With Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro
THE BIG IDEA: President Trump fancies himself a hands-on leader. One consequence is that his economic policy is guided less by the invisible hand of the free market than the heavy hand of the central government.
The president continued his pattern of picking winners and losers on Thursday afternoon when he unveiled a $16 billion bailout to help farmers offset losses from the trade war he started, and which he continues to escalate, with China. This is on top of the $12 billion in emergency cash he made available last July.
The substance of Trump’s announcement at the White House, in which he was flanked by more than a dozen farmers, was entirely overshadowed by his own theatrics. Angry that Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed he threw a “temper tantrum,” the president told reporters: “I’m an extremely stable genius, okay?” Standing in front of the press corps, Trump asked five of his aides to tell everyone how “very calm” he had been when he walked out of a meeting the day before. “You were very calm,” replied Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser.
The new bailout Trump introduced is significant and merits scrutiny. Make no mistake, these are government handouts. And few conservatives who purport to support free markets are objecting.
The politics are a no-brainer. Trump cannot win reelection without the farm belt. He narrowly prevailed in 2016 because of overwhelming strength in rural areas that depend on agriculture. Indeed, the Chinese have targeted farmers to cause political pain for the president so that he’ll cave in negotiations. As soon as Trump slapped tariffs of 25 percent on $250 billion of Chinese imports, Beijing retaliated with import taxes on U.S. agricultural commodities such as soybeans, which tend to be grown in places the president is depending on in 2020.
Trump began his 47-minute appearance in the Roosevelt Room by noting that farmers have supported him. He said it was a “great honor to be here with … people that have been with me from the beginning.” “They’re patriots. They stood up and they were with me,” the president said. “I'm very honored to have done this for you.”
The long riff that followed underscored the degree to which Trump sees the presidency as transactional. He seems to think he deserves credit for making the government cut checks to save farmers after pursuing policies that have pushed them toward insolvency. Never mind that there would be no need for this bailout if he hadn’t picked a fight with not just China but also allies like Mexico, Canada and Europe. It’s been 15 months now since Trump declared that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.” He tweeted that the morning after announcing a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum.
In his remarks, Trump suggested that this trade war could drag on for a very long time. “I remain hopeful that, at some point, we'll probably get together with China,” he said. “If it happens, great. If it doesn’t happen, that's fine. That’s absolutely fine.”
Trump proceeded to tout initiatives he’s taken to help corn growers. He noted that he directed the EPA to make it easier to sell more ethanol in vehicle fuel, lifting summertime fueling restrictions on E15 gasoline, which means it contains as much as 15 percent ethanol. Iowa is the nation’s top producer of both ethanol and corn. Most economists can explain to you why this is shortsighted economic policy, not to mention deleterious for the environment. “The people in Iowa, and lots of other places, are very happy,” he declared yesterday afternoon. “I made a promise during the campaign that I was going to do it. I don't know if it had an impact, but I won Iowa by a lot.”
-- Not everyone is getting government handouts. The brewers, for instance, haven’t received any bailout. America’s beer industry yesterday blamed the Trump tariffs for the loss of 40,000 jobs. Metal tariffs imposed by Trump have boosted the cost of aluminum cans, leading to declines in investment, a new report by two trade groups showed, per Bloomberg News.
-- Bigger picture, Trump has pursued something that at times feels akin to a 1950s-style national industrial policy. He’s tried to revive steelmakers and domestic manufacturers with tariffs. He’s vetoed foreign investments. He’s publicly pressuring the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates. He has used the bully pulpit of the presidency to attack individual companies, and even corporate executives, by name. Among other things, Trump went after Nordstrom’s for dropping his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin disclosed during congressional testimony on Wednesday that he’s personally been haggling with corporate executives about prices. He said he spoke with the chief financial officer of Walmart after the company warned that customers will need to pay more for furniture and other goods because of the Trump tariffs. To put it mildly, this has not historically been the role of the treasury secretary. At least in America.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been given immense power over whether to grant waivers to exempt companies from tariffs. This gives government the ability to favor some companies and industries and punish others.
-- It’s Economics 101: Central planning like this has never worked in the long run because it distorts incentives, and no bureaucrat setting prices in Washington can outsmart markets. Cliometricians can debate until the cows come home, but the free market — as much as anything else — is why we won the Cold War. The Soviets just couldn’t keep up.
“Trump's snap decision to send billions of dollars in new aid to farmers could be bad for the farm economy and the federal budget,” Politico food and agriculture reporter Catherine Boudreau reports. “Many farmers are still deciding what to plant this spring and could be swayed toward crops that receive higher payouts from the aid package, such as soybeans. That would add to already record supplies and further depress prices that have been falling for five years. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who weeks earlier denied the White House was discussing another round of aid so soon after a $12 billion bailout last year, suddenly interrupted a trip to South Korea to announce a second program.
“Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, told reporters Wednesday that the White House should have been more cautious about the timing of the announcement because farmers are still planting. ‘We want farmers to make decisions on how many acres of corn and soybeans to plant based on the market and not something the government’s doing,’ he said. … Rainfall in the Midwest has delayed planting, so many farmers can still switch up their crops. Even the prospect of another round of trade assistance could encourage them to plant more soybeans.”
-- “The new relief plan aims to avoid problems that arose in the first aid package, when soybeans received what many believed was a disproportionate amount of the money, while corn received only a penny a bushel. Other producers were shut out entirely from relief payments,” Laura Reiley, Colby Itkowitz and Annie Gowen report. “The bulk of the payments will be set aside for row crops such as alfalfa, wheat and oats, which will be paid at a single rate according to the number of acres planted in each county. More niche crops, including tree nuts, sweet cherries, cranberries and grapes, will also be eligible for relief, depending on tariff impacts. Dairy and pork producers also stand to receive relief under the system. Distributing relief funds by-county, and not by commodity, will hopefully discourage farmers from planting crops that would be more lucrative in aid money.”
-- But the Trump bailouts are often not going to the farmers who need them the most. Jeff Stein reported last November about some of the people who got money from the first, $12 billion round of bailouts: “Scott Yocom is a 48-year-old architect who lives in Manhattan, works at an office building near Times Square, and has been recently consumed with designing a new central terminal at LaGuardia Airport in Queens. But late last month, Yocom received a government check worth about $3,300, a payment that came courtesy of a Trump administration program aimed at helping farmers hurt by the U.S.-China trade war. Yocom said he spends two weeks a year on his family farm in Ohio, but as a part-owner he was eligible for the bailout funds. Yocom was one of at least 1,100 residents of the 50 largest U.S. cities who has received bailout funds from the Agriculture Department, according to USDA data.”
Consider this story published last week by the New York Daily News: “The Trump administration has forked over more than $62 million — taxpayer cash that was supposed to be earmarked for struggling American farmers — to a massive meatpacking company owned by a couple of corrupt Brazilian brothers. The Department of Agriculture cut a contract in January to purchase $22.3 million worth of pork from plants operated by JBS USA, a Colorado-based subsidiary of Brazil’s JBS SA, which ranks as the largest meatpacker in the world. … Previously undisclosed purchase reports … reveal the administration has since issued at least two more bailouts to JBS, even as Trump’s own Justice Department began investigating the meatpacker, whose owners are Joesley and Wesley Batista — two wealthy brothers who have confessed to bribing hundreds of top officials in Brazil. Both brothers have spent time in jail over the sweeping corruption scandal.”
-- Despite these and many other problems so far, most conservatives on Capitol Hill were more muted in their response to the second round of agriculture bailouts than the first. It’s another proof point of the degree to which Trump’s takeover of the GOP has made the party more protectionist, even mercantilist, in its outlook. “Last year, some Republican senators were incensed by such a move, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) compared it to ‘golden crutches’ aimed at ‘making it 1929 again’ and then Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) questioned why ‘there isn't an outright revolt in Congress right now,’” Jackie Alemany notes this morning. “But Corker retired and Sasse is running for reelection, plus other Republican senators view the decision to go after China as worthwhile even if it means an economic gut punch for farmers and other industries in the interim.” Sasse did not release a statement yesterday.
FOLLOW THE MONEY:
-- Trump is breaking with norms and pushing military decision-makers who are supposed to be immune to political considerations to give a massive contract to a specific firm. This is the most jaw-dropping story you’ll read today:
“Trump has personally and repeatedly urged the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to award a border wall contract to a North Dakota construction firm whose top executive is a GOP donor and frequent guest on Fox News,” Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey report. “In phone calls, White House meetings and conversations aboard Air Force One during the past several months, Trump has aggressively pushed Fisher Industries to Department of Homeland Security leaders and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the Army Corps.
“The push for a specific company has alarmed military commanders and DHS officials. Semonite was summoned to the White House again Thursday, after the president’s aides told Pentagon officials — including Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s chief of staff — that the president wanted to discuss the border barrier. … Trump immediately brought up Fisher, a company that sued the U.S. government last month after the Army Corps did not accept its bid to install barriers along the southern border, a contract potentially worth billions of dollars. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, has joined in the campaign for Fisher Industries, along with Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), an ardent promoter of the company and the recipient of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Fisher and his family members.
“Trump’s repeated attempts to influence the Army Corps’ contracting decisions show the degree to which the president is willing to insert himself into what is normally a staid legal and regulatory process designed to protect the U.S. government from accusations of favoritism. … But Trump’s personal intervention risks the perception of improper influence on decades-old procurement rules that require government agencies to seek competitive bids, free of political interference.
