September 17, 2019

President Trump got no small amount of grief for suggesting Sunday that he would let Saudi Arabia decide what military action, if any, the "locked and loaded" U.S. should take against Iran if Tehran turns out to be behind an aerial attack on a major Saudi oil facility. But Trump's tweet has some strategic merit, argues Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma. Here's the kernel of Landis' argument:

Congress, of course, has the explicit constitutional authority to declare war, and Saudi Arabia obviously does not. And Landis isn't arguing that Iran wasn't behind the attack — in fact, Iran has a clear motive — but he notes that the Saudis have been more cautious in assigning blame to Iran than the Trump administration has, and Trump was more cautious than Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Trump also appears less than eager to get into another war in the Middle East — for good reason:

If Saudi Arabia is willing to gamble U.S. forces on an attack against Iran — calling Trump's bluff, in Landis' telling — Riyadh will foot the bill, Trump says. "The fact is that the Saudis are going to have a lot of involvement in this if we decide to do something," Trump said Monday. "They'll be very much involved, and that includes payment." Does that mean Trump has essentially turned the U.S. military into a Saudi mercenary force? Again, not necessarily, Landis says.

But you can't rule out the possibility. Peter Weber

1:44 p.m.

The FBI has reportedly executed a search warrant at YouTuber Jake Paul's house.

Paul's home in Calabasas, California, was "the scene of an early morning FBI raid" on Wednesday, TMZ reported, and the FBI confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that it conducted a search warrant at a Calabasas home.

"The FBI is executing a federal search warrant at a residence in Calabasas in connection with an ongoing investigation," the FBI said, per the Times. "The affidavit in support of the search warrant has been sealed by a judge and I am, therefore, prohibited from commenting as to the nature of the investigation."

No further information was provided, although the FBI said "no arrests are planned." TMZ writes that a "small militia left his pad in armored trucks" and that the scene outside Paul's house resembled "a mini military parade" with "at least 20 people" there executing the warrant.

Paul in June was hit with charges of criminal trespass and unlawful assembly after being spotted at a mall while it was being looted, with authorities saying he "unlawfully entered and remained inside of the mall when it was closed." Paul said "neither I nor anyone in our group was engaged in any looting or vandalism." He recently came under fire for hosting a big party at his house in July despite the coronavirus pandemic and was publicly blasted by the mayor of Calabasas.

"It's completely unacceptable to be interacting with people like that during this time," Calabasas Mayor Alicia Weintraub said. "People need to be wearing masks and people need to be keeping their distance. You can't be having parties with over 100 people." Brendan Morrow

1:32 p.m.

The $600/week coronavirus pandemic-related unemployment benefits helped keep consumer spending alive during the ongoing twin health and economic crises. That figure expired at the end of July, however, and nothing has replaced it yet, as Democrats and Republicans remain divided over how much unemployed individuals should receive. If the benefits lapse or shrink it could have "a really dramatic effect on the macroeconomy," researchers at the University of Chicago and JP Morgan Chase Institute found, per The Wall Street Journal.

Letting the payments lapse completely — which neither party wants to happen — could cause aggregate spending to fall 4.3 percent in one month, which is greater than the decline seen during the entirety of the 2007-9 recession, the study found. Republicans want to bring the number down to $200/week, fearing the current benefits will discourage people from working, despite studies suggesting the contrary. Their proposal wouldn't have quite as drastic an effect on the economy, but the study still estimates a significant 2.3 one-month spending drop. Even reducing the payments to $400/week would lead to a 1.4 percent decline.

That would have ripple effect. If the $600/week payments aren't reinstated, the U.S. economy could lose 1.1 million jobs by the end of the year and reduce gross domestic product by 1.27 percent, while the $200/week plan would likely lead to 1 million job losses, Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's analytics, estimates. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

1:08 p.m.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has one very direct question about President Trump's potential Republican National Convention speech venue.

After The Washington Post reported Trump might give his RNC nomination acceptance speech from the White House's South Lawn, Trump confirmed the idea to Fox News on Wednesday. And considering that would mean Trump was using government property for a political purpose, Thune pointedly asked Wednesday "Is that even legal?"

"I assume there's some Hatch Act issues or something," Thune continued while talking to reporters on Wednesday. "I don't know the answer to that but I haven't, and I haven't heard him say that. But I think anything you do on federal property would seem to be problematic," Thune continued.

