Newly sworn-in Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue brought to the Oval Office an illustration of the areas that would be hardest hit if the United States pulled out of the compact, particularly in agriculture and manufacturing. It highlighted that many of those who would suffer from a trade war — especially exporters — live in “Trump country,” the counties that voted most overwhelmingly for him last November.
“It shows that I do have a very big farmer base, which is good,” Trump recalled in an interview with The Washington Post last night. “They like Trump, but I like them, and I’m going to help them.”
“I was all set to terminate,” Trump explained in the Oval Office. “I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it.” He turned to Jared Kushner, who was standing near his desk, and asked, “Was I ready to terminate NAFTA?” “Yeah,” his son-in-law replied.
That is one of many great details in The Post’s story about Trump’s sudden shift on the issue by Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker, Damian Paletta and Karen DeYoung. (Read the whole thing here.)
Trump had planned to make the dramatic announcement of his intention to withdraw during a prime-time rally on Saturday night in Harrisburg, Pa. — at the heart of a Rust Belt state that delivered him the White House. The rally was timed to coincide with his 100th day in office, and with the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. His populist advisers had urged him to follow through on what was a central promise of his campaign. Chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon has had the words “NAFTA” and “April 29” written on a white board in his office.
But Trump’s view changed once he thought about the politics differently. This is part of a pattern that has emerged clearly since January. In another interview yesterday, Trump dismissed questions about the split inside his White House between the nationalists and the globalists. “Hey, I’m a nationalist and a globalist,” the president told the Wall Street Journal. “I’m both. And I’m the only one who makes the decision, believe me."
-- Six months after his unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton, the president still brings up the election constantly in public and private settings.
Midway through a third interview yesterday, with Reuters, Trump was talking about Chinese President Xi Jinping when he paused to hand out copies of what he described as the latest figures from the 2016 electoral map. “Here, you can take that, that's the final map of the numbers," the Republican said from behind his desk. "It’s pretty good, right? The red is obviously us.” Trump had copies for each of the three Reuters reporters in the room.
The elites told Trump he could never win the presidency. He proved them all wrong. That created a false sense of confidence about his readiness to be commander in chief. He thought the people who said he couldn’t change Washington were the same ones who said he couldn’t win the election. He genuinely believed governing would be a lot like campaigning and that he could prove the haters wrong again.
“I thought it would be easier,” Trump admitted to Reuters. “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life."
The president has been refreshingly candid about his political education during various sit-downs with reporters in the run-up to Day 100.
“Making business decisions and buying buildings don’t involve heart,” Trump told Politico for a piece that posted yesterday. “This involves heart. These are heavy decisions.” An unnamed White House official was quoted in the same piece saying, “I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here. But this sh*t is hard.”
-- As Trump tries to find his footing for the next chapter of his presidency, he is increasingly trying to show some deliverables for the coalition that elected him. He wants to reward his base for sticking with him even as his approval rating slipped into the low 40s. Sometimes, in the case of NAFTA, that might require breaking a promise.
One of the most persuasive arguments advisers can make to Trump is that something will benefit his voters. There’s something deeply tribal about it.
Consider one element of the tax reform proposal he rolled out this week. Ending the deduction for state and local taxes, which allows individuals to subtract their home-state levies from their federal taxable income, would disproportionately hurt people who live in blue states and not make much difference for his voters in red states. “That move was a major shift for Mr. Trump, who [as a New Yorker] previously had called for capping deductions but not killing the break,” the Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin reports. “It would shift the tax burden from low-tax states such as Texas and Florida to high-tax states such as New York and New Jersey. … Democrats mobilizing to defend the deduction are in the awkward position of standing up for a tax measure that helps some of the highest-income Americans — the same people they typically say don’t pay enough in taxes.”
This reflects a slight shift in the administration’s posture since the failure of the health care bill last month. Trump was stung by all the stories about how the GOP’s proposal would disproportionately hurt people in counties that backed him. He found himself on the defensive in a Fox News interview in mid-March when Tucker Carlson asked about it. “I know that, I know,” Trump lamented. “It’s very preliminary.”
We also saw this dynamic at play with Trump’s demand for money to construct the border wall. As I wrote in Tuesday’s Big Idea, Trump knew he was very unlikely to get what he wanted, but he made a show of threatening to shut down the federal government to reassure his core supporters that he’s trying to follow through on what they elected him to do. As he told the Associated Press last Friday, “My base definitely wants the border wall. You've been to many of the rallies? The thing they want more than anything is the wall.”
-- Trump’s speech this afternoon at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Atlanta is another illustration of how he’s looking to reward his core supporters. He will be the first sitting president to address the convention since Ronald Reagan did more than three decades ago. “The NRA has been a muscular force in American politics for decades. But last year it spent more for Trump than any outside group and began its efforts earlier than in any other presidential cycle,” Tom Hamburger, John Wagner and Rosalind S. Helderman report. “A comparison … of ad spending between 2012 and 2016 found that the gun rights organization spent more than three times as much money to assist Trump as it spent backing … Mitt Romney in 2012, airing 4.5 times as many individual ads.” A very strong case can be made that the president wouldn’t have carried Pennsylvania without NRA air cover.