“Fisher Industries was one of the six companies that built border wall prototypes outside San Diego in 2017, but the company’s concrete design did not afford the see-through visibility that DHS officials wanted. … When Fisher began promoting a steel version of the barrier that he said could be installed faster and cheaper, the Army Corps said the design did not meet its requirements and lacked regulatory approvals. … DHS officials also told the Army Corps in March that Fisher’s work on a barrier project in San Diego came in late and over budget. … Officials from the Army Corps and DHS then met with Kushner several times to explain why Fisher wasn’t the best deal. Kushner was intimately interested in … why other companies were being chosen over Fisher … Trump repeatedly told advisers that Fisher should be the company, administration officials said.”
-- Programming note: To celebrate Memorial Day, we’ll be off on Monday. Talk to you Tuesday. Enjoy the long weekend.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- British Prime Minister Theresa May will resign as party leader by June 7. Conservatives will then pick a new leader, who will become the next prime minister. Karla Adam and William Booth report: “It seems likely they will choose someone who at least pays lip-service to the prospect of a no-deal Brexit — leaving the E.U. without a transition period and adopting a relationship governed by World Trade Organization rules. Economists have predicted that abrupt change would wreak havoc on both sides of the English Channel. …
“Boris Johnson, a flamboyant politician known around the country simply as ‘Boris,’ once said, ‘My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars.’ Yet he is the current favorite in opinions polls and betting markets to become the 77th British prime minister. … A few others have already declared they want the top job, including International Development Secretary Rory Stewart and former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey. Andrea Leadsom, who resigned as House of Commons leader this week, was a finalist alongside May in 2016 and has said she is ‘actively considering’ another leadership bid.”
-- Europeans are still voting to form their new Parliament. Voting will end on Sunday, and the center-right European People’s Party, one of the largest political groups in Parliament, is likely to lose seats to more nationalist and Euroskeptic parties. (Ruby Mellen)
-- Investigating the investigators and politicizing the Justice Department, Trump formally granted Bill Barr “full and complete authority” to compel intelligence agencies to cooperate with the attorney general’s audit of the probe into Russian election interference in 2016. Devlin Barrett, Carol D. Leonnig, Robert Costa and Colby Itkowitz report: “The president’s move gives Barr broad powers to unveil carefully guarded intelligence secrets about the Russia investigation, which the attorney general requested to allow him to quickly carry out his review. … Conservative lawmakers … have insisted to friends in the administration that declassifying these documents will help Trump protect his presidency and further distance himself from any political fallout from the Russia investigation, according to multiple people involved in those discussions. The move is likely to further anger Democrats who have said that Barr is using his position as the nation’s top law enforcement official to aggressively protect the president and attack his critics.”
GET SMART FAST:
- Harvey Weinstein reached a $44 million settlement over sexual misconduct lawsuits: $30 million will go to alleged victims, and the rest will be used for legal fees. (Allyson Chiu)
- Health officials warned people believed to be infected with measles they could be banned from air travel in a rarely used move. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials received calls from health officials in New York, California, Illinois, Texas and Washington over eight cases in which potentially infected individuals agreed to cancel their flights after learning they could be added to the “Do Not Board” list. (Lena H. Sun)
- The FBI said the threat of domestic terrorism by white supremacists has been rising in recent months. A senior counterterrorism official told reporters that this year is on track to match or exceed the number of domestic-terrorism-related arrests in 2017 and 2018. (CNN)
- Federal meat inspectors who remove contaminated meat at hog plants mark it “condemned,” while employees of pork farms who are slowly beginning to perform similar jobs are said to be “sorting,” “removing” or “disposing” of the meat. The shift in language is central to the Agriculture Department’s efforts to make some of the most dramatic changes to federal meat-inspection policy in the last 100 years. (Kimberly Kindy)
- Facebook removed more than 3 billion fake accounts between October and March, twice as many as in the previous six months. In a new report, the social media giant said it saw a “steep increase” in the creation of abusive and fake accounts. (AP)
- The social media giant is also no longer paying commissions to employees who sell political ads. Facebook now sees political ads as more of a headache than a successful growth area. (Wall Street Journal)
- A new report shows that middle-class and low-income Americans are not on solid enough ground to weather an economic downturn despite the longest period of sustained economic growth on record. Almost 4 in 10 people said they wouldn’t be able to put together the money to meet a $400 emergency expense. (Andrew Van Dam)
- The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed a $100 million claim against the U.S. government over the fatal shooting of a 20-year-old Guatemalan migrant by a Border Patrol agent. The claim, which is typically a precursor to a lawsuit, is for personal injury and wrongful death and accuses the federal government of battery, negligence and reckless conduct in the shooting of Claudia Patricia Gómez González, an indigenous Mayan woman. (BuzzFeed News)
