US plan to retaliate against Iran takes shape


President Biden ordered retaliation for the deaths of U.S. troops after a Sunday attack on a U.S. base in Jordan, approving plans for significant strikes against Iranian-controlled facilities in Iraq and Syria, CBS News reported Thursday.

The response, expected to begin as soon as this weekend, will occur over several days and be “tiered,” mixing military actions with other steps that can be adjusted to signal that Washington doesn’t seek further escalation, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Tehran, eager to stave off a direct war with the U.S., ordered Iranian commanders to leave bases in Iraq and Syria that could become U.S. targets, hoping to head off high-profile killings that, in Iranian eyes, would require a response.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Friday that his country will defend itself. “We will not start any war, but if anyone wants to bully us they will receive a strong response,” he said in a televised speech. “Before, when they [the U.S.] wanted to talk to us, they said the military option is on the table. Now they say they have no intention of a conflict with Iran,” Raisi continued.

The Iran-backed militia group Kata’ib Hezbollah announced Wednesday it suspended military operations against U.S. forces. The U.S. has said the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella militia group backed by Iran, was responsible for the attack on U.S. forces.

On Thursday, Yemen’s Houthi rebels were still attacking vessels and fired a ballistic missile at a Liberian-flagged container ship in the Red Sea. 

“At this point, it’s time to take away even more capability than we’ve taken in the past,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a Pentagon news conference Thursday. 

ABC News: U.S. forces responded Thursday and hit Houthi UAVs and a ground control station in Yemen.

Biden hopes to pressure Iran to rein in attacks by groups it supports but which it might not directly command.

Domestically, some Republican critics have bashed Biden, who is campaigning for reelection, labeling him an “appeaser” who is leery of using force to deter America’s enemies.

Austin said the U.S. sought to “hold the right people accountable” without escalating the conflict in the region.

“The dilemma for the Biden administration is to try to bloody Iran’s nose without touching it,” Ali Vaez, the Iran director for the International Crisis Group, a conflict prevention organization, told CBS. “The problem is each side retaliates against the other, it generates the need for a counterstrike and this vicious cycle continues, and at a certain point it will explode.”

Meanwhile, the conflict in the Middle East is widening. Biden used an executive order Thursday to punish some Israeli settlers in the West Bank, where Palestinians imagine a future state. The U.S. imposed sanctions on four Israeli men it accused of being involved in settler violence in the West Bank, signaling growing U.S. displeasure with the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes a two-state solution promoted by the U.S. for decades.

The Biden administration revived talks to broker ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, part of efforts to prepare for a future in Gaza if Hamas is defeated. The Hill’s Laura Kelly reports that Biden could help secure a major foreign policy win before the November election. Hypothetically, the president could get Republicans to rally around Israeli-Saudi normalization, which would help counter Riyadh’s skeptics in the Democratic party. 

“I will do all I can as a Republican to help President Biden to bring about normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on the Senate floor in mid-January, following a trip to Jerusalem and Riyadh. 

“Not only do we pray for peace,” Biden said Thursday during a National Prayer Breakfast held annually in the Capitol, “we’re actively working for peace, security, dignity for the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.”

The president said he understands the “pain and passion felt by so many here in America and around the world” in response to the “trauma, the destruction in Israel and Gaza.” 

“We value and pray for the lives taken and for the families left behind,” he continued.

“For all those who are living in dire circumstances, innocent men, women and children, held hostage or under bombardment, or displaced not knowing where the next meal will come from, or if it will come at all.”  


3 THINGS TO KNOW TODAY

▪ The president and first lady Jill Biden today will attend the dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base of the remains of U.S. service members killed in action in a drone attack Sunday, a solemn ceremony witnessed by grieving relatives.

▪ Meta is money. On Thursday, it reported quarterly profits of $40.1 billion, up significantly from a year ago, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg credited in part to a “leaner” company after 18 months of layoffs. Its ads business is up and the company is focused on AI. 

