Trump nominates John Ratcliffe for top intelligence officer post – as it happened

Last modified: 01: 14 AM GMT+0
  • This is the second try to name the Republican as DNI
  • Court ruled 2-1 to block Trump Remain in Mexico policy
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Evening summary

It’s been a busy day in US politics. Here’s a rundown of the top stories:

  • A federal court blocked Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy, which barred asylum seekers from the country while their claims were under consideration in immigration court. Here’s a full report.
  • The House judiciary committee launched an investigation of attorney general William Barr and DOJ, over concerns that Barr has politicized prosecutions.
  • Donald Trump nominated Congressman John Ratcliffe to be the director of national intelligence – for the second time. Ratcliffe was nominated last summer but was quickly withdrawn from consideration when questions were raised about his qualifications.
  • Joe Biden admitted that he was not arrested in South Africa.
  • Donald Trump is holding a rally in South Carolina.
  • A Wisconsin court of appeals overturned an order to purge 200,000 voters from the state’s rolls.
  • A federal appeals court said that it would not get involved in Congress’s efforts to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify, effectively letting him off the hook from a congressional subpoena.

And finally, Democratic presidential rivals are holding last minute get-out-the-vote rallies ahead of tomorrow’s South Carolina primary. We have a full day of coverage planned for you, and you can keep on top of the latest news on the coronavirus in our ongoing liveblog here.


Trump is ad-libbing on the coronavirus at his rally in South Carolina, Oliver Laughland reports.

Trump is ad libbing significantly. Breaking off from prepared remarks on coronavirus to ask Graham and Scott to pass legislation that allows him to serve for 25 years

“Lets term limit ourselves at 25 years. Tim pass it in the senate with Lindsey. A 25 year term limit, please.”

— Oliver Laughland (@oliverlaughland) February 29, 2020

The president is using the epidemic to justify his anti-immigration policy – and attack Democrats:

We are doing everything in our power to keep the infection and those carrying the infection from entering the country. We have no choice. Whether it’s the virus that we’re talking about, or the many other public health threats, the Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and wellbeing of all Americans.

Now you see it with the coronavirus… when you have this virus, or any other virus, or any other problem coming in, it’s not the only thing that comes in through the border… and we’re setting records at the border, we’re setting records, and now, just using this, important, so important.

For factual information about the coronavirus, please see our rolling coverage here.

Another assault on reproductive rights (and the US constitution) just passed the state senate in Utah.

The proposed law, Senate Bill 174, is unconstitutional. It would outlaw all elective abortions, with exceptions only for cases of rape, incest and danger to the mother’s health. Abortion is legal under current Supreme Court precedent.

BREAKING NEWS: A bill to ban elective abortions in Utah PASSES the Senate, 21-6. Off to the House: @fox13 #utpol #utleg

— Ben Winslow (@BenWinslow) February 29, 2020

Many states have passed similarly unconstitutional laws in recent years. If enacted, the laws are generally struck down quickly by federal courts.

Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence committee, also has harsh criticism for Trump’s re-nomination of John Ratcliffe as DNI.

We now have an intelligence chief who should not have been fired, an unqualified nominee who should not be confirmed, and an acting director who is patently unfit.

All while our elections are perilously at risk of foreign interference.

Just the way the President likes it.

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 29, 2020

Guardian US reporters are out and about in South Carolina on the eve of the “first in the south” primary.

Joan Greve is in Columbia, where voters are line-dancing ahead of a Tom Steyer rally.

Attendees of Tom Steyer’s Get Out the Vote rally in Columbia, SC, are killing time before the billionaire candidate’s arrival with some dancing.

— Joan Greve (@joanegreve) February 28, 2020

Meanwhile, Oliver Laughland and Daniel Strauss are keeping an eye on the 22nd Amendment of the US constitution at the Trump rally in North Charleston.

— Oliver Laughland (@oliverlaughland) February 28, 2020

Lest you thought Senate Democrats would forget that they did not want John Ratcliffe appointed director of national intelligence, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer just came out with a strong statement opposing the nomination:

Replacing one highly partisan operative with another does nothing to keep America safe

When Putin is interfering in our elections—we need a nonpartisan leader at the helm of the Intel Community who speaks truth to power

Neither Richard Grenell nor Rep Ratcliffe comes even close

— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) February 28, 2020

Courts will not force White House officials to testify in Congress

Former White House counsel Don McGahn can ignore a subpoena from Congress, a federal appeals court ruled Friday. The decision is a blow to Congressional Democrats, who had sought judicial intervention after Donald Trump barred his top advisers from testifying.

The decision, by a three-judge panel of the DC circuit court of appeals, reverses a lower court ruling that would have forced McGahn to testify, the AP reports.

Per the AP:

“The walk from the Capitol to our courthouse is a short one, and if we resolve this case today, we can expect Congress’s lawyers to make the trip often,” wrote Judge Thomas Griffith, an appointee of former President George W. Bush.

He was joined in the 2-1 ruling by Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush.
Judge Judith Rogers, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, dissented. She said her colleagues’ opinion “all but assures future Presidential stonewalling of Congress, and further impairs the House’s ability to perform its constitutional duties.”

Congress can still ask the full appeals court to review the case. It can also appeal to the Supreme court.

Speaking of intelligence chiefs ...

Leon Panetta, whose long career in government includes stints as CIA director and secretary of defense during the Obama administration, just endorsed Joe Biden in the Democratic presidential primary.

Leon Panetta becomes the 9th Obama administration Cabinet member to endorse Biden. Statement praises "his principled leadership in action" Panetta witnessed since they first met in the 1970s.

— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) February 28, 2020

If the announcement of John Ratcliffe as Trump’s nominee for director of national intelligence gives you a feeling of déjà vu, it’s because we were here – literally – just seven months ago.

My colleague Julian Borger wrote about some of the concerns over Ratcliffe’s – “an inexperienced but loyal partisan” – at the time.

“Trump is consolidating his personal control over the intelligence community,” said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA intelligence officer. He said the current directors of the CIA and FBI have found their hands tied increasingly when it comes to accurate intelligence assessment, by risk of being fired for something at odds with Trump’s views.

“I fear that there is a slow takeover of the norms and procedures of governance by this president, amassing unprecedented executive power,” Mowatt-Larssen, now at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, added. “To do that he needs to neutralise or at least silence the intelligence community. He has been doing that for three years, but this takes it to the new level.”

You can read Julian’s full report here.

Trump nominates John Ratcliffe as DNI – again

Donald Trump just announced the nomination of John Ratcliffe, a Republican congressman from Texas, as director of national intelligence (DNI). The position is the highest ranking intelligence officer and oversees coordination among the US’s 17 intelligence agencies.

This is the second time that Trump attempted to name Ratcliffe to the position. In late July 2019, Trump announced the Texan as his intended choice for the position, only to withdraw the name following critical press reports of Ratcliffe’s record and experience.

I am pleased to announce the nomination of @RepRatcliffe (Congressman John Ratcliffe) to be Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Would have completed process earlier, but John wanted to wait until after IG Report was finished. John is an outstanding man of great talent!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2020

The announcement comes just over a week after the president named Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist who was serving as the US ambassador to Germany, as the acting DNI. Grenell’s nomination, which was not subject to senate confirmation, sparked immediate controversy. Grenell has no experience in intelligence or the military, and was best known as a fierce partisan for Trump.

Late afternoon summary

It’s been a lively afternoon and the evening will be no less action-packed, as Donald Trump prepares for his rally in South Carolina on the eve of that state’s crucially-important Democratic primary voting.

My colleague in Oakland, California, Julia Carrie Wong, is taking the reins of this blog now and will keep you posted on events in the coming hours. As a reminder, we have a separate, dedicated, live blog covering global news developments related to the coronavirus outbreak. You can follow that here. The issue gets an occasional mention in this blog, depending on what the Trump administration is up to moment to moment.

Here are the main US politics news events that have happened this afternoon:

  • Trump wants the US Federal Reserve to “get involved” to support the economy as coronavirus concerns hit the financial markets.
  • An appeals court in Wisconsin has overturned a ruling that would have allowed a mass purge of voter rolls, which would have disproportionately affected Democrats.
  • The president is on his way to an eve-of-primary rally in North Charleston, South Carolina. It starts at 7pm ET.
  • A federal appeals court has blocked the Trump administration’s controversial “Wait in MexicoUS-Mexico border policy, with many prominent Democrats tweeting heartfelt reaction, praising the ruling.

Trump wants Fed to "get involved" re coronavirus

The president is on his way to a rally in South Carolina and has been making remarks on his way to Air Force One.

Here’s one:

President Trump on what the Federal Reserve board should do in response to coronavirus: "I hope the Fed gets involved and I hope it gets involved soon."

— Steve Holland (@steveholland1) February 28, 2020

He’s referring to anticipation that the Fed might lower interest rates to offset economic jitters caused by the spreading coronavirus.

NEW: US Federal Reserve issues unscheduled statement from Fed Chair Jerome Powell saying “coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity” and that Fed “will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy”

— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) February 28, 2020


Farage barrage

Nigel Farage, dubbed “the Godfather of Brexit” in the official CPAC programme, urged attendees of the conservative event to help Bernie Sanders win the Democratic nomination – and thus, in his view, guarantee a landslide victory for his “friend” Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.

Farage, always a popular turn at CPAC, said of the recent British general election: “One of the things that made it easier for Boris [Johnson] was a man called Jeremy Corbyn. The British Labour party had been hijacked by hard left, unpatriotic socialism.”

Nigel Farage at CPAC today.
Nigel Farage at CPAC today. Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA

US Democrats will suffer the same fate under democratic socialist Sanders, he suggested. “You should be backing Bernie Sanders. You should be campaigning for Bernie Sanders. You should be donating money to Bernie Sanders.”

Farage, who waved a small Union flag on stage, added: “I think with Bernie, you won’t just get Trump. I think with Bernie, you can retake the House too.”

The crowd at this year’s CPAC event, in Oxon Hill, Maryland, burst into chants of “USA! USA!”

Bernie Sanders campaigning in Finlay Park, Columbia, South Carolina, today.
Bernie Sanders campaigning in Finlay Park, Columbia, South Carolina, today. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Environmental gaslighting

Donald Trump’s environment chief, in a panel discussion at the high-profile Conservative Political Action Committee event near Washington, earlier today claimed that “our environment is cleaner today than it has ever been,” my colleague Emily Holden writes, from the CPAC event.

Andrew Wheeler, a former fossil fuel lobbyist, has led the administration’s rollbacks of dozens of environmental protections. Wheeler said the media doesn’t tell the story of a cleaner environment.

“You don’t hear that in most news organizations or the newspapers,” he said.
Wheeler frequently cites the statistic that air pollution has declined 74% since 1970. But recent data has shown that after years of improvement, the air has gotten dirtier since 2016.

The Environmental Protection Agency administrator also defended his policy of considering only studies that have publicly-available data, which scientists have said will prevent the government from incorporating the findings of research that involves private health data.

Clean water

The Adirondacks, NY. Protected, clean, no fracking allowed here, etc, etc.
The Adirondacks, NY. Protected, clean, no fracking allowed here. Photograph: Leon Werdinger/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo


Voter purge attempt overturned by court

A Wisconsin court of appeals has overturned an order to purge more than 200,000 voters from rolls in this important swing state.

The court had previously put on hold an order to immediately remove up to 209,000 names from the state’s voter registration rolls, handing Democrats who had fought the move a victory in the battleground state, my colleague Sam Levine wrote last month.

The appeals court had sided with the bipartisan state elections commission in putting the brakes on removing any voters while the court fight continues. It also put on hold a ruling from Monday in which a judge found the commission and its three Democratic members in contempt for not proceeding with removing the voters

The orders came as the commission was meeting in a closed session with attorneys from the state justice department to discuss the case.

A conservative law firm that brought the case, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, had wanted the purge to happen immediately, even though the elections commission raised concerns about the accuracy of data used to identify voters who would have their registrations deactivated.

On Friday, the Hill writes, the order was overturned and would be:

A boost to Democrats in a state that’s poised to play a decisive role the 2020 presidential race. Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, said it plans to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

A lower court judge in January ordered the purging of more than 200,000 people from voter rolls because they may have moved.

On Friday, the appeals court also overturned an order by the same judge that had found the state elections commission in contempt for not moving forward with the voter roll purge.

The plaintiffs in the original case argued that the state elections commission should have immediately deactivated registered voters who didn’t respond within 30 days to a mailing sent in October, an indication that the person may have moved.

People voting at Jamestown Town Hall in Kieler, Wisconsin, in the November, 2018, midterm elections.
People voting at Jamestown Town Hall in Kieler, Wisconsin, in the November, 2018, midterm elections. Photograph: Nicki Kohl/AP

“Violated due process”

Judiciary committee chairman and New York Democrat Jerry Nadler (who this morning wrote to attorney general Bill Barr requesting congressional interview with key officials amid concerns over presidential interference in the justice system), has also responded on Twitter to the court ruling blocking Trump’s “Wait in Mexico” border policy.

“From day one, @HouseJudiciary has said the “Remain in Mexico” policy was illegal and violated due process, which is why we launched a comprehensive investigation into its origins. Proud to see the 9th Circuit put a halt to this fatally flawed program,” he said.

Nadler and his fellow impeachment managers walking between the House and Senate on Capitol Hill during Trump’s impeachment trial.
Nadler and his fellow impeachment managers walking between the House and Senate on Capitol Hill during Trump’s impeachment trial. Photograph: Tom Brenner/Reuters

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said: “The courts agree the Trump admin’s remain in Mexico policy is cruel & inhumane. As a country we should not banish people fleeing persecution to continue to wait in unsafe uncertainty. A clear violation of the law.”

And Texas congressman Filemon Vela said: “Though the 9th Circuit’s decision almost certainly will be appealed, for now it stops the policy nationwide. The Trump admin. had been declaring near-victory in stemming immigration just weeks ago, in part because of MPP’s success. We must #EndMPP for good.”

Though the 9th Circuit’s decision almost certainly will be appealed, for now it stops the policy nationwide. The Trump admin. had been declaring near-victory in stemming immigration just weeks ago, in part because of MPP’s success. We must #EndMPP for good

— US Rep. Filemon Vela (@RepFilemonVela) February 28, 2020

“Puts asylum seekers in danger”

Current presidential contender Elizabeth Warren has also weighed in on the hammering of Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” border policy.

She tweeted that the news of this morning’s court ruling was excellent.

“Donald Trump’s cruel “Remain in Mexico” policy put asylum seekers in danger. As president, I will reverse the Trump administration’s cruel immigration policies and ensure that asylum seekers are welcomed at our borders,” she said.

Elizabeth Warren poses for a photograph with audience members at a campaign Canvass Kick Off in Greenville, South Carolina, today.
Elizabeth Warren poses for a photograph with audience members at a campaign Canvass Kick Off in Greenville, South Carolina, today. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

New Mexico Senator Tom Udall tweeted that the policy news was a relief.

“We cannot allow the Trump administration to continue punishing asylum seekers with its hateful and dangerous policies. Offering a place for those who need refuge is a bedrock part of what America is all about,” he said.

House foreign affairs committee chairman, Eliot Engel, called the policy heartless, in a tweet.

“I applaud the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy is heartless for those seeking asylum in our country. The Administration continues to demonize people coming to our country, but they are on the wrong side of history,” he said.

One of the impeachment managers in Trump’s recent Senate impeachment trial, congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, called the policy “inhumane” in her tweet, saying: “‘Remain in Mexico’ is inconsistent w/@DHSgov’s authority & inhumanely forces thousands to wait in dangerous conditions before their asylum claims are heard. It’s a harmful policy & I’m glad the court rejected it.”

Zoe Lofgren on Capitol Hill this week.
Zoe Lofgren on Capitol Hill this week. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

“Heartless and unlawful”

Reaction is still coming in to the news that a federal appeals judge in California has blocked the harsh Trump administration policy of forcing asylum seekers who cross the US-Mexico border to wait in Mexico for the duration of their immigration court cases.

New Jersey Senator and former 2020 presidential candidate Cory Booker just tweeted that: “Trump’s war on immigrants is an affront to our values and ideals. I’m glad that this heartless and unlawful policy is suspended. We must treat all people with dignity and respect. Period.”

Cory Booker on Capitol Hill earlier this month.
Cory Booker on Capitol Hill earlier this month. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Biden still working for votes in SC

My Washington colleague Joanie Greve reports from Columbia, South Carolina, that Biden is on the move:

Joe Biden just arrived for a campaign stop here at Toliver’s Mane Event barbershop in Columbia, SC, before the state’s primary tomorrow.

— Joan Greve (@joanegreve) February 28, 2020

Joan will be back in her usual spot helming this blog tomorrow evening as we await the results of this nail-biting primary, but on location!


Trump to attend rally in South Carolina

About an hour from now, Donald Trump will emerge from the White House en route for North Charleston, South Carolina, where he will hold a rally tonight, in what has become a classic Trumpian move to troll his Democratic opponents just before the latest caucus or primary.

My colleague, Oliver Laughland, is in the state ahead of tomorrow’s primary and will be reporting from the rally tonight. He’s mentioned that voters in Trump’s base have been camping out all night to attend the rally.

I’m at the North Charleston coliseum, where Donald Trump is holding a rally this eve.

People are queuing by a huge screen showing Lara Trump’s Real News Update, where Diamond & Silk talk about what the admin has done for the Black community.

The crowd is almost entirely white

— Oliver Laughland (@oliverlaughland) February 28, 2020


Like many here Susan Bynum &
Ada Shaw slept in the parking lot overnight to make sure they could get in.

Bynum, a 70 y.o retired nurse, slept on a camp chair and woke up with frost on her body. Shaw, a 48 y.o. hospital admin, brought a tent.

The event doesn’t start til 7 pm

— Oliver Laughland (@oliverlaughland) February 28, 2020

Gosh, meanwhile, another witness reported this:

A man waiting in line outside the rally collapsed. EMS on scene tending to him.

— Thomas Novelly (@TomNovelly) February 28, 2020

Meanwhile, earlier today, as Olly reports, he spent some time with the family of Walter Scott, ahead of this very important primary.

I spent some time with Walter Scott's family ahead of the South Carolina primary tomorrow:

— Oliver Laughland (@oliverlaughland) February 28, 2020

Olly writes:

Walter Scott’s fatal encounter with a white North Charleston police officer gripped the national and international news agenda in 2015 as the most powerful example of the fatal consequences of racially biased policing. The incident was captured on video by a witness, which showed Scott running away as he was shot five times in the back by officer Michael Slager, who is now serving a 20 year federal prison sentence following a rare conviction against a police officer caught using excessive force.

The case also propelled Scott’s family into the national conversation about race and policing, which dominated the final years of the Obama administration before mostly shrinking away from mainstream discourse as Donald Trump entered office in 2016.

But as the fifth anniversary of the shooting approaches in April, Anthony and others associated with the case hope the South Carolina primary on Saturday will serve as a reminder of the truths it unveiled, and thrust police and criminal justice reform into the spotlight again on the 2020 ballot.

Here’s the full report.


Trump statement on Afghanistan:

Here’s the full statement:

Nearly 19 years ago, American service members went to Afghanistan to root out the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

In that time, we have made great progress in Afghanistan, but at great cost to our brave service members, to the American taxpayers, and to the people of Afghanistan.

When I ran for office, I promised the American people I would begin to bring our troops home, and seek to end this war. We are making substantial progress on that promise.

Soon, at my direction, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will witness the signing of an agreement with representatives of the Taliban, while Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will issue a joint declaration with the government of Afghanistan.

If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home.

These commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new Afghanistan, free from Al Qaeda, ISIS, and any other terrorist group that would seek to bring us harm.

Ultimately it will be up to the people of Afghanistan to work out their future. We, therefore, urge the Afghan people to seize this opportunity for peace and a new future for their country.

I thank the hundreds of thousands of American warriors who have proudly served in Afghanistan.

We have killed or captured many ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorists. We honor your service and the sacrifices you and your families have made for the American people.

These agreements are a result of the strenuous efforts of those who fought so hard in Afghanistan for the United States of America.

Protesters are seen behind US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he arrived earlier today to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on ‘Evaluating the Trump Administration’s Policies on Iran, Iraq and the Use of Force’, on Capitol Hill. The US is poised to sign an agreement with the Taliban that would mean a reduction in the presence of US troops on the stipulation that a week-long reduction in violence is successful.
Protesters are seen behind US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he arrived earlier today to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on ‘Evaluating the Trump Administration’s Policies on Iran, Iraq and the Use of Force’, on Capitol Hill. The US is poised to sign an agreement with the Taliban that would mean a reduction in the presence of US troops on the stipulation that a week-long reduction in violence is successful. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

With some more detail, here the Associated Press:

Trump said he’s dispatching the nation’s top diplomat to sign an agreement with the Afghan Taliban aimed at beginning a draw down of thousands of US troops and ending America’s 18-year involvement in the war.

Trump said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would soon, at his direction, witness the signing of an agreement with the Taliban, an event that will see him stand with leaders of militants, who harbored al-Qaida before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US and are responsible for the deaths of thousands of American servicemen and women.

He said defense secretary Mark Esper also will issue a joint declaration with the government of Afghanistan.

Trump did not say where the deal would be signed, but it’s been previously reported that it would occur on Saturday in Doha, Qatar.

Signing the deal comes after a week in which both US-led forces and the Taliban committed to a reduction in violence.

Under the plan being signed, the US is to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 from about 13,000.


Trump signals possible peace deal with Taliban

Donald Trump has just issued a statement from the White House. The key paragraph says this:

Soon, at my direction, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will witness the signing of an agreement with representatives of the Taliban, while Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will issue a joint declaration with the government of Afghanistan. If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home.....

Ultimately it will be up to the people of Afghanistan to work out their future. We, therefore, urge the Afghan people to seize this opportunity for peace and a new future for their country.”

Schumer slams Mulvaney over coronavirus rubbish

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, has fired back at acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney over remarks the Republican made this morning about the coronavirus outbreak, where he blamed concerns as nothing more than a “hoax” by Dems to sway the election and accused the media of stoking fears.

This bearing in mind other countries are closing schools, canceling public events and the US government’s own health advisers have warned of impending disruption to American life as the illness inevitably spreads. You can follow our coronavirus global live blog here.

“For Mick Mulvaney to suggest that Americans turn off their TVs and bury their heads in the sand when they’re worried about a global health pandemic is Orwellian, counterproductive, dangerous, and would be repeating China’s mistake,” Schumer just tweeted.

Oh and the Fed said it might drop interest rates to calm market jitters.

A man dressed as the Statue of Liberty hands out coupons at the Wall Street subway stop in New York earlier today. White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said the plunging US stock market is overreacting to the coronavirus outbreak and urged against “panic.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down nearly 1,000 points, or 3.8 percent, in trading.
A man dressed as the Statue of Liberty hands out coupons at the Wall Street subway stop in New York earlier today. White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said the plunging US stock market is overreacting to the coronavirus outbreak and urged against “panic.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down nearly 1,000 points, or 3.8 percent, in trading. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) today that Donald Trump’s administration has been forced to “correct” the wishful thinking mistakes of its predecessors.

“No policy built on fantasy has worked,” he told attendees. “It’s what we’ve had to correct in our time.”

Past administrations were proud of past agreements, such as the Iran nuclear deal or Paris climate accords, he said, and enjoyed attending signing ceremonies.

“The point is changing behaviour, not signing documents,” Pompeo continued. “President Trump’s a smart business leader. We changed course. We got better deals for each and every one of you.”

The secretary sent a defiant message to critics who said US-Mexico border security could never be strengthened or trade deals could never be renegotiated. Both have been achieved, he claimed.

“They said taking out Qassem Suleimani would lead to world war three and it’s actually made our world far safer,” Pompeo added.

“They said moving our embassy to Jerusalem would set the Middle East alight and that didn’t happen. Our plan represents the best chance for peace in decades.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets the crowd during Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2020, at the National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Maryland, earlier today.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets the crowd during Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2020, at the National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Maryland, earlier today. Photograph: José Luis Magaña/AP

Afternoon summary

It’s been a busy morning in US politics and there is plenty more drama to come. Reaction is still emerging to the latest breaking news story that a court has blocked Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” border policy.

Later this afternoon, the president is due to leave the White House just after 4pm ET to head for the chopper and then Air Force One to fly to a rally in...Charlesteon, South Carolina, tonight - a classic Trump catfish move the night before the Democratic primary there.

Here’s what’s happened so far today:

  • A federal appeals judge in California late this morning blocked the Trump policy of forcing asylum seekers crossing the border from Mexico into the US to go back to Mexico and stay there for the duration of their immigration court cases in America (which can take an eternity to process).
  • Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney called concerns about the coronavirus outbreak a hoax engineered by Democrats and stoked by the media. He was speaking at the CPAC event. Our dedicated coronavirus live blog is here).
  • Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine endorsed Joe Biden this morning, a valuable boost for the struggling presidential candidate ahead of Super Tuesday next week. Meanwhile, Biden admitted he was never arrested in South Africa while trying to visit Nelson Mandela in prison.
  • And the biggest news of the morning was that Congress wrote to attorney general Bill Barr and wants to question Department of Justice officials, including the prosecutors from the Roger Stone case, over concerns of presidential political interference in the justice process.

“This policy is flatly illegal”

Harvard law professor Larry Tribe has this reaction to the news that a court has blocked Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy that sends asylum seekers crossing into the US back across the border to Mexico, where they find themselves waiting for months and months in often squalid and dangerous conditions for their court hearings in America.

The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals was right to block Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy nationwide. The policy is facially and flatly illegal.

— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) February 28, 2020

Responding to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, upholding the preliminary injunction halting the Trump administration’s so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy, under which the U government forcibly returns asylum-seekers to Mexico indefinitely while they ask for asylum in the US, Amnesty International USA’s advocacy director for the Americas, Charanya Krishnaswami, said:

“This policy was never designed to work; it was designed solely to deter people from exercising their right to seek asylum.

“Now that the Ninth Circuit has halted this unconscionable policy, the tens of thousands of asylum-seekers already subjected to it must immediately be given the chance to make their asylum claims from within the United States - a chance they should have all along.

“Rather than appealing this decision, the U.S. government should instead seek to reverse the harm this policy has wrought upon people seeking safety and restore its commitment to the right to seek asylum at the US border.”


Reaction is coming in to the news that a federal appeals court has immediately blocked the Trump administration’s policy that forces asylum seeking migrants crossing the US-Mexico border to return to Mexico and remain there indefinitely while their asylum applications are processed in the United States, which can drag on indefinitely.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, and Southern Poverty Law Center are challenging the policy and presented arguments in October 2019 to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The groups won a preliminary injunction in April, and in May the Ninth Circuit temporarily allowed the policy to take effect as the government appealed the injunction.

ACLU attorney Judy Rabinovitz, who argued the appeal, said this afternoon:

“The court forcefully rejected the Trump administration’s assertion that it could strand asylum seekers in Mexico and subject them to grave danger. It’s time for the administration to follow the law and stop putting asylum seekers in harm’s way.”

The case, Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf, was brought on behalf of 11 individual asylum seekers who were forced to return to Mexico to wait, and organizational plaintiffs Innovation Law Lab, the Central American Resource Center of Northern California, Centro Legal de la Raza, the University of San Francisco School of Law Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, Al Otro Lado, and the Tahirih Justice Center.

Activists from the human rights group, Doctors for Camp Closures, hold illuminated signs on a freeway overpass next to the US-Mexico border in San Diego, California, earlier this week. The group was calling for the end of US immigration detention centers and the US policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico and Central America to wait for their asylum court appointments.
Activists from the human rights group, Doctors for Camp Closures, hold illuminated signs on a freeway overpass next to the US-Mexico border in San Diego, California, earlier this week.
The group was calling for the end of US immigration detention centers and the US policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico and Central America to wait for their asylum court appointments.
Photograph: David Maung/EPA

Judge blocks Trump's "remain in Mexico" policy

Major development in the story of the one of the many cruel strands of the Trump administration’s US-Mexico border policy.

A federal court on Friday upended a central pillar of the Trump administration’s immigration agenda, ruling that asylum seekers must be allowed into the United States while their often lengthy cases meander through American immigration courts.

A three-judge panel in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco blocked a policy that has required people applying for asylum at the border to wait in Mexico while their claims for protection are reviewed, a process that often takes months or years, the New York Times’s Caitlin Dickerson reports.

A panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled today in a 2-1 vote to put on hold the policy that furthered Donald Trump’s asylum crackdown, the AP adds.

The “Remain in Mexico” policy - known officially as “Migrant Protection Protocols” - took effect in January 2019 in San Diego and has spread along the border. Nearly 60,000 people have been sent back since the policy began.

The question before the judges was whether to let the policy take effect during legal challenges.


Mulvaney accuses media of stoking fear over coronavirus "hoax"

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has said concerns in the US over the coronavirus outbreak is A. a Democratic party hoax and B. is all about the media stoking fear as a plot to take down Donald Trump.

Just a note that our main coverage of the coronavirus outbreak is on the website and in our dedicated live blog. But this latest news dev should be mentioned here, too.

Mick Mulvaney: Coronavirus is an anti-Trump hoax. Get over it. #TrumpVirus #TrumpCrash

— Nancy Levine 🌊 (@nancylevine) February 28, 2020

And this:

Mick Mulvaney accuses the media of stoking fear over coronavirus as a plot to take down President Trump

— POLITICO (@politico) February 28, 2020

Mulvaney was talking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Republican love-in at the National Harbor near Washington, from where my colleague David Smith sent a report published earlier today.

Bill “let me do my job” Barr

Attorney general William Barr has made efforts in recent days to beat back critics’ concerns that he was doing the president’s political bidding, by urging Donald Trump to stop tweeting about criminal cases - after Trump intervened in the Roger Stone case ahead of sentencing - because his comments were undercutting his ability to do his job.

Trump had intervened in the form of a tweet calling prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation “a horrible and very unfair situation”. Barr then caused the recommendation to be changed, prompting a call for the attorney general’s resignation from more than 2,600 former justice department officials, my colleague Tom McCarthy wrote last week.

Barr’s public plea for Trump to back off was characterized by former US attorney and Trump foil Preet Bharara thusly in a tweet: “I think Bill Barr is shrewd, deliberate, smart, calculating, careful, and full of it,” tweeted the former US attorney Preet Bharara.

Amid this scandal, Trump also abruptly withdrew the nomination of Jessie Liu, the former US attorney for the District of Columbia, who oversaw the Roger Stone case, for a new top post at the Treasury Department overseeing economic sanctions, the AP writes today.

Judiciary committee chairman Jerry Nadler, in his letter to Barr this morning, said he also wants to interview Liu, as well as Tim Shea, the current interim US attorney for the District of Columbia whom Barr appointed to replace Liu.

Despite Barr’s pleas, Trump has nevertheless continued tweeting and has attacked the judge, jurors and prosecutors involved in the Stone case.

At Stone’s sentencing last week, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Trump’s tweets were inappropriate and would have no bearing on her decision-making.
A Justice Department spokeswoman could not be immediately reached for comment on the committee’s request.

Roger Stone after a court hearing in Washington, in this pic from earlier in February guest-starring security guard in fetching beanie.
Roger Stone after a court hearing in Washington, in this pic from earlier in February guest-starring security guard in fetching beanie. Photograph: Pablo Martínez Monsiváis/AP


Trump aggrieved over Fox poll

Yes indeed. Here’s the tweet (bearing in mind America’s federal disease prevention agency is warning of impending disruption in the US caused by the coronavirus, while Trump is tweeting only about himself this morning):

Worst Polls, just like in 2016 when they were so far off the mark, are the @FoxNews Polls. Why doesn’t Fox finally get a competent Polling Company?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2020

And here’s a story on the new Fox News poll from last night. It shows the six leading Democratic candidates, from Amy Klobuchar up to Joe Biden, beating Trump in a match-up in November’s election. Biden and Mike Bloomberg would beat Trump by eight points, according to the poll, Sanders by seven points, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg by three and Klobuchar by one point.

Biden doubts Trump's word on coronavirus

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has voiced skepticism that the president can be trusted to steer America through the coronavirus outbreak. As just mentioned, all the main global and US news on the illness is being covered separately, especially in our dedicated coronavirus liveblog, but there is the odd moment of crossover with our general politics live blog and this is one such.

Biden spoke about the apparent sidelining of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the US’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and a primary figure in the frontline of America’s response to the outbreak and spread of the virus.

Joe Biden campaigning at the Mount Zion Enrichment Center in Sumter, South Carolina, this morning.
Joe Biden campaigning at the Mount Zion Enrichment Center in Sumter, South Carolina, this morning. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

And about, as just mentioned, the qualification or otherwise of vice president Mike Pence to helm US action on this.

“I can understand a vice president coordinating it, I have coordinated a number of things,” said Biden, the former vice president in Barack Obama’s administration.

He went on in a TV interview: “No-one takes the president’s word for these things...he stands there and says everything is fine - who’s going to believe him?”

And he said: “Dr Fauci is not allowed to speak publicly. What is all this about?”

Joe Biden: "Dr. Fauci is not allowed to speak publicly. What is this all about?"

— The Hill (@thehill) February 28, 2020

A quick reminder that while this blog is focusing on general US politics news today the Guardian also has a terrific live blog dedicated to covering the coronavirus outbreak as well as our regular business live blog that’s keeping an eye on related plunges in the markets, as the Dow nosedives again today. And there are separate extrapolations of all the most important angles in articles on our website, too, of course, such as whether vice president Mike Pence is suitably qualified to helm the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak.

And this is worth noting:

WATCH: Congressman threatens to beat up Trump Jr. for claiming democrats want coronavirus pandemic.

“He should not be near me when he says that,” the congressman seethed. There would be a serious altercation."

— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) February 28, 2020


Allegations of political interference in the DoJ by Donald Trump

In his letter to attorney general Bill Barr this morning, House judiciary committee chairman Jerry Nadler expresses the need to interview many Department of Justice officials who have worked on cases involving Trump close associates, such as disgraced national security adviser Michael Flynn (who has yet to be sentenced despite pleading guilty more than two years ago to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts).

The judiciary committee also wants to interview officials “who were tapped by Barr to review cases Trump has openly criticized”, according to this Politico piece, which continues:

Among the officials Nadler is seeking to interview are John Durham, the US attorney from Connecticut who was picked by Barr to review the origins of the FBI’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election; Jeff Jensen, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, whom Barr selected to review the case of Flynn; Robert Khuzami, the former New York-based prosecutor who oversaw the case against Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen; and Richard Donoghue, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, whom Barr picked to review all matters related to the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump’s impeachment in the House last year.

But the most head-turning in the breakneck speed world of Trump scandals is the request to interview the prosecutors in the Roger Stone case.

Trump and Barr in Washington last year.
Trump and Barr in Washington last year. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP


Mixed poll news for Biden

It’s a nail-biting, see-sawing kind of day for Joe Biden as he launches into the absolutely crucial five days for his presidential campaign that span the South Carolina primary tomorrow and Super Tuesday voting in more than a dozen states on March 3.

Just hours before he received Senator Tim Kaine’s endorsement, a new ABC-Ipsos poll out this morning asked Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, based on the most recent candidate debates (in Las Vegas and Charleston), who has the best chance of beating Donald Trump in November.

A booming 34% said Bernie Sanders, while only 25% said Biden. In more worries for Elizabeth Warren, she was behind Mike Bloomberg, at 11% support in the “electability” poll in contrast to his 15%.

It looks even more bleak for Amy Klobuchar at 3%, behind Pete Buttigieg at 8%.

But a poll in South Carolina yesterday still had Biden narrowly ahead of Sanders in his chances of winning the primary there.

Valuable endorsement for Biden

Virginia Democratic Senator and Hillary Clinton’s choice for the vice presidential place on her 2016 ticket, Tim Kaine, has just endorsed Joe Biden in a welcome boost for Biden the day before the crucial South Carolina primary tomorrow and just four days before Super Tuesday, when Virginia voters go to the polls to choose their candidate for the Democratic nomination to challenge Donald Trump in the November election.

JUST IN: VA Democratic Senator @timkaine endorses @JoeBiden ahead of #SuperTuesday

— Alana Austin (@alana_austin) February 28, 2020

Virginia is a key swing state and it will be interesting to see if and where Kaine hits the campaign trail for Biden this weekend.

Now, where did I put my glasses? Senator Tim Kaine on Capitol Hill
Now, where did I put my glasses? Senator Tim Kaine on Capitol Hill Photograph: REX/Shutterstock


It is unclear whether the department of justice will cooperate with any part of the new House committee probe that was just revealed.

Donald Trump has previously vowed to block “all” of the subpoenas from Democrats and refused to cooperate with their impeachment inquiry last year.

Still, despite his declarations, many administration officials came forward during the impeachment probe once they were faced with subpoenas, the AP further reports.

Barr has already agreed to testify before the committee on March 31. It will be the first time he has appeared before the panel since he became attorney general a year ago, and the meeting is sure to be contentious.

Since Barr was sworn in, House Democrats have questioned whether he was too close to Trump, criticized his handling of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s 2019 report resulting from the Trump-Russia investigation, and then impeached Trump for his pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrats, principally his election rival Joe Biden.

The Senate acquitted Trump earlier this month after the historic impeachment trial.
In the letter this morning, Nadler asked for a broad swath of documents related to the committee’s concerns, including communications between Trump and the Justice Department. The committee is unlikely to get any of those documents, as a president’s personal conversations are generally considered privileged by the courts.

Just after the Senate voted to acquit Trump, Barr faced blowback over his decision to overrule the prosecutors in the Stone case. Trump congratulated Barr shortly afterward.
Stone was convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election. He was sentenced last week to more than three years in prison.

When Stone was convicted last November, the Guardian detailed how he had been accused of having connections to Wikileaks and being involved in the leaking of US Democratic party emails stolen by the Russians during the 2016 election.

House to launch probe of AG Barr and DoJ

The House Judiciary Committee is launching a wide-ranging probe of attorney general William Barr and the US Justice Department, demanding briefings, documents and interviews with 15 officials - including the prosecutors who quit the Roger Stone case - as it tries to determine whether there has been improper political interference in federal law enforcement.

Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic congressman of New York, this morning sent Barr a letter listing a series of matters that the committee finds “deeply troubling,” the AP reports.

This includes Barr’s involvement in the case of Donald Trump’s longtime confidant Roger Stone, in which the president also intervened prior to Stone’s sentencing last week.

Stone was convicted in November of lying to Congress and other charges. Barr overruled prosecutors who had recommended that Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison, leading the four top prosecutors on the case to step down from it.

Nadler also is questioning Barr about his involvement in other cases related to friends and associates of Trump and about internal investigations into department employees who investigated Trump after the 2016 election.

“Although you serve at the President’s pleasure, you are also charged with the impartial administration of our laws,” Nadler wrote to Barr.

“In turn, the House Judiciary Committee is charged with holding you to that responsibility.”

The committee is asking for briefings on the issues listed and interviews with 15 Justice Department officials involved in those matters, including the four prosecutors who resigned from the Stone case.

Attorney general William Barr speaking to reporters at the DoJ last month.
Attorney general William Barr speaking to reporters at the DoJ last month. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Congress wants to interview Roger Stone prosecutors who quit

Breaking news: The House is asking the Department of Justice to present as witnesses the four career prosecutors who quit the legal case of Roger Stone after Donald Trump intervened to defend his convicted friend before his sentencing.

NEWS: The House is asking DOJ for interviews with the four career prosecutors who quit the Roger STONE case after Trump/Barr intervened.

It's part of a long list of witnesses sought by Nadler to investigate political interference at DOJ.

— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) February 28, 2020

Stone was sentenced to a lengthy prison term last week in federal court in Washington, DC.

Stone after his sentencing last week
Stone after his sentencing last week Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and progressive firebrand congresswoman Ilhan Omar just had a spirited exchange at the foreign affairs committee hearing that is still underway on Iran and Iraq. You can watch the livestream here.

Pompeo argued that the assassination by the US of Iran’s military top dog, Qassem Suleimani, in Iraq at the beginning of January has made things “far safer” for the American people.

But committee member Omar asked how that could be when, in prior Iranian-backed, storming protests at the US embassy in Baghdad, “the people who were at the US embassy said they were not warned” and yet in the fall-out from the killing of Suleimani, US diplomats, such as Iran specialist Brian Hook, have needed a special “counter assault team” when at public eventsw.

Omar cited special protection measures taken when Hook, special representative for Iran and senior policy adviser to Pompeo, attended an event in Los Angeles where he defended the US strike on Suleimani.

Omar questioning Pompeo on Capitol Hill this morning
Omar questioning Pompeo on Capitol Hill this morning Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Uncle Sam’s nightmare?

Here’s what the conservative-leaning Economist magazine thinks of the prospect of a Donald Trump vs Bernie Sanders match-up in the 2020 election.

Trump v Sanders: a corrupt, right-wing populist who scorns the rule of law and the constitution v a sanctimonious, left-wing populist who blames billionaires and businesses for all that is wrong with the world

— The Economist (@TheEconomist) February 28, 2020

Biden admits he wasn't arrested in South Africa

It’s more really terrible timing for Joe Biden. On the eve of the South Carolina primary, where strong support from black voters is crucial to his floundering campaign, he’s just been obliged to clarify a story that’s been dogging him and admit that he was NOT once arrested in South Africa while trying to visit that greatest civil rights icon, Nelson Mandela, in prison.

Biden comments on his changing story about his arrest in South Africa on CNN this morning: "I said arrested. I meant I was not able to move...I guess I wasn't arrested. I was stopped. I wasn't able to go where I wanted to go."

— Nicholas Wu (@nicholaswu12) February 28, 2020

His campaign had been struggling to deal with reports for days that this “arrest” he has boasted of never happened and a recent, incomplete, explanation was that Biden was forcibly separated from a group of African campaigners, in a process of being coerced to go through segregated doors in apartheid South Africa during a congressional human rights trip in the 1970s.

Appearing on CNN this morning, Biden was finally obliged to tell the truth of it, after yet another series of unforced errors in his campaign that has been nosediving since a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses in early February.

Biden, however, is still just ahead of Bernie Sanders is South Carolina polling.

He also told CNN that Democrats “cannot shoot and miss” in their efforts to oust Donald Trump from the White House in November.

Biden at a campaign event in South Carolina yesterday.
Biden at a campaign event in South Carolina yesterday. Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

Hello, everyone, the US politics live blog helm now switches from London to (today) New York and we’ll take you through the rest of another action packed day before handing over to our colleagues in Oakland, California for the evening.

Just a reminder that although we may touch here and there on the US political angle of the coronavirus outbreak in this blog, all the main US and global news on this vital story is being covered in our separate, dedicated live blog, here, and in other US-related coronavirus articles.

Although, here’s the next New Yorker cover:

An early look at next week’s cover, “Under Control,” by Brian Stauffer:

— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) February 27, 2020

The session has now returned to the discussion of Qassem Suleimani, and the US strike to kill him.

Pompeo said that “He was in the region actively plotting to kill Americans” and that “It was my judgement that this reduced risks to America to take this strike.”

He said it would reduce risks short, medium and long-term.

Qassem Suleimani, killed by a US drone strike in Baghdad, had become well known among Iranians and was sometimes discussed as a future president. Many considered Suleimani to have been the second most powerful person in Iran, behind supreme leader of Iran Ali Khamenei, but arguably ahead of President Hassan Rouhani. He was commander of the Quds Force, the elite, external wing of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the Trump administration designated as a terror organisation in April last year. 

He was born in Rabor, a city in eastern Iran, and forced to travel to a neighbouring city at age 13 and work to pay his father’s debts to the government of the Shah. By the time the monarch fell in 1979, Suleimani was committed to the clerical rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and joined the Revolutionary Guards, the paramilitary force established to prevent a coup against the newly declared Islamic Republic.

Within two years, he was sent to the front to fight in the war against the invading Iraqi army. He quickly distinguished himself, especially for daring reconnaissance missions behind Iraqi lines, and the war also gave him his first contact with foreign militias of the kind he would wield to devastating effect in the decades to come.

By the the time the Iraq government fell in 2003, Suleimani was the head of the Quds force and blamed for sponsoring the Shia militias who killed thousands of civilian Iraqis and coalition troops. As fighting raged on Iraq’s streets, Suleimani fought a shadow war with the US for leverage over the new Iraqi leadership.

Once described by American commander David Petraeus as ‘a truly evil figure’, Suleimani was instrumental in crushing street protests in Iran in 2009. In recent months outbreaks of popular dissent in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran were again putting pressure on the crescent of influence he had spent the past two decades building. Violent crackdowns on the protests in Baghdad were blamed on militias under his influence.

Eighteen months before his death, Suleimani had issued Donald Trump a public warning, wagging his finger and dressed in olive fatigues. “You will start the war but we will end it.”

Michael Safi

Texan Republican Michael McCaul spoke to back the strikes. He said “Americans in the region are certainly safer because of this decision. I was in some of these discussions and the president was very clear ‘I do not want to go with war with Iran’. They crossed a red line when they attacked our embassy.”

There have been some sharp words of criticism for Pompeo’s unwillingness to appear at this session - with it being pointed out that it has taken him two months to appear. Brad Sherman asked if it would take two months from now before he would appear to answer questions about coronavirus. Pompeo has only agreed to appear for two hours, and this has been contrasted with the eleven hour session that Hillary Clinton endured when the same committee, with Pompeo as part of it, interrogated her about Benghazi.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Although the theme of the House Foreign Affairs Committee session this morning was due to be Iran and Iraq, discussion has immediately and inevitably pivoted to discussing the coronavirus outbreak.

Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline attacked the administration, saying that after three years the American people weren’t sure they could trust the government to handle the crisis

Pompeo has criticised Iran for not sharing information about the outbreak in the country, and confirmed that the US had offered to help Iran. He was also a little testy about the change of topic.

California Democrat Ami Bera has suggested that US policy of isolating Iran has hampered Iranian efforts to combat the virus outbreak.

Mike Pompeo grilled over Trump administration policies on Iran and Iraq

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo has just begun his appearance before the House committee on foreign affairs. The title of the session is “Evaluating the Trump Administration’s Policies on Iran, Iraq and the Use of Force”. Pompeo has already deposited an opening witness statement, which you can read here.

The session is being live-streamed here.

Stream of House Foreign Affairs Committee session with Pompeo

Amy Klobuchar has just tweeted to highlight a negative comparison from Connecticut senator Chris Murphy between the way that president Barack Obama set about preparing for potential medical emergencies, and the de-funding of those plans that has been done by the Trump administration. “Leadership is thinking ahead and thinking farther than the next tweet” she says.

Leadership is thinking ahead and thinking farther than the next tweet. Leadership is working with the rest of the world. Leadership is listening to the scientists and the experts, not silencing them. Leadership is doing the right thing.

— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) February 28, 2020

Klobuchar is due to campaign today in Virginia and Tennessee.

Key dates ahead in the Democratic primary race

29 February

South Carolina votes – with Biden hoping to hoist himself back into contention with a strong win

3 March

Super Tuesday: more than a dozen states including California and Texas vote, with one-third of Democratic delegates up for grabs on this day alone. Bernie Sanders is expected to lead, with Biden, Bloomberg, Warren and Buttigieg all hoping to emerge as his clear opponent.

17 March

Another big day, with votes in key states of Florida and Illinois.

28 April

The north-east has its say, with votes in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and their neighbours.

13 July

Democratic convention begins

24 August

Republican convention begins

3 November

Election day

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is currently talking at CPAC, being interviewed by Stephen Moore. You can watch a video stream of it live. He’s been talking about Congress being “broken”, and has just described his job as “the coolest job in the world”.

He has also revealed that Donald Trump did not sleep on his overnight flight back from India, and that the president texts, emails and calls him from 6am every morning until midnight.

He is now talking about what Donald Trump will do in his second term - suggesting a 1% cut in corporation tax to 20% because the president thinks “it is a better number”.

Poll suggests Warren could lose her home state to Sanders

Whatever you think about Bernie Sanders as a potential president, it is wrong to dismiss his chances of winning the office. Not only does most of the available empirical evidence show Mr. Sanders defeating President Trump in the national popular vote and in the critical Midwestern states that tipped the Electoral College in 2016, but his specific electoral strengths align with changes in the composition of the country’s population in ways that could actually make him a formidable foe for the president.

So says Steve Phillips in the New York Times opinion section today. It’s quite an in-depth look at how the people that Sanders particularly appeals to are sections of the electorate that could potentially hold huge sway in November - with little demographic nuggets like this: “Mr. Trump won Arizona, for example, by 91,000 votes, and 160,000 Latinos have turned 18 in that state since then.”

Read it here - New York Times: Bernie Sanders Can Beat Trump. Here’s the Math.

There’s also been a couple of bits of positive polling news for Bernie Sanders today. First off, it looks like he could deprive Elizabeth Warren of victory in her own state of Massachusetts.

As recently as October, [Warren] held a 20-percentage point lead over Sanders, according to a WBUR poll. In the latest version of the poll, released Friday, she trailed him by 8 points.

Read it here - Politico: Warren at risk of losing her home state

There’s also data showing that Sanders’ debate performances have enhanced his standing with engaged Democrat voters, who now think he stands the best chance among the contenders of taking on and beating Donald Trump for the White House.

After seeing either of the ninth and tenth debates, 34% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said Sanders has the best chance of defeating the incumbent president. The next closest competitor is Biden, with 25%, followed by Mike Bloomberg, 15%

Read it here - ABC News: Recent debates give emboldened Bernie Sanders electability edge

Good week / bad week in US politics

Bernie Sanders steamrollered through the Nevada primary and Donald Trump played down the coronavirus threat. Who’s up and who’s down this week in US politics?

Best week: Bernie Sanders

The leftwing senator from Vermont’s landslide victory in Nevada forced Democratic and media doubters to admit he was now the man to beat (even the day before the New York Times was still calling him the “nominal” frontrunner). But heavy lies the crown… with his new status came the avalanche of attacks from opponents that Sanders sceptics have long-warned the self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” would face if he ever began to lead the pack. His “honeymoon” to Moscow, unwise articles he wrote for an underground zine in the 60s and 70s about cancer, orgasms and rape fantasies… Indeed, Sanders fanned the flames himself this week with typically unapologetic comments about Fidel Castro, telling CBS News he was “opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba” but adding: “He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?” There will be much more of this if Sanders’ success continues with a strong showing in South Carolina tomorrow and victory on Super Tuesday, 3 March.

Good week: Joe Biden

Whisper it, but is Biden back? Democratic centrists will eventually have to coalesce around someone to take on Sanders, and after flirting with Pete Buttigieg, Mike Bloomberg and Amy Klobuchar, they may end up concluding that the former vice-president – for all his faults – looks the strongest. He was more focused and aggressive at the debate in South Carolina on Tuesday night, and employed some amusing self-deprecation at one point when he gave way to the moderator: “Why am I stopping? No one else stops. It’s my Catholic school training.” Relying on his firewall of African-American support, Biden has solidified his lead in South Carolina and can reasonably hope for a strong victory there on Saturday that might reboot his campaign. He can expect to scoop up a fair number of delegates on Super Tuesday too, particularly in Texas and North Carolina, although Sanders is increasingly leaving him for dust in California. Can he stage a comeback? Cutting out the questionable stories about being arrested in South Africa might help.

Not a great week: Mike Bloomberg

Bloomberg had a better debate this week, but his social-media tactics came under fire after his team posted a controversial set of satirical tweets featuring false comments supposedly made by Sanders about various dictators. It wasn’t his first offence – many objected to the misleadingly-edited video his team had put out after the debate in Nevada – and the Bernie tweets were deleted. “It’s the embracing of a cynical outlook: ‘lol nothing matters’,” Whitney Phillips of Syracuse University told the Guardian. “It’s leaning into nihilism.” Bloomberg’s national poll ratings have flatlined since his disastrous first debate performance – he remains in third place behind Biden and Sanders – and he has dipped back below Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg too in the crucial Super Tuesday state of California, when he enters the race proper.

Bad week: Donald Trump

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this week that the coronavirus Covid-19 could could cause “severe disruption” to the lives of ordinary Americans, adding: “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen any more, but rather more exactly when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illness.” Donald Trump didn’t like that. On a trip to India earlier that day he had already told reporters that the coronavirus was “very well under control in our country” and “is going to go away”. He later hit out at the media for “doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible”. That last element seemed key – an economic slowdown caused by the virus could seriously damage Trump’s chances of re-election, and the stock market is his favourite measure of his own success. The day after a less-than-reassuring press conference in which Trump put vice-president Mike Pence in charge of the anti-virus effort, the Dow had its worst-ever daily drop and the S&P 500 posted its largest fall since August 2011.

Worst week: Mike Pence.

Well, would you want to head up the coronavirus response? Such a poisoned chalice is the VP’s new job that there was even speculation Trump could eventually use it as a pretext for dropping Pence from the 2020 ticket – perhaps replacing him with a telegenic woman such as former UN ambassador Nikki Haley. Not to worry, though, Pence is “really very expert at the field” of healthcare, as Trump told his press conference on Wednesday. So expert that he notoriously wrote on his website in 2000: “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”

Yes, it is a crucial primary on Saturday for Joe Biden. But that equally applies to the other candidates vying to be the main rival to early front-runner Bernie Sanders. Surely someone will have to drop out of this crowded field after Super Tuesday, so that the more centrist candidates can unite around one “anti-Sanders” option?

Here’s Moira Donegan with a look at what could happen next for Elizabeth Warren and how her campaign has become energised since that Nevada debate performance.

Perhaps this is why Warren now feels free to be frankly angry: not just because playing nice has stopped working, but because her treatment has been deeply unfair. She is the most qualified, the most intelligent and she has run the best campaign, and yet she is being passed over in favor of candidates who are less honest, less prepared, less capable, less morally committed, or simply male.

And here is Sam Levin in Los Angeles with a look at how Warren has found trans activists rallying behind her:

“Elizabeth is teachable,” said Blossom C Brown, an LA-based activist, who protested the exclusion of black trans women at a candidate forum last year. “We don’t expect her to get it right 100% of the time. But she is the one willing to listen.”

One of the problems facing Joe Biden as he goes into the South Carolina primary is that he is attempting to defy history. Over on Bloomberg Paul Murray has put together a series of charts showing historical polling data for the primaries since 1980. He says of Biden:

He’s not the only perceived frontrunner to falter in recent elections. Biden joins five other candidates since 1988 who lost their national polling lead after the Iowa caucuses; none of the others were able to recover from their decline.

To put it bluntly: “no candidate has held a polling lead going into the first nominating contest, lost that lead and then come back to win the nomination.”

That’s quite some challenge for Biden. You can see the data here.

“It’s the perfect time for businesses, health care systems, universities and schools to look at their pandemic preparedness plans, dust them off, and make sure that they’re ready,” Trump said Wednesday at his White House news conference on the coronavirus.

Accordingly schools across the United States are canceling trips abroad, preparing online lessons and even rethinking their “perfect attendance” awards as they brace for the possibility that Covid-19 could begin spreading in their communities.

There’s also a big question mark about how the healthcare system could cope if there was a sharp increase in the number of cases in the US.

And there’s a specific factor that could make a difference to how the coronavirus might spread - the uninsured. Carl Gibson is one of those 27.5 million people - here are his thoughts on what the impact of the coronavirus could be.

Here is Amanda Holpuch in New York, looking at how it is low-income Americans who are most likely to be at risk.

There’s also a potentially worrying development in terms of how America has been handling the virus. The Washington Post was reporting last night that a whistleblower has come forward to say that officials at the Department of Health and Human Services sent workers to receive the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, without proper training for infection control or appropriate protective gear. They then wren’t tested to see if they had contracted the new coronavirus themselves.

Democratic primary race – the key candidates

The Democratic race is in full swing, with votes in South Carolina on Saturday and then in over a dozen states including California on Super Tuesday, 3 March. Who are the key contenders as the race enters its next phase?

Bernie Sanders


Veteran socialist senator from Vermont and Democratic frontrunner who thinks his ship may finally have come in.


Huge army of passionate voters. Distinctive and consistent policy platform. Powerful momentum from success in first three contests of primary race.


Leftwing policies and “socialist” label may prove a bridge too far for many moderate Americans. Decades of outspoken affinity with leftwing causes is already being weaponised against him.

Key quote:

“Every other major country on Earth has achieved universal health care. This is the wealthiest nation in the world and there is no reason we cannot do the same.”

Key policies:

Universal public healthcare system and abolition of health insurance. Paid parental leave. Free college tuition. Support for radical Green New Deal to tackle climate change and create jobs.

Joe Biden


Personable former vice-president to Barack Obama whose shaky performance in the primary race has seen his lead disintegrate and his frontrunner status disappear.


Pundits thought his folksy manner, working-class roots and moderate policies would appeal to rust-belt voters won by Donald Trump in 2016.


Voters seemed less convinced after a series of muddled debates and gaffe-prone public appearances. Although many make the argument that “your uncle would vote for him”, it’s hard to find anyone actually excited about the prospect of President Biden.

Key quote:

“I ain’t a socialist, I ain’t a plutocrat, I’m a Democrat.”

Key policies:

“Public option” to compete with private health insurance. Green New Deal. Repealing capital punishment. Decriminalisation of cannabis.

Michael Bloomberg


Billionaire businessman and former New York mayor distrusted by many liberals who has steadily climbed in the polls thanks to big spending.


Limitless spending power. Centrist policies that may win over some Republicans. Record of business success that contrasts favorably with Trump’s.


Originally elected in New York as a Republican, Bloomberg is viewed by many liberals as a Democrat in name only and the kind of super-rich businessman they exist to rein in. Controversies over alleged sexist, racist and anti-trans remarks, a discriminatory policing policy known as “stop and frisk”, and the treatment of women at his business have not helped.

Key quote:

“Two billionaires [running]? Who’s the second one?”

Key policies:

Universal background checks for gun purchases, assault weapons ban and crackdown on gun trafficking. Net zero carbon emissions by 2050. “Public option” for healthcare.

Elizabeth Warren


Liberal Massachusetts senator and financial services expert who has been crowded out by Sanders and the moderates.


Less leftwing than Sanders, much less rightwing than Bloomberg, more experienced than Buttigieg, more convincing than Biden. Would be the first woman president.


Not as ideologically pure as Sanders, not as rich as Bloomberg, not as fresh as Buttigieg, less appeal in the heartland than Biden. Sexism is probably playing a role in dragging her down.

Key quote:

“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians. No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”

Key policies:

Wealth tax on those worth more than $50m. Universal childcare. Relief of student loan debts. Supports the Green New Deal, public healthcare replacing health insurance and breaking up the big tech companies.

Pete Buttigieg


Small-town Indiana mayor who would be first gay president and needs to build on strong early start in Iowa or risk fading away.


Millennial military veteran who presents himself as the young and upbeat voice of moderation, compromise and national unity.


His main political experience comprises eight years as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a city of 100,000 people. As mayor he made enemies of many black voters – something that has hobbled him in the Democratic race. It remains to be seen how homophobia would affect his chances if he became the nominee.

Key quote:

“We need a president focused on the future and ready to leave the politics of the past in the past.”

Key policies:

Backs a publicly run health insurance scheme, background checks for gun-buyers, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and a moderate climate change plan.

Also running

Businessman Tom Steyer has poured money into South Carolina and is hoping for a strong showing there. Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar has had her moments but it’s hard to see where she goes from here. The quixotic Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard made the most impact when she sued Hillary Clinton for calling her a Russian asset.

Pompeo describes Iran as "world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism – and anti-Semitism"

Mike Pompeo speaks during a news briefing at the State Department
Mike Pompeo speaks during a news briefing at the State Department Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Ahead of his appearance at the House committee of foreign affairs this morning, Mike Pompeo has published his opening witness statement, and it is fair to say that he does not mince his words about the Trump administration’s attitude to Iran. Among other things he says:

  • Iran is the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism – and anti-Semitism.
  • Its forces, and the militias it supports, prop up Syria’s Bashar Assad, undermine democracy in Lebanon and Iraq, and steal humanitarian aid in Yemen.
  • Iran is responsible for downing a civilian airliner in January. 176 people were killed. The regime lied about that tragedy, and still hasn’t turned over the black box.
  • The regime just rigged an election – yet again denying the Iranian people the free and fair elections they’ve sought for 41 years.

You can read the full statement here.

Good morning - there’s quite a bit on the agenda today.

It is the final full day of campaigning before the South Carolina primary, and Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Tom Steyer are all in the state today. Joe Biden has been considered the frontrunner in the southernmost state to vote so far, but he needs a decisive victory over Sanders if he’s to convince people that his campaign has a chance of eclipsing the leftwing senator and making a strong push for the nomination.

Donald Trump will also be out campaigning in South Carolina. There’s no Republican primary, but nevertheless he’s attending a rally at 7pm EST in North Charleston. Amy Klobuchar, meanwhile, is visiting Virginia and Tennessee with an eye on Super Tuesday.

We can expect a lot of focus on the coronavirus. Much of Trump’s upbeat messaging about the outbreak was designed to keep the markets steady. That approach seems to have failed as Wall Street and markets around the world tanked yesterday on fears about the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have confirmed that two people in the US have the coronavirus from person-to-person transmission, rather than exposure to the disease overseas.

There’s a host of big names appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Fort Washington, Maryland, just outside of Washington DC. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, Donald Trump Jr, Candace Owens, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and the so-called “Anti-Greta” Naomi Seibt are all appearing today. There are sessions on what the map of Israel should look like, how to fight the left’s “voter fraud machine”, “how the left justifies acts of violence” and the culture war. It should be a lively day. You can see the full line-up here.

And another big draw is that secretary of state Mike Pompeo will be appearing before the House committee on foreign affairs to be grilled on US policy on Iran and Iraq. You’ll be able to watch the session here.


Julia Carrie Wong (now), Joanna Walters and Martin Belam (earlier)

The GuardianTramp

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