The group’s big bet paid off. It already got more than its money’s worth when Trump put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. “The organization also got an early win when Trump signed legislation repealing an Obama administration regulation that sought to block gun purchases by certain people who are unable to administer their own financial affairs,” Tom, John and Ros note. “In the months ahead, the NRA will be looking for Trump to put his weight behind a bill in Congress that would make concealed-carry permits valid in states other than those in which they were issued. Trump endorsed the concept during the campaign, likening it to the portability of driver’s licenses. Also high on the NRA’s agenda is the Hearing Protection Act, which would remove federal registration and identification requirements for those seeking gun silencers. That measure has been touted by the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., an avid hunter.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- America’s gross domestic product, a broad measure of economic growth, grew by just 0.7 percent in the first three months of the year, according to government data issued this morning, an estimate economists say is more likely due to measurement error than Trump’s performance as president. “Most economists had been expecting a lackluster growth report for the first quarter, with analysts surveyed by Reuters predicting the figure would be around 1.2 percent,” Ana Swanson and Max Ehrenfreund report. “But some expected more disappointing results, like the Atlanta Federal Reserve, which projected growth of just 0.2 percent. Consumers spent more in the first quarter, according to the report, but reduced spending at all levels of government brought down the official estimate. So did a strong dollar, which reduced exports and increased imports.”
-- House Republicans delayed a vote to rewrite parts of the Affordable Care Act, denying the Trump administration a critical victory after a late push to act on health care threatened the bipartisan deal to fund the government. Kelsey Snell and Paul Kane report: “The failure of Republicans to unite behind the new health-care measure was a blow to White House officials, who were eager to see a vote ahead of [Trump’s] 100-day mark. Congressional leaders were more focused this week on securing a spending agreement … It was also evidence of just how divided Republicans are about how to overhaul Obamacare, despite seven years of GOP promises to repeal and replace the 2010 law. Conservatives and moderates have repeatedly clashed over the contours of such a revamp, most sharply over bringing down insurance premiums in exchange for limiting the kind of coverage that is required to be offered.” As many as 15 or so House Republicans publicly said they will not support the latest proposal; crafted among the White House, the House Freedom Caucus, and a leading moderate lawmaker. That leaves Paul Ryan and the Trump administration with an incredibly narrow path for passage. Ryan is only able to lose 22 Republicans on the vote.
-- Arkansas executed a death-row inmate late last night with the state’s fourth lethal injection in eight days, concluding a frenetic schedule that authorities said was “necessary” to avoid expiration of one of their lethal injection drugs. Mark Berman reports: “Court orders ultimately blocked half of the scheduled lethal injections, including a second that had also been scheduled for Thursday night, even as the state was able to resume executions for the first time in more than a decade. The execution of Kenneth Williams, who was convicted of killing a man he fatally shot after escaping from a prison where he was serving a life sentence for another killing, came after his attorneys appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that he was intellectually disabled and not fit to be executed. Relatives of another of Williams’ victims … also pleaded for his life, asking the governor to call off his execution.” Still, these pleas went unanswered, and Williams was executed late Thursday and pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m.
An AP reporter who witnessed his execution said he lurched and convulsed 20 times before he died. Williams’s attorney said accounts of the execution are “horrifying" and requested a full investigation into what happened.
GET SMART FAST:
- Lawyers for the United Airlines passenger who was violently dragged off a flight earlier this month said they have reached an “amicable” settlement with the airline company. (Lori Aratani)
- A Wisconsin man said he was removed from a Delta Airlines flight after he got up from his seat during takeoff to make an emergency restroom run. Video footage shows the passenger attempting to explain his situation to in-flight personnel, who eventually ordered all passengers to exit the flight, and, upon re-boarding, did not allow him to enter the plane. (Lindsey Bever)
- The only federally-funded voucher program in the U.S. has a negative effect on student achievement, particularly in math, according to a federal analysis of the program. The new evaluation follows recent studies of several state-funded voucher programs that also showed a negative effect on achievement, and comes as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seeks to pour pour billions of dollars into expanding vouchers and other public-school alternatives. (Emma Brown and Mandy McLaren)
- Police arrested a German army officer suspected of posing for years as a Syrian refugee to carry out a terrorist attack, which would then be blamed on migrants. (Stephanie Kirchner)
- The embattled leader of Uber’s self-driving car program stepped down, amid accusations that he stole some 14,000 documents from a competitor containing technology designs and other intellectual property. (Steven Overly)
- The California-based advocacy group Consumer Watchdog called on the FTC to investigate recent reports that Uber could identify specific iPhone devices even after users deleted its app. (Steven Overly)
- Saudi authorities sentenced to death a man who insulted the prophet Muhammad on Twitter, ignoring his pleas of insanity, as well a those of human rights groups who say he likely suffers from a mental disorder. His case provides a small glimpse into the kingdom's judicial system, which routinely tries to hide capital trials and death sentences from the outside world. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
- A Russian naval intelligence ship sank off Turkey’s coast after colliding, in foggy conditions, with a cargo vessel carrying more than 8,000 livestock. The Russian crew members and the livestock escaped from the incident unscathed. (Kareem Fahim and Andrew Roth)
- Baltimore is asking the FBI for help as it battles a recent spike in violent crime, including 2017 homicide levels that are on track to reach a two-decade high. (CNN)
- A federal judge ruled that a predominantly white Alabama city may separate from its more diverse school district, even though the judge concluded that the action was racially-motivated and sent messages of racial inferiority and exclusion to black children. (Emma Brown)
- Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill this week that would ban the practice of “conversion therapy," or treatments that have historically targeted the LBGT community and claim to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The highly controversial practice has been decried by dozens of mental health, medical and LBGT advocacy groups as harmful and misleading – but very few states have passed legislation to ban it. (Amy B Wang)
- LBGT advocates are also incensed over a one-page bill passed by the Tennessee legislature, which requires all “undefined words” in state law “be given their natural and ordinary meaning.” Critics say the seemingly-innocuous language is actually a veiled attempt to undermine same-sex marriage. (Sandhya Somashekhar)
ESCALATION ON KOREA:
-- A new North Korean propaganda video shows simulated attacks on the U.S. and declareS that “the enemy to be destroyed is in our sights.” It shows photos of the White House and aircraft carriers with a target on them – as if they are in the cross-hairs – before panning to simulated footage of an aircraft carrier exploding into flames. A final caption reads: "When the enemy takes the first step toward provocation and invasion.” (Anna Fifield)
-- "There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely," Trump told Reuters yesterday. "We'd love to solve things diplomatically, but it's very difficult.” Trump, asked if he considered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to be rational, said he was operating from the assumption that he is rational: "He's 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age. I'm not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I'm just saying that's a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he's rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he's rational.” (Aaron Blake analyzes the comments on The Fix.)