▪ Groundhog Day: In the nation’s capital, residents enjoyed spring last week. In Buffalo, N.Y., a change of seasons is a long way off. In Pennsylvania this morning, a giant rodent plucked from darkness and held aloft for TV by a man in a top hat will render a prediction about winter — based on a shadow. Is this a great country, or what?


Mea culpa: Austin apologized to colleagues and the American people Thursday for opaque communications with the White House and his subordinates about his December surgery for prostate cancer and emergency hospitalization in January. He also discussed international defense and security situations with reporters while adding he has no plans to resign (The Hill and NBC News).


LEADING THE DAY

Politics Haley 012924 AP Matt Kelley

© The Associated Press / Matt Kelley | Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in Conway, S.C., on Sunday.

POLITICS

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is working to muster momentum in the weeks ahead of the South Carolina Republican primary, which could prove to be a moment of reckoning for her presidential primary. Polling shows Haley trailing Trump in her home state, with The Hill/Decision Desk HQ’s average of polls showing Trump up by over 30 points in the state. 

Despite the uphill climb, The Hill’s Julia Manchester reports Haley’s allies say there is still enough time for her to close the gap with the former president in South Carolina, and at least one recent poll has shown her gaining support in the Palmetto State. A poll released this week by The American Promise and the Tyson Group showed Haley reaching 31 percent support, the first time she has received more than 30 percent support in a South Carolina poll so far.

“Nikki Haley’s ability to come from behind is record-breaking in South Carolina,” said Dave Wilson, a South Carolina-based GOP strategist, referring to Haley’s past electoral wins in the state. “Is she going to be able to do it this time? Probably not because President Trump has such a high rating in almost every poll.” 

Politico: Trump leads Haley in South Carolina by 26 points, poll shows.

Biden sought to lean into his strengths during a Thursday trip to Michigan, even as the discontent among the state’s large Arab American population over his handling of the situation in Gaza loomed over the visit. The president met with Black community leaders and chatted with patrons at They Say, a Black-owned restaurant, and spoke at a United Auto Workers (UAW) hall on the heels of the organization’s endorsement of his reelection bid during his visit to the Detroit area. 

But his itinerary did not take him into Dearborn, where Arab Americans make up a majority of the population, nor did it include any meetings with Arab American leaders. Instead, Biden on Thursday sought to seize on the momentum from the UAW endorsement, which was made at an event in Washington, D.C., last week (The Hill).

“To me it’s a basic, basic thing, and I mean this sincerely. Wall Street didn’t build the middle class. Labor built the middle class, and the middle class built the country,” Biden said, boasting that the U.S. had the “strongest economy in the whole damn world.”

Notable: Trump has a small, 3.5 point lead against Biden in Michigan, according to The Hill/Decision Desk HQ’s average of polls.

2024 ROUNDUP

▪ Is it possible for Biden to win a second term despite an underwhelming approval rating? Polling data suggests the answer is yes.

▪ Here are six things we learned from candidates’ most recent Federal Election Commission filings.

▪ Trump’s campaign A-team: “We go to war with people that we trust,” said the former president’s campaign co-manager Chris LaCivita, a 57-year-old former Marine injured in the 1991 Gulf War who became a political consultant.

▪ Biden’s campaign has placed leadership teams in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Arizona — the full roster of its battleground states. Wisconsin and Arizona are pilots for campaign-organizing tests to woo young people and Black and Latino voters, according to CNN, which unpacks how the Biden 2024 and Obama 2012 reelection strategies differ. 


WHERE AND WHEN

The House convenes on Monday at noon.

The Senate will meet on Monday at 10 a.m. 

The president is in Delaware andwill receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. He and the first lady will travel to Dover Air Force Base to meet with the families of fallen U.S. service members and participate in a transfer ceremony. The defense secretary will attend along with chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown. Biden and the first lady will return to New Castle, Del.

The vice president ​will travel to South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C., to headline a get-out-the-vote event at 5 p.m. on the final day of early voting ahead of the state’s Feb. 3 Democratic primary, seen as a first test of the Black vote. She returns to Washington tonight.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will headline a reelection campaign event at 11:30 a.m. at Kounter in Rock Hill, S.C., then speak at an event at the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party headquarters in Charlotte, N.S. at 1:45 p.m. 

