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The US bombs a Syrian airfield — and whole swaths of the political establishment suddenly decide Trump is okay after all; Neil Gorsuch gets confirmed.


Was this the end, or the beginning?

Map of the US strike against Syria Javier Zarracina
  • On Thursday night, the United States bombed a Syrian airfield, in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack against civilians by Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad earlier in the week. [Vox / Jennifer Williams, Zeeshan Aleem]
  • The strikes may not have damaged the Assad regime’s ability to use the airfield; the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Friday afternoon that planes had launched from the airfield to bomb civilians in the countryside near Homs, presumably as a show of strength by Assad. [Reuters via Twitter]
  • But the scope of Thursday night’s strike was deliberately narrow. In a statement Thursday night, President Trump portrayed the strike as a “targeted” effort to punish Assad for using the banned chemical weapon sarin gas against his own people — and warn him off of doing it again. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • So does that mean the US won’t take any further military action against the Assad regime? It’s unclear. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council Friday that the US reserved the right to “do more,” though she didn’t specify what that might mean. [CNN / Richard Roth, Kristina Sgueglia]
  • Perhaps this is to be expected from a president who, by all appearances, decided to bomb Assad because he was personally moved by footage of the aftermath of the sarin attack — even though before he was president, he strongly opposed American intervention after previous chemical attacks. [Vox / Ezra Klein]
  • But without knowing how much the Trump administration plans to do in Syria, it’s impossible to know if its actions are legal. While most members of Congress support the Thursday strikes, many of them believe Trump needs to get congressional authorization if he’s planning further action… [FiveThirtyEight / Perry Bacon Jr.]
  • …and while the Trump administration could argue that it can keep targeting Assad without congressional approval, it’s going to have a much harder time doing that if the effort isn’t strictly limited in scope. [Vox / Dara Lind]
  • Then there’s the question of legality under international law. Many legal scholars argue that the US violated the UN Charter on Thursday night — while other scholars argue that it’s too soon to tell, and will, in fact, depend on the scope of the unilateral activity. [Just Security / Harold Kongju Koh]
  • Unsurprisingly, one fellow charter UN member is not waiting to judge. The Russian government has already condemned the US’s actions as “illegitimate.” [Reuters / Michelle Nichols, Andrew Osborn, Tom Perry]
  • As a demonstration that it’s standing by its ally Assad, the Russian government has backed out of an agreement that was designed to prevent US planes (targeting ISIS) and Russian planes (targeting Syrian rebels and often civilians) from colliding in Syrian airspace. [Vox / Zeeshan Aleem]
  • Obviously, a deterioration in US/Russia relations could get very bad very quickly. But it looks like both countries are aware of that, and are being cautious — they’re indicating they won’t back down from their anti- and pro-Assad stances, respectively, but they’re not risking escalation. [CNBC / Jacob Pramuk]
  • But the Russia conflict isn’t the only way further attacks on Assad could shift US foreign policy goals. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias writes, taking on Assad further cements US affinities toward the Gulf states — and away from Iran — in an ongoing intra–Middle East power struggle. [Vox / Matt Yglesias​]


Uh, in case you missed it, we have a new Supreme Court justice now

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • On Friday, the Senate formally voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch as an associate justice on the US Supreme Court (thanks to a rule change Thursday that allowed them to move to a final vote with the support of a bare majority of senators). [Vox / Andrew Prokop]
  • Gorsuch is expected to be sworn in Monday. Once that happens, he’ll have a lot of catching up to do: He’ll have to hire clerks in the middle of a term, and get caught up on cases that are being argued before the Court (or that the Court is deciding whether and when to hear) starting immediately. [National Law Journal / Tony Mauro]
  • Justices don’t generally vote on cases if they weren’t present for the oral arguments — unless the Court is deadlocked. And with the liberal and conservative wings split 4-4 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia (whom Gorsuch is about to replace), there are likely to be a lot of 4-4 splits to resolve, meaning that Gorsuch’s impact on the Court could be felt very quickly indeed. [Bloomberg / Greg Stohr]
  • In many respects, this will restore the Court to its pre-2016 balance of powers, in which it had four liberal judges, reliably conservative ones, and Justice Anthony Kennedy playing the conservative-ish, constantly pandered-to swing vote. [The New Republic / Jeff Rosen]
  • Gorsuch is expected to be a reliably conservative vote — two quantitative measures of judicial ideology both have him to the right of the average conservative judge, as or more conservative than Scalia (though there are questions about the validity of quantitative judicial ideology scores, and besides, justices have been known to drift ideologically after their confirmation to the Court). [NYT / Alicia Parliapiano and Karen Yourish]
  • Not every issue falls on neat liberal/conservative lines, however. On criminal justice, there’s reason to believe Gorsuch will follow Scalia — but split with fellow conservatives like Justice Samuel Alito — in showing some affinity for Fourth Amendment privacy rights. [Reason / Damon Root]
  • And when it comes to the Republican president who appointed Gorsuch — and whose policies Gorsuch will almost certainly be asked to rule on, probably frequently, over the next four years — things get even more interesting. Gorsuch has been on a longtime crusade against “Chevron deference,” a legal doctrine that gives broad deference to executive branch bureaucrats. That has alarmed liberals who worry about his votes on environmental and business regulation cases, but in the immediate term, the bureaucrats he’ll be scrutinizing will be part of the administration of Donald Trump. [BuzzFeed News / Zoe Tillman]

The swamp strikes back

President Trump Meets With Cyber Security Experts At White House Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • President Trump’s Thursday decision to strike Bashar al-Assad’s regime was the most broadly praised of his short presidency. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, voicing (somewhat fulsomely) a widely shared sentiment, said that Trump “became president” on Thursday night. [The Hill / Mark Hensch]
  • Normatively speaking, this is a terrible way to judge “presidential”-ness. The willingness to kill people is not the last full measure of leadership. [New York / Eric Levitz]
  • But it’s nothing new. It’s a reflection of the bipartisan consensus toward military interventionism that’s long ruled Washington — even former Obama administration officials were quick to praise Trump’s decision Thursday (and even compare it favorably to Obama’s record). [Politico Magazine / Susan Glasser]
  • Of course, Trump ran against that selfsame consensus. That’s a key reason why the people praising him now were so afraid of him. And many of the people who supported him for challenging the “establishment,” including the online alt-right, are enraged and betrayed by what they see as a capitulation to “globalist” neoconservatism. [Vox / Jeff Stein]
  • This sudden sea change in who’s praising and damning Trump comes at the same time as the president is reportedly considering a major staff shake-up. According to the Wall Street Journal, Thursday’s strikes confirmed Trump’s desire to reduce the amount of drama in his White House — which, given the amount of drama there right now, would require a pretty thorough housecleaning indeed. [WSJ / Carol E. Lee, Peter Nicholas, Michael C. Bender]
  • In particular, administration officials believe chief strategist Steve Bannon may be on his way out. Bannon has clashed with Trump’s son-in-law (and current jack-of-all-policies) Jared Kushner; he’s also the foremost champion, in the Trump White House, of the alt-right ideology that Trump embraced as a candidate and now appears to be cooling off toward. [Axios / Jonathan Swan​]
  • It’s entirely too soon to tell if these changes will last — remember, we’re talking about a president who just bombed a regime that, 72 hours ago, he didn’t believe needed to be fought. But if they do, we may have just witnessed the moment that Trump started becoming something Washington could understand.

Miscellaneous

  • Someone at a city council meeting in Portland tried to pull a Kendall Jenner and hand the mayor a Pepsi. It did not go over well. [Huffington Post / Carla Herreria]
  • New data from the American National Election Studies makes it clear: Racial prejudice was a more powerful factor in driving Trump support than economic conditions. [The Intercept / Medhi Hasan]
  • 21st Century Fox is using Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood tape to teach seminars on sexual harassment — even as it refuses to fire Bill O’Reilly for his own alleged harassment. [Hollywood Reporter / Chris Gardner]
  • By day, Chris Ullman runs global communications for the Carlyle Group, a major private equity firm. By night, he is a world-champion whistler, because whistling is apparently a thing for which there are world championships. [Washington Post / Manuel Roig-Franzia]
  • India could be on the cusp of adopting a universal basic income — and cutting its poverty rate by more than half in the process. [Foreign Affairs / Shamika Ravi]

Verbatim

  • “I’m going to my ranch in two years. You want to have a screwed up state with a bunch of potholes? Go ahead, but that’s insane.” [Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) via LA Times / John Myers, Patrick McGreevy, Melanie Mason]
  • “I was a much more Falstaffian human being in my youth and in middle age than I am now.” [Harold Bloom to WSJ / Alexandra Wolfe]
  • “You can almost imagine Alice wondering the exact same thing when, dizzy from interdimensional travel, she lands in Wonderland — except Alice does not, so far as we know, have green skin and shoot hot laser light from her three breasts. Nor does she fall for a 65-million-year-old bearded T. rex named Tyrone.” [Wired / Jason Kehe]
  • “That the star would be a contender for the upcoming Emmy Awards is a given — but when Showtime asked which category Dillon wanted to be submitted under, Dillon had to give it some thought. The performer identifies as gender non-binary, and choosing between supporting actor’ and ‘supporting actress’ sparked a conversation — as well as some homework.” [Variety / Debra Birnbaum]
  • “There was always this sense that the department was doing what they could, but were really hoping Searle would just retire and it would all go away.” [Anonymous to BuzzFeed / Katie J.M. Baker]

Watch this: Syria’s war: who is fighting and why

Watch how the Syrian civil war became the mess it is today. [Vox / Johnny Harris and Max Fisher]


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