-- Rex Tillerson said yesterday that the Trump administration is willing to bargain directly with North Korea over ending its nuclear weapons program, an apparent shift in policy aimed at strengthening international resolve. Ann Gearan reports: “’Obviously, that will be the way we would like to solve this,’ Tillerson said in an interview with NPR scheduled to air [today] … ‘But North Korea has to decide they’re ready to talk to us about the right agenda, and the right agenda is not simply stopping where they are for a few more months or a few more years and then resuming things. That’s been the agenda for the last 20 years.’ It is not fully clear what that means, but in the NPR interview and another Thursday with Fox News, Tillerson began to sketch a diplomatic approach for the new administration that focuses on international pressure and leveraging China’s economic power over its impoverished ally. At issue is the simultaneous effort in North Korea to perfect a nuclear warhead that could be delivered far from its shores and to develop missiles with a range long enough to be a threat to the United States. Undeterred, North Korea could have that capability within a few years — likely during [Trump’s] first term in office.”
-- Meanwhile, Trump threatened to terminate the U.S. trade agreement with South Korea during his interview with The Post night, saying the five-year accord with Seoul was a “horrible deal” and “a Hillary Clinton disaster” that has left America “destroyed.” Philip Rucker reports: “During an Oval Office interview about trade policy in North America, Trump served notice that he is looking to disrupt an important partnership in the tumultuous Asia-Pacific region as well — even with Seoul on edge because of North Korea’s escalating military provocations. Trump sharply criticized the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as Korus, the latest version of which was ratified in 2011. ‘It’s a horrible deal. It was a Hillary Clinton disaster, a deal that should’ve never been made,’ Trump said … ‘It’s a one-way street.’ South Korea is the United States’ sixth-largest goods trade partner, and the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea was $27.7 billion last year, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Next week marks an anniversary for Korus and triggers a review period to potentially renegotiate or ratify a new version of the agreement. ‘We’ve told them that we’ll either terminate or negotiate,’ Trump said. ‘We may terminate.’"
FOGGY BOTTOM WATCH:
-- The State Department wants to rein in U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. “She has often been the first, most outspoken member of the Trump administration to weigh in on key foreign policy issues, on everything from military strikes on Syria to sanctions against Russia,” the New York Times reports. “Much of that has come as a surprise to the State Department, and [Tillerson] has often been far from the limelight. Now, in an apparent attempt to foster greater coherence in American foreign policy, State Department officials are urging her aides to ensure her public remarks are cleared by Washington first. An email drafted by State Department diplomats urged Ms. Haley’s office to rely on ‘building blocks’ written by the department to prepare her remarks. Her comments should be ‘re-cleared with Washington if they are substantively different from the building blocks, or if they are on a high-profile issue such as Syria, Iran, Israel-Palestine, or the D.P.R.K.,’ added the email.” The request underlines the vastly contrasting styles of the Trump administration’s two top diplomats, Haley and Tillerson, who, who will appear together today the first time at a U.N. Security Council meeting devoted to North Korea.
-- State is also moving ahead with plans to cut 2,300 U.S. diplomats and civil servants -- or roughly nine percent of its workforce, as Tillerson works to implement Trump’s budget plan. (Bloomberg)
-- All 100 U.S. senators signed a letter asking for equal treatment of Israel at the U.N., using strong language to insist that the body rectify what the senators agree is unequal treatment on human rights. (Ann Gearan)
FOX NEWS INTRIGUE:
-- The Justice Department’s investigation of Fox News has widened to include a second law-enforcement agency, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. CNN’s Brian Stelter reports: "Financial crimes experts from the United States Postal Inspection Service are now involved, according to four sources connected to the investigation. Mail fraud and wire fraud cases are part of the USPIS purview. Investigators from both the USPIS and the Justice Department have been conducting interviews in recent weeks -- including with some former Fox staffers -- to obtain more information about the network's managers and business practices.”
