Happy Friday, this is the Morning Guide to Politics.
Bulletin: President Trump jabs at McConnell on Twitter and to the press
Congress is out of session right now, and traditionally that means there would be an ‘August lull’. But no, because we have President Donald Trump in office, it’s just as eventful as when Congress is in session. Yesterday was highlighted by President Trump calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell out on Twitter, his desired platform for venting his feelings. This is strange because although President Trump has had issues with other Republicans as President (Jeff Flake, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, Dean Heller, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins) just to name a few, McConnell and Trump have had a good relationship in the past two years. These jabs at McConnell show just how disconnected President Trump feels from the Republican party. When he tweets about the Senate’s health care reform efforts, he typically calls the Senate GOP ‘the Republicans’, not ‘us Republicans’, or ‘we’. It makes some sense though because the Republican party doesn’t really owe him anything. He isn’t really much of a Republican, he isn’t a Lindsay Graham type, he’s a populist president. But he will not be able to advance his agenda come September when the Congress gavels in if he continues to demonize GOP leaders publicly. He has fired Reince Priebus, the former RNC chair, attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Twitter, attacked multiple members of the Senate GOP via Twitter, and now he is going after the leader of the Senate GOP. Mitch McConnell is one of the most powerful people in Washington, his wife, Elaine Chao, is the Secretary of Education for President Trump. McConnell and Chao have been in Washington for decades, they are an institution. If President Trump wants to get anything done in terms of legislation, his big priorities such as infrastructure, tax reform, and possibly repeal and replace of the ACA, he needs McConnell on his side. This is a moron political move.
Trump tweets–A daily ritual
-Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn’t get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!
-Mitch, get back to work and put Repeal & Replace, Tax Reform & Cuts and a great Infrastructure Bill on my desk for signing. You can do it!
-“Trump approval rebounds to 45%, surges among Hispanics, union homes, men”
Retweets: President Trump retweeted Fox&Friends, Progress Polls, Bloomberg Markets, and posted an article from the Washington Examiner.
Get smart fast
- President Donald Trump intensified his rhetoric on North Korea Thursday. On Wednesday he made the now famous “fire and fury” comment, but when engaged in a lengthy discussion with reporters, he said maybe ‘fire and fury’ “wasn’t tough enough.” Trump said that he would get tougher on North Korea and that it’s time a president “stuck up for the country,” further intensifying an already heated climate between North Korea and the United States.
- In response to the Kremlin’s announcement that Russia would be expelling 755 U.S. diplomats on Thursday, President Trump publicly thanked Putin for it. “I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, per the pool. “There’s no real reason for them to go back,” he added. “I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’re going to save a lot of money.” Russia’s decision that they would be ordering 755 U.S. diplomats out of the country by September was in direct response to the new sanctions passed by Congress that will surely hurt the Russian economy, which is already struggling. [The rest here in Politico]
- President Trump’s friend, billionaire Tom Barrack, is said to be named U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Barrack, a gregarious billionaire, is rumored to be skeptical about taking the position, but the White House said that it’s there for Barrack if he wants it. This post is especially important in the Trump era, which has seen heightened tension with Mexico over President Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the southern border, as well as calling for a general containment in immigration from Mexico’s borders. Like many Trump senior officials, Barrack would need to find a way to handle his finances so that there is no conflict of interest.
- The Feds sought the cooperation of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s son-in-law. His son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, has been involved in some business ventures with Manafort. Manafort is the target of many investigations into interference by Russia in the 2016 presidential election. Manafort is under scrutiny because he has many ties with foreign governments through work he has done for them over the years. [Full story in Politico]
The full story
Pent-up Trump lets it rip on vacation-Politico
There has been no sudden national crisis this week, like the underwear bomber who on Christmas Day 2009 forced President Barack Obama to react to a terror attack dressed in an open collar shirt while enjoying his annual Hawaiian vacation.
But President Donald Trump, perhaps feeling too constrained by Twitter’s 140-character limit, decided Thursday was a good time to react, anyway. To everything.
On Day Four of his working vacation, Trump summoned reporters to his Bedminster National Golf Club twice in one day, in order to unburden himself on everything from the North Korean nuclear threat, to Vladimir Putin’s decision to oust U.S. personnel from the American Embassy in Moscow, to his growing frustrations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
It wasn’t a full news conference — Trump took questions only from the small group of rotating reporters who make up the traveling press pool when the president leaves Washington, D.C. But it was Trump’s most extensive back-and-forth with reporters since he last held a full news conference in February.
A White House official said the decision to answer questions was made solely by Trump, who did not give his staff a head’s up that he planned to engage on any topic that happened to be lobbed at him. He had warned staffers only that he would see whether reporters had any questions when they entered the room, in a building next to a swimming pool filled with guests, for a photo-op ahead of a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. He said he would decide from there how he would react. The result was a fusillade of news.
“I want to thank him,” Trump said of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to new U.S. sanctions — a cut of 755 American Embassy officials. “We’re trying to cut down on payroll and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump added, in what was perhaps the most shocking, if not out of character, news he made all day.
