Dec 31, 2019

U.S. embassy is under attack in Iraq.

U.S. embassy is under attack in Iraq.

Plus, an interview with a NYC politician and a question about Mitch McConnell.

Today’s read: 7 minutes.

The U.S. embassy in Iraq is under attack, an interview with a New York politician, a question about Mitch McConnell blocking bills and a frightening story about foster care.

A photo of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad this morning. Photo: H. Sumeri | Twitter

What you asked for.

In a poll before the holidays, I asked Tangle readers if they’d want any extra content in their inbox. While many of you said you liked Tangle just how it was, plenty said they’d love to read deep dives or extended interviews with political figures. I won’t clog your inbox with more stuff, but I will occasionally publish that content. In the wake of the anti-Semitic attacks in New York City, I spoke with Mark Levine, an NYC Council member who serves in West Harlem and Washington Heights. Given that Levine is Jewish, serves in a diverse district and saw the alleged Monsey attacker apprehended just outside his district, I thought he’d be an interesting person to speak with. You can read my full interview with him, edited for length and clarity, here.

Happy New Year.

Please enjoy a safe and fun celebration tonight. As previously noted, Tangle will be off tomorrow (barring any huge news) and back on Thursday with everything you missed. For those of you enjoying the holiday or a day off, I hope you enter the new year with good health and lots of joy.

What D.C. is talking about.

Iraq. This morning, several hundred supporters of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi Shiite militia, stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the largest U.S. diplomatic facility in the world. Quick rewind: Last Friday, a U.S. contractor was killed in a rocket attack on a base where U.S. troops were housed along the Iraqi-Syrian border. The U.S. blamed Kataib Hezbollah for the attack, and then launched an offensive of its own, killing some 25 members of the militia on Sunday. This morning, supporters of Kataib Hezbollah were at a funeral service for the fallen militiamen. After the funeral, they marched toward the U.S. embassy. The U.S. embassy is in a “heavily fortified” Green Zone that is typically off-limits to ordinary citizens, but when the demonstrators marched toward the embassy, Iraqi security forces made no attempt to stop them. A leader for the group tried to stop the protesters from entering the embassy with commands over a loudspeaker but failed. The protesters broke the main door and set fire to a reception area. U.S. soldiers at the embassy then hit the intruders with tear gas before they retreated back toward the street amidst chants of “Death to America” and “Down, down USA!”

Reports on the ground are a bit muddied: The Washington Post reported that diplomats are trapped inside the embassy’s safe room and the Associated Press reported that they escaped out a back door and evacuated via helicopter. The U.S. embassy says there has been no evacuation.  U.S. soldiers are guarding the embassy from the rooftop with guns drawn. Now, the Iraqi security forces have surrounded the embassy to keep demonstrators from penetrating any further into the building. A spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah said the group was setting up tents around the embassy and would remain until U.S. forces left Iraq.

What the left is saying.

The tension in Iraq is a product of Trump’s failed foreign policy. In June, Trump was boasting that since he became president, Iranians weren’t “chanting death to America” as much. Now Iranian-backed militia supporters are storming the largest U.S. diplomatic base in the world chanting death to America. The sudden spike in violence is a predictable response to the U.S. airstrikes on Sunday and failed sanctions against Iran over the last few years. Iran has lots of influence and support in Iraq. Now, the strikes are making it impossible for the U.S. to salvage any remaining hope for presence or stability in Iraq, all thanks to Trump’s belligerent and unorganized foreign policy. Of course, many folks on the left share the sentiment with Trump supporters that these wars are a lost cause and we should finally come home. The Iraq War was a failed occupation from the start, and liberals have been pining for a leader who will find a way out. Other far-left commentators have claimed that the U.S. strike didn’t kill guilty militiamen, but instead framed it as an attack on Iraqi soldiers and U.S.-aligned soldiers fighting ISIS, which is why so many Iraqis are upset about the strike.

What the right is saying.

President Trump, who is at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, responded to the attack via Twitter on Tuesday. "Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many," Trump tweeted. "We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!" A lot of folks on the right have reacted to the news in broad, disappointed terms. Jesse Kelly shared a popular sentiment of Trump-supporting conservatives, saying “Not sure there’s a better way to sum up American foreign policy than invading Iraq as part of the ‘war on terror’ only to have our embassy stormed 16 years later by Hezbollah with the direct support of the Iraqi government we put into place.” Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House who has become a staunch Trump supporter, called for more war. Gingrich tweeted that the U.S. “should respond to Iran in Iran. The Iranian dictatorship doesn’t care how many of its allies we hit in Iraq. We have to go after the heart of the enemy and make them pay decisively.” Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton also chimed in:

My take.

