Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters have captured more than a third of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, Reuters reports, citing the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. But Kobani's slow-motion fall is being filmed by the media from across the nearby Turkish border, where Turkish tanks and infantry are also watching, doing nothing to intervene.
The U.S., which has conducted at least 19 airstrikes against ISIS forces outside Kobani, acknowledges that aerial bombardment won't roll back ISIS by itself. The White House wants Turkey, with NATO's second-largest army, to step in with ground forces, shelling, training Syria rebels, or at least letting Turkish Kurdish forces across to the border to help defend Kobani. But it's complicated.
First, Turkey is pretty open about wanting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad deposed, so sending troops into Syria is tricky. Second, Ankara has said it will only start fighting ISIS if the U.S. helps set up a humanitarian buffer zone in northern Syria, an idea Secretary of State John Kerry says is "worth looking at very, very closely," but is considered too expensive and knotty for U.S. planners.
Third, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dislikes the Kurdish militias almost as much as ISIS. The Syrian Kurds fighting in Kobani, known as the YPG, are allied with Turkey's Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), a militant group engaged in a long battle for autonomy. "Americans officials fear Turkey could simply choose to remain out of the fray, and let two of its enemies — the Islamic State group and Kurdish guerrillas — fight for Kobani," says The Associated Press. "That would give the militants an opportunity to do as much damage to the Kurdish fighters in Syria as possible."
Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman is more direct. "Erdogan and his [ruling Justice and Development Party] AKP disciples view Kobani as an opportunity rather than a threat," she writes at Al Monitor.
Erdogan has chosen to exploit Kobani's imminent fall to wrest maximum concessions from assorted Kurdish leaders.... But Turkey would probably be happy to see Kobani fall.... Kobani's fall would deal a humiliating blow to the PKK and weaken its support among Syria's Kurds. [Al Monitor]
Retired U.S. Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy on ISIS, is in Ankara on Thursday to discuss the situation with Turkey. Peter Weber
President Trump's abysmally low approval rating just got even lower. Gallup's latest poll released Wednesday found that now just 35 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing — a historic low for a president at this stage of his term. Fifty-nine percent disapprove of Trump's performance.
This marks the second time this week that Trump's approval rating has dipped to a new low for him. After Republicans' health-care fiasco Friday, Trump's approval rating plummeted to 36 percent Monday, Gallup found — but apparently the downhill slide wasn't over yet.
Political Capital offered some context for just how bad Trump's 35 percent approval rating actually is. Apparently former President Richard Nixon held a higher approval rating during the Watergate hearings than Trump does right now:
Nixon Watergate Hearings - 36%
W Bush post Katrina - 40%
Iran Contra Reagan - 46%
Ford pardons Nixon - 50%
Trump today 35%
— Political Capital (@PoliticalLine) March 29, 2017
The daily tracking poll surveyed approximately 1,500 adults by phone, and the results are based on a three-day rolling average. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. Becca Stanek
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated that the Trump administration will revisit health care following the bruising failure of the Republican replacement bill last week.
Trump "talked about repealing and replacing," Spicer explained. "It's a commitment he made. He'd like to get it done."
Spicer dismissed Trump's comments about the ease of replacing Affordable Care Act as being "a lighthearted moment" and added that health care is an "ongoing discussion" for the White House. Either way, Republican health-care efforts will likely be temporarily abandoned as the party turns its attention to the budget and tax reforms. Jeva Lange
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 29, 2017
Former Trump adviser calls out 'double standard' in defense of Bill O'Reilly's racist and sexist comments
In response to the outrage surrounding Bill O'Reilly's racist and sexist joke Tuesday — in which the Fox News host referred to Rep. Maxine Waters' (D-Calif.) hair as a "James Brown wig" — former Trump campaign adviser and congressman Jack Kingston took to CNN on Wednesday morning to defend O'Reilly. While speaking to host Chris Cuomo, Kingston claimed Washington politicians have "earned" the right to "humor and silliness."
"People make fun of Donald Trump all the time. They call him 'carrot top.' They say his whole skin is orange. They accuse him of all kinds of things," Kingston said to Cuomo during a debate with Jennifer Psaki, a former spokesman for former President Barack Obama. "It seems to me there is a double standard when somebody from the right is being criticized."
Continuing his defense, Kingston said, "What I don't like is the left always runs and clutches, 'Oh I'm a woman, don't say anything bad about me.' Or, 'I belong to a certain race.' It seems like it's always that card that's played."
On Tuesday, Waters herself responded to O'Reilly's comments, saying: "I'm a strong black woman and I cannot be intimidated." Psaki also fired back in the debate with Kingston, saying, "I don't think sexism is a partisan thing." Watch the segment below. Sarah Weldon
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called on reporter April Ryan for his first question Wednesday, following a widely criticized exchange Tuesday in which Spicer scolded Ryan for shaking her head at him. If Spicer's gesture was an attempt to make nice, it didn't exactly work:
Spicer calls on April Ryan, whom he admonished yesterday, for the first question.
It's awkward. pic.twitter.com/lEvp29d8gP
— David Mack (@davidmackau) March 29, 2017
Many people slammed Spicer for the way he spoke to Ryan on Tuesday, including Hillary Clinton. "Too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride," Clinton said Tuesday while speaking at the Professional Business Women of California annual conference. Jeva Lange
On Wednesday, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S8, its flagship smartphone and the company's first major product reveal since it was forced to recall the Note 7 last year because of its tendency to catch fire. The Galaxy S8 boasts a new "infinity display," which spans virtually the entire front of the device and curves around the edge. The new screen is possible in part because the physical home button has been eliminated from the front of the device; the phone can be unlocked via facial recognition software, while the finger scanner has been moved to the back, right next to a 12-megapixel camera. Other new features include Bixby, Samsung's version of Siri; system-wide voice control; and the option of turning the phone into a desktop computer with the purchase of a docking station.
Samsung is releasing two versions of the device — the S8 and the S8+, which has a bigger screen — which will be available for preorder beginning March 30, starting at $720. The official release date is April 21. Becca Stanek
Officials have found the body of a 25-year-old farmer in the belly of a 23-foot-long python in Indonesia, French news agency AFP reports. The snake was described as "bloated and slithering awkwardly," which tipped off the villagers of Salubiro after Akbar (who, like many Indonesians, does not use a surname) went missing nearby.
"We were immediately suspicious that the snake had swallowed Akbar because around the site we found palm fruit, his harvesting tool, and a boot," said a senior village official. The official also noted that Akbar was swallowed whole by the snake, making him the only recorded death of the sort in the region.
President Trump has tapped New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) to head up the White House's new commission to battle drug addiction. The commission, aimed at raising awareness and crafting new policies, is expected to be announced Wednesday, when Trump and Christie lead a listening session at the White House with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, other Cabinet members, and drug policy experts.
Though Christie was a devoted Trump surrogate and once even a contender for vice president, Christie insisted he has "no interest in having a permanent role" in the administration and is happy with the volunteer role he's been offered. "[Trump] asked me to help with this and I'm going to," Christie said. "It's an issue that I care about a lot in New Jersey and for the country, and so the president asked me to do this and I was happy to."
During his tenure as New Jersey governor and during his run in the Republican presidential primary, Christie has put fighting the nation's opioid epidemic and rising prescription drug abuse at the forefront. Christie's commission is part of the new White House Office of American Innovation, chaired by Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner, who reportedly had a hand in ousting Christie as Trump's transition chair. Becca Stanek