Jan 5, 2020

Axios Sneak Peek

By Jonathan Swan
Jonathan Swan

Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus our best scoops.

  • 🔮 Happy New Year and welcome to 2020 Sneak.
  • Tell a friend to sign up free for their weekly Sneak Peek!

⚡️TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — "Iranian state TV reports Iran will no longer abide by any limits of its 2015 nuclear deal. ... The announcement came Sunday night after another Iranian official said it would consider taking even-harsher steps over the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Friday in Baghdad."

Tonight's newsletter is 1,598 words, 6 minutes.

1 big thing: Scoop — Trump officials tried to stop Iraqi expulsion vote

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: AFP Contributor/Contributor, Mark Wilson/Getty Staff

The Trump administration tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade top Iraqi officials to kill a parliamentary effort to force the U.S. military out of Iraq, according to two U.S. officials and an Iraqi government official familiar with the situation.

Why it matters: The Iraqi parliament passed a resolution today calling on the Iraqi government to expel U.S. troops from Iraq, after the U.S killed Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and a leader of an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia with a drone strike near Baghdad airport.

  • This resolution could ultimately lead to the U.S. military being forced out of Iraq. But the outcome remains uncertain, and the prime minister who needs to sign it recently resigned.

"I think it would be inconvenient for us, but it would be catastrophic for Iraq," said a U.S. official familiar with the Trump administration's effort to block the vote. "It's our concern that Iraq would take a short-term decision that would have catastrophic long-term implications for the country and its security."

  • "But it's also, what would happen to them financially," the official added, "if they allowed Iran to take advantage of their economy to such an extent that they would fall under the sanctions that are on Iran?” (Countries can be subject to the sanctions if they engage in certain kinds of trade with Iran.)
  • “We don't want to see that. We're trying very hard to work to have that not happen," the official said.

"The United States is disappointed by the action taken today in the Iraqi Council of Representatives," said State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.

  • "While we await further clarification on the legal nature and impact of today's resolution, we strongly urge Iraqi leaders to reconsider the importance of the ongoing economic and security relationship between the two countries and the continued presence of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS."
  • "We believe it is in the shared interests of the United States and Iraq to continue fighting ISIS together. This administration remains committed to a sovereign, stable, and prosperous Iraq."

Behind the scenes: Trump administration officials have warned senior Iraqi officials that Iraq would suffer dangerous consequences if the U.S. withdrew its military and its funding of the Iraqi security apparatus, according to sources familiar with the outreach.

  • On the other hand, Trump has also told advisers he thinks it's ridiculous that America has been paying billions of dollars to support an Iraqi security apparatus that, in his view, is demonstrably incompetent, disloyal to America and close to Iran.
  • "For the president's position, he has been very clear about that, and he's not alone in that thinking," said a U.S. official. "In terms of developing policy options for him [the president], that's something we review constantly. What is our assistance to Iraq going to fund?"
  • In the meantime, Trump has sent thousands of troops to the Middle East to counter Iran.

The other side: A senior Iraqi official emphasized that many Kurdish and Sunni members of parliament, who tend to be more supportive of the American presence in Iraq, did not attend the vote to expel the U.S.

  • "This is a temporary victory for the parties which are pro-Iranian," said the official. "But it's also a clear message from the Sunnis and from the Kurds [who didn't vote] and from some Iraqi Shia for the Americans to tell them we want you to stay in Iraq."

But Abbas Kadhim, who leads the Atlantic Council Iraq Initiative and was a senior adviser to the Iraqi ambassador during the Obama administration, thinks the vote has more serious long-term consequences for the U.S.-Iraq relationship.

  • "If this vote tells us anything, it confirms that if Iraqis are cornered and forced to choose between the U.S. and Iran, they will find it safer to choose Iran," Kadhim told me. "Military and business relations are completely lost for the foreseeable future."

The big picture: A U.S. withdrawal from Iraq — something Trump has long wanted but has felt forced to defer — would deeply undercut America's ability to fight ISIS.

  • "We still have a fairly significant ISIS problem," said a U.S. official familiar with the planning. "It hasn't escaped ISIS' attention that Iraq is in something of disarray right now." 
  • The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria has interrupted its anti-ISIS mission as it prepares for Iran to retaliate, military officials told the New York Times.
2. "No decision made" by Pelosi on sending impeachment articles

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

When the House of Representatives returns to work Tuesday, don't expect an immediate announcement by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, reports Axios' Margaret Talev.

The latest: A leadership aide tells Axios no decision has been made and that it may be a couple of weeks before Democrats can understand the significance of new revelations about Ukraine-related information being withheld by the White House — and whether at least four Republican senators are concerned enough to join forces with Democrats and demand more disclosures as part of President Trump's trial.

Why it matters: Some White House aides and Republican lawmakers bet that the lack of movement with public sentiment and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, plus pressure on House and Senate Dems in vulnerable races, would prompt Pelosi to quickly cut bait after the holiday break.

  • But in recent days, revelations by Just Security about the president's personal involvement in holding back Ukraine assistance, and a New York Times Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that unearthed the existence of 20 undisclosed emails between top officials in the White House chief of staff's and budget offices, have only heightened Democrats' insistence on a "fair" trial with access to documents and witnesses.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on ABC's "This Week" that Pelosi "will maximize" the timing of sending the articles in order "to get the fairest trial possible." If she'd acted immediately, Schumer added, "McConnell could have well just voted for dismissal the day before or after Christmas." By waiting, "lots of new evidence that bolsters our case" has emerged for witnesses and documents.

One big question: How does the escalation of tensions and threat of war with Iran after the U.S. killing of Soleimani affect the public's or lawmakers' appetite to extend the impeachment effort?

  • President Trump believes it strengthens his hand by allowing him to portray Democrats as choosing politics over more pressing national security.
  • But the shift in focus on Iran may buy Democrats more time and space to assess their next moves on impeachment.
  • Meanwhile, Democratic leaders have demanded more answers about the intelligence and justification behind the killing.
3. What's next: Impeachment preview

Sens. Susan Collins (R) and Lisa Murkowski. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Look for House and Senate Dems to gauge sentiment in their caucuses in the coming days. Look for Dems to lean on Republican senators like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Martha McSally of Arizona, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Jerry Moran of Kansas to press McConnell to agree to some witnesses and documents the White House is so far refusing to release.

  • Those GOP senators either are facing competitive re-election fights, have previously expressed concerns about Trump's actions on Ukraine or are retiring and may feel freer to challenge the president. None is expected to convict.

Behind the scenes: A source familiar with the White House's impeachment strategy said they don't expect Pelosi to send the articles over this week, but they are "ready to go" whenever she does.

  • "The real question is what if she doesn't bring it?" the source said. "What we are looking at is, what is her exit ramp?"
  • White House Counsel Pat Cipollone will lead Trump's defense in the Senate, this source said. And Trump's longtime private counsel Jay Sekulow will also play a role in the trial. Depending on Senate rules, House Republican members Doug Collins, John Ratcliffe and Jim Jordan may also participate in the trial.
  • Outside lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who got into Trump's good graces by saying nice things about him on Fox, is still being "highly considered" but may not end up participating, the source added.

The bottom line: We may not even hear much publicly from Pelosi on the matter until Thursday when she holds her weekly news conference, a leadership aide said.

4. Sunday highlight reel
Photo: Screenshot, CNN's "State of the Union," Jan. 5.

There were some revealing, newsworthy moments in Jake Tapper's interviews today with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, House Intel Chair Adam Schiff and 2020 Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren on CNN's "State of the Union."

Warren stopped an inch short of accusing Trump of wagging the dog — in this case, to distract from impeachment — with his killing of Soleimani.

  • "I think it's the right question to ask. ... He uses foreign policy, he uses whatever he can to advance the interests of Donald Trump," she told Tapper.

Schiff didn't deny that Democrats might consider still another — third — article of impeachment against President Trump.

And Pompeo evaded repeatedly when pressed on the legality of Trump's tweeted threat of bombing Iranian cultural sites.

5. Sneak Peek diary

Photo: Mike Kline (notkalvin)/Getty Images

The House will consider the PFAS Action Act "to clean up communities affected by PFAS contamination and protect Americans from these harmful 'forever' chemicals, which can cause cancer and other serious health problems," per Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

  • "Also next week, the House will consider four suspension bills regarding the expansion of 5G telecommunications systems across the U.S. and around the world in order to protect U.S. consumers and strengthen our national security and the security of our allies," Hoyer said.

The Senate will vote to confirm Jovita Carranza as administrator of the Small Business Administration, per a Republican leadership aide.

President Trump's schedule, per a White House official:

  • Monday: Trump will participate in a credentialing ceremony for new ambassadors. He will also have lunch with Mike Pence.
  • Tuesday: The president and first lady will host the Greek prime minister and first lady.
  • Thursday: Trump will hold a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio.
6. 1 Palm Beach thing: Scenes from the divided states

Two signs spotted today by NYT's Maggie Haberman during a short motorcade ride to the president's Mar-a-Lago club:

  • "A birth certificate for Mr. Witch Hunt."
  • "Keep on tweeting the truth."
Jonathan Swan