-- New York Magazine, “Is a Management Shake-up Looming at Fox News?,” by Gabriel Sherman: “As Fox News is roiled by lawsuits and the ouster of Bill O’Reilly, the network’s co-president Bill Shine has retained the backing of the Murdochs. On Monday, Rupert Murdoch took network co-presidents Shine and Jack Abernethy to lunch at Marea, a seafood restaurant near Fox’s midtown headquarters — a highly public show of support. But privately, Shine is expressing concern about his future at the network. According to three sources briefed on the conversations, Shine has told friends he recently asked Rupert’s sons James and Lachlan … to release a statement in support of him, but they refused to do so. The sources said Shine made the request because of withering press coverage of Fox News in recent weeks. A source added that Shine has privately complained that Rupert ‘isn’t fighting for him’ in the press, which is why he wanted explicit support from the sons.”
-- Bloomberg Businessweek, “And Then There Was Hannity,” by Felix Gillette: “During commercial breaks on his Fox News program, Sean Hannity likes to wing around a football with anyone in the vicinity of his desk. At roughly 6 feet tall, with broad shoulders and a substantial noggin reminiscent of late-empire Roman statuary, Hannity, 55, is a sporty guy. With big personalities, eight-figure salaries, and zero-sum competition for airtime, cable news is particularly well-suited to braggadocio—and in Hannity’s case, it can go a bit past bragging. In the Fox News studio one evening in October … Hannity pulled out a gun. [Around that time, he pulled a martial arts move on his producer at a bar – who then bit him on the arm]. Internal jockeying, playful and otherwise, has been good for Hannity lately. As for the rest of Fox News, the past year or so has been ... chaos. But at a time when the company badly needs someone to steady the organization, Hannity, with his mind-meld connection to the White House and his deep, abiding connection to the Fox News brand, is the alpha anchor right now.” “Hannity’s experiencing a renaissance,” says media historian Brian Rosenwald. “It’s his network now.”
-- “The Justice Department was investigating the activities of the now-defunct Burlington College as recently as February, according to emails obtained through a public records request,” VTDigger’s Morgan True reports. “The emails show the U.S. attorney for Vermont and an FBI agent reviewed Burlington College records in the state’s possession earlier this year pursuant to an investigation. Both enforcement agencies declined to comment on the substance of that probe or whether it has been completed. The chair of the Burlington College board of trustees said Thursday that the FBI investigation has been going for more than a year, and at least one former school employee was subpoenaed as part of the probe.”
Jane Sanders, Bernie’s wife, is the former president of the college, and many blame her for driving the school into insolvency: “(She) overstated donation amounts in a bank application for a $6.7 million loan the college used to purchase a prime 33-acre property on Lake Champlain in 2010. She told People’s United Bank in 2010 that the college had $2.6 million in pledged donations to support the purchase of the former Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington property. The college, however, received only $676,000 in actual donations from 2010 through 2014, according to figures provided by Burlington College. Two people whose pledges are listed as confirmed in the loan agreement told VTDigger that their personal financial records show their pledges were overstated. Neither was aware the pledges were used to secure the loan.”
Mrs. Sanders did not respond to a request for comment from VTDigger yesterday asking whether she was subpoenaed or otherwise contacted by the FBI or the U.S. attorney in relation to her time as president of the college.
-- Trump will reverse an Obama-era restriction on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans today. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report: “Several industry officials and experts predict that oil and gas firms will bid on areas the administration plans to open to drilling, including those off the East Coast. But the targeted Arctic areas are much less attractive to investors right now, and even potential drilling in the Atlantic could be complicated by long-standing resistance from coastal communities. Jason Bordoff … [a] former Obama energy and environment adviser, said that while the Trump administration can rescind the former president’s efforts … that process would be complex and involve at least two years of revamping the government’s long-term drilling plans. ‘The question then is, does anybody show up, and does anybody want these [leases]?’ Bordoff said. ‘It depends quite a bit on what the oil market looks like in two years.’ If it looks anything like it does today, with low oil prices and most industry growth taking place onshore, Trump’s new policy might have little practical effect.”
-- The Senate confirmed former U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta as labor secretary last night, voting 60 to 38 to approve his nomination. Jonnelle Marte: “Acosta, 48, will have to move quickly to take action regarding major policies that have been in limbo while the department has been without leadership for the past three months, including a rule that sets limits on the investment advice given to retirement savers and another that expands the number of workers eligible for overtime pay.” Acosta, a Cuban American from Miami, is also the only Latino in Trump’s Cabinet.
-- Worst spin of the day: Sean Spicer blamed the Obama administration for signing off on Michael Flynn’s security clearance, suggesting that Trump’s predecessor – who did not make Flynn his national security adviser – bears responsibility if he was inadequately vetted. “His clearance was last reissued by the Obama administration in 2016 with full knowledge of his activities that occurred in 2015,” Spicer said, responding to a reporter’s question about Flynn possibly breaking federal law by accepting foreign funds for a trip to Russia in 2015. “All of that clearance was made during the Obama administration and apparently with knowledge of the trip that he took, so that’s how the process works, and I welcome the Department of Defense’s review.” (HuffPost)
THE TRUMP MILIEU:
-- "Funeral directors book Trump hotel -- along with Trump ally Newt Gingrich -- for PAC fundraiser," by Amy Brittain: "Funeral directors from across the country have flocked to Washington for their annual advocacy summit - an event that includes a visit to Capitol Hill, a trip to Arlington Cemetery and lobbying on issues related to burials. But this year's gathering comes with a new, high-profile ticket: an evening at the Trump International Hotel alongside one of [Trump's] most steadfast allies, former House speaker Newt Gingrich. A happy-hour reception, a formal dinner and a keynote address from Gingrich are on the agenda for the gathering Thursday. … Two tiers of tickets are for sale: $99 for the reception or $200 for the entire event."
