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On The Hill

REPUBLICANS LASH OUT AT TRUMP ON SYRIA: The split between the GOP stance on impeachment and Syria is dramatic and head-spinning for many observers, including many Republicans no longer serving in government who have called for their party's lawmakers to crack down on President Trump for what see as a string of bad behavior.

GOP staffers on the Hill, however, say the reasons for the split screen are quite clear: Republicans are going to defend Trump when it comes to his personal behavior, while they're less likely to do so on long-standing issues of foreign policy — and imminent matters of life or death. 

  • “The litmus test for Trump is the personal politics,” a GOP Senate aide told Power Up of the way their boss views handling differences with the president. “People who want to come out against Access Hollywood, or tweets about the Squad, or impeachment — that is the test. Not policy. So you can break with [Trump] on policy if it's a position on principle, you just can’t break with him on the little stuff he cares about.”
  • “There is more of a gravity to the situation than other things we deal with — like his tone and his behavior,” another Republican congressional aide told us. “But this has real quick ramifications that we are seeing playing out.” 
  • This is an instant life or death situation,” a former National Security Council staffer under President George W. Bush told Power Up of the decision to abandon the Kurds — 11,000 of whom died fighting to help the U.S. defeat ISIS in Syria. 
  • The bottom line: The Senate GOP views the “foreign policy mistakes as much more damaging and lasting than Trump's other actions. Everyone forgets Trump's tweets, but nobody will forget if our Kurdish allies are massacred,” according to GOP strategist Alex Conant. 

Of course, there's always a risk in breaking with Trump on an issue but “many Republicans feel far safer doing so on more distant issues of foreign policy, where Trump often finds himself outside of his party’s historic positioning, such as Syria, than on matters that personally affect Trump, such as impeachment, according to party officials and strategists,” my colleagues Phil Rucker and Bob Costa report

  • Politically, according to a former Hill staffer who now works on Syria issues, this “is an opening for Republicans to distance themselves from Trump” and it doesn't “threaten him domestically.” 
  • “From the GOP perspective, there is a close connection between the Kurds and Christians. So they are not seen as threatening. They were our allies against the extreme embodiment of political Islam,” the source told Power Up. 
  • Hmmm: “The complexity with Syria, Turkey and the Kurds is beyond the normal person’s understanding,” former North Carolina governor Pat McCrory (R) told Bob and Phil. “It’s one of those issues that seems to be important, but no one understands the complexities. All you hear is, ‘Trump might have made a mistake there,’ but not much more than that.”

But: Most Republicans have been reluctant to take that risk on other matters of party orthodoxy, including on tariffs and trade. And the argument that Syria is about national security is hard to swallow, some said, when the U.S.-Ukrainian relationship affects national security, too. 

Some Republicans were simply livid at what they viewed as Trump abandoning the Kurds and making way for a Turkish incursion into northern Syria. Here's GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), an Iraq War veteran, on CNN last night:

'Visceral': For GOP hawks, many of whom slammed President Obama for his approach to Syria, the reaction to Trump's withdrawal is “visceral,” according to the former NSC staffer. 

  • “We have seen this movie in recent history — it wasn't long ago that ISIS was attacking cities in Europe — and people have lived it viscerally for a while,” the staffer told Power Up. “This is the type of thing that will live in the history books as a dishonorable act and betrayal of our allies.”

Trump's gonna Trump: Trump called the Turkish offensive “a bad idea” but defended his decision to pull U.S. troops from northeast Syria on Wednesday at the White House. Americans are tired of “endless wars,” he said, and noted the Kurds “didn't help us with Normandy.” 

  • “They should go back, by the way,” Trump said of the ISIS prisoners that may escape as Turkey entered northen Syria. “They should go back to Europe. Many of them came from Europe, but they should go back to Germany, to France, to — I spoke with Boris Johnson a couple — to UK. Some to UK, actually. But they came from various parts of Europe. They didn’t come from our country, and we did them a big favor.” 

How to lose [Congress] and alienate people: The president's show of defiance only exacerbated tensions in Congress:

  • Shortly thereafter, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted he had “bipartisan agreement with Sen. Chris Van Hollen on severe sanctions against Turkey for their invasion of Syria. While the Administration refuses to act against Turkey, I expect strong bipartisan support."
  • “Many of these senators have spent years working on the Syria issue, only to read in the paper that Trump was surrendering,” Conant told Power Up. “Trump's announcement came without warning or explanation, which is never a good way to build Senate support.“ 

Global Power

PANIC ABOUNDS AS TURKEY INVADES NORTHERN SYRIA: Turkey's government launched a military incursion into northeastern Syria on Wednesday, “with airstrikes and shelling targeting Syrian Kurdish fighters who have played a central role in aiding the U.S.-led battle against the Islamic State militant group," our colleagues Kareem Fahim, Sarah Dadouch, annd Asser Khattab report. 

Turkey's Defense Ministry confirmed the advance, according to the Associated Press's Lefteris Pitarakis and Mehmet Guzel. The Turkish government has threatened to attack Kurdish fighters, who they consider terrorists, for some time now. Erdogan's top adviser told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that Trump "knew in advance about the scope of the Turkish attack," per CNN's Nicole Gaouette. 

