Quotables
3:32 a.m.

On Wednesday, 129 House Republicans joined every House Democrat to pass a nonbonding resolution condemning President Trump's abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces from northeastern Syria, paving the way for Turkey to invade and slaughter America's Kurdish allies. On Thursday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of the few senators to back Trump's policy, blocked that resolution from coming up for a vote, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) panned it as "backward looking," saying he would prefer "something even stronger."

The net effect was no action by the Senate. "History will show that the country, the Senate, and even the senator from Kentucky will regret blocking the resolution," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said afterward, referring to Paul. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced a bill to impose strict sanctions against Turkey, specifically targeting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but McConnell hasn't committed to taking it up.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) stepped into the inertia to publicly roast Trump's troop withdrawal, explain the accurately predicted consequences, and criticize the weak "pause" in fighting Turkey agreed to and Trump touted as a great victory:

The decision to abandon the Kurds violates one of our most sacred duties. It strikes at American honor. What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a blood stain in the annals of American history. There are broad strategic implications of our decision as well. Iranian and Russian interests in the Middle East have been advanced by our decision. ... Russia's objective to play a greater role in the Middle East has also been greatly enhanced. The Kurds, out of desperation, have now aligned with [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad. So America is diminished; Russia, Iran, and Assad are strengthened. [Mitt Romney]

Romney went through various defenses of Trump's policy and rebutted them. "Are we incapable of understanding and shaping complex situations? Russia seems to have figured it out," he said. "Are we so weak and so inept diplomatically that Turkey forced the hand of the United States of America? Turkey?" Peter Weber

October 17, 2019

Congressional leaders met with President Trump at the White House to discuss the mess in Syria on Wednesday, and it didn't go well. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Trump had a "meltdown" and she was praying for his health. Using his patented I'm-rubber-you're-glue strategy, Trump responded that Pelosi had an "unhinged meltdown" — posting a photo that didn't appear to have the intended effect — and tweeted "Pray for her."

The 20-minute meeting started with Trump saying he didn't want to be there, The New York Times reports, citing several Democratic officials and noting that "the White House did not dispute their accounts." Trump brought up a bizarre letter he sent to Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claiming his "nasty" missive shows he didn't green-light Turkey's invasion of Syria. Pelosi noted that the House had just overwhelmingly condemned Trump's decision to withdraw the handful of U.S. troops that had been keeping Turkey at bay.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) started to read Trump a quote from his former defense secretary, James Mattis, at which point Trump called Mattis "the world's most overrated general" because "he wasn't tough enough" and "I captured ISIS" faster than he'd said was possible. Pelosi said Russia has long sought a "foothold in the Middle East" and he had just given Russian President Vladimir Putin such an opening, adding: "All roads with you lead to Putin." That's when the already-tense meeting "reached a fever pitch," the Times reports.

The Associated Press recounts the next few exchanges:

Trump: "I hate ISIS more than you do."

Pelosi: "You don't know that."

Schumer: "Is your plan to rely on the Syrians and the Turks?"

Trump: "Our plan is to keep the American people safe."

Pelosi: "That's not a plan. That's a goal."

After Trump called Pelosi either a "third-rate" or "third-grade" politician, House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said "this is not useful," and the Democrats walked out. Trump said: "Goodbye, we'll see you at the polls." White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said of the meeting: "The president was measured, factual, and decisive, while Speaker Pelosi's decision to walk out was baffling, but not surprising." Peter Weber

September 29, 2019

People who have read out loud the White House's reconstructed transcript of President Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, or heard it read aloud, describe it as something straight out of a mafia film. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) apparently never heard it read out loud before CBS News' Scott Pelley recited a key part of it to him for Sunday's 60 Minutes — or perhaps he just never read the transcript carefully.

After McCarthy appeared surprised that Trump told Zelensky "I would like you to do us a favor, though," he quickly moved on to arguing that the House shouldn't have opened an impeachment inquiry on Trump. When Pelley noted that he was veering into White House talking points, McCarthy replied: "I've never seen one talking point from the White House." That seems improbable, not only because the White House emailed those talking points to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats by mistake, but also because, according to The New York Times and Politico, McCarthy was one of about a dozen GOP lawmakers invited to the White House before the transcript's release to "get an early look at the readout and coordinate their talking points."

Still, "the most notable part of this is that [McCarthy] will not defend the call — will only say it is not impeachable," argues New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin. Watch the clip below, underneath a little commentary from a former member of McCarthy's caucus. Peter Weber

September 26, 2019

President Trump has repeatedly insisted that his problematic July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was "perfect," and he genuinely "did not believe his conversation with the Ukrainian president was problematic," The Washington Post reports, citing multiple Trump confidantes. But after reading the notes from the call, "many of his senior advisers weren't nearly as confident," and "they warned him that sharing it might not be exculpatory."

Trump decided to release the reconstructed transcript anyway, and before its release Wednesday midmorning, about a dozen Republican lawmakers got a sneak-peak at the White House. Trump, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, called in to the meeting, in which the Trump aides and GOP lawmakers discussed the transcript and how to respond to its release. Attendees said Trump was "generally in a good mood," though "skittish about some of the details," the Post reports. "At one point, the group began joking with the president that 'this was one of his better' phone calls with foreign leaders, an attendee said."

In fact, two people close to Trump told The New York Times that "the transcript matched what they knew of his dealings on the phone with world leaders," and one former senior adviser "called it the typical playbook: Engage in flattery, discuss mutual cooperation, and bring up a favor that then could be delegated to another person on Mr. Trump's team." What kind of favors? The official didn't say.

