Sam's Top 5 Things to Know for Friday

1. The U.S. military launched 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield yesterday (AP)

It’s the first direct American assault on the government of President Bashar Assad since that country’s civil war began six years ago.

The operation dramatically expands U.S. military involvement in Syria and exposes the United States to heightened risk of direct confrontation with Russia and Iran, both backing Assad in his attempt to crush his opposition.

President Donald Trump said the strike was in the “vital national security interest” of the United States and called on “all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria. And also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.”

He went on to say, “we ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed and we hope that as long as America stands for justice then peace and harmony will in the end prevail.”

The missiles were launched from two Navy destroyers – the USS Ross and USS Porter – in the eastern Mediterranean. They struck an airbase called Shayrat in Homs province, which is the site from which the planes that conducted the chemical attack in Idlib are believed to have originated. The targets included air defenses, aircraft, hangars and fuel.

The military said initial indications were that the strike had “severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure.” Syrian state TV said a U.S. missile attack hit a number of military targets inside the country, calling the attack an “aggression,” according to the Associated Press.

2. Republicans have gone ‘nuclear’ in order to bust through the Democratic filibuster on Gorsuch (Fox News)

Senate Republicans deployed the so-called “nuclear option” Thursday in their drive to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, dramatically changing the way the Senate does business in order to overcome a Democratic filibuster.

In a fast-paced chain of events that clears the way for Gorsuch to be confirmed by Friday morning, majority Republicans changed Senate precedent so that a high court nominee can advance to a final vote with a simple majority of 51 senators, as opposed to 60.

While congressional Republicans and President Trump are now virtually guaranteed to get Gorsuch on the high court, the impact of the events that played out Thursday could be felt for years, if not decades, to come. Each party blamed the other for the escalation and the breakdown in the Senate’s parliamentary decorum.  It means for the foreseeable future, the minority party will have significantly less leverage to oppose any nominee to the highest court in the land, no matter who is president.

3. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has stepped down while the Ethics Committee looks into charges against him (Star Tribune)

The House Ethics Committee released a statement yesterday saying it had "determined to investigate" allegations that "Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct."

Nunes denied the charges as "entirely false and politically motivated," blaming "several left-wing activist groups" for filing complaints with the Office of Congressional Ethics. Nunes said his recusal — which applies only to the committee's Russia investigation — would be in effect while the House Ethics Committee looks into the matter, noting that he had asked to speak with that committee "at the earliest possible opportunity in order to expedite the dismissal of these false claims."

4. House Republicans have moved to exempt a pipeline project from state regulators (Pioneer Press)

Republican lawmakers advanced legislation yesterday that would allow a Canadian energy company to bypass regulatory hurdles and build a $7.5 billion replacement for an existing oil pipeline in Minnesota.

It was part of a larger jobs and energy bill that also passed largely along party lines by a vote of 76-55. Debate over the Enbridge Energy pipeline amendment lasted several hours as Democrats tried to block the provision, citing issues with American Indian treaty conflicts, the environment and the precedent set by side-stepping the the Public Utilities Commission. The commission is considering a number of alternative routes, but the amendment allows Enbridge to use its preferred route.

The pipeline currently runs 1,097 miles from Alberta, Canada, clips the northeast corner of North Dakota and traverses northern Minnesota on its way to Superior, Wisconsin. The preferred replacement line would closely follow the route of the old pipeline, with a few changes in Minnesota that attempt to skirt American Indian land. But the tribes still oppose the new route because they say it would cross treaty land even if not the reservation.

Opponents said the northern Minnesota portion of the route is full of trees and water that is susceptible to major damage from an oil spill. The area is also home to waters where Ojibwe bands harvest wild rice and a number of American Indian protesters were at the Capitol earlier in the day to rally against the bill.


5. The Minnesota DNR pushing for hunting, fishing fee hikes (Pioneer Press)

The Minnesota Natural Resources Commissioner is pressing the Legislature for hunting and fishing fee hikes to generate more money for fish and wildlife management and state park maintenance. Under Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal, a deer hunting tag would go from $30 to about $34. A fishing license would increase $3, to $25. A state park pass would rise by a dollar per day.

Republican House and Senate leaders are skeptical of increases. House Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Dan Fabian says people he’s talked to want the DNR to do a better job of managing resources.

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