  • According to the Turks: "President Trump and President Erdogan have reached an understanding over precisely what this operation is," Gulnur Aybet told Amanpour from Ankara. “He knows what the scope of this operation is.”
  • Pompeo weighs in: In an interview with PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied the decision to leave northeastern Syria gave the greenlight to Turkey to attack the Kurds: "Well, that’s just false. The United States didn’t give Turkey a green light.” 

Erdogan's plan: The Turkish president told world leaders at the U.N. two weeks ago that Ankara had a plan to settle one million Syrian refugees in a "safe zone," Reuters's Dominic Evans scooped. 

  • "...Erdogan held up a map of the region setting out ambitious proposals to build dozens of new villages and towns to settle Syrian refugees. His map showed that 1 million Syrians would be housed in the northeast, but Erdogan told the U.N. General Assembly that even more - up to 2 million - refugees could settle there once Turkish soldiers take control.” 

The death toll:  The New York Times's Carlotta Gall and Daniel Victor report that as of early Thursday,  "at least 16 Kurds were reported to have been killed, one monitoring group said...An additional 33 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces were wounded..."

Journalists on the ground described the wrenching scene: 

  • “ … residents of the border areas scrambled in panic on Wednesday as they tried to get out on foot, in cars and with rickshaws piled with mattresses and a few belongings,” per Pitarakis and Guzel. 
  • “Mikael Mohammed, a Kurdish father of three who owns a clothing store in Tal Abyad, a quarter-mile from the Turkish frontier, said he had not had any customers for an entire day. U.S. troops based in the town withdrew early Monday after the White House announcement,” per our colleagues Kareem, Sarah, and Asser. “People who are out there in the streets look as if they are going to someone’s funeral … People are scared,” he told them. 

The Investigations

THE LATEST ON IMPEACHMENT: "Congressional investigators expect that Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, will appear as planned for a Friday deposition in the House’s ongoing impeachment inquiry, despite the White House’s emphatic pledge not to cooperate with Democrats’ efforts to investigate [Trump], according to congressional officials involved with the process," our colleagues Karoun Demirjian and Carol Morello report.

  • The situation is still unfolding: "It is unclear whether the State Department will expressly forbid Yovanovitch from testifying, as it did in with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland earlier this week ...," our colleagues write. You'll recall that Sondland's lawyer was reportedly informed by voicemail at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday that the ambassador could not testify as scheduled.

Who to watch: If the House impeaches Trump, it's up to the Senate whether to remove him from office, so what Senate Republicans are or are not saying is vitally important. Lucky for you, our colleagues have sifted through all the recent public statements of the 53 Senate Republicans. 

When it comes to judging their statements alone, here's what our colleagues have found:

On the House's impeachment inquiry:

On Trump's phone call with Ukraine's president:

Insight from veteran Post congressional reporter Paul Kane: "Instead of the already vulnerable Republicans, Democrats should focus on a clutch of roughly 10 incumbents with several similar character traits: senior statesmen within their caucus who have either announced their plans to retire or have signaled they are likely to not run for reelection," PK writes. "These GOP senators are at the point in their careers where history’s judgment might mean more to them than the views of today’s conservative activists."

  • That lists includes: Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and Pat Roberts (Kan.).
  • Don't focus too much on Romney: "Romney, 72, is a newcomer there, having just won his seat last year. Few Senate Republicans really know the former Massachusetts governor, with just a few months of trust," Paul writes. "Instead, the onetime corporate consultant at Bain Capital knows there is safety in numbers, and Romney would only jump into a full civil war against Trump if he had other GOP senators at his side."
  • And don't put too much stock in those up for reelection in 2020: "They are in a form of political paralysis that will most likely lead to vague statements sounding critical of Trump, but not quite backing the House’s impeachment or removal from office with a Senate vote."

The rest of on the latest impeachment developments: 

  • Pence ducks and dodges in Iowa: The vice president repeatedly dodged questions from NBC's Vaughn Hillyard about whether he knew of Trump's desire for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. He later denied the president had asked a foreign power to influence American elections, saying flatly, "I don't believe that's the case."
  • We remind you: Trump directly made such a requiest of China on the White House South Lawn, and the transcipt his White House released of a call with the Ukranian president is also pretty clear. 
  • Diplomats were told to play down the release of Ukraine aid: "American diplomats who had pushed for the Trump administration to restore security funding to Ukraine were advised by the White House to play down the release of the money when it was finally approved, documents show," the New York Times's Lara Jakes report
  • This quote: “Keep moving, people, nothing to see here …” Brad Freden, the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary overseeing issues in Europe and Eurasia, wrote in a Sept. 12 email obtained by the Times.
  • Another potential witness: Fiona Hill, Trump's former Russia adviser, has been asked to turn over documents and appear for a deposition on Oct. 14, which was first reported Axios' Alayna Treene and was confirmed by our colleagues. 
  • And another bad poll for Trump: "A new high of 51 percent wants Trump impeached and removed from office, another 4 percent want him impeached but not removed, and 40 percent oppose impeachment altogether," Fox News's Dana Blanton reports of the network's new poll. Support for impeachment can vary on the wording of the question, but one thing is unmistakeably clear: impeachment is becoming more popular.
  • Rudy rears up again and this time it's not Ukraine: "[Trump] pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help persuade the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader who was a client of Rudy Giuliani, according to three people familiar with the 2017 meeting in the Oval Office," Bloomberg's Nick Wadhams, Saleha Mohsin, Stephanie Baker, and Jennifer Jacobs report "Tillerson refused, arguing it would constitute interference in an ongoing investigation of the trader, Reza Zarrab, according to the people. They said other participants in the Oval Office were shocked by the request."