There’s a lot to unpack here and a lot of politicking on both sides. What we know for sure is that this is not a good sign for U.S.-Iraq relations and that U.S. embassies don’t usually get attacked when things are going well in a country we are occupying. Officially, the U.S. presence has the support of the Iraqi government because it’s there to help combat ISIS and the spread of terrorism. While I’m certainly not going to make the case that Iraqis love the U.S. or its military presence there, I also caution you not to read the news as “Iraqis attack American embassy.” It’s like saying “Americans love Trump.” Iraqis are not a monolith and we shouldn’t write about them as such. There are so many political plots at play here, one of which is the Iranian influence in the region. Some people are claiming this attack was “orchestrated” by Iran and does not represent Iraqi views and others are saying this is an obvious collapse of Iraqi support for America. You can be sure the truth is somewhere in the middle. I’d also remind readers that the Benghazi attack, which left two American diplomats dead while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, was used as a political bludgeon against Hillary for years. She had to give public testimony about the State Department’s response and her own handling of the attack. I wrote then what I’ll write now: these embassy attacks are not uncommon, but the real test of diplomacy is how they are handled after the fact. It’s not clear yet how this attack will play out or how directly involved certain players are in its execution, and I’m not in the business of speculating on facts like that. So we’ll see what happens as more info comes out and I’ll certainly keep you updated.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: If you want to ask a question, all you have to do is write in by replying to this email. I love hearing from readers and have pledged to try to get to every question that’s submitted.

Q: How is the blockage of legislation by Mitch McConnell not unconstitutional? What laws need to change in order for this type of behavior to stop?

- Heather, Western Michigan

Tangle: The short answer is that it’s not unconstitutional because McConnell isn’t actually flexing any illegal power to stop a bill from coming to the floor. And no laws need to be changed.

First, a brief, general outline of how this works: The Senate is the upper chamber of Congress (the House of Representatives is the lower chamber) and it’s composed of 100 senators. When the House passes a bill, it goes to the Senate for revisions and a vote. Typically, a bill will undergo significant changes in the Senate before being voted on or approved. If a Senate bill is approved, then it goes to the “executive branch,” or the president, for a signature. Once it’s signed it becomes law, unless someone thinks the bill is illegal, in which case they may challenge it in the courts. These are the “three branches of government” in action: the legislative branch (House and Senate), the executive branch (the president and his staff), the judicial branch (the Supreme Court and lower courts).

Right now, the Senate is composed of 45 Democrats, 2 independents (Bernie Sanders and Angus King, who both work with Democrats) and 53 Republicans. Mitch McConnell is the majority leader of the Senate, meaning he heads the Republican majority. In the 1940s, the Senate began the practice of yielding power to majority leaders. It’s sort of an unwritten rule that majority leaders decide what does and doesn’t get a vote. This custom is one of the many things that has created such partisan gridlock. 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans could come together on a bipartisan bill in the Senate, but if McConnell doesn’t support the bill he can effectively stymie it. That being said, if Democrats really wanted a vote on something, they could do it with the support of 51 senators. That’d mean just getting four Republicans to break ranks and support a vote on a bill.

In short: it’s legitimate to be mad at McConnell. The House has passed hundreds of bills that haven’t sniffed a vote in the Senate. But it’s not McConnell alone, it’s a long history of Senate custom that has given him this power — and it’s not unconstitutional. If his Republican colleagues wanted to buck that custom and force a vote on a bill, they could. Unfortunately, even a bill that large swathes of Americans support is being stonewalled, it seems like senators are unlikely to cause an intra-party dogfight.

A story that matters.

American children who should be receiving support in foster care are instead ending up in juvenile detention centers. A new report from The Washington Post dives into how a shortage of foster care and an increase in biological parents struggling with drug addiction has left thousands of foster children being placed in “crowded emergency shelters, hotels, out-of-state institutions and youth prisons.” Marcia Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood (ABC), told WaPo that “We are just destroying these kids. They’re warehoused into emergency shelters, out-of-state institutions and juvenile detention centers, which can cause lifelong emotional trauma — their childhoods spent segregated from the outside world.” Click.


  • 85%. How much higher opioid deaths were among people of prime working age in counties where automotive assembly plants had closed five years earlier, compared to counties where they had remained open.
  • 49-45. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in Virginia, according to a new Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy poll, making him the only leading Democrat to have a polling advantage over Trump in the state.
  • 47-45. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in Florida, according to a new Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy poll, making him the only leading Democrat to have a polling advantage over Trump in the state.
  • 51-42. Trump’s lead over Elizabeth Warren according to the same poll of Florida voters.
  • 4%. The Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy poll’s margin of error, which has a B+ rating from FiveThirtyEight.
  • 5,000. The approximate number of U.S. troops based in Iraq to fight the Islamic State.
  • 27.5%. Joe Biden’s RealClearPolitics average of Democratic support as of December 19th, 2018.
  • 27.8%. Joe Biden’s RealClearPolitics average of Democratic support as of December 19th, 2019.

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Have a nice day.

A rare environmental success story is unfolding off the west coast. Bottom trawler fishermen who go after rockfish, bocaccio, sole and Pacific Ocean perch say things are making a comeback, according to the Associated Press. Nearly twenty years ago, authorities closed huge stretches of the Pacific Ocean from bottom-dwelling fishermen to let the population recover. But on January 1st, regulators are re-opening an area three times the size of Rhode Island with new rules in place that have been approved by environmental groups. And the fish are thriving. Now, a major fishing economy is set to make a comeback without doing serious harm to wildlife. The next step is re-igniting America’s interest in consuming the fish. Click.

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