- Baseball owners, players and fans fear that rising pitch velocity has permanently altered the game. The increasing number of pitchers who can throw the ball harder and faster has meant more strikeouts and fewer hits, as the leaguewide batting average has hit its lowest point since 1972. The shifting dynamics mean the ball is in play less than ever as games routinely stretch past the three-hour mark. (Dave Sheinin)
- TurboTax’s offer of a “military discount” for tax preparation misled some service members and their families into paying for a filing that should have been free. Under a deal with the government, service members making less than $66,000 a year are supposed to be able to use the service for free. (ProPublica)
- The Vietnam Veterans Memorial includes a number of repeated names, misspelled names and even the names of soldiers who survived the war. According to a study from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, it bears 58,390 names but represents only 58,276 people. (Michael E. Ruane)
- New court documents allege that the disabled woman who unexpectedly gave birth at an Arizona long-term-care facility in December may have been repeatedly raped. The woman’s lawyers filed a suit claiming $45 million, asserting that the Maricopa County Medical Center concluded she had been “violated repeatedly” and may have been pregnant before. (CNN)
- Kanye West said liberals like to “bully” Trump supporters like him. In an interview with David Letterman, Kanye said that when he wears his Make America Great Again hat, it’s not about politics but rather an attempt to break the stigma around supporting the president. (Daily Beast)
- A Utah man who had just achieved his dream of climbing the highest peak on each of the seven continents died on Mount Everest. The family of 55-year-old Donald Lynn Cash believes he suffered a heart attack as he was coming down the mountain after a push to the summit that lasted more than 12 hours. (Cindy Boren)
THE CASE IS NOT CLOSED:
-- Stephen Calk, a former economic adviser to the president’s 2016 campaign and the founder of the Federal Savings Bank of Chicago, was indicted on accusations that he approved $16 million in loans to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in exchange for help getting a post in the administration. Renae Merle and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “As the bank rushed through the high-risk loans, Calk gave Manafort a list ranking the senior administrative jobs he wanted, starting with treasury secretary, the indictment alleges. Calk ultimately was interviewed as a candidate for undersecretary of the Army but did not get the job, prosecutors said. Calk, 54, pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan federal court Thursday afternoon and was released on a $5 million personal recognizance bond. The judge ordered him to give up his passport, firearms and not to talk to any potential witness in his case. Calk faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the charge of financial institution bribery. He is on a leave of absence from Federal Savings Bank of Chicago, which is privately held.”
-- Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, replied “On it!” when Manafort emailed to ask for help getting Calk a job. Manafort asked Kushner during the transition to ask the Trump administration to consider giving a “major appointment” to his banker. (Bloomberg News)
-- House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Mueller wants to testify in private. Mueller, Nadler said, is “willing to make an opening statement, but he wants to testify in private. And we’re saying we think it’s important for the American people to hear from him and to hear his answers to questions about the report.” Nadler said a transcript of the testimony would be made available. (MSNBC)
-- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged with violating the Espionage Act. Devlin Barrett, Rachel Weiner and Matt Zapotosky report: “An 18-count federal indictment alleges that Assange worked with a former Army intelligence analyst to obtain and disseminate secret documents — actions similar to reporting work at many traditional news organizations. The U.S. government, though, sought to distinguish the anti-secrecy advocate from a reporter. ‘Julian Assange is no journalist,’ said John Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security. He said Assange had engaged in ‘explicit solicitation of classified information.’ Press freedom advocates said the distinction being drawn by prosecutors offers little protection for journalists. Noted media lawyer Floyd Abrams said that Assange may be a ‘singularly unattractive defendant in a lot of ways’ but added that the indictment ‘does raise deeply threatening First Amendment issues for journalists who cover national defense, intelligence activities, and alike.’”
-- Former media mogul Conrad Black enlisted Alan Dershowitz, one of Trump’s biggest on-air defenders, to get the president’s attention as he sought a presidential pardon. Susan Berger and Toluse Olorunnipa: “Dershowitz — a Harvard law professor who has regularly gone on television to declare Trump’s innocence of obstruction of justice charges — said he wrote a letter to the White House requesting the pardon. Dershowitz’s letter, which was reviewed by the White House Counsel’s Office, played a major role in getting Trump and his legal advisers on board, according to Black, a Canadian billionaire and former Trump business partner who wrote a glowing book about the president last year. … Black did not apply for the pardon through official Justice Department channels, which largely have gone unused as Trump has issued pardons to people who have praised or supported him. ... He has ... granted clemency to several people after learning of their cases on Fox News. On the same day he pardoned Black, he granted clemency to Patrick J. Nolan, the former Republican leader of the California State Assembly and a friend of [Kushner].”
CHECKS AND BALANCES:
-- Another legislative defeat for Trump: The Senate approved a deal on disaster aid — and included none of the money for the border that Trump previously demanded as a condition for signing the bill. Jeff Stein and Mike DeBonis report: “The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a $19.1 billion disaster-aid package ... Trump on Thursday evening wrote the Senate had his ‘total support’ in passing the deal. … The deal, which congressional leaders presented hours before the Senate vote, would send aid to victims of Western wildfires, Midwestern flooding and hurricanes that hit the Southeast and Puerto Rico, as well as to other disaster-affected areas across the country. The package does not include the U.S.-Mexico border funding the Trump administration requested. … Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) said Congress would return to border funding in a separate measure after the recess.”
-- Republicans and Democratic lawmakers are urging Trump not to go over Congress’s head to complete controversial arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Karoun Demirjian and Missy Ryan report: “Lawmakers and human rights advocates are anticipating that the administration may exploit a legal window that permits the president to circumvent congressional roadblocks, or ‘holds,’ on proposed arms sales. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has placed such a hold on a planned sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, over concerns that the weapons may be used against civilian targets in war-torn Yemen. Such holds are common — and the prospect that Trump may try to blow through several objections to such arms sales has alarmed lawmakers, who are anxious to protect their authority to have a say on the executive branch’s ability to export lethal weaponry to foreign actors.”
-- The fight over Trump’s financial records could land at the Supreme Court as the 2020 race peaks. Ann E. Marimow and Robert Barnes report: “A federal appeals court in Washington said Thursday that it will expedite its review of Trump’s request to block a congressional subpoena seeking financial records from the president’s accounting firm. The brief ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit means the accounting firm will not give a House committee the president’s business records while the case is pending. … The decision Thursday by a three-judge panel puts that agreement in effect and calls for oral argument July 12. The timeline allows the case to move swiftly by court standards and could set up a decision from the Supreme Court that could land in the thick of the 2020 presidential campaign. If the appeals court in Washington — and perhaps the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York, where a second similar case may be filed — rules within a matter of weeks rather than months, the justices might have to take up procedural motions this summer.”
-- Another judge sounded skeptical of the House lawsuit aiming to block Trump from diverting money appropriated for other purposes to pay for his border wall. DOJ argues that Congress cannot sue to enforce its power of the purse. Spencer S. Hsu reports: “Over nearly three hours of arguments, U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden of the District said there were few cases to guide how courts should rule on a major test of the constitutional separation of powers, and pressed House general counsel Douglas Letter to point to historical precedent allowing one chamber of Congress to sue the president to settle political differences. Whether the House has legal standing to sue is ‘problematic’ and a ‘significant issue in this case,’ said McFadden, citing the bedrock legal requirement that a party prove it is being harmed and show that only a court can address it. ‘Courts are not there to adjudicate just interesting constitutional or political questions between the branches,’ he added later.”
TRUMP VS. PELOSI:
-- Trump and Pelosi traded fresh insults. The president called the House speaker “crazy Nancy,” while the speaker suggested his White House aides and family should consider staging an intervention “for the good of the country.” Rachael Bade, John Wagner and Anne Gearan report: “The fight quickly escalated as Pelosi (D-Calif.) taunted Trump at her Capitol Hill news conference Thursday morning, a move intentionally aimed at portraying the president as erratic and upsetting him, according to an individual familiar with Pelosi’s thinking. ... Furious with her scornful comments, Trump, 72, [impugned] the 79-year-old Pelosi’s mental clarity — ‘she’s lost it’ — and [suggested] the North American trade deal was too complicated for her to understand.”
-- Altered videos of Pelosi, intended to make her appear drunk, are quickly spreading across the Internet. Drew Harwell reports: “The video of Pelosi’s onstage speech Wednesday at a Center for American Progress event, in which she said Trump’s refusal to cooperate with congressional investigations was tantamount to a ‘coverup,’ was subtly edited to make her voice sound garbled and warped. It was then circulated widely across Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. One version, posted by the conservative Facebook page Politics WatchDog, had been viewed more than 2 million times by Thursday night, been shared more than 45,000 times, and garnered 23,000 comments with users calling her ‘drunk’ and ‘a babbling mess.’ … On Thursday night, Trump tweeted a separate video of Pelosi — a selectively edited supercut, taken from Fox News, focused on moments where she briefly paused or stumbled — that he claimed showed her stammering through a news conference.”
-- Pelosi declined to engage with Kellyanne Conway after the White House counselor took aim at her wealth. Felicia Sonmez reports: “'I’m not going to talk about her,’ Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference … Conway asked Pelosi whether she had a response for the president after he stormed out of the room [on Wednesday]. … Pelosi replied that she would respond directly to the president, not staff … Conway — who lives in a $7.7 million mansion in Northwest Washington — then went on to take aim at Pelosi’s personal wealth. ‘Let’s face it. She’s the sixth-most-rich member of Congress. She treats everybody like they’re her staff.’ … Roll Call listed Pelosi as the 30th wealthiest member of the House or the Senate during the last Congress, with an estimated net worth of $16 million.”
-- The speaker has tamped down impeachment talk among most of her rank and file, at least for now. And she may have bought herself a little more time with Congress heading into a recess. Politico’s Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris capture the state of play: “The California Democrat sent lawmakers out the door Thursday for a 10-day Memorial Day break after tamping down swelling demands from House Democrats to launch impeachment proceedings against [Trump] … After working to mollify the party’s restive left flank this week by pointing to a pair of legal victories in their oversight battle with Trump, Democrats were ushered into the recess with new talking points from the caucus' messaging arm that were conspicuously silent on impeachment.”
-- The last time a president was threatened with impeachment, he didn’t talk about it. Trump can’t help but do the exact opposite. The New York Times’s Peter Baker reports: “Where Bill Clinton tried to appear above the mud fight, leaving it to aides and allies to wage the battle for him, Mr. Trump is determined to get down into the mud himself and wrestle with his enemies at every turn. Some advisers worry that the president is giving oxygen to a fire that otherwise might burn out or at least be left to crackle in the background. … It is safe to say that there seems to be little prospect for major legislation beyond simply keeping the government open. And even that might prove problematic. ‘President Trump is quite willing to sacrifice his agenda to defend himself,’ said former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who was the Democratic leader during Mr. Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999. ‘He believes that no one can do that as effectively as he can, and, for him, that takes priority over any legislative issue.’”
-- Former Republican congressman Tom Coleman (Mo.) said both Trump and Vice President Pence are illegitimate. “Impeach them,” Coleman writes in an op-ed for today's Kansas City Star: “The political calculus not to pursue impeachment is understandable. Current polls show a majority of voters do not favor it. But critical times require exceptional leadership. Lawmakers of both parties should not blindly follow the polls but instead follow the evidence and their conscience. Politics should not rule the day. Partisan politics is what got us to this dangerous place — so dangerous, I believe, that the survival of our democracy is at risk. … If this process leads to impeaching Trump in the House of Representatives and also results in convicting him in the Senate, his illegitimacy would survive through Vice President Mike Pence’s succession to the presidency. Because the misdeeds were conducted to assure the entire Trump-Pence ticket was elected, both former candidates — Pence as well as Trump — have been disgraced and discredited.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- Trump is mulling the Pentagon's request to send more forces to the Middle East, acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan said. Paul Sonne and Missy Ryan report: “The proposal from U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Middle East, comes as the military seeks to address what officials have described as a spike in threats against U.S. forces, detected by U.S. intelligence streams, from Iran and its proxy groups. … The meeting — which Shanahan said would involve updating the president on the security situation in Iran — won’t necessarily end in a decision. Before the meeting, Trump said he didn’t think it would be necessary to send more troops to the region. ‘But if we need it, we’ll be there in whatever numbers we need,’ he said at the White House. Shanahan dismissed reports that the United States was preparing to send as many as 5,000 or 10,000 more forces to the region. ‘There is no 10,000 and there is no 5,000,’ Shanahan said.”
-- Trump will visit a Japan this weekend that’s been hit hard by his trade war with China. Simon Denyer and Akiko Kashiwagi report: “In Japan there is considerable support for Trump’s tough line on China, but that’s mixed with concern about the impact that the trade war and China’s economic slowdown is already having on Japanese exports and factory output. There are also concerns that Japan will be next in the president’s trade crosshairs … In Seoul, the won fell sharply this week and has now depreciated by nearly 5 percent against the dollar in a month, pushed down in large part by the slowdown in China, the fall in its currency, the renminbi, and the impact of the trade war. Both countries also find themselves caught in the middle of the Huawei dispute ... "
-- The U.S. military is being blamed for contaminating the environment in Okinawa with a carcinogenic chemical that’s been found in the rivers around an American air base and in the bloodstream of local residents. Simon Denyer and Akiko Kashiwagi report: “The controversy is inflaming an already sensitive situation for the U.S. military in Okinawa ... a study by two Kyoto University professors found high concentrations of a chemical called perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in rivers passing through and around the Kadena Air Base and the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. PFOS is a chemical within the PFAS family, and was used by the U.S. military as an ingredient in firefighting foam for five decades until 2015, along with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).”
-- North Korea has been testing more ballistic missiles but Trump still won’t invoke the B-word. Simon Denyer reports: “The U.S. president is clearly trying to boast about what he considers an important foreign policy success, and minimize the problems that have emerged since the collapse of his summit with Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February."
-- Brazil’s highest court voted to extend anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people amid a spike in attacks against them since President Jair Bolsonaro began his right-wing campaign in 2018. Marina Lopes reports: “A majority of the 11-member Supreme Federal Court voted to find it unconstitutional to exclude sexual orientation and gender from Brazil’s anti-discrimination law."
-- A prominent French journalist was summoned for questioning by police over her reports on corruption at the highest levels of Emmanuel Macron’s government. Ariane Chemin, a reporter for Le Monde, first broke news in 2018 about what has become known as the “Benalla affair," a scandal that has fueled allegations of a coverup within Macron’s palace. (James McAuley)
-- Barack Obama’s silence on the 2020 race has sparked speculation he could be biding his time to have major sway if Democrats fail to rally around a nominee. The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere reports: “Obama remains firm that he won’t endorse soon, while aides are stressing that he might get involved later in the process—presumably, the thinking goes, to stop a candidate he sees as too divisive or likely to lose from becoming the nominee. (This hasn’t been specified, but most assume it would be to stop Bernie Sanders.) Obama and his aides have carefully guarded when and how to deploy him; some have even theorized he could be called on to broker who the 2020 nominee is, if the primaries finish without a clear winner and Democrats face a contested convention.”
The uncertain release date of Obama’s memoir could affect the dynamics of the Democratic primaries: “The writing has been going more slowly than he’d expected, and according to several people who have spoken with him, the 44th president is feeling competitive with his wife, whose own book, Becoming, was the biggest release of 2018 and is on track to be the best-selling memoir in history. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, like others in this story, these sources note he’ll occasionally point out in conversation that he’s writing this book himself, while Michelle used a ghostwriter. … The untitled memoir, which will reportedly begin with his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech and cover his two terms in the White House, won’t be released in 2019, as his publisher, Penguin Random House, had predicted just a few months ago."
-- Pete Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, said it’s “disgusting” that Trump is considering pardons for U.S. soldiers accused of war crimes. The Democratic presidential candidate warned that such pardons could harm the reputation of the U.S. military and its justice system. “If the president blows a hole in that, he is blowing a hole in the military, and he is putting troops lives at risk.” He added that during his military service, “the flag on my shoulder represented a country that kept its word. … If we lose that, nothing will keep us safe.” (John Wagner)
-- Buttigieg also said that NFL players protesting racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem are “exercising a right that I had put my life on the line to defend." “The point of defending free speech is not that you expect to be perfectly aligned with every speech act that is protected,” he said in an interview with my colleague Robert Costa. “And when that same flag was on my shoulder, I didn’t think of the flag as something that itself as an image was sacred; I thought of it as something that was sacred because of what it represented. One of the very things it represented is the freedom of speech, and that’s one of the reasons I served.” (Jacob Bogage)
-- Self-help author Marianne Williamson is virtually guaranteed a spot in the first Democratic debates after meeting both the polling and donor requirements to qualify. A third poll showed Williamson at 1 percent, and her campaign previously said it has received contributions from more than 65,000 donors. (Politico)
-- Nearly half of Democrats say the ideal president would be someone “in their 50s,” according to a new Pew Research Center poll: “Two of the Democratic Party’s best-known candidates, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, are in their 70s, yet only 3% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say this is the best age range for a president. And just 6% say it would be ideal for a president to be in their 30s. … [M]ost who identify as or lean Democratic say it would not have much effect on their enthusiasm if the party’s presidential nominee were white, a person of color, or gay, lesbian or bisexual. However, nearly a third of all Democrats (31%) – including 45% of Democratic women ages 18 to 49 – say they would be more enthusiastic if the party’s nominee were a woman."
-- “What Reparations for Slavery Might Look Like in 2019,” by the New York Times’s Patricia Cohen: “Who would be paid? How much? Where would the money come from? … William A. Darity Jr., an economist at Duke University and a leading scholar on reparations, suggests two qualifying conditions: having at least one ancestor who was enslaved in the United States, and having identified oneself as African-American on a legal document for at least a decade before the approval of any reparations. … Attaching a dollar figure to a program of reparations resembles a ‘Wheel of Fortune’ spin, with amounts ranging from the piddling ($71.08 per recipient under Forman’s plan) to the astronomical ($17 trillion in total).”
-- As liberal groups warn of the dire consequences of recent abortion ban bills, the Democratic Governors Association is planning to back two Democratic candidates who oppose abortion rights. HuffPost’s Kevin Robillard and Amanda Terkel report: The DGA “is preparing to potentially spend millions of dollars backing two Democratic candidates who share that position: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has indicated he plans to sign a ‘heartbeat’ bill that would effectively ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, the all-but-certain gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi who is defending a similar law in court. … [A]bortion-rights activists and progressives argue making that allowance for red-state candidates undermines the party’s message and undercuts its supporters.”
-- The Republicans advancing restrictive abortion laws in states like Alabama and Ohio have risen to power thanks to support from white women, Ronald Brownstein explains in the Atlantic. “In some of those states, polling shows that opposition to legal abortion is higher among white women than among white men. These attitudes underscore why it’s too simplistic to forecast that the renewed push against abortion will uniformly drive women away from the GOP. There’s no question that abortion-rights supporters everywhere are mobilizing in opposition to the highly restrictive new laws … Their success will depend on whether the restrictions dislodge meaningful numbers of white women in these states from their respective Republican coalitions. And that is far from certain, particularly in the southern and border states advancing most of the laws.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The president shared a misleading, heavily edited video of the speaker:
it is still shocking a president would share an obviously manipulated video. Yet more evidence she really got under his skin. https://t.co/7dhPRDpvYy— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) May 24, 2019
Pelosi hit back at Trump's comments about her:
When the “extremely stable genius” starts acting more presidential, I’ll be happy to work with him on infrastructure, trade and other issues. https://t.co/tfWVkj9CLT— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) May 23, 2019
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) kept up his impeachment talk with a 20-tweet thread:
Mueller’s report describes a consistent effort by the president to use his office to obstruct or otherwise corruptly impede the Russian election interference investigation because it put his interests at risk.— Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 23, 2019
The former director of the Office of Government Ethics slammed Trump's recent outbursts:
The nuclear codes are in the hands of a grown man who has called himself a "stable genius" and, right after calling his former Secretary of State "dumb as a rock, now insists he was "extremely calm" when he stormed out of a meeting.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) May 23, 2019
Conservative lawyer George Conway, who is married to Kellyanne Conway, mocked Trump's claim that he doesn't "do coverups":
A Democratic congresswoman called for HUD Secretary Ben Carson's resignation:
As a former prosecutor, I take Congressional testimony very seriously.— Rep. Jennifer Wexton (@RepWexton) May 23, 2019
This week, Secretary Carson lied to me and to Congress.
He lied again when he called me to “clarify” his testimony.
He’s proven himself to be deceitful & inept as HUD Secretary.
He should resign. https://t.co/nM3hDf6rx6
A presidential historian remembered another massive government project during Trump's "infrastructure week":
Eisenhower’s beloved Interstate Highway System was called largest public works project in history: pic.twitter.com/58t4EcxGHG— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) May 23, 2019
An LA Times reporter saw two Republican congressmen at the DOJ:
The Onion published this satirical story after the Trump administration shelved plans to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill:
Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) played along with another Onion spoof about him:
This was supposed to be off the record. https://t.co/y8ns10UOKw— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) May 23, 2019
A House Democrat from Texas, who represents a border district, condemned the Trump administration for the newly reported death of a migrant child in U.S. detention:
Dear @POTUS— Rep. Veronica Escobar (@RepEscobar) May 23, 2019
Since you stated emphatically that you "don’t do cover ups." Can you confirm that no more unreported migrant deaths have occurred?
Veronica, Lou, Sylvia, and Debbie.#TrumpCoverUp pic.twitter.com/20UTYpOzTJ
A Bloomberg News reporter received this from a Republican senator:
Sen Ron Johnson handed me this immigration themed beer 🍺 cup. pic.twitter.com/psUIDDxM44— Erik Wasson (@elwasson) May 23, 2019
Another Republican senator shared a new photo of her puppy:
A Defense News reporter celebrated the forthcoming release of a new movie:
This movie is everything for me:— Valerie Insinna (@ValerieInsinna) May 23, 2019
-cheesy Hallmark holiday knock off
-Air Force references
-main characters fall in love during a Base Realignment and Closure round I MEAN CAN YOU IMAGINE ANYTHING MORE ROMANTIC?!?!?! https://t.co/jf4EQUpi3s
-- “‘My daughter. My grandchildren.’ Elderly Mexicans are visiting their undocumented children in the U.S. – with State Department approval,” by Kevin Sieff: “Officials in Michoacan call them Palomas Mensajeras (Messenger Pigeons.) They are parents and grandparents in Mexico who have not seen their undocumented children in the United States for years, even decades. Since 2017, officials here have been working with the U.S. State Department to reunite those families for three-week visits in cities and towns across the United States. For many here, it is an unlikely American olive branch amid the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration. But it has been welcomed by immigrant families grappling with a crisis that has rippled across both countries: The elderly parents of the estimated 5 million undocumented Mexicans in the United States are dying alone in Mexico while their children remain stuck on the other side of the border.”
-- New York Times, “My Rapist Apologized,” by Michelle Alexander: “My 12-year-old daughter recently asked me what I think about abortion. She walked into the kitchen, poked around the refrigerator, then spun