The Campaign

BIDEN PUNCHES BACK, COMES OUT FOR IMPEACHMENT: "Former vice president Joe Biden made his most direct call yet for [Trump’s] impeachment, just hours after Trump tweeted that the Democratic-led inquiry was tainted with political bias and should be terminated 'for the good of the Country,'" our colleagues Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Felicia Sonmez report.

  • The endorsement of impeachment: “President Trump has indicted himself by obstructing justice, refusing to comply with a congressional inquiry . . . he’s already convicted himself,” Biden said. “In full view of the American people, Donald Trump has violated his oath of office, betrayed this nation and committed impeachable acts. To preserve our Constitution, our democracy and our basic integrity, he should be impeached,” he added.
  • This line: "We all laughed when he said he could stand on the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and get away it," Biden said. "It's no joke. He's shooting holes in the Constitution and we cannot let him get away with it."

Trump appeared to be watching: Before Biden left the venue where his speech was held, Trump took to Twitter to respond. (Biden later chided him in his reply.)

  • And he's taking the message to voters: "Just hours after Biden spoke, the president’s reelection campaign announced a multi-ad buy — totaling $10 million and focused in early-voting states — that centers on the Bidens and Ukraine," our colleagues write. "The ad campaign repeats Trump’s unfounded accusation that Biden had leaned on Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor to benefit his son. It also casts the impeachment hearings as a Democratic attempt to overturn the 2016 election."

Outside the Beltway

500,000 WITHOUT POWER IN CALIFORNIA: “There are no generators for sale here, with all sold out. Plastic gas jugs are in short supply. What there is plenty of, though, is a thin fury directed at one of the nation’s largest utilities after it shut down power to more than half a million customers Wednesday, with further blackouts planned in the hours ahead,” our colleague Scott Wilson writes from Oakland

We followed up with Scott to get more insight on what's is happening on the ground: 

  • The blackouts are on purpose and are expected to grow: “This is on purpose, planned by the utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, to reduce the risk of wildfire caused by its equipment. California law holds utility companies 'strictly liable' for damages if their power lines, transformers or other equipment spark a wildfire, whether the company is negligent or not.”
  • California has among the strictest standards in the country: “But in exchange, power companies in California receive the power of eminent domain, the authority usually reserved for the government to take land for the public good. A fair trade? It has been for decades.”
  • Climate change is here: “Now, as California’s climate shifts to one of extremes, it is not looking so good to PG&E and the state’s other utilities (With 16 million customers, PG&E is the largest.) Facing more than $20 billion in claims from the fires it has started, the company filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year. Basically, the company wants to renegotiate the deal.”
  • This is 'the political backdrop to a very human story': “PG&E has been trying for several years to loosen the liability law, ranking among the biggest spenders on lobbying in Sacramento each session.” 
  • In the meantime, this is partly a show of strength: “PG&E is worried about its liability, no doubt. But it is also undertaking a political act by executing this — the state’s largest-ever intentional power cut. It wants the liability law changed and it is showing Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who said he was 'outraged' by the extent of the outage, and other lawmakers what it has the power to do. Is the company worried about fire? Sure. But there’s more to this 'public safety power shutdown' than just a concern for public safety.”

In the Media

Rihanna talks about the NFL and Trump in a Vogue cover story by Abby Aguirre. 

  • On turning down the Super Bowl half-time show: “I couldn’t dare do that [participate]. For what? Who gains from that? Not my people. I just couldn’t be a sellout. I couldn’t be an enabler. There’s things within that organization that I do not agree with at all, and I was not about to go and be of service to them in any way.”
  • On the mass shooting in El Paso and Trump's response: "It is devastating,” she says. “People are being murdered by war weapons that they legally purchase. This is just not normal. That should never, ever be normal. And the fact that it’s classified as something different because of the color of their skin? It’s a slap in the face. It’s completely racist.” She goes on: “Put an Arab man with that same weapon in that same Walmart and there is no way that Trump would sit there and address it publicly as a mental health problem. The most mentally ill human being in America right now seems to be the president.”

Viral

THIS IS HOWIE DO IT: Howie Kendrick's 10th inning grand slam lifted the Nationals to their first ever playoff series win. By the way, the last time a D.C. baseball team won a series Calvin Coolidge was president. And those 1924 Washington Senators ended up as world champs.