August 22, 2017

In President Trump's new Afghanistan War policy, laid out in a speech on Monday night, he pledged a deliberately unspecified troop surge, probably of about 4,000 extra troops, and declined to set a timetable for withdrawing the U.S. military from the country. Trump sided with the former generals in his administration rather than those advocating winding down the 16-year-old war as a lost cause, prominently his recently ejected chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, so perhaps it is no surprise that the foreign policy hawks in the Republican Party were very enthusiastic about Trump's speech ...

... while Bannon's Breitbart News vehemently disagreed with Trump's decision. Specifically, the writers and editors at Breitbart took issue with Graham and other conservatives that the policy was significantly different that former President Barack Obama's.

Democrats criticized Trump's lack of details or vision. And while the reaction at Fox News was much more positive, not all Fox News regulars were on board. Laura Ingraham, a conservative radio host once considered for White House press secretary and reportedly in talks for her own Fox News TV show, sounded almost like the Democrats.

So, 2017, strange bedfellows, etc. Peter Weber

12:28 p.m.

President Trump is lifting sanctions on Turkey after he says its government told him its ceasefire in Syria will be made "permanent."

Trump announced from the White House Wednesday that he was informed by Turkey's government that it's making its temporary ceasefire in Syria "permanent," although the president hedged this statement by saying "you would also define the word 'permanent' in that part of the world as somewhat questionable. We all understand that. But I do believe it will be permanent."

Vice President Mike Pence announced last week a temporary ceasefire in Syria following a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with this coming after Trump's decision to pull back troops, allowing for a Turkish military incursion into Kurdish-held zones. Kurds worked with the U.S. to fight the Islamic State, and Trump's move drew criticism and a bipartisan rebuke from the House of Representatives. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Turkey on Oct. 14 in response, but Trump now says the sanctions will be lifted "unless something happens that we're not happy with." This announcement came after Turkey halted its Syria offensive following an agreement with Russia, The New York Times reports.

Trump also continued to defend his controversial pullback Wednesday, saying that while a "small number" of troops will remain in Syria, he plans to "let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand." Brendan Morrow

12:12 p.m.

The Trump Organization is giving Central Park the cold shoulder.

No, it's not giving up the two ice skating rinks it operates in Central Park. But it is largely removing the Trump name from both of them for an undisclosed reason, The Washington Post reports.

As the weather cools and skaters prepare to take the ice, they'll only see small reminders of the name that once coated the Wollman and Lasker rinks. The boards featuring "Trump" in bold red letters are gone, while only "T" peaks out from behind a white tarp in the area where people rent skates. And where a welcome sign used to read "Trump" at the top, it now features just fine print reading "operated by the Trump Organization," the Post reports. Geoffrey Croft of the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates calls it a "complete rebranding" where even workers' uniforms have ditched the name.

The New York City Parks Department said the Trump Organization informed it of the changes in August and didn't provide a reason. The Trump Organization also didn't comment to the Post. But an anonymous employee said the decision was made because the name was driving customers away and "hurting business."

The rinks are the latest Trump property to lose their presidential designation. "Trump" has been stripped from three hotels and six residential building in Manhattan since he took office, though that's because other people owned the buildings and only paid to license the Trump name, the Post explains. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:43 a.m.

A group of House Republicans reportedly just stormed into a secure impeachment hearing with their cell phones in what's being described as a "significant breach."

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) held a press conference Wednesday with a group of Republican colleagues blasting the "secret" impeachment inquiry into President Trump, contending Democrats are trying to "overturn the results" of the 2016 presidential election and declaring he and his colleagues would be disrupting the proceedings by barging into a closed-door hearing, The Hill reports.

"We're going to try to go in there, and we're going to try to figure out what's going on," Gaetz said.

About two dozen Republicans subsequently "stormed" a secure hearing room, reports CNN's Manu Raju, and they reportedly carried prohibited electronics. This delayed the testimony of Defense Department official Laura Cooper, who was on Capitol Hill a day after a diplomat Tuesday testified that he was told Trump was linking Ukraine aid to the country announcing investigations that might help him politically.

Gaetz even tweeted from "inside" the room.

Politico's Andrew Desiderio reports the room is now "being swept because of the cell phone violations."

"Phones in the classified area of the SCIF is a significant breach," Politico Kyle Cheney noted. "Rules on that are ironclad." He added, "unclear how this will be handled but this sort of thing just doesn't happen." Brendan Morrow

11:02 a.m.

The Democratic field isn't sitting well with Oprah.

