the news cycle in Washington all week — but you should also pay attention to what's happening with Iran.
Tensions are escalating in the Persian Gulf region: Trump said yesterday the U.S. Navy downed an Iranian drone as a “defensive action” after it came within 1,000 yards of the USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz and ignored calls to turn away.
- View from the White House: “This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters,” Trump told reporters. “The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities and interests and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce.
At the United Nations, Iran is apparently seeking negotiations with the U.S.: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters in New York that Iran is committed to allowing international inspections of its nuclear program in exchange for the U.S. lifting sanctions that have crippled their economy — an offer that the Trump administration is unlikely to accept.
- View from the Iranian U.N. mission: "For the first time, [Zarif] floated an opening bid of modest steps that Tehran would be willing to take as part of new talks between the two adversaries," per the New York Times's Thomas Gibbons-Neff, David E. Sanger and Richard Pérez-Peña.
- Zarif proposed quickly accelerating "what the nuclear accord envisions as a 'transition day,' now scheduled for 2023. That is when Iran formally ratifies an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to allow far more intrusive inspections of the country, including sites that Tehran has never declared as nuclear-related."
- A challenge to Trump's notoriously hawkish advisers: “If they are putting their money where their mouth is, they have got to do it,” Zarif said of his offer to break the standoff, per my colleague Carol Morello. “They don’t need a photo op. They don’t need a two-page document with a big signature. Mr. [John] Bolton can hang this on his wall.”
- That's unlikely: "The State Department’s Iran point person, Brian Hook, said Wednesday that Iran has never responded to a U.S. offer to negotiate and that the Iranians 'continue to reject diplomacy.'"
From an expert at the Brookings Center:
All the wonks who swore that Tehran would never negotiate with the Trump admin, please be aware that they're doing so in plain sight. It may not be as sexy as an Oman backchannel, but dangled offers over past few months serve the same purpose: testing US readiness & intentions.— Suzanne Maloney (@MaloneySuzanne) July 18, 2019
Ramping up: The Trump administration is boosting its military presence in the region as a show of force toward Iran as tensions rise. Key background: "The downing of the drone follows a string of recent incidents, including attacks on tankers, that U.S. officials say are part of an Iranian effort to harm the United States and its allies in the region. The United States has continued to exert a 'maximum pressure' campaign against Iran to force it back to the negotiating table after the United States walked away from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year," my colleagues Dan Lamothe and Liz Sly write.
- 500: That's how many additional troops the Trump administration is preparing sending to Saudi Arabia, CNN's Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen first reported yesterday.
- They're part of a broader tranche: "The Trump administration has sent 2,000 troops to the region specifically to deter Iran. They are meant mainly to scrutinize Iranian activities and protect American troops already stationed in the Middle East. Some combat aircraft and surface-to-air missile systems were also deployed. At one point, the Pentagon had considered sending up to 6,000 additional troops," per Gibbons-Neff.
- Remember: Trump said last month that he was "not looking for war" but that if necessary, Iran would face "obliteration like you’ve never seen before.”
Awkward timing: The additional troops came a day after "the House voted Wednesday to undo President Trump’s bid to sidestep Congress and complete several arms sales benefiting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, sending three disapproval resolutions to the Oval Office, where they are expected to be vetoed," per my colleague Karoun Demirjian.
- "The Trump administration announced in May that it would invoke emergency authority to push through 22 deals worth more than $8 billion, sales that include missiles, munitions and surveillance aircraft. A bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate — but not a veto-proof majority — objected to the move, which would replenish part of the Saudi arsenal that lawmakers say has been used against civilians in Yemen’s long-running civil war," per Karoun.
- More: "Members of both parties also object to the idea of rewarding Saudi leaders at a time when most lawmakers want to punish them for the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi."
Meanwhile, U.S. sanctions continue as Iran exceeds limits set under the 2015 deal on uranium enrichment:
- The Treasury Department “blacklisted several companies and individuals it said helped Iran procure materials for the country’s nuclear-enrichment program,” per the Wall Street Journal’s Ian Talley and Michael R. Gordon.
- “Sanctions were imposed on seven companies and three Iranians, freezing any assets they may have had in U.S. jurisdiction and prohibiting their travel to the U.S. Western companies and banks outside the U.S. are also unlikely to conduct business with them.”