The Hatch Act bars federal employees from using government property to engage in political tasks, or from performing political tasks while on federal duty. The president and vice president aren't subject to the Hatch Act, though if his federal employees help make the RNC speech happen, they might fall under its purview. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:27 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden won't deliver his Democratic convention speech from Milwaukee after all.

Organizers of the Democratic National Convention announced on Wednesday that Biden will no longer travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to accept the party's nomination for president and will instead give his speech from Delaware, his home state. The news was first reported by Bloomberg.

"After ongoing consultation with public health officials and experts — who underscored the worsening coronavirus pandemic — the Democratic National Convention Committee announced today speakers for the 2020 Democratic National Convention will no longer travel to Milwaukee," the Democratic National Convention Committee said in a statement, adding that Biden will speak from Delaware "in accordance with this guidance."

Most of the Democratic convention was perviously scheduled to be virtual due to the pandemic, and delegates were told in June they should prepare to "conduct their official convention business remotely." The New York Times reports that "much of the program is likely to be pretaped videos."

Meanwhile, it hasn't been announced where President Trump will give his convention speech after he canceled the Jacksonville portion of the Republican National Convention last month, though in an interview on Fox & Friends on Wednesday, he said the White House is under consideration, and the Times recently reported that the Liberty Bell, Mount Rushmore, and a Gettysburg battlefield are also being eyed as potential spots.

The Democratic National Convention is set to begin on Aug. 17. Brendan Morrow

12:05 p.m.

The investigation into Tuesday's explosion that killed 100 people, wounded thousands and more, and could leave hundreds of thousands without a home for months, is underway, The Associated Press reports.

The blast is not being considered an attack, but Lebanese officials do believe people bear responsibility for mismanaging and neglecting 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a Beirut port warehouse since 2013 that likely caused the explosion. Lebanese customs officials reportedly tried for years to get rid of the explosive material and warned of its dangers, but were unsuccessful.

Lebanon's President Michael Aoun on Wednesday vowed to punish those responsible after a transparent investigation into the nitrate's storage. Shortly after, his Cabinet placed an unspecified number of Beirut port officials under house arrest pending the investigation. The government also declared a state of emergency, effectively giving the military full powers. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

12:00 p.m.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) had no trouble fending off a challenge from the center in Tuesday's Democratic primary.

Tlaib was thought to be the most vulnerable member of the progressive "Squad," but any fears of a moderate upset were squashed when the results came in Wednesday. Tlaib carried 66.1 percent of the vote to Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones' 33.9 percent with 442 or 492 precincts reporting, and the race was called in Tlaib's favor, per The New York Times.

Tlaib only beat Jones by about 900 votes in 2018, after Jones was nominated to fill the seat vacated when Rep. John Conyers (D) resigned amid sexual harassment claims. She was among several progressives who ousted more moderate Democrats, and quickly joined forces with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). Tlaib raised eyebrows as she promised to "impeach the motherf---er," referring to President Trump, just days after being sworn in, but Democrats in Tlaib's district were clearly not disturbed, as Ocasio-Cortez noted.

Ocasio-Cortez already won her primary against a moderate Democrat, while Omar and Pressley's primaries have yet to happen. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:49 a.m.

Republicans and Democrats still remain sharply divided over a replacement for the coronavirus relief bill that expired last week.

When the last stimulus bill expired at the end of July, so did the $600/week boost to unemployment benefits that millions of out-work Americans have relied on since the beginning of the pandemic. Extending those benefits still remains a point of contention as Republicans offer a $400/week concession and Democrats stay firm at $600, among other disagreements, Politico reports.

The Democratic-controlled House passed its version of the next relief bill a while ago, with $600/week boost that would last until the end of the pandemic. Republicans control the Senate, though, and at first indicated there would be no unemployment boost at all in the next phase bill they'd support. They then upped their offer to $200/week, and as of Tuesday, have proposed a $400/week boost that will last until Dec. 15, Politico reports via a meeting between party leaders and White House officials. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also said Tuesday he would back a $600 enhancement if President Trump does as well, and Trump seemingly indicated his support last week.

Also in contention is funding for child care. Democrats want $50 billion for this, while Republicans prefer $15 billion, and the two sides have moved on to closer issues for now. Republicans also think Democrats are also looking for lots of funding for mail-in voting, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has reportedly made it clear states can use election funding for whatever they see fit. A debate over pensions meanwhile remains "a different breed of cat" altogether, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reportedly said. Read more about the state of stimulus talks at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

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