Jan 9, 2020

Congress moves to take away Trump's war power.

Congress moves to take away Trump's war power.

Plus, readers respond to yesterday's newsletter.

Today’s read: 7 minutes

Congress moves to rein in Trump. Also, instead of answering a reader question, today I’m going to feature some reader feedback from yesterday’s newsletter.

Nancy Pelosi is moving to curtail Trump’s war powers. Photo: Gage Skidmore | Flickr


U.S. officials say they are confident Iran shot down a commercial Ukrainian jetliner in the hours after the Iranian missile attack on U.S. targets. 176 people were killed, including at least 63 Canadians. Vox’s Laura McGann noted yesterday that reliable sources were indicating it was “pretty unlikely that the safest plane in the sky just crashed. An engine fire wouldn't take it down. It can operate on one engine!” It turns out she might be right. Keep in mind, since these reports are just breaking, NYT noted yesterday:

“In the best of circumstances, determining the cause of an international plane crash can take a year or more of difficult investigative work and involve investigators from multiple governments. Resolving what happened over the skies of Tehran may prove even more complicated given the tensions between Iran, where the plane went down, and the United States, where it was built by Boeing, a company in the midst of crisis after two earlier deadly accidents involving another 737 model.”


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President Trump posted this tweet this morning.

What D.C. is talking about.

War powers. Today, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on a measure that would force President Trump to quickly wind down military action against Iran unless he has explicit authorization from Congress. The bill was drafted by Elissa Slotkin, a Democratic moderate who is quickly rising in the party. It doesn’t explicitly criticize Trump but would halt military action against Iran. Trump and Iran have both indicated that they will step away from any further escalation — for now — but the bill could launch an exhaustive debate about the president’s control of war and Congress’s role in authorizing it. For decades, the executive branch has been consolidating the power to take military action without Congressional approval. After 9/11, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), which gave the president wide-reaching authority for military action against any perpetrators of the attack. Some have speculated that’s why Vice President Mike Pence tried to tie Soleimani to 9/11. A similar bill to the one the House is considering already exists in the Senate and gives the president a 30-day deadline to come to Congress for authorization for military action. Momentum built for a new bill after Congress was briefed yesterday on why the White House ordered the strike against Soleimani. Two prominent Senate Republicans left the briefing infuriated over the content of it.

What the left is saying.

It’s time we reined the president in. Trump’s rash decisions abroad have gotten so dangerous that a new bill is needed to slow the administration down and ensure Congress has a say in who we are bombing and when we are bombing. “Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Our concerns were not addressed by the president’s insufficient War Powers Act notification and by the administration’s briefing today.” Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat of Virginia, said the briefing was “sophomoric and utterly unconvincing.” “I believe more than ever the Congress needs to act to protect the constitutional provisions about war and peace,” Connolly added. “I believe there was no rationale that could pass a graduate school thesis test.” Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown shared the same thoughts on MSNBC, saying it was all “the same lies I was hearing 20 years ago when I was a member of the House on the war in Iraq.” Other liberal pundits said the reason Trump and his administration haven’t presented evidence of an imminent threat that provoked the attack is that no such imminent threat existed.

What the right is saying.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader from Kentucky, said Trump had shown “patience and prudence” and backed his decision for a strike. “As a superpower, we have the capacity to exercise restraint and to respond at a time and place of our choosing, if need be,” he said. “I believe the president wants to avoid conflict or needless loss of life. But he’s rightly prepared to protect American lives and interests.” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said the administration “answered every important question.” But other Republicans weren’t so impressed. Sen. Mike Lee from Utah said yesterday’s intelligence briefing was “probably the worst briefing I’ve seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I’ve served in the United States Senate.” He added: "They had to leave after 75 minutes, while they were in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public. I find that absolutely insane. I think it's unacceptable." Sen. Rand Paul, who has oscillated between unbridled support for Trump and criticizing escalations overseas, went after the administration as well. “They have justified the killing of an Iranian general as being something that Congress gave them permission to do in 2002. That is absurd. That’s an insult.”

My take.

It’s quite significant that Paul and Lee are taking the tact that they are. The Senate is made up of 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, so two clear defections on a bill to rein in the president’s powers leave just two more Republicans the Democrats need to change the course of American history. I think I’ve made my concerns about Trump and how dangerous he is quite clear, but I’ve also written before about the positives of Trump’s presidency, touching on some of the bills he doesn’t get enough credit for or the way he may have a positive impact on the country when it’s all said and done. There’s another genre of Trump’s positive impact that this touches on, though: he is such a shock to the system, and he is so underqualified in so many ways, that his election has forced politicians to re-evaluate all the ways government power has become more consolidated in the executive branch. For decades, the executive branch has been increasing in power, creating an uneven system of checks and balances. People really started questioning it more under Obama, who was so hated by the right but had such wide-reaching authority via executive action that suddenly mainstream politicos were concerned about executive overreach. Now it’s happening on the left and some on the right are keeping up their calls for change.

If — and I say this cautiously — the House and Senate manage to pass a bill to reduce the president’s ability to launch military strikes or start a war without Congressional approval, that would be — in my opinion — one of the most positive stories of this administration. A draft bill being thrown around in the House looks like it will have a narrower focus on Iran, but I’m holding out some hope that whatever the Senate marks up may broaden the bill. Lee and Paul, like most politicians, are hypocritical and cynical at times, but they do seem to genuinely care about this issue. If they can bring over a couple of Republicans and the Senate can pass a bill like this, I’d be very curious to see what happens when it gets sent to the White House (or if they can hit a veto-proof majority). This is a bigger story than its getting credit for and I’ll be watching it.

Your feedback, published.

Yesterday’s newsletter provoked some of the most responses to any issue of Tangle yet. So today, instead of answering a reader question, I’m going to publish some of that feedback from my readers. Please remember: if you want a question answered in Tangle, or you just want to say hi, argue, or send in some kind words, all you have to do is reply to this email. It goes straight to my inbox.

While yesterday’s responses addressed all different parts of the newsletter, there was one sentence that drew more reactions than any other: “There’s plenty of evidence that eating vegan is just as bad for the environment as eating meat.”

First, I want to apologize because I accidentally linked to the wrong article in that hyperlink (a Guardian story about how the meat farming industry needed to change). I really meant to link to this story about how lettuce can produce more emissions than bacon. That happens sometimes when you have 50 tabs open and 20+ hyperlinks in a newsletter, but it was a mistake I regret. Still, I was only trying to illustrate the idea that silver bullets didn’t exist, and going vegan wasn’t a cure-all for environmental issues. That being said, even the proper link doesn’t totally back up my claim that there’s “plenty of evidence eating vegan is as bad as eating meat.” It was sloppy writing on my part and after reading some people’s feedback I thought it was worth following up: there have been a number of scientific studies that show eating less meat, specifically beef, would have extremely positive impacts on the environment. My humble suggestion is that if you want to be more eco-friendly, focus not just on eating less meat, but on some of the other lifestyle changes I noted. To make things right, I’d like to share some of the feedback I got. Consider this a throwback to the days of “letters to the editor” in newspapers. I’d love to keep doing this.

Noah from Minneapolis said he felt The Guardian piece was a “lazy piece of journalism” and added this:

“Sure, eating locally is better for the environment than eating food sourced from massively distributed supply chains. But that has nothing to do with veganism. A locally sourced vegan diet is still environmentally better than a locally sourced meat diet. A non-locally sourced vegan diet is environmentally better than a non-locally sourced meat diet. It's a false dichotomy to contrast a locally sourced meat diet with a non-locally sourced vegan diet.”

Jacob from Detroit noted that this article explicitly cites…

“a large study that states unequivocally ‘avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.’ It also says that global farmland use could be reduced 75% if meat and dairy were removed, and that even then we'd still have enough food to feed the world. Project Drawdown says if cattle were their own country, they'd be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, and that a vegan diet can reduce emissions by 70%.

And Katie from Philadelphia wrote in to say:

I have seen numerous scientific papers and studies that prove just the opposite of the claim you are making. Methane release from farm stock is a MAJOR contributor to climate change. Your article claims that bio-diverse grazing can reduce methane emissions by 70%. Unfortunately this is not how the majority of beef that comes to US and other world markets is produced.

Also, MJ from New York City dropped me a line to point out that in my “Have a nice day” section I neglected to mention Celeste Barber, the comedian who raised $32 million to go towards the Trustee for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund. 1.2 million people donated, and it was the most amount of money ever raised in a Facebook fundraiser.

Speaking of the “Have a nice day” section, Sarah from Pittsburgh had this to say about the “model from Twitter” who raised $750,000 by sending nude photographs to people who donated to help Australia:

A quick note, you named the “a model on Twitter” who raised money for Australia distributing nudes.  That woman is a sex worker, and I think it is important to communicate about her as such.  So much of the media coverage has called her a “model” as you have, and sex workers are a minority group who are often ostracized and at risk, and this is an amazing thing that a SW did and she’s being misrepresented slightly to make the story more palatable or something.

All fair points. As I always say, and as each of these readers can now surely attest, I very much appreciate when people write into Tangle and I’ve made a pledge to give thoughtful responses — even if it takes me a few hours, days or weeks — to everyone who writes in. Don’t be shy.

A story that matters.

Joining a revitalized trend, the company U-Haul recently announced that it will no longer hire people who use nicotine in any form. Its rule will apply in the 21 states where making such exclusions is currently legal. Companies like U-Haul, and the 21 states who support such moves, believe companies should have the right to avoid employees whose health care costs could predictably skyrocket. Alaska Airlines started the trend in 1985, but back then the airline said the industry wasn’t “conducive to smoke breaks,” which justified its reasoning. This announcement is drawing renewed scrutiny of the practice, and a lot of people are concerned it violates labor and medical ethics. Some have compared it to health care companies discriminating against pre-existing conditions or employers discriminating against someone who drinks alcohol, minorities or people who test positive for marijuana. Others have noted such a rule will disproportionately harm poor Americans, who use nicotine more than the average population. NPR has more here.


  • 3 million. The number of years since the amount of carbon dioxide we’re currently experiencing has existed on planet Earth.
  • Five. The number of warmest years on the record that have occurred in the last five years (that’s 5 for 5, making this the hottest decade ever).
  • 2.2%. The rate the U.S. cancer death rate dropped between 2016 and 2017, the largest decline in national cancer statistics since 1930.
  • 50% to 43%. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in Michigan, best of any Democratic candidate, according to a new statewide poll.
  • 47% to 41%. Michael Bloomberg’s lead over Donald Trump in Michigan, second-best of any Democratic candidate, according to a new statewide poll.
  • 49% to 45%. Bernie Sanders’ lead over Donald Trump in Michigan, third-best of any Democratic candidate, according to a new statewide poll.
  • 53% to 41%. Sanders’ previous lead over Trump in the same poll last May, a gap 8 points larger than the one he holds today.
  • 10,704. The number of votes Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by in Michigan in 2016, a crucial swing state in the election.

New Hampshire polling data from this morning:

Have a nice day.

During this year’s 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo, athletes will be sleeping on cardboard beds. That’s because the theme of the Olympics is sustainability. Medals will be made from recycled electronic devices. The Olympic village is being made from wood that will be sustainably sourced and then returned for recycling. A carbon offset program will be in effect during the games. The beds, made of cardboard and wood, are going to be recycled or sold after the Olympics conclude. It’s the first time in the event’s history the 18,000 beds required for the Olympics will be made of renewable materials. Click.

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