-- Politico, “Lewandowski’s firm appears to offer Trump meetings,” by Ken Vogel and Josh Dawsey: “A firm co-founded by Trump’s original campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appears to have been pitching clients around the world by offering not only policy and political advice, but also face time with President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and senior members of their administration, according to documents and interviews. A document provided to an Eastern European politician by an international consulting firm that Lewandowski co-founded this year promises to arrange ‘meetings with well-established figures,’ including Trump, Pence, ‘key members of the U.S. Administration,’ and outside Trump allies. The previously unreported firm, Washington East West Political Strategies, was created by Lewandowski and fellow Trump campaign veteran Barry Bennett — as well as an Azerbaijani oil executive and an American political consultant who works extensively in Russia — to prospect for political business in Eastern Europe. And Lewandowski and Bennett have created different firms with other partners to prospect in the Middle East, Canada and Central America, Bennett said.”
“People who are familiar with Lewandowski’s pitch to potential clients” told Politico that he has pledged that he would personally call Trump or his cabinet members if necessary on behalf of prospective Avenue Strategies’ clients. “Yet Lewandowski has not formally registered as a lobbyist.”
-- A restaurant in Trump's SoHo hotel says it will close this year after sales have dropped in the wake of Trump's victory. Patch’s Ciara McCarthy: “Koi, a sushi restaurant located within Trump SoHo, will reportedly shut its doors in June because sales have dropped so dramatically. The upscale Asian-fusion chain, a celebrity favorite, has other locations in LA, Las Vegas, Bangkok, Abu Dhabi, and Bryant Park. Suzanne Chou, the Koi Group's general counsel, told Grub Street that the restaurant had seen business drop since Trump's election in November. ‘Obviously, the restaurant is closing because business is down,’ Chou told Grub Street. ‘Beyond that, I would prefer not to speculate as to why, but obviously since the election it’s gone down.’ Grubstreet also spoke with Jonathan Grullon, a busser and a host at Koi's SoHo location. ‘Before Trump won we were doing great. There were a lot of people we had, our regulars, who’d go to the hotel but are not affiliated with Trump,’ Grullon told Grub Street. ‘And they were saying if he wins, we are not coming here anymore.’”
PROXIMITY IS POWER – Two good stories from BuzzFeed:
-- An admitted fraudster who owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to his victims has had access to Trump through his wife – a Mar-a-Lago guest manager so familiar among members that she has earned a fond nickname of the club’s “house mother.” Tarini Parti reports: “The tale of the Rinkus couple — one a repeat felon and the other a Trump employee who interacts regularly with top government officials — raises the curtain on the way Trump’s sprawling business holdings can sweep minor figures into his political orbit. For a man with a serious criminal record, Ari Rinkus has been in remarkably close proximity to the president. He has parlayed that access — and the perception of access — to his own advantage, sources said, while pursuing potentially lucrative government contracts on behalf of a foreign company. As he sipped his vodka soda, Rinkus mentioned that his wife was busy setting up for the president’s historic upcoming meeting with [Chinese President Xi]. Rinkus frequently name-drops the president, members of the first family, and top White House staff, people who know him said. He recently had dinner with … Eric and Lara Trump — ‘salt of the earth,’ he said. Ivanka Trump? ‘She’s just like her father.’ And Don Jr.? ‘He’s a family-focused man.’ He knows them all, he stressed."
-- "The Hungarian Rise And Fall Of Sebastian Gorka," by Mitch Prothero: “Sebastian Gorka … failed his way upwards to the White House, having been denied security clearance to work in the Hungarian parliament, defeated in a local mayoral race in the 2000s, and widely dismissed as an opportunist. Gorka has been widely criticised for his lack of qualifications and connections with fringe political groups since joining the Trump administration. But, back in Hungary in the 2000s, he wasn't seen as an extremist, but instead a self-promoter, who exaggerated claims about his past, including his work for the British intelligence services. ‘Sebastian Gorka is not a Nazi or a security threat because he is some sort of secret British agent,’ said a member of the Hungarian counter intelligence service ... ‘Gorka is, how do you say in English — a peddler of snake oil.’ It seems to be easier to rise in the Trump White House than it was in the newly free Hungarian government at the turn of the century … [and] Gorka's rise offers a glimpse at how permeable the top strata of American power is in the age of Trump.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- “Breitbart sees potential to expand in Europe amid French, German elections,” by Kevin Sullivan and James McAuley: “Nigel Farage raised a sudsy toast. The British government had just formally triggered its ‘Brexit’ from the European Union and Farage, the right-wing politician who had long championed it, hoisted a pint of beer, looked into the camera, and thanked the Americans he credited with helping make it happen. ‘Well done, Bannon. Well done, Breitbart — you’ve helped with this hugely,’ Farage said in a video toast … Breitbart, which has risen in prominence with Trump’s election and the surprise Brexit vote, has become a disruptive force far beyond the U.S. borders. The anti-establishment resentment that fueled Trump’s campaign is surfacing again overseas in elections in France and Germany, and Breitbart hopes to tap into the anti-elite, anti-immigration rage to build its global brand. Breitbart’s top U.S. editor, Alexander Marlow, described expansion plans around the time of Trump’s election five months ago, with hopes to establish bureaus in France and Germany … [And even the site’s] … harshest detractors see a potentially significant European market for Breitbart’s brand of crusading coverage of a handful of key issues, including immigration, Islam, terrorism, crime and globalization.”
