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News Now

  • Obama – Putin clash at UN
  • Thousands enter Syria to join ISIS
  • Senate edges to avert shutdown
  • Speaker scramble: Latest
  • Planned Parenthood hearing: Witness spat
  • Syrian commander gave US weapons to militants
  • Benghazi: Clinton emails (episode 94)…
  • US airstrikes aim to retake Afghan city
Obama – Putin Clash at UN (NYT, WH, TRNS, me)
• President Obama and President Vladimir Putin of Russia squared off on Monday at the UN in dueling speeches. Obama made a forceful defense of diplomacy and the system of rules of the UN, but warned that “dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world.” – veiled ref to Putin (one of many – Putin didn’t hear the speech – typically late)
• Putin talked about mounting a broad effort to support Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, as the best bulwark against the spread of ISIS and other radical groups, even though the WH has said Assad has to leave power if there’s to be a political solution in Syria (but WH struggles to say who should go in if Assad goes out)
• Obama singled out Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a flagrant violation of the international order. On Syria, he repeated the admin’s insistence that Assad would ultimately have to step down, though he provided no clues as to what steps the U.S. might take to pressure him to hand over power (he has no incentive to go – war crimes tribunal?)
• Obama also talked about a “managed transition” in Syria, in which Assad would be gradually eased out of power. There are intense discussions underway on how long that period should be and how many in Assad’s close circle would have to go, several US Security Council diplomats said

• Interactive: Obama and Putin – competing world views (NYT)


• Putin, making his first UN General Assembly appearance in 10 years, was openly dismissive of the U.S.’ interventions in the Middle East. The U.S.led effort to oust Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, he said, had made each country a haven for terrorists (easy to be an armchair critic)
• And the Obama admin’s attempts to train and equip a moderate Syrian opposition would end up swelling the ranks of Islamic radicals, Putin insisted. Better, Putin said, to rally around Assad. But he offered no prescription for how the Syrian political crisis might be resolved (because he wants to either keep Assad in power or be a kingmaker for the next president)
• Nor did Putin indicate that the Russian military buildup in Syria – including its first new military base in the Middle East in decades – would be reversed if ISIS was defeated. Russia and Syria are longtime allies (would suit Putin to keep a base there)
• Monday evening, the two presidents met. Afterwards, Putin said the discussions had been ” very constructive, businesslike and frank.” American officials echoed that description, noting that half of the session had been spent on Ukraine and half on Syria. Still, nothing to suggest a breakthrough on the future of Assad (“frank” is a euphemism for screaming match)
• “I think the Russians certainly understood the importance of there being a political resolution in Syria and there being a process that pursues a political resolution,” an American official said. “We have a difference about what the outcome of that process would be.” (“difference” is a euphemism for flying lamps)


• Minutes into Obama’s UN General Assembly speech on Monday, SecState John Kerry yaaawned widely. Kerry had had an early morning meeting on Syria. Sleepy guy – couldn’t have been bored, could he?… (Guardian, me)


Thousands Enter Syria to Join ISIS (NYT, AP, me)

• President Obama will chair a meeting today at the UN to take stock of the international campaign to counter ISIS. It comes as American intel analysts have been preparing a confidential assessment that concludes that nearly 30,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Iraq and Syria from more than 100 countries since 2011

• A year ago, the same officials estimated that flow to be about 15,000 combatants from 80 countries, mostly to join ISIS. More than 250 Americans have entered or tried to enter the conflict, according to intel and law enforcement officials (huge diff)

• That grim appraisal coincides with the scheduled release today of a six-month bipartisan congressional investigation into terrorist and foreign fighter travel, which concludes that “despite concerted efforts to stem the flow, we have largely failed to stop Americans from traveling overseas to join jihadists.” There have been other setbacks


• A $500 million Pentagon effort to train rebel forces to take on ISIS in Syria has produced only a handful of fighters. Russia has defied America’s attempts to block Moscow’s buildup of a new airbase in Syria – huge complication. And retired Adm John Allen, who since Sept 2014 has coordinated the coalition against ISIS, has told the WH he will step down at the end of the year

• The focus on shortcomings in the global effort to combat ISIS is playing out as tens of thousands of refugees flee strife in the Middle East and North Africa, including many seeking to escape the violence in Syria and oppression in areas under the control of ISIS
• Monday, in his speech at the UN, Russian President Putin, in what appeared to be a step to outmaneuver Obama on Syria, spoke of creating “a genuinely broad international coalition” to fight ISIS, including a Security Council resolution to “coordinate” military action. All told, 104 countries have been invited to today’s meeting at the UN – Iran wasn’t invited


• Cuban President Raul Castro in his maiden speech at the UN General Assembly on Monday demanded that the U.S. end its embargo – and offered a string of conditions for the further renewal of ties between the two countries. President Obama and Castro are scheduled to meet today (Hill)
Senate Edging to Avert Shutdown (Roll Call, Politico, Hill, TRNS, me)
• Congress is one step closer to dodging a govt shutdown. On a 77-19 (19 all Republicans) vote Monday night, the Senate advanced a short-term spending bill that will keep federal govt agencies operating through 11 Dec, defusing the latest shutdown scare powered by conservative rage against funding for Planned Parenthood – for now
• The suspense over whether the GOP-led Congress would keep the govt open beyond 30 Sept ended when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced his resignation plans. The stunning move ensures he would be free to rely on Democrats to pass a clean funding bill without political payback from his conservative agitators (who are fuming about it, too)
• Monday’s action set up a vote for final passage likely sometime tonight. The funding measure also received the blessing of the WH as a way to give legislators time to come up with a broader spending deal (not that much time. 11 Dec is around the corner)
• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) blamed Democrats prior to the vote for blocking appropriations bills and pursuing “a deliberate strategy to force our country into another of their unnecessary crises,” leaving the CR “as the only viable way forward in the short term”
• Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) countered, “I would be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone that this last-minute scramble to do our most basic job is as unnecessary as it is reckless. We’re two days away from a shutdown … and why? Because Republicans made it their number one priority to undermine women’s health.”


• Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was strongly dissed by his colleagues. Stopped from getting a roll call vote for an amendment to the clean CR on defunding Planned Parenthood and the Iran nuclear deal. He went off on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “Notice he’s going to stay a month. He’s going to stay a month in order to join with the Democrats and fund Barack Obama’s priorities,” Cruz fumed (Roll Call, me)


Speaker Scramble: McCarthy In / House GOP Huddle (Politico, Politico, Politico, Politico, TRNS, me)
• House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) officially announced his bid for House speaker on Monday, promising to “lead the fight” for conservatism while healing divisions in the conference. His only challengers are Rep Daniel Webster (R-Fla), whose district might be eliminated in the 2016 election and Rep Ted Yoho (R-Fla) (the jokes write themselves)
• House Republicans will meet twice today, including behind closed doors at 5 pm to “discuss the strategy going forward” in the wake of Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) resignation. Boehner is expected to announce today the date for new leadership elections, according to GOP lawmakers and aides – could come next week, party insiders say
• House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash), No. 4, sent a note to colleagues Monday afternoon. “Tuesday’s conference meeting can be an opportunity for us to listen to one another, learn from each other, and lead together.” She announced Monday evening she wouldn’t run for majority leader (intriguing as reports were she’d been making calls)
• To become the 54th speaker, McCarthy will need to find 218 supporters on the floor. In his previous leadership races, he’s glided to victory by simply winning the support of more than half the members of the Republican Conference. One of his biggest hurdles is the Freedom Caucus
• If McCarthy can secure the backing of four-fifths of the group, the speakership would be his to lose. The Freedom Caucus wants the next speaker to institute procedural changes regarding which legislative initiatives reach the floor and how prestigious committee assignments are doled out. The group hasn’t yet decided who to vote for


• Interactive: Candidates in play for GOP leadership – speaker, majority leader, majority whip. Plotters! Planners! Dark horses! (NYT)
Planned Parenthood Hearing: Witness Spat (Hill, Politico, Reuters, AP, me)
• Republicans on the House Oversight Committee didn’t invite David Daleiden, the creator of the secretly recorded Planned Parenthood videos, to testify at today’s hearing, ignoring repeated calls from Democrats. The committee will hold its first hearing on PP today, with just one witness
• “Ms Richards is the only witness tomorrow,” committee spox M.J. Henshaw said, referring to PP President and CEO Cecile Richards. The 18 Democrats on the committee, led by ranking member Rep Elijah Cummings (D-Md), have twice asked chair Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to bring in Daleiden to appear alongside Richards (GOP has no interest in fact finding)
• Richards will say that “Planned Parenthood is proud of its limited role in supporting fetal tissue research,” arguing that the donations have helped scientists search for cures. “It is clear they acted fraudulently and unethically – and perhaps illegally. Yet it is PP, not Mr Daleiden, that is currently subject to four congressional investigations.”
• Cummings, joined by many Democrats in Congress, has accused Daleiden of illegal activity during the filming of his undercover videos alleging PP sold aborted fetal tissue. Dems have urged the DoJ to investigate. PP says the videos were distorted with deliberately deceptive edits and denies allegations it has improperly used fetal tissue from abortions
• Meanwhile, the House is considering a vote this week to create a select subcommittee to investigate PP. The subcommittee would fall under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee. It was announced by Rep Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn), who would serve as the panel’s chairwoman. Democrats rolled their eyes


• CNN confirmed Monday that any Democratic candidate who has averaged 1% in at least three credible polls dating back to 1 Aug can participate in its 13 Oct debate in Las Vegas. VP Joe Biden qualifies – he’s been in double digits. Now all he has to do is jump into the race. Every other declared Democratic candidate qualifies, too (Hill, me)
Syrian Commander Gave US Weapons to al Nusra Front (Hill, Hill, TRNS, me)
• But. But. The Syrian commander who handed over U.S. weapons to an al Qaeda affiliate wasn’t trained by the U.S. and did so to secure safe passage for his group, officials are now saying (oh phew). Officials at first said that no weapons were given to al Nusra Front, but then admitted about a quarter of the rebel group’s weapons were given to the enemy (oops)
• Last week, U.S. Centcom announced that about 70 U.S.-trained rebels had re-entered Syria through Turkey and joined the New Syrian Forces. Almost immediately after, reports began swirling on social media that some of the rebels had defected to al Qaeda and given up the U.S.-supplied weapons. Centcom initially said no way, didn’t happen
• Friday, Centcom admitted that a commander gave six pickup trucks and some ammunition to al Nusra in Syria. The commander had been contacted by a suspected al Nusra intermediary and told he would be ambushed en route to a new location unless he surrendered some of his equipment, a Centcom spox said. The commander did so Tuesday and told Centcom on Friday
• The U.S. training program has been under fire since Centcom commander Gen Lloyd Austin told a Senate committee only “four or five” of the original class of rebels remain in Syria. Pentagon officials later upped that number to nine (so – huge, then…). Sen Chris Murphy (D-Conn) on Monday called on the Pentagon to suspend its training program – failure


• Donald Trump released his tax plan Monday. The Economist magazine says: “Mr Trump says the country’s ‘top’ economists helped to develop his plan; alas, for now they remain anonymous. Any contributor would be wise to stay in the background. Mr Trump’s plan is twaddle.” NYT says the plan doesn’t add up, and is a tax cut for hedge fund managers


Benghazi – Clinton Emails Contd… (Politico, Politico, me)
• The GOP-led House Benghazi Committee wants to question lawyer Heather Samuelson, the former Hillary Clinton campaign staffer who helped decide which of the former secstate’s emails should be kept as official govt records. Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans also want a crack at her
• Earlier this year, Clinton said she didn’t begin using her homemade email server until March 2009, about two months after she began working at State. But State said Friday it received copies of a Jan 2009 exchange from her private account with Gen David Petraeus – which had been forwarded from the dept’s IG and the DOD
• Clinton dodged questions on Meet the Press Sunday, saying her attorneys supervised it and they turned over what was available. When pressed on the timeline discrepancy, Clinton said, “There was a transition period. You know, I wasn’t that focused on my email account to be clear here.” Personal emails were deleted but the FBI has recovered those docs – reports
• Meanwhile, the House Benghazi Committee on Monday interviewed former CIA deputy director Michael Morell. He was involved in writing a series of controversial talking points after the Benghazi attack. Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intel Agency, will appear today
• In April 2014, Morell appeared before the House Intel Committee and said, “Let me emphasize again: There is no truth to the allegations that the CIA or I ‘cooked the books’ with regard to what happened in Benghazi and then tried to cover this up after the fact.”


• Is there life on Mars? Data from a NASA satellite show dark streaks on the surface of Mars on slopes. They appear to be associated with salt deposits and scientists think they can connect them to periodic flows of liquid water in the summer months – meaning microbes could also be present (TRNS, BBC)
US Airstrikes Aim to Retake Afghan City From Taliban (BBC, Reuters, me)
• U.S. military planes hit Taliban positions on the outskirts of the fallen northern city of Kunduz this morning, a NATO spox said, as Afghan national forces launched a counterattack to try to retake the city, which was seized by the Taliban on Monday. NATO officially ended its combat role in Afghanistan last year
• Afghan troops and officials had retreated to the airport after militants overran the northern city and freed hundreds from jail. It was one of the most significant militant assaults in years and will pile pressure on President Ashraf Ghani’s unity govt – Kunduz is the first provincial capital seized by the Taliban since they lost power in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001
• Analysts say their main challenge will be to hold the city. Reinforcements have arrived from neighboring provinces to help try to retake Kunduz. “Serious fighting is going on,” interior ministry official Matin Safraz said
• Phone and power services for most of the city were still down. Kunduz is strategically important as a transport hub for the north of the country. Militant violence has increased since the departure of most U.S. and NATO forces last year, although U.S. drones still target militant leaders


• Trevor Noah made his debut on The Daily Show on Monday night. And the world didn’t end. The show didn’t go down the drain. Same theme music. Moment of Zen. Noah explained that Amy Schumer and Amy Poehler turned the show down, same with the other Americans they asked. So: “A job Americans rejected is now being done by an immigrant.” Gonna be OK

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ William McDonald, Nicholas Salazar, Loree Lewis and Brittany Gervais contributed to this report


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