Three U.S. reservists were killed Sunday in a drone strike against a U.S. base in Jordan, but President Biden’s options are few to try to halt Iran’s proxy forces without inflaming conflicts in the Middle East.
Former President Trump and other Republicans say they blame Biden for the deaths of the three Army reserve soldiers from Georgia who died overnight Sunday when an explosive drone reached an American base along Syria’s border.
In an election year, Republicans accuse Biden of being weak on national security, dismissing his pledge to respond to Iranian-supported militia fighters in a “time and manner of our choosing.”
The possible U.S. retaliations run the gamut from unsatisfying to highly risky, reports The New York Times. Biden and his advisers for weeks have been on guard against potential U.S. casualties, aware of mounting odds and the administration’s failed efforts to stop Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen as well as thwart other foes in the region, some of whom are not controlled by Iran but exploit its support. Iran denies a role.
The administration is not being too specific about the origin of the drone or which militants launched it in order to preserve some element of surprise ahead of a response, according to CNN. U.S. officials have said only that the Iranian proxy group Kataib Hezbollah appears to have supported the strike.
▪ CNN: Officials and analysts expect American retaliatory strikes more powerful than previous action in Iraq and Syria, which did not deter militants. An estimated 165 attacks since October injured more than 120 U.S. service members across the region.
▪ The Hill: Biden weighs high-stakes response to Iran.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Iran’s axis of resistance faces its moment of truth after the attacks on Israel and a U.S. base.
The Pentagon on Monday identified the U.S. casualties as Georgia Army reservists Sgt. William Rivers, 46; Spc. Kennedy Sanders, 24; and Spc. Breonna Moffett, 23.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed “outrage and sorrow” Monday for those killed as well as for the more than 40 other service members injured at the base in Jordan (The Hill).
“The president and I will not tolerate attacks on U.S. forces and we will take all necessary actions to defend the U.S. and our troops,” added the secretary, who returned to work in the Pentagon this week following a Dec. 22 surgery for prostate cancer.
Biden — pummeled by critics because of his U.S. border policies, posture toward Israel and Palestinians in the war in Gaza, and the 2021 U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan — is whipsawed with advice to use force, or, conversely to de-escalate the use of force. He’s blasted as too weak to protect Americans and derided as too in lockstep with allies to save lives abroad.
“Our prayers go out to those soldiers in Georgia who lost their lives,” Texas Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told Fox News on Monday. “Everywhere the president, this president, Biden, moves, death comes with him, fentanyl across the border, people drowning in the river, people killed here by MS-13, soldiers killed afar.”
Republicans are pushing for a greater response. White House officials said the president is deliberating.
▪ Bloomberg News: Washington and Tehran seek to avoid a direct confrontation.
▪ CNN: How did a drone penetrate defenses at the U.S. military outpost known as Tower 22 in Jordan? A U.S. drone was returning to the base at around the same time as the attack, which created confusion.
“We are not looking for a war with Iran,” White House spokesperson John Kirby said Monday.
“Obviously, these attacks keep coming,” he told reporters. “I can’t speak for the Supreme Leader [of Iran] or what he wants or he doesn’t want. I can tell you what we want. What we want is a stable, secure, prosperous Middle East, and we want these attacks to stop.”
LEADING THE DAY
© The Associated Press / John Locher | Former President Trump at a Saturday campaign event in Las Vegas.
Big business is bracing for the return of former President Trump as Republican voters appear certain to give him a third shot at the White House. The Hill’s Julia Shapero reports corporate leaders are aiming to get out of the former president’s crosshairs after he scored key wins against former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the preferred choice of some major business figures — but they are reluctant to criticize him publicly.
“Most senior businessmen I talk to can’t stand the guy. They just recognize that he’s very dangerous for the country,” said Larry Harris, a finance professor at the University of Southern California and former chief economist at the Securities and Exchange Commission. “But nobody wants to open their mouth. Because unless everybody acts simultaneously, whoever pops up gets beaten down immediately.”
▪ The Hill: Haley’s dilemma in South Carolina: winning over voters who like her, but love Trump.
▪ Business Insider: A South Carolina GOP consultant explains why Haley is struggling to pick up endorsements in her home state: “She forgot who helped her get here.”
▪ The New York Times: Why Haley has so few friends left in South Carolina politics.
▪ Reuters: Haley was targeted in a second swatting attempt over New Year’s.
INTERNAL TURMOIL IS ROILING the Michigan GOP as it looks to retake a key 2024 battleground that’s shown signs of moving away from Biden. A Decision Desk HQ/The Hill average of polls out of the Great Lakes State show Trump several points ahead of Biden after the president flipped Michigan blue in the 2020 election. But The Hill’s Julia Mueller reports the Michigan GOP is facing its own setbacks. Republicans there voted this month to oust the controversial state GOP chairwoman, Kristina Karamo, but she’s insisted that she’s still in control — sparking a leadership power struggle as the party eyes what should be a prime pickup opportunity.
WHERE AND WHEN
The House convenes at 10 a.m.
The Senate will meet at 3 p.m.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief before flying to Palm Beach, Fla., to speak at 2 p.m. at a campaign fundraiser and then at 6:45 p.m. at a political reception in Miami before returning to the White House.
Vice President Harris has no public events.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken at 11 a.m. will host the European Union during a Trade and Technology Council ministerial meeting with co-hosts Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. The trio will host a working lunch at the State Department for the attendees.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will meet at 5 p.m. with the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee as part of the government’s quarterly refunding process.
First lady Jill Biden will speak at the White House at 5:30 p.m. and show the 2022 film “No Ordinary Campaign,” a documentary about former White House staffers, Brian Wallach and Sandra Abrevaya and their experiences with the healthcare system following Brian’s ALS diagnosis in 2019.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff 3 p.m. will make remarks during a summit on the arts and culture in communities convened at Washington’s Constitution Center by the White House and the National Endowment for the Arts.
© The Associated Press / J. Scott Applewhite | Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Jan. 12.
THE HOUSE GOP IS ON THE PRECIPICE of torpedoing its best opportunity in years of passing border legislation. As The Hill’s Emily Brooks and Mike Lillis report, Republicans had long insisted on changes to border and migration policy as a condition of approving any additional aid to Ukraine. But as Senate negotiators close in on a deal that does just that, opposition from Trump threatens to sink the bill, which many conservatives say doesn’t go far enough to put the brakes on southern migration.
Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has fallen in line with Trump and the other GOP critics, all but ensuring that even if the bill passes the Senate, it will fail in the House. Johnson called the deal “dead on arrival” on Friday and doubled down over the weekend, claiming it wouldn’t do enough to stop illegal border crossings (Axios and ABC News).
Still, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced he will schedule the legislation for a vote later this week, eyeing it as a political boost for vulnerable incumbents who can then say they voted to do something to secure the border. The Democrats’ plan will be to put Republicans in the House — and possibly the Senate — on defense if they oppose the measure.
Politico: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Johnson are about to find out if they can bridge their yawning generation gap — with a border and Ukraine deal on the line.
HOUSE REPUBLICANS’ NOVEL APPROACH for impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is earning criticism from the left and even the right — who argue the GOP is falling short of the constitutional standards to remove a Cabinet official. The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch reports articles set to be marked up by the House Homeland Security Committee today accuse Mayorkas of failing to follow immigration laws — pointing to detention standards that have never been met under any administration, including during the Trump era.
“There is no treason. There is no bribery. There is no high crime and misdemeanor,” Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), a member of the committee, said at a Monday press conference. “You have two completely made-up accusations in a litany of articles of impeachment that simply recite policy disputes because the Republicans do not like how President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas have tried to address the issues at the border.”
▪ The Hill: The Senate is hauling in CEOs of social media companies Wednesday to grill them over online harms to children, but parents and children’s safety advocates said the time for talking is over and Congress must act to protect children and teens.
▪ NBC News: The House is targeting a vote as early as Wednesday on a bipartisan bill to expand the child tax credit and provide a series of tax breaks for businesses.
© The Associated Press / Alex Brandon | U.S. Supreme Court, Jan. 20.
⚖️ New York Judge Arthur Engoron by Wednesday could announce a penalty aimed at Trump in a fraud case prosecuted by New York Attorney General Letitia James involving the Trump Organization’s real estate valuations. James is seeking $370 million.
A lawyer for the Trumps slammed Judge Barbara S. Jones in a court filing Monday, denying that Trump lied about a missing $48 million loan. Jones in 2022 was appointed by the judge who’s presiding over the civil lawsuit that accuses Trump, his companies, and his three oldest children of tax fraud and other charges. On Friday, Jones wrote Engoron a 12-page letter saying, in part: “I have identified certain deficiencies in the financial information that I have reviewed, including disclosures that are either incomplete, present results inconsistently, and/or contain errors.”
Abortion: The Supreme Court on March 26 will hear oral arguments about how patients can access mifepristone, the commonly used abortion pill. It’s the first significant return to the abortion issue for the court since it overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.
■ Trump’s defamation case is the gift that keeps on giving, by Timothy L. O’Brien, senior executive editor and columnist, Bloomberg Opinion.
■ The problem with primaries, by Sheldon H. Jacobson, opinion contributor, The Hill.
© The Associated Press / Beth J. Harpaz | U.S. Library of Congress reading room, pictured in 2016.
And finally … 📚 Flashback: On this day in 1815, President James Madison approved the appropriation of $23,950 (about $477,050 today) to buy Thomas Jefferson’s 6,487 books. The reason? British troops in 1812 burned all 3,000 volumes shelved in the Library of Congress and a rescue had been suggested.
From Monticello, Jefferson reacted to the loss by offering to sell his personal library to help rebuild the collection for use by lawmakers. To Treasury Secretary Samuel Harrison Smith in 1814, Jefferson wrote, “I learn from the newspapers that the vandalism of our enemy has triumphed at Washington over science as well as the arts, by the destruction of the public library with the noble edifice in which it was deposited.”
Legislation to approve the purchase of Jefferson’s collection faced opposition from some Federalists, including Massachusetts Rep. Cyrus King, who argued that the founding father’s books could spread his “infidel philosophy” and were “good, bad, and indifferent … in languages which many can not read, and most ought not.”
Congress narrowly supported acquiring Jefferson’s books. The vote was along party lines.
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