Trump himself has "sought to present a business-as-usual image," but his "mood went from feisty to self-pitying to deflated on Wednesday," and at a Manhattan fundraiser Wednesday night, "Trump gamely told jokes and tried to seem lighthearted," the Times reports. "The president had had little chance to catch up with his media coverage at the United Nations, but aides said they were bracing for the president to react angrily when he finally saw some of it after the fundraiser." Peter Weber

September 23, 2019

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin really wanted to talk about "the real issue of the week," Iran, on CNN's State of the Union Sunday, but Jake Tapper insisted they first discuss a growing scandal involving President Trump pressuring Ukraine's president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Trump's interactions with Ukraine are reportedly at the center of an intelligence officer's whistleblower complaint.

Trump has acknowledged bringing up the Bidens with Ukraine's president in the context of "corruption" — there's no evidence Hunter Biden did anything illicit when he sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, nor that Joe Biden intervened to help his son — but the White House denies that Trump was using $250 million in U.S. military aid as leverage.

Mnuchin and Tapper went back and forth about what Trump may or may not have said to Ukraine's president, whether it was appropriate, and whether the public has a right to know. Finally, Mnuchin said that what he finds "inappropriate is the fact that Vice President Biden at the time's son did very significant business dealings in Ukraine," and he thinks that issue perhaps "should be further investigated."

Tapper followed up: "So it is okay for Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump to do business all over the world, it's okay for Ivanka Trump to have copyrights approved all over the world while President Trump is president, but while Vice President Joe Biden was vice president, his son shouldn't have been able to do business dealings?" Mnuchin said he didn't want to "go into more of these details," and Tapper cut in: "Well, you're just setting a precedent that the president is violating."

Mnuchin said he sees "a significant difference" between the two situations, and Tapper finally moved on to Iran. You can read the entire transcript at CNN. Peter Weber

August 16, 2019

This is how The New York Times summarized President Trump's campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Thursday night: "Typically rambling, veering on and off script seemingly at random over an hour and a half, he repeated points he had already made earlier in the evening as if he did not remember already making them." And this is how Anthony Scaramucci, Trump's short-lived communications director and newly minted critic, described Trump to Vanity Fair's William Cohan in an interview published early Friday:

I think the guy is losing it, mentally. He has declining mental faculties; he's becoming more petulant; he's becoming more impetuous. Okay, you see just by the way he's sweating, his body's not doing well. It's obviously not a guy that takes care of himself, right? ... This is an observational objective thing: the guy's nuts. We've gotta defeat him. Everybody in the Republican Party knows it. They don't want to lose their mantle of power and their mantle of leadership, so let's primary the guy. [Anthony Scaramucci to Vanity Fair]

The Mooch has some nice things to say about Trump's policies, and some sharply negative thoughts on Trump's tariffs and tweets. But the issue that finally pushed him off the "Trump train," Scaramucci said, "was the racism — full-blown racism." It's not that Trump's a racist, he added. "He's actually worse than a racist." He elaborated, colorfully:

He is so narcissistic, he doesn't see people as people. He sees them as objects in his field of vision. And so therefore, that's why he has no empathy. ... And by the way, if you and I were in his field of vision and he had a cold and the two of us had to die for him to get a Kleenex, you're f--king dead. I mean, there's no chance. You understand that, right? [Scaramucci, Vanity Fair]

Read the entire interview, including Scaramucci's very specific prediction that Trump will quit the race, at Vanity Fair. Peter Weber

August 15, 2019

At a Democratic event in Springfield, Illinois, on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) poked at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for proudly killing almost all legislation the House has passed and sent on to the Senate. "'Moscow Mitch' says that he is the Grim Reaper — imagine describing yourself as the Grim Reaper — that he's going to bury all this legislation," she said. The Democratic officials in the audience laughed.

"Grim Reaper" is a name McConnell did give himself back in April, but "Moscow Mitch" was coined by MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, who tore into McConnell in July for blocking legislation to combat foreign election interference. The nickname gained new relevance after The Washington Post reported this week on a Kremlin-linked Russian company that invested in a Kentucky factory after McConnell helped thwart efforts to kill a White House effort to lift sanctions on the company.

Asked for comment on Pelosi using the nickname in public, McConnell spokesman David Popp pointed CNN to McConnell's July floor speech in which he denounced such sobriquets as "modern-day McCarthyism." Peter Weber

August 6, 2019

There are significant differences between the Islamic State and the white nationalist terrorists who have been ramping up attacks in the U.S., but "the parallels are stunning," terrorism expert Will McCants tells The New York Times. In fact, writes Max Fisher at the Times, "white nationalist terrorism is following a progression eerily similar to that of jihadism under the leadership of the Islamic State, in ways that do much to explain why the attacks have suddenly grown so frequent and deadly."

The parallels include an apocalyptic ideology that promotes a world-consuming civilizational conflict — for ISIS, Muslims versus the West; for white nationalists, nonwhites versus whites — showy and indiscriminate murders recorded and shared over social media, purportedly to hasten this global battle as well as recruit and radicalize new adherents, and new forms of communication that allow such violent ideologies to spread virulently, typically among young male loners.

"I think a lot of people working on online extremism saw this coming," J.M. Berger, author of the book Extremism, told the Times. And there are good reasons to be very worried that it came to fruition, Fisher explains:

The feedback loop of radicalization and violence, once triggered, can take on a terrible momentum all its own, with each attack boosting the online radicalization and doomsday ideology that, in turn, drive more attacks. The lessons are concerning. It is nearly impossible to eradicate a movement animated by ideas and decentralized social networks. Nor is it easy to prevent attacks when the perpetrators' ideology makes nearly any target as good as the next, and requires little more training or guidance than opening a web forum. [Max Fisher, The New York Times]

Read more about how the U.S. invasion of Iraq helped foster this new form of nihilistic terrorism and the nearly word-for-word similarities between the ISIS and white nationalist manifestoes at The New York Times. Peter Weber

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