-- “In Canadian lumber town, real fears over a trade war with Trump,” by Ana Swanson: “Brett Gosselin, a lumberjack like his father before him, lives his life in solitary 12-hour shifts in the vast pine forests that stretch across the Canadian north, master of a gigantic whirling buzz saw that can fell several 100-foot trees in a single crashing roar. But on an afternoon when the future of North America’s globalized economic order appeared to hang in the balance, Gosselin … retreated to the bar of a local hotel and admitted something: He was very worried. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s what I’m scared of,” Gosselin said … ‘I’m just a low-class little guy that runs a machine, until the mill says that’s enough.'"
-- “In less than two weeks, Marine Le Pen could become the first woman to win the French presidency. But she sells herself that way only some of the time,” James McAuley reports. “When Le Pen took to the stage to claim her victory in the first round of the vote, there was no talk of the proverbial glass ceiling or any mention of women, girls or gender. But gender has played a significant, if subtle, role in ... Le Pen’s astonishingly successful 2017 campaign to bring her extremist party from Europe’s political fringe into the halls of political power, analysts say. In her writings and speeches this year, it has operated quietly and constantly, and mostly with one particular purpose: stigmatizing Muslims. ‘She’s used the gender card for her own benefit,’ said Cecile Alduy, the author of a well-known book on Le Pen’s rhetoric … ‘But always, and only, to denigrate Islam. She almost never speaks of the feminine condition except to target Islam and immigrants.’ In fact, in the public eye, Le Pen, the female leader of a party that has opposed women’s rights throughout its 55-year history, has a complicated relationship with gender. On the one hand, she is ultimately the only female candidate seeking power in a political system still dominated by men. On the other, in her capacity as a deputy in the European parliament, she has repeatedly voted against resolutions that advocates say would have improved women’s health and safety."
-- A Taiwanese billionaire who pledged to invest billions of dollars to create jobs in the U.S. after Trump was elected spent more than two hours visiting White House officials yesterday. David Nakamura reports: “Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou, whose company manufactures the Apple iPhone in China, declined to confirm whether he met directly with Trump [after he exited the complex] … ‘My memory is not good; maybe I already forgot,’ Gou said. Foxconn, an electronics manufacturing giant with more than 1.2 million employees in China, had pledged in 2013 to invest $30 million and hire 500 workers for a new high-tech factory in central Pennsylvania, a project that has languished. After Trump was elected, Foxconn made a new commitment to invest $7 billion to hire 50,000 U.S. workers … On Saturday, his 100th day in office, Trump will hold a campaign rally in Harrisburg, Pa., the city where Foxconn has failed to build the high-tech factory it promised four years ago.” “We are made in America,” Gou said in response to a reporter's question about what he discussed at the White House. “We sign a contract, we will let you know.”
-- “China wants a bold presence in Washington — so it’s building a $100 million garden,” by Adrian Higgins: “This summer, a construction team is expected to begin transforming a 12-acre field at the U.S. National Arboretum into one of the most ambitious Chinese gardens ever built in the West. By the time Chinese artisans finish their work some 30 months later, visitors will encounter a garden containing all the elements of a classical Chinese landscape: enticing moongate entrances, swooping and soaring roof lines, grand pavilions with carved wooden screens and groves of golden bamboo. The grounds will boast two dozen handcrafted pavilions, temples and other ornate structures around a large central lake. Its backers undoubtedly hope that the National China Garden will become a Washington landmark and achieve for Sino-U.S. relations what the gift of the Tidal Basin’s cherry trees has done for Japanese-American links for more than a century. The Chinese government is so anxious to have the garden that it has agreed to foot the entire bill, which approaches $100 million.”
DEMOCRATIC SOUL SEARCHING:
-- “The Obamas face the paid-speaking circuit — and all the questions that come with it,” by Krissah Thompson: “When Barack and Michelle Obama left the White House, they both spoke longingly of a break from life in the public eye. But following a months-long vacation, they have started to tap into the lucrative paid-speaking circuit that has enriched so many other former presidents and first ladies — with the potential to quickly net millions of dollars. … It was not divulged how much they were paid for these first appearances. But the former president will collect $400,000 for a September speech to a health-care conference sponsored by investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald, Fox Business reported this week. As newly minted high-dollar speakers, the Obamas follow a well-worn path from the White House — but one that poses risks to a personal and political brand rooted in their middle-class backgrounds. Aides to the Obamas would not comment on how much they are charging for other private speaking engagements, but they defended the speaking schedule and pointed out that the president’s first public meeting was a conversation with college students in Chicago earlier this week.”
