Capital Journal: Mattis Departs Over Troop Withdrawals; Shutdown Nears; U.S. to Try ‘Catch and Return’

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What We’re Watching

Congress: This morning, President Trump pledged a partial government shutdown that would “that will last for a very long time” if Democrats don’t vote for a spending bill that includes funding for a border wall.

White House: President Trump participates in signing ceremonies in the morning and afternoon, including one for the criminal-justice overhaul bill.

Iowa: The 2020 Democratic primary field could be the party’s largest since 1976, when Jimmy Carter emerged from a crowded field. Dozens of candidates could soon be canvassing Iowa’s 99 counties.

Defense and Foreign Policy

Jim Mattis announced his resignation after President Trump ordered troop drawdowns. The defense secretary said he would step down at the end of February after Mr. Trump said he would pull all troops from Syria and many from Afghanistan, Nancy A. Youssef and Rebecca Ballhaus report.

  • Mr. Mattis, in his resignation letter, said his views no longer “aligned” with the president’s, an abrupt departure of a military figure considered a stalwart of national security.
  • Mr. Trump had handpicked the group of decorated military men to guide his administration. Two years into this administration, all three men have left or are parting ways.

More than 7,000 American troops will begin to return home from Afghanistan in the coming weeks. The order come a day after Mr. Trump announced that he would pull all of the more than 2,000 American troops from Syria, Gordon Lubold and Jessica Donati report. Taken together, the withdrawals represent a dramatic shift in the U.S. approach to military engagement in hot spots around the world.

The Trump administration has given Iraq permission to buy Iranian natural gas without penalty for at least three more months. The move comes after pledges from Baghdad to buy American oil and energy technology, write Benoit Faucon, Timothy Puko and Isabel Coles.

White House and Congress

President Trump and House Republicans upended a bipartisan effort to fund the government until February. A day of sudden reversals left lawmakers with no clear path to avoid a partial government shutdown this weekend, Kristina Peterson, Rebecca Ballhaus and Joshua Jamerson report.

  • The president told House GOP leaders hastily summoned to the White House that he would veto the short-term spending bill approved by the Senate Wednesday because it didn’t contain wall funding.
  • The House, which initially had been expected to pass the Senate version of the bill, instead passed a measure with $ 5.7 billion in funding for the border wall. The bill is almost certain to be blocked in the Senate.
  • More than 380,000 federal employees face a furlough in a shutdown.
Political Intelligence

Alexander Retirement Is Blunt Reminder for GOP
By Andrew Duehren

A bipartisan compromise to overcome a seemingly intractable policy disagreement devolved again into partisan bickering Thursday when the Agriculture Department proposed a new regulation to tighten work requirements for food stamps.

The work requirements had been at the center of the congressional battle over the five-year farm bill, which President Trump signed into law on Thursday. House Republicans had wanted to require more low-income Americans to work or look for work before they could receive aid to pay for groceries. House Democrats and the Senate did not support that controversial effort, and the final compromise bill did not include the tighter work requirements. The $ 867 billion bill passed both chambers with wide bipartisan support.

The Agriculture Department moved Thursday to reduce the number of work requirement exemptions states can grant, in effect using a regulatory backdoor to accomplish what House Republicans could not pass in Congress. Currently, states can exempt adults from the work requirements if they live in areas with higher levels of unemployment. The Trump administration rule would raise the minimum of level of unemployment necessary for adults in an area to qualify for an exemption.

Proponents of the change call it an important step towards trimming bloated social welfare programs, pointing toward the strength of the economy nationwide as evidence that able-bodied adults should be able to find work.

“Long-term reliance on government assistance has never been part of the American dream,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “As we make benefits available to those who truly need them, we must also encourage participants to take proactive steps toward self-sufficiency.

But critics say that the rule would strip hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans from critical federal assistance.

“Congress writes laws and the Administration is required to write rules based on the law, not the other way around,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow(D., Mich.), the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. “I do not support unilateral and unjustified changes that would take food away from families.”

Of course, a deal on food stamp work requirements was not the only bipartisan consensus to disappear on Thursday, when President Trump renewed his promise to shut down the government without ample border wall funding and House Republicans turned their back on a compromise spending bill.

Write to Andrew Duehren at

Inside Look

Will Immigration Reform Make a Comeback Next Year?
By Jerry Seib

Congress was close to passing a comprehensive deal on immigration reform at the beginning of the year. Then it fell apart. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib takes a look at key elements of the bill and whether lawmakers could revive it next year.

U.S. and Latin America

The Trump administration plans to return some migrants to Mexico while their immigration proceedings go forward rather than allow them to remain in the U.S., Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Thursday. Migrants will be given Mexican humanitarian visas, allowing them to enter and leave the country and work in Mexico, Joshua Jamerson and Juan Montes write.

On Capitol Hill, Ms. Nielsen answered questions from lawmakers about a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl, Jakelin Caal Maquin, who died this month at a hospital in El Paso, Texas. She was asked how many other children had died in the custody of DHS, writes Joshua Jamerson.  “I’ll get back to you on that figure,” Ms. Nielsen said. “I’m not going to guess under oath.”

U.S. and China

The U.S. charged two Chinese citizens over hacking companies and agencies. The charges come amid a broader push by the U.S. to deter cyberattacks and technology theft, and to reset trade relations with the world’s second largest economy on more favorable terms, through tariffs, sanctions, indictments and investment restrictions, write Dustin Volz, Kate O’Keeffe and Bob Davis.

– IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise were believed to be among the companies whose computer-services operations were breached by hackers.

– The hacking group is also charged with stealing personal information, including Social Security numbers and dates of birth, from over 100,000 Navy personnel.

– Using monikers including “Godkiller” and “Atreexp,” the pair allegedly spent over a decade breaking into computer networks.

What We’re Reading

President Trump’s recent decisions and actions have led to a fracturing of his political coalition. (Washington Post)

In his daily commentary, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh urges President Trump to follow through on his threat to close down the government over border-wall funding and says he doesn’t understand the “esteem” in which he will be held if he does so. (Rush Limbaugh)

President Trump doesn’t seem burdened by his office, but it would help his cause to conform to norms by acting more presidential. (Boston Herald)

About Us

This newsletter is a production of the WSJ Washington bureau. The newsletter’s editors are Tim Hanrahan, Kate Milani andTroy McCullough. Send feedback to

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