REKINDLING MUELLER MANIA: Brace for maximal drama next week that Democratic lawmakers hope might help build a case for impeaching Trump.
"Democratic lawmakers hope to use special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's public testimony Wednesday to revisit dramatic episodes in which President Trump attempted to derail or interfere with the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election," my colleagues Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger report.
- "'For many Americans this will be blockbuster, new information,' predicted Rep. Ted W. Lieu, a California Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, who said he plans to quiz Mueller about the instances of possible obstruction of justice described in the report."
- While Mueller may "resist a dramatic retelling" of the episodes detailed in Mueller's 448-page report, Liu said that he believes a fair review of these examples would lead a reasonable person "to an inescapable conclusion: Donald Trump committed a felony."
Another topic of interest for Dems: Why Mueller and his team decided to avoid a "traditional prosecutorial judgment," per Roz and Tom.
- "Mueller has so far offered only a brief description of how he came to that decision, which took many legal experts by surprise, and lawmakers will probably press him to offer more information about his thinking."
- Reminder: "More than 1,000 former federal prosecutors from Republican and Democratic administrations have signed a statement first circulated in May saying Mueller's findings would have produced obstruction charges against Trump, were he not a sitting president."
BIDEN V. HARRIS, PART II: “Former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who clashed at the first Democratic debate, will face off again in the next two-night debate [beginning July 30], while the ideologically aligned Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren will appear together the other night,” our colleague Colby Itkowitz writes.
- Bullseye on Biden: Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) is also slated to be on the stage for night two in Detroit. Like Harris, Booker has criticized Biden for his past comment on race relations. The second night also features all of the candidates of color in the historically diverse field.
- Who’s left?: Warren and Sanders reportedly had a deal not attack each other on the campaign trail, but they are biggest names on the first night.
- Here’s the full breakdown:
SANDERS STAFFERS FIGHT FOR RAISE: “Unionized campaign organizers working for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential effort are battling with its management, arguing that the compensation and treatment they are receiving does not meet the standards Sanders espouses in his rhetoric, according to internal communications,” our colleague Sean Sullivan reports.
- Key details: “A draft letter union members earlier had prepared to send [Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz] Shakir as soon as this week said that the field organizers ‘cannot be expected to build the largest grassroots organizing program in American history while making poverty wages,’" Sean writes.
- The current situation. The draft letter estimated that field organizers were working 60 hours per week at minimum, dropping their average hourly pay to less than $13.
TRUMP CONDEMNS CHANT THAT ECHOES HIS RACIST TWEET: "Trump distanced himself Thursday from a hostile chant his supporters directed toward a Democratic lawmaker and naturalized U.S. citizen, as Republicans began publicly fretting that how the president was elevating a quartet of liberal House freshmen may instead prompt a political backlash," our colleagues Seung Min Kim, John Wagner, Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis report. Some congressional Republicans denounced the chant and others pressured Vice President Pence to tell Trump to distance himself from it.
- Fact check: Trump falsely claimed to reporters that he tried to stop the "send her back" chant. But he stood silent for 13 seconds.
- Here's the video to show it:
President Trump said he "very quickly" stopped the "send her back" chants during Wednesday's rally.— The Fix (@thefix) July 18, 2019
Trump waited 13 seconds, until the chants stopped, to start speaking again.https://t.co/5kdCzXpg4I pic.twitter.com/msRZQMOqSW
- A scoop for everyone: How to create the ice cream of your dreams. By Becky Krystal.
- Foreign Buying of U.S. Homes Suffers Record Drop. By The Wall Street Journal's Laura Kusisto.
- 🤔: Where is Ivanka. By The Atlantic's Elaina Plott.
- Must read: What Americans Do Now Will Define Us Forever. By The Atlantic's Adam Serwer.
- What happened before the chant: Trump’s North Carolina Supporters Were Ready to Unload. By Politico Magazine's Michael Kruse.
- Andy Ngo Has The Newest New Media Career. It's Made Him A Victim And A Star. By BuzzFeed News's Joseeph Bernstein.
- Kim is at it again: Trump made aware of A$AP Rocky's detention in Sweden by Kardashian call. By Axios's Jonathan Swan.