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House to vote on war powers resolution as U.S., Iran back away from conflict
In a televised statement on Wednesday, President Donald Trump backed away from further conflict with Iran, indicating that he would not launch a military response to the Iranian missile attack on two Iraqi bases housing American troops.
"Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world," he declared, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and top military brass. "No American or Iraqi lives were lost because of the precautions taken, the dispersal of forces and an early-warning system that worked very well."
Instead of taking military action, Trump announced, the U.S. will impose economic sanctions against Iran. "To the people and leaders of Iran: We want you to have a future and a great future — one that you deserve, one of prosperity at home, and harmony with the nations of the world," he said. "The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it."
Even as President Trump backs off a war footing, the House is still planning to vote on a resolution today requiring him to acquire explicit congressional approval before taking any military action against Iran. "Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the Administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement announcing the vote. "Our concerns were not addressed by the President’s insufficient War Powers Act notification and by the Administration’s briefing today."
She was not the only one to criticize the classified briefings given to the House and Senate by top Trump Administration officials on Wednesday. Two Republican senators normally allied with Trump, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, also left the briefing with severe objections.
"It was probably the worst briefing I've seen — at least on a military issue — in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate," Lee told reporters, adding that it was "insulting and demeaning." Lee and Paul now both plan on supporting a similar war powers resolution as the one being voted on in the House, a Senate companion introduced by Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia.
A number of Democrats also blasted the briefing, suggesting that the administration gave insufficient evidence of an "imminent threat" that necessitated the killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, which sparked the current conflict. "I did not hear evidence of a specific imminent threat that would allow an attack without congressional authorization," Sen. Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecicut, tweeted after leaving the briefing. "With consequences as serious as these, that is unacceptable. Congress needs to act."
Most Republican lawmakers held a different view, however. "Nat'l security officials gave a compelling briefing to senators just now. They answered every important question," Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said on Twitter. "Anyone who walks out & says they aren’t convinced action against #Soleimani was justified is either never going to be convinced or just oppose everything Trump does."
"I think he must have been in a different briefing than I attended," Lee replied in an NPR interview this morning.
Report: Pelosi "on the brink" of sending impeachment articles to Senate
House Speaker Pelosi is "on the brink of ending her hold of the impeachment articles" and planning to send them to the Senate "in the near future," according to Politico Playbook.
After weeks of party unity after the House impeachment vote last month, Senate Democrats have begun to urge Pelosi to transmit the articles in recent days, calling for a speedy start to the Senate's impeachment trial. Their break with Pelosi comes after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's announcement that he has the votes to move forward with a rules package for the trial without Democratic approval, removing Pelosi's leverage.
"There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure," McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor. "We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment." McConnell's plan is to begin the trial without any agreement on requesting additional witnesses or documents — a similar procedure as the Bill Clinton impeachment trial — allowing senators to vote on such requests only after opening arguments have been delivered.
According to CNN, McConnell met with President Trump at the White House on Wednesday and "discussed the upcoming impeachment trial," a report that will likely add to Democratic accusations that he is improperly coordinating with the president ahead of the trial.
The White House has reportedly begun crafting the defense team that will represent President Trump at the trial. According to the Wall Street Journal, the team will be led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and will also include Trump's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow and potentially constitutional law professor Alan Dershowitz. The White House is also reportedly considering adding some of Trump's most aggressive defenders from the House — including Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), John Ratcliffe (Texas), and Doug Collins (Georgia) — although McConnell has objected to that idea, per the Washington Post.
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Today at the White House
--- President Donald Trump will announce proposed National Environmental Policy Act regulations, receive his daily intelligence briefing, and travel to Toledo, Ohio, to deliver remarks at a campaign rally.
--- Vice President Mike Pence will also speak at the Trump campaign rally in Toledo.
Today in Congress
--- The Senate will vote on confirmation of Paul J. Ray to be Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), a subagency within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
--- The House will hold votes on H.Con.Res. 83, a resolution "directing the President pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran," and H.R. 5078, the Prison to Proprietorship Act.
Today at the Supreme Court
--- The Supreme Court has no oral arguments or conferences scheduled.
Today on the trail
--- Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) will tour the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project in Long Beach, California, and attend a fundraiser in Irvine, California.
--- Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) will hold a "Conversation with Cory" event with State Rep. Amy Nielsen (D-IA) in Liberty, Iowa, and a meet and greet in Mount Vernon, Iowa.
--- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) will address the New England College Convention in Manchester, New Hampshire.
--- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) will attend a fundraiser in Potomac, Maryland.
--- Former Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) will visit Kenal Senior Center in Hanover, New Hampshire, and address a meeting of local Democrats in Milford, New Hampshire.
--- Former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) will meet with voters and activists in Iowa.
--- Spiritual author Marianne Williamson (D) will speak at the "Candidate Forum on Faith, Politics, and the Common Good" in Des Moines, Iowa.
--- Entrepreneur Andrew Yang (D) will hold town halls in Hudson and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and a climate forum in Durham, New Hampshire.