-- Elizabeth Warren said she is “troubled” by Obama’s decision to accept $400,000, saying in a radio interview that it was more evidence of money’s malignant political influence. “I was troubled by that,” the senator said. “One of the things I talk about in the book is the influence of money — I describe it as a snake that slithers through Washington,” Warren said. “The influence of dollars on this place s what scares me. I feel like it ultimately threatens democracy. (Dave Weigel)
TAX REFORM WILL BE VERY HARD TO GET DONE:
-- Sean Spicer briefly suggested Thursday that 401ks would not remain intact in the new tax reform package – prompting anxiety across the country until the White House later issued a clarification. But the temporary confusion showed, for a minute, what a nightmare passing tax reform will be, Aaron Blake explains: “That sound you heard was the collective sigh of relief of about half the country — 54 percent of the workforce, to be exact. That's the portion of workers who participate in retirement benefits programs … But even if 401(k)s are safe, the White House is still looking to slash all kinds of deductions that matter hugely to very specific demographics and areas. While targeting the 401(k)s would have alienated a very large portion of the entire population in one fell swoop, there will be more targeted bloodletting with the deductions that are cut.
-- How Trump’s tax plan came together, from the story by Rucker, Parker, Paletta and DeYoung – with Robert Costa and Karen Tumulty: “Trump had privately groused that he wished he had tackled taxes before trying to push through health care, a view magnified by some outside friends and confidants. Even something more modest than the full overhaul for which he hoped, such as cutting corporate tax rates, they said, would provide the president and his base with an energizing triumph. But it was an April 19 op-ed in the New York Times, titled ‘Why Are Republicans Making Tax Reform So Hard?’ and penned by Steve Forbes, Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, that helped propel Trump to act. The op-ed ... said an overhaul of the tax code would give Trump a much-needed ‘legislative victory’ and complained that the White House ‘seems to be all over the map on the subject.’ It called on the administration to move quickly on a tax proposal, not to overthink it and to push forward ‘with some degree of urgency.’ Trump saw the op-ed right as he was becoming restless with the success of his economic agenda.
The White House rushed to engage the op-ed’s authors and reassure the economic conservatives who have privately complained about Trump’s nationalistic streak on trade and the lack of action of taxes. When Kudlow and Moore gathered a group of conservatives Tuesday evening at Cafe Berlin, a white-tablecloth German restaurant on Capitol Hill, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stopped by, even though he was not scheduled to attend. ‘We texted him and said, ‘Come by if you’d like,’’ Kudlow said. ‘Well, he did, and he spoke for two or three minutes and took questions.’ ‘Everyone looked around and said, ‘This is the Steve we knew during the campaign,’’ Kudlow added, referring to Mnuchin’s enthusiasm for sweeping tax cuts...
On April 21, two days after the op-ed ran, Trump announced in an interview with the Associated Press that his advisers would be releasing a tax plan by the following Wednesday, or ‘shortly thereafter.’ Some aides working on the plan were stunned, caught unaware of the expedited timeline. Still, they reasoned, maybe ‘shortly thereafter’ meant they could unveil the plan a week or two later. But hours after the AP interview, during an appearance at the Treasury Department, Trump stood beside Mnuchin and told reporters that the tax plan would come out Wednesday.”
-- Charles Koch praises Trump’s tax proposal in an op-ed for today’s Post: “Comprehensive tax reform is long overdue. Americans deserve much, much better. The president’s newly offered plan to reduce rates and simplify the code is a step in the right direction. I am also encouraged by the absence of Congress’ proposed border adjustment tax (or any tax) that would increase the profits of industrial companies such as Koch by raising the price on goods that Americans rely on every day. This administration should instead make room for tax cuts by encouraging Congress to rein in wasteful spending and reduce corporate welfare provisions that benefit big business at the expense of families.” The title of the billionaire’s piece is, “Trump’s policies must not benefit only big businesses like mine.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump unleashed a tweetstorm yesterday to blame Democrats for wanting to shut down the government, even though they're working with Republicans on a long-term spending deal:
Paul Ryan celebrated too:
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) was treated to a surprise birthday party:
David Letterman was barely recognizable at a Caps game:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- The New Yorker, “A Canadian Immigration Firm’s Trump-era Boom,” by Jonathan Blitzer: “Canada by Choice is just one small shop, and it’s still too early to tell whether Trump’s Presidency will have a measurable effect on the population of legal immigrants living and working in the U.S. But … As of this month, H-1B visa holders who live in the U.S. account for half of Canada by Choice’s clients seeking permanent residency and eighty per cent of the firm’s clients seeking a work visa—about seventy people altogether. ‘These weren’t the people I thought would be interested in coming to Canada,’ [said one employee]. ‘They had status in the place where they lived. They made a hundred thousand dollars, had good jobs. These are the people who want to leave?’”