He also doubled down on his impromptu and alarmist “fire and fury” threat to North Korea, saying that the comment “maybe wasn’t tough enough.”
In the past, when Trump has made news on Twitter or in interviews — like when he first publicly castigated Attorney General Jeff Sessions to The New York Times, or when he accused morning show host Mika Brzezinski of “bleeding badly from a face-lift” on Twitter — White House officials admit that the president is simply venting publicly the thoughts he has been stewing on privately for weeks.
But his comment thanking Putin, on Thursday, caught even senior White House officials by surprise — it was a sentiment some said they had not yet heard him express, even behind closed doors. The rest, however, was not news to those who speak to Trump regularly.
When asked whether he thought McConnell, the man he will need as a partner to get any piece of his legislative agenda accomplished, should step down, Trump did not say no. “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “If he doesn’t get repeal and replace done, and if he doesn’t get taxes done, meaning cuts and reform, and if he doesn’t get a very easy one to get done, infrastructure, if he doesn’t get them done, then you can ask me that question.”
McConnell on the hot seat seemed to take the pressure off Trump’s ongoing anger with Sessions. When asked about the state of their relationship, Trump said, resignedly, “it is what it is.”
Trump also declared the country’s opioid epidemic a “national emergency,” defended his decision to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military, said he has not considered firing special counsel Robert Mueller, and distanced himself from his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, whose house was raided by the FBI late last month, saying he hadn’t spoken to him in “a long time.”
“You know, they do that very seldom, so I was surprised to see it,” he said. “I was very, very surprised to see it. I thought it was a very, very strong signal, or whatever.”
The decision to hold a mini-press availability in the middle of his vacation was a departure from how previous presidents and their staffs have tried to organize their limited down time.
“We weren’t ever looking for opportunities to make news,” Josh Earnest, who served as Obama’s press secretary, said of the former president’s getaways to Hawaii or Martha’s Vineyard.
Earnest explained the old process: Staff would try to squeeze the necessary phone calls and security briefings into a 90-minute morning session they had with Obama, following his daily workout. The rest of the day, the president would spend playing golf, or hanging out with his family. Obama would carry his BlackBerry with him for emergencies, and his staff would make sure that he responded to crises, like the flooding situation in Louisiana in 2016.
Trump declares opioid crisis a national emergency-CNN
President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency Thursday, a designation that would offer states and federal agencies more resources and power to combat the epidemic.
North Korea’s substantial nuclear arsenal and improving intercontinental ballistic missile capacity pose a growing threat to America’s security. But we need not face an immediate crisis if we play our hand carefully.
Given the bluster emanating from Pyongyang and Bedminster, N.J., Americans can be forgiven for feeling anxious.
Shortly after adoption of new United Nations sanctions last weekend, North Korea threatened retaliation against the United States “thousands of times” over. Those sanctions were especially potent, closing loopholes and cutting off important funding for the North. August is also when the United States and South Korea conduct major joint military exercises, which always set Pyongyang on edge. In August 2015, tensions escalated into cross-border artillery exchanges after two South Korean soldiers were wounded by land mines laid by North Korea. This juxtaposition of tough sanctions and military exercises has predictably heightened North Korea’s threats.
We have long lived with successive Kims’ belligerent and colorful rhetoric — as ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, I came to expect it whenever we passed resolutions. What is unprecedented and especially dangerous this time is the reaction of President Trump. Unscripted, the president said on Tuesday that if North Korea makes new threats to the United States, “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” These words risk tipping the Korean Peninsula into war, if the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, believes them and acts precipitously.
Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively. The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.
We carefully studied this contingency. “Preventive war” would result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties. Metropolitan Seoul’s 26 million people are only 35 miles from the border, within easy range of the North’s missiles and artillery. About 23,000 United States troops, plus their families, live between Seoul and the Demilitarized Zone; in total, at least 200,000 Americans reside in South Korea.
Japan, and almost 40,000 United States military personnel there, would also be in the cross hairs. The risk to American territory cannot be discounted, nor the prospect of China being drawn into a direct conflict with the United States. Then there would be the devastating impact of war on the global economy.
CNN fires Jeffrey Lorde after Nazi tweet-Politico
CNN on Thursday fired contributor and staunch Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord after he tweeted a Nazi salute.
“Nazi salutes are indefensible,” a CNN spokesperson said in a statement. “Jeffrey Lord is no longer with the network.”
Lord sent the tweet as part of a back-and-forth with Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters for America, a prominent liberal group.
Lord, who was an early pro-Donald Trump commentator on the network, later said on Twitter that he sent the tweet to mock “Nazis and fascists.”
Carusone has called for Lord’s firing in the past. Lord has in turn been critical of Carusone and the liberal group, saying they were playing “a fascist game” by supporting ad boycotts of Fox News host Sean Hannity.
Lord seemingly reacted to the news on Twitter. “LOL!” he tweeted at 5:55 p.m., soon after his firing was announced.
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