Despite being enthralled with former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg early in the 2020 race, Oprah Winfrey is now reportedly dissatisfied with who's running. And she's not the only one — Hillary Clinton is still thinking about jumping into the race, The Washington Post reports.

Oprah has made her presidential ambitions for Disney CEO Bob Iger well known, and has reportedly "repeatedly begged" him to run. She said in September she hoped to be "knocking on doors in Des Moines, wearing an 'Iger 2020' T-shirt." "Bob Iger's guidance and decency is exactly what the country needs right now," she continued.

Clinton similarly "has not ruled out jumping in herself," suggesting she's also seeing "dissatisfaction" with the race's current frontrunners, two people tell the Post. Party leaders have said they're worried about former Vice President Joe Biden's involvement in President Trump's impeachment, and that the other top-tier candidates, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), are "too liberal" to beat Trump.

It all has Democratic National Committee member Elaine Kamarck saying she "could imagine much stronger candidates" leading the field, perhaps Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) or retired Adm. William McRaven, who led the raid on Osama bin Laden. Read more about the massive yet apparently unsatisfactory Democratic field at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:37 a.m.

Joe Biden is taking his rebound to a new level.

After briefly yielding frontrunner status to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a new CNN poll shows the former vice president is back on top of the Democratic field. He ended up with 34 percent support in the nationwide poll — his best CNN poll numbers since he launched his 2020 run back in April.

Biden's support doesn't seem to pull points away from any single candidate, CNN points out. Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are about even with their previous CNN poll showings, with 19 and 16 percent, respectively. Still, that's a big drop from Warren's peak 29 percent in a Quinnipiac poll earlier this month. Biden's rise also comes as he's dealing with being a major player in President Trump's impeachment investigation, and corresponds with big gains in support among "moderate and conservative Democrats," "racial and ethnic minorities," and "older voters," CNN writes.

Next up in the CNN poll are South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) with 6 percent, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke each at 3 percent. CNN and SRSS surveyed 352 people by landline and 651 by cell phone from Oct. 17–22, with a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:26 a.m.

President Trump's former acting attorney general just made one of the strangest arguments against his impeachment yet.

Matthew Whitaker, who served as acting attorney general for about three months after Jeff Sessions' firing, appeared on Laura Ingraham's Fox News show Tuesday at the end of an eventful day for the impeachment inquiry, during which a diplomat testified he was told Trump was linking aid to Ukraine on the country announcing investigations that might benefit him politically.

But Whitaker argued not that Trump didn't do so or isn't guilty of abuse of power, but that abuse of power simply isn't criminal.

"What evidence of a crime do you have?" Whitaker asked Democrats in the interview, Mediaite reports. "Abuse of power is not a crime ... The constitution is very clear that this has to be some pretty egregious behavior."

Abuse of power was, in fact, an article of impeachment against former President Bill Clinton, though it didn't pass the House, as well as against former President Richard Nixon before his resignation. It's also what House Democrats reportedly plan to focus on throughout their impeachment inquiry going forward, with NBC News recently reporting that they'll zero in on "a simple 'abuse of power' narrative."

"This is a really bad talking point," conservative Erick Erickson tweeted in response to the Whitaker clip, adding that if Trump's allies can't come up with a better argument, "the president is toast." Brendan Morrow

8:33 a.m.

Google just announced a major computing breakthrough.

The company on Wednesday said it has achieved "quantum supremacy," meaning getting a quantum computer to perform a task that a classical computer cannot, The New York Times reports.

Specifically, Google says its researchers' quantum computer performed a calculation in just over three minutes that would take the fastest supercomputer in the world around 10,000 years. The milestone, detailed in a Nature article, is one that the Times points out scientists have been working toward since the 1980s and that University of Texas at Austin computer scientist Scott Aaronson compared to the Wright brothers' first flight.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a blog post explained that "we're now one step closer to applying quantum computing to — for example — design more efficient batteries, create fertilizer using less energy, and figure out what molecules might make effective medicines." He also described this as "the 'hello world' moment we've been waiting for — the most meaningful milestone to date in the quest to make quantum computing a reality."

This announcement was seemingly made prematurely last month when a paper featuring the claim briefly appeared online, but it's now official from Google. In anticipation of the unveiling Wednesday, though, IBM disputed Google's claim in a blog post, arguing that actually, "the same task can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity."

Even if Google's claim is correct, Engadget notes the "feat has almost no practical use" right now and "was designed simply to show that a quantum computer could perform as expected." Pinchai acknowledged that in his blog post by saying that "we have a long way to go between today's lab experiments and tomorrow's practical applications." But as he explained in an interview with Technology Review, "if in any field you have a breakthrough, you start somewhere." Brendan Morrow

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