-- Buzzfeed News, “John Kasich Sounds Like He's Over The Republican Party,” by Henry J. Gomez: “The big story of Kasich’s big media week isn’t the predictable swipes he takes at President Trump in [his new] book. And it’s not that he is refusing to rule out a Republican primary challenge to Trump in 2020, though his visit here Thursday raises such speculation. It’s that Kasich seems tempted by the idea of running for president as an independent. The signs are there in Two Paths: America Divided or United, which recycles its title from an anti-Trump speech Kasich gave last year toward the end of his bid for the GOP nomination. The most consistent theme in the book, though, is not Kasich ’s disapproval of the new president but his disappointment with fellow Republicans who supported Trump’s candidacy. … At a time when he clearly wants to remain a player on the national stage, Kasich is struggling with his political identity — and so is his party. If and where he fits in a GOP led by [Trump] will say a great deal about the kind of Republicans who can succeed in it, and whether there’s still space for the open and internationalist values Kasich and other Republicans long have cherished.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“People Are Trolling Trump's New Anti-Immigrant Hotline With Reports Of Space Aliens And The Government Is Not Amused,” from Buzzfeed: “On Wednesday, the Trump administration launched a new office called the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office (VOICE), to assist victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants as part of the president's executive order to curtail illegal immigration. As part of VOICE, immigration officials also established a hotline where ‘people impacted by crimes committed by illegal aliens’ could receive support. Critics say the initiative unfairly targets and instills fear in nonwhite immigrants and condones racism. And it did not take long for people to realize this new ‘criminal alien’ crackdown campaign on #AlienDay. So naturally … the internet [heeded] the call. People started sharing the hotline's number, telling others to call and report how they've been victimized by space aliens. Or Superman or Big Foot. Others said they were calling to report an illegal alien who was impersonating the president.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“ESPN Publishes Poetry Tribute To Fugitive Cop Killer,” from The Federalist: “ESPN, the sports network that’s hemorrhaging viewers and purging much of its on-air talent, on Tuesday published a poetry tribute to a woman who was convicted of killing a police officer. One day before the network laid off many of its employees, it published five poems about feminism and political resistance on its website geared toward women, ESPNW. The first poem in the series is called ‘Revolution’and it’s dedicated to Asatta Shakur, an icon among black power enthusiasts who was convicted of murdering a police officer in 1977. She escaped from prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba in 1984, where she’s been hiding ever since. Shakur, whose real name is Joanne Deborah Chesimard, was the first woman to be named on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list and the FBI is currently offering a $1 million reward for information leading to her arrest.”
The president goes to Atlanta for the NRA meeting and sits down with Fox News.
The House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business. First votes are expected at 10:00 a.m. Last votes expected: 11:45 a.m.
It's still unclear if the Senate will vote.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
From a story by Financial Times Washington bureau chief Demetri Sevastopulo: "Sitting across from Donald Trump in the Oval Office, my eyes are drawn to a little red button on a box that sits on his desk. 'This isn't the nuclear button, is it?' I joke, pointing. 'No, no, everyone thinks it is,' Trump says ... before leaning over and pressing it to order some Cokes. 'Everyone does get a little nervous when I press that button.'"
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- TGIF! Another day of great weather ahead. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunshine returns and we get warm — into the low-to-mid 80s. Breezes are occasional, fairly light, and variable in direction. Enjoy the lower humidity levels, as indicated by lower dew-point readings in the 50s!”
-- "The Redskins picked Alabama’s Jonathan Allen with the No. 17 pick in last night’s NFL draft," by Liz Clarke: “From the moment the Chicago Bears traded up to take quarterback Mitchell Trubisky second overall, little about Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft unfolded as predicted. A draft class loaded with defensive talent instead saw a run on offensive players, with two quarterbacks and three wide receivers chosen among the top 10. The upshot proved a blessing for the Washington Redskins, who badly needed to shore up their defense and headed into the proceedings with a wish list designed to do just that. 'Never in a million years,' as Coach Jay Gruden later put it, did Redskins executives think that Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen still would be available when they chose 17th overall. Regarded as a top-10 pick — top five, in the minds of some — the 6-foot-3, 286-pound Allen had won the 2016 Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski awards as the nation’s top defensive player."
-- “A year later, Penguins’ Nick Bonino beats Capitals again in Game 1,” by Isabelle Khurshudyan: “Many of the Washington Capitals can still clearly recall how their season ended a year ago. There was Nick Bonino in his black and gold No. 13 jersey in front of the net. He threw his arms up in the air as the Pittsburgh Penguins advanced, and the Capitals spent the next year stewing. On Thursday night, there was Bonino again in front of the net, again celebrating as he pushed the Penguins past Washington in a playoff game. His goal in the third period lifted Pittsburgh to a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the second-round series. The good news for the Capitals going forward is that they climbed out of a two-goal hole by outplaying Pittsburgh with a 35-21 edge in shots on goal, controlling possession in the second half of the game despite not getting a single power play all night. The bad news is that despite being the better team for the majority of the game, their costly errors have them in an early series deficit."
-- “Hits keep coming for Nats, who roll Rockies to complete a 9-1 trip,” by Chelsea Janes in Denver: “Temperatures were in the 40s and Gio Gonzalez’s pitch count was in the 90s as he waited out the most prolific offensive inning in Washington Nationals history, standing near a heater in the dugout, trying to stay warm until his teammates relented. But these days, waiting for the Nationals’ offense to relent is like waiting for a Colorado winter to end. Just when the cold ebbs and the sun thaws, the chill returns, unwilling to give way. The Nationals beat the Rockies on Thursday afternoon, 16-5, a fitting end to a series in which they scored 46 runs in four games and batted .346. The Nationals (16-6) are tied for the best start in franchise history with the 1979 Montreal Expos. They own the best record in baseball. Their opponents spent much of April waiting for the Nationals’ offense to quit, but they waited in vain. That seventh inning, in which they scored more runs in an inning than any Expos/Nationals team has in 20 years, is a fitting microcosm of their season.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
"The Daily Show" host joked about Obama's Wall Street speech:
From a Democratic lawmaker:
Here's what you need to know about gay conversion therapy:
Pelosi says a vote for Trump health-care plan is "doo doo" on the shoe:
A UC Berkeley senior explains why she invited Ann Coulter to speak: