January 16, 2019

At least 16 people have reportedly been killed by a suicide bomber in Syria, and American service members are among them, Reuters reports via the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Wednesday attack, writing on its website that one of its fighters "detonated an explosive vest" next to a foreign patrol, BBC says. The bomber apparently "targeted U.S.-led coalition forces in the Kurdish-held" town, BBC writes, and a Kurdish news agency says "two American troops and one Kurdish fighter" were killed. The U.S.-led coalition against ISIS has since confirmed an unknown number of "U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria."

The attack comes not long after President Trump announced a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, declaring that ISIS is "defeated." Trump's move reportedly came "hastily" after a phone call from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and faced opposition from nearly all his advisers. America had been working with Kurdish allies to defend Syria against ISIS, and the Kurds denied Trump's claim of ISIS' defeat. Turkey and the Kurds have long been at odds, jeopardizing their safety if American troops leave the region. Tuesday's attack happened just 20 miles from the Syrian border with Turkey.

The White House and U.S. Central Commend have said they are aware of the reported attack, and the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS said it "will share additional details at a later time." Kathryn Krawczyk

10:20 a.m.

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller grew tired of the divisive nature of Congress during his 88 trips to Capitol Hill since 1990, The New York Times reports. That makes his fondness for a certain divisive drink all the more surprising.

Mueller, who is set to testify once again before Congress on Wednesday about his office's investigation into 2016 Russian election interference, is considered by many to be a man of principle, putting the law above party and politics. But he has seemingly chosen a side in the pumpkin wars.

As Vox explains, there's long been a "backlash" against Starbucks' autumnal hot beverage, which has — in some circles, at least — even become "something of a strawman for discussions about capitalism." Vox has described it as "an unctuous, pungent, saccharine brown liquid."

It's tough to judge Mueller too harshly, however. Whatever got him through all those hours of testimony deserves some appreciation. Alas, the pumpkin spice latte won't be able to save him on Wednesday, as the seasonal beverage won't be on sale until at least next month. Tim O'Donnell

10:18 a.m.

The next president will not be decided by a push-up contest.

It seems like an obvious statement, but apparently the men of the 2020 race needed to be reminded of that fact. After all, former Vice President Joe Biden challenged President Trump to a push-up contest last week, and when Trump didn't acknowledge Biden's request, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke accepted.

Over the weekend, O'Rourke's campaign staffers got stuck in the Sioux City, Iowa airport when their flight was delayed. So to "make use of this time," as O'Rourke put it to NBC News' Ben Pu, he challenged them to a push-up contest.

None of these presidential campaigners have acknowledged the fact that if 85-year-old Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was in the push-up primary, they'd be toast. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:44 a.m.

A claim by President Trump has never been so demonstrably false.

Trump started his Monday morning with a stream of tweets, including one in which he attacked a Washington Post article from Sunday that reported "advisers wrote new talking points and handed [Trump] reams of opposition research" on the four Democratic congresswomen he attacked last week. Trump's tweet claimed "there were no talking points, except for those stated by me," and that "'reams of paper' were never given to me."

Yet as the Post's Aaron Blake pointed out in a tweet, Post photographer Jabin Botsford captured several photos of Trump holding what can only be described as talking points during a press conference on July 15.

Those bulleted points are easily readable, and detail the disparaging, often untrue, and occasionally misspelled attacks he made on Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) during the conference. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:40 a.m.

Former Democratic Senator Al Franken says he regrets resigning from the Senate in 2018 after facing allegations of sexual misconduct, and some current and former senators regret asking him to do so.

Franken spoke to The New Yorker's Jane Mayer in a new piece published on Monday delving into the allegations against the former senator, who was accused in 2017 of inappropriate touching or kissing by eight women. Asked if he now regrets resigning, Franken responded, "Oh, yeah. Absolutely."

Franken said he wishes he had been able to appear before a Senate Ethics Committee hearing, but he tells The New Yorker that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) demanded he resign or else he would organize the whole Democratic caucus to demand his resignation. A spokesperson for Schumer denied this threat was made.

"I'm angry at my colleagues who did this," Franken said, going on to say he "became clinically depressed" after leaving the Senate. He also placed blame on Schumer, saying, "Look, the Leader is called the Leader for a reason."

Mayer in the piece delves into the first accusation against Franken, which came from broadcaster Leeann Tweeden, who accused Franken of forcibly kissing her; she also released a photo of Franken with his hands over her breasts while she was sleeping. Mayer describes some apparent inconsistencies in the account as Tweeden described it, including that the USO skit Tweeden alleged Franken wrote just as an opportunity to kiss her had been performed previously. On Twitter, Mayer wrote that "almost NOTHING his main accuser said checks out."

In the piece, seven former and current U.S. senators said they now regret asking Franken to resign. But Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) defended her decision to call for Franken's resignation, saying, "I'd do it again today." Read the full piece at The New Yorker. Brendan Morrow

9:28 a.m.

To be fair to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, meetings can be boring.

Ross doesn't hold a lot of meetings with senior staffers, a person familiar with the department told Politico, and the reason is pretty simple. Ross reportedly "tends to fall asleep" during them, which is not the best look in any work environment, let alone a key government agency. That's doubly true if you're the boss.

When Ross does have to attend meetings, the source told Politico that the department is very careful about scheduling them. "There's a small window where he's able to focus and pay attention and not fall asleep," the source said.

Commerce officials have disputed those statements. Department Press Secretary Kevin Manning called Ross a "tireless worker" who travels often.

Still, some of the agency's top officials are reportedly doing what they can to shield Ross from testifying at congressional oversight hearings, like he did in March about the 2020 U.S. census citizenship question. They probably don't want him dozing off on C-SPAN, though he did stay awake last time.

Those reports were also disputed by the department, however. "He's obviously going to have to testify again," one official said. Read more about the reported disarray in the Commerce Department at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

8:28 a.m.

Masked men attacked anti-government protesters in Hong Kong at a train station late Sunday, hitting them with sticks, The New York Times reports. Elsewhere in the city, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters after some people vandalized the Chinese government's liaison office in the city, marking an overt challenge to China's authority over the financial hub.

The clashes came after a peaceful march earlier in the day calling for an independent investigation into alleged police brutality in earlier protests. Organizers said 430,000 people participated in the sanctioned part of Sunday's demonstration; police put the figure at 138,000. A series of mass protests started last month against a proposal to allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China, where the governing Communist Party controls the courts. The bill has been suspended but protesters want it fully withdrawn. Harold Maass

8:25 a.m.

Equifax has agreed to pay up to $700 million to settle state and federal investigations into a 2017 data breach, The Washington Post reports. The breach exposed the Social Security numbers, credit-card information, and other private data of more than 147 million people. The case left more than half of U.S. adults vulnerable to identity theft. The penalties include payments to consumers, regulatory fines, and changes to the credit-reporting agency's practices.

"This is the largest data breach settlement in U.S. history," said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. "These data breaches occur because of corporate greed. Corporate leaders decided to put an extra dollar of profit into their pocket, as opposed to that dollar going into the infrastructure of the company to protect their data." Equifax did not immediately comment. Harold Maass

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