Economic indicator: The Bureau of Labor Statistics at 8:30 a.m. will report on employment in January.

The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:30 p.m.


ZOOM IN

Congress Crapo 091223 AP Mariam Zuhaib

© The Associated Press / Mariam Zuhaib | Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) at the Capitol in September.

CONGRESS

SENATE REPUBLICANS ARE NOT ON BOARD with the bipartisan tax bill that passed the House last night, angry that they were cut out of negotiations between Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.). The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports a senior aide to House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) was informed by Senate GOP staff last week that they view the bill as “trash.” Senate conservatives say it would give government welfare checks to migrants being paroled into the country and dismiss the pay-for to cover its cost as a gimmick. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is panning the bill for even including a pay-for to offset the cost of corporate tax breaks that would go to huge companies like Apple and not small businesses.

“There are issues that need to be fixed,” said Crapo, the leading Republican on the Senate Finance Committee that handles tax legislation. 

The stiff opposition from Senate Republicans sets the stage for another major policy clash with Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who praised the legislation as “important bipartisan legislation to revive conservative pro-growth tax reform.”

The Hill’s Tobias Burns and Aris Folley have rounded up five fights to watch on the tax deal as it gets considered in the upper chamber, where it could face its toughest challenges.

RESISTANCE TO THE DEAL in the House was evident among blue-state Republicans, who want to see the cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions raised as part of any larger tax deal. Sources told The Hill that New York Republican lawmakers and House leadership struck an agreement to bring a SALT-related bill to the floor by the end of next week, though an aide for Johnson later pushed back on the time frame. Rep. Mike Lawler’s (R-N.Y.) SALT Marriage Penalty Elimination Act has limited applicability. It would increase the 2023 SALT deduction from $10,000 to $20,000 for married couples filing jointly whose taxable income is less than $500,000 (The Hill).

“This is a pro-family measure that rights a wrong, and this is ultimately about fairness,” Lawler said in the hearing, thanking Johnson for “his help in addressing this issue.”

BORDER AND UKRAINE: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) said the Senate will vote next week on the national security supplemental bill, which includes a bipartisan deal on border and immigration restrictions. Schumer said he plans to set up a vote on the legislation next week that will occur no later than Wednesday (The Hill and Politico).


ELSEWHERE

Trump World Trump 012224 Reuters Shannon Stapleton

© The Associated Press / Shannon Stapleton, Reuters | Former President Trump appeared in court in Manhattan on Jan. 11.

TRUMP WORLD

Trump’s defense that efforts to remove him from state ballots under the 14th Amendment are bogus will be heard by the Supreme Court on Thursday. Drama is guaranteed in a presidential season that’s proving to be an unprecedented mashup of criminal indictments, federal and state investigations, partisan political attacks (some aimed at the courts by Trump) and novel legal questions posed to the high court.

A clause of the 14th Amendment forbids officials from holding office if they took part in an insurrection against the United States. Critics say Trump was an insurrectionist on Jan. 6, 2021. Some Supreme Court watchers expect the high court to move quickly with a decision, leery of a patchwork of various state ballot verdicts during an election year. 

Trump’s critics hope that the late Justice Antonin Scalia and some current conservative justices will be key to the pending high court opinion. They cite a 2014 concurring opinion from Scalia, a hero of the conservative legal movement who died in 2016, as evidence that the 14th Amendment’s “insurrectionist ban” applies to former presidents — not just rank-and-file federal officials (CNN).

Trump’s flotilla of lawyers is expensive, often changing, and paid using supporters’ contributions to PACs aligned with his presidential campaign. Newly filed federal records reveal the hefty 2023 invoices, including more than $50 million on legal consulting. Here’s a look at lawyers representing Trump, ranked by what they were paid by the candidate’s representatives last year, according to the latest data: Chris Kise, $8.97 million; Clifford Robert, $5.29 million; Alina Habba and Michael Madaio, $4.03 million; John Lauro, $2.65 million; Evan Corcoran, $2.63 million and Todd Blanche, $2.33 million. 

“Any lawyer who takes a TRUMP CASE is either ‘CRAZY,’ or a TRUE AMERICAN PATRIOT,” Trump posted Tuesday on Truth Social.

▪ Politico: Lawyer Roberta Kaplan’s legal strategy for client E. Jean Carroll resulted in an order that Trump pay a penalty of $83 million for defamation after a jury found him guilty of sexual assault. Federal prosecutors may want to take note.

▪ The Hill: A judge’s penalty verdict in a New York civil fraud case against Trump is now expected sometime this month, perhaps by mid-February.

▪ The Washington Post: U.S. officials are debating security around the federal courthouse in downtown Washington to be used for a Trump trial.

▪ Politico EU: Trump’s Steele dossier lawsuit was dismissed by a London court.

HEALTH

💊 DRUG PRICING: The Biden administration on Thursday sent pricing offers to drug companies for 10 widely prescribed drugs for older Americans in an effort to lower costs as part of new Medicare drug price negotiations enacted on the president’s watch. Department of Health and Human Services officials did not reveal how much the government’s price negotiators initially offered to pay pharmaceutical companies that make drugs to treat conditions such as heart failure, stroke, diabetes and autoimmune disease.

The commonly prescribed drugs include Eliquis, Jardiance, Xarelto, Januvia, Farxiga, Entresto, Enbrel, Imbruvica, Stelara and the insulins Fiasp and NovoLog. Administration officials said the initial federal offers will launch a back-and-forth with drug manufacturers over the spring and summer months, with final prices for the first batch of drugs determined and made public Sept. 1, to take effect in January 2026 (USA Today).

THE FIRST OVER-THE-COUNTER BIRTH CONTROL PILL in the U.S. will hit the market soon, and the Biden administration is facing pressure from Democrats and reproductive health groups to make sure it’s affordable. The manufacturer of Opill says it’s on track to make the drug available sometime during the first quarter of this year, meaning it could be on shelves by March. 

The push to make birth control available OTC has been happening for years, but after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the constitutional right to an abortion, the movement took on more urgency (The Hill). 

▪ Axios: Health care workers kept leaving the industry after the pandemic, a new study shows.

▪ The Hill: Less than 20 percent of Americans say they know how much they will have to pay before receiving health care treatments, according to a new report.


OPINION

■ Inside the crucial mission of U.S. troops at Tower 22, by Josh Rogin, columnist, The Washington Post.

■ The new expansion of the child tax credit won’t disincentivize work, by George Callas, opinion contributor, The Hill.


THE CLOSER

Quiz Obamas and Oprah 110608 AP Elise Amendola

© The Associated Press / Elise Amendola | Oprah Winfrey endorsed Barack Obama early during his path to the White House and was there with the president-elect and Michelle Obama in Manchester, N.H., in 2007.

And finally … 👏👏👏 Congratulations to this week’s Morning Report Quiz winners! Puzzlers knew about (or guessed) celebrities who have loaned their dazzle to presidential candidates.

⭐ Here’s who went 4/4 with our fame game: Robert Bradley, Bob Hickerson, Jaina Mehta Buck, William Chittam, Tim Burrack, Stan Wasser, Barbara Coen, Mary Anne McEnery, Harry Strulovici, Tim Abeska, Philip Kirstein, Jay Rockey, Richard Baznik, Lynn Gardner, Ki Harvey, Robert Vellios, Steve James, Stuart Babendir, John Trombetti, Susan Reeves, Luther Berg, Jose A. Ramos and Peter Sprofera.

They knew then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) made notable use of his early endorsement from Oprah Winfrey while campaigning for president in 2008.

Former President Trump touted political support from Jon Voight, Kid Rock and Kanye West. The answer we were looking for was “all of the above.”

Frank Sinatra backed former President Reagan during the 1980 presidential campaign (and reportedly contributed $4 million). 

It’s true that in a magazine editorial in 2020, Taylor Swift encouraged fans to vote and explained her support for the Biden-Harris ticket. She shared her endorsement with her social media followers.


Stay Engaged

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