March 2, 2019

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Saturday they are close to expelling the Islamic State from its last bastion of territory in Baghouz, Syria.

The battle is expected to be over "soon," said Mustafa Bali, the head of the Kurdish-led SDF's media office. This round of fighting began on Friday after the last remaining civilians evacuated Baghouz, leaving only ISIS fighters in the territory. Most of the evacuees were women and children — they were separated from the men, who were taken in for interrogation. An estimated 10,000 civilians have evacuated the territory since Feb. 20, many of them hailing from other countries, Al Jazeera reports.

An SDF victory would be significant, per Reuters, as ISIS once held a large swath of territory in the region. But the insurgents are expected to remain a guerrilla threat despite losing their last stronghold. Tim O'Donnell

12:01 p.m.

In one corner, we have Ivanka Trump and Attorney General William Barr. And in the other, we have Donald Trump Jr.

These are the two sides warring for Trump's favor in an ongoing debate over gun restrictions, Politico reports. Ivanka Trump's faction is reportedly looking for increased restrictions on gun sales and stronger background checks, while Donald Trump Jr.'s is warning him against it — but neither side seems to have curried the president's favor just yet.

As more and more mass shootings make headlines, and as gun violence continues to be an epidemic across the U.S., two sides have formed in the White House. Ivanka Trump and Attorney General William Barr both insist Trump can institute "expanded background checks for gun sales" and "win back moderate suburban voters in the process," people involved in the discussions tell Politico. Donald Trump Jr., along with a top aide to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, meanwhile say Trump will lose his conservative base if he "pushes too aggressively on new gun control legislation," Politico reports. It has all amounted in absolute gridlock within the White House, with Trump reportedly staying mum on what side he prefers.

White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley called the story "ridiculous," and said "we are completely united in developing ... meaningful solutions that will protect the second Amendment, make American communities safer and potentially prevent these types of tragedies from ever occurring again." Read more at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:12 a.m.

It looks like the tables have turned for some House Democrats when it comes to impeaching President Trump, even if they still won't say so publicly.

The New York Times reports that a group of moderate freshman lawmakers, who have previously opposed launching an impeachment inquiry, said they were considering changing course after Trump confirmed he raised corruption accusations against former Vice President Joe Biden in a July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. While they told the Times they would be closely watching Thursday's hearing with acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, the lawmakers were reportedly still not entirely comfortable with the idea of going public with their opinions and would rather see a transcript of the call first.

It's not just politicians who are reconsidering, either. James Carville, a longtime Democratic strategist, had also opposed impeachment, but he now reportedly thinks that upon obtaining a transcript of Trump's call, the House should move "quick and clean" on an inquiry. "Let the Senate Republicans stew," Carville said.

Ultimately, the Times notes, the whole thing could depend on Democrats from districts that Trump won or nearly lost in 2016. Once a transcript comes out, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) said, even those tenuous situations shouldn't matter anymore. "I don't see how they can fight it any longer," Titus said. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

11:01 a.m.

Rudy Giuliani wants to set the record straight by not setting anything straight at all.

The former New York City mayor turned lawyer to President Trump has been making the media rounds to toss some unverified allegations against Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden and his apparent ties to Ukraine. That continued in a Monday morning interview with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo, during which Giuliani referred to Hunter Biden as "the guy who is drug challenged" and said he couldn't fully deny a reported threat Trump made to the Ukraine.

Reports in the last week have maintained Trump allegedly threatened to cut off aid to Ukraine if it didn't investigate Hunter Biden and potentially find an attack he could use against the Biden 2020 campaign. Giuliani on Monday said a report of a funding cutoff was a "false story," but when Bartiromo asked if it was "100 percent," Giuliani said "well, I can't tell you if it's 100 percent."

Bartiromo went on to accuse the media of "not covering" the alleged scandal between the Bidens and Ukraine, though Giuliani corrected her. He then said he'd be releasing "a lot more evidence" against the Bidens over the next few days. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:19 a.m.

Facebook reportedly might still have a misinformation problem on its hands.

Judd Legum reports for Popular Information that several Facebook pages managed by people in Ukraine are funneling large audiences to pro-Trump memes, including some that have been recycled since the 2016 Russian election interference campaign. The reach of this network of pages reportedly surpasses several major media outlets in the United States.

The Ukrainian pages usually draw their followers in by posting memes about dogs, Christianity, and American patriotism, before gradually cross-posting pro-Trump propaganda. For example, one page titled "I Love America" has around 1.1 million followers, was launched in March 2017, and gained traction thanks to its patriotic posts. But recently, Popular Information reports, it's been on the Trump bandwagon.

Many of the posts include messages such as "Click Like, if you love Donald Trump as much as we do" or "God Bless Donald Trump and God bless America," but others are more misleading. One page, for example, posted a meme that falsely claims Hillary Clinton sold access to her email server to foreign governments. But a spokesperson for Facebook told Popular Information that the company doesn't believe these pages violate its policies.

Some people, like social media expert and New School professor David Carroll, find that troubling since it suggests Facebook is not sticking to its own promise to weed out these kinds of pages. But not everyone is panicking. Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at Grafika, believes the network of pages is too unsophisticated to pose any real risk, especially compared to government-backed campaigns. In the end, he said, it's probably just clickbait. Read more at Popular Information. Tim O'Donnell

10:12 a.m.

Climate protesters are creating a whole new kind of gridlock in Washington, D.C.

As the United Nations gathered for its Climate Action Summit on Monday, protesters filled the capital's streets to "seize key intersections" and bring the city to a halt, per a press release from the Shut Down DC movement. They were still blocking traffic near the Capitol Building as the morning wore on, but it appeared several protesters, including some students, were cleared off the streets and arrested.

A week of climate action around the world kicked off last week with massive global rallies, headlined by teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. She's slated to speak at the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, prompting Shut Down DC to ask "climate rebels" to "seize key intersections in the city at 7 a.m., disrupting the city’s morning rush hour traffic." And as videos captured of D.C.'s busiest streets revealed, it seemed to be working.

Soon, police began warning protesters they'd be arrested if they didn't leave the streets soon, and then started rounding them up.

Yet near the Capitol, protests turned dance parties raged on.

Kathryn Krawczyk

8:26 a.m.

President Trump on Monday starts a three-day trip to join world leaders for the United Nations General Assembly. The trip comes as tensions swirl around Trump's relationship with Ukraine, a showdown with Iran following strikes against Saudi oil facilities, Trump's trade war with China, and frozen nuclear talks with North Korea. Trump said "nothing is ever off the table completely," ABC News reports. But he had no plans to meet on the sidelines with Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani as the U.S. pushes to build a coalition to confront Tehran over the attack in Saudi Arabia, which rattled the world oil market. Trump meets Wednesday with the president of Ukraine as Democrats press the Trump administration to release a whistleblower's complaint about a phone call Trump had with a foreign leader believed to involve Ukraine. Harold Maass

8:10 a.m.

So far, 18 House Republicans have announced that they are resigning, retiring, or seeking another office, including longtime GOP stalwarts, some of the few GOP congresswoman, and the lone black Republican congressman. And that just scratches the surface, The Washington Post reports. "All told, 41 House Republicans have left national politics or announced they won't seek re-election in the nearly three years since [President] Trump took office," dwarfing the 25 Democrats who retired between 2009 and 2013, "and Republicans privately predict this is only the beginning."

"The problem for the GOP is bigger than retirements," the Post reports:

Since Trump's inauguration, a Washington Post analysis shows, nearly 40 percent of the 241 Republicans who were in office in January 2017 are gone or leaving because of election losses, retirements including former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), and some, such as [Michigan Rep. Paul] Mitchell, who are simply quitting in disgust. The vast turnover is a reminder of just how much Trump has remade the GOP — and of the purge of those who dare to oppose him. [The Washington Post]

Most retiring or resigning GOP members of Congress cite their families, "but behind the scenes, Republicans say the trend highlights a greater pessimism about the direction of the party under Trump — and their ability to win back the House next year," the Post reports. Most are reluctant to criticize Trump on the record, but Mitchell isn't.

"We're here for a purpose — and it's not this petty, childish bulls--t," Mitchell, 62, told the Post in early September. He said his decision to retire started when Trump attacked four Democratic congresswomen on Twitter, then solidified when no fellow Republicans would relay his concerns to Trump. "Did any member of this conference expect that their job would start out every morning trying to go through the list of what's happening in tweets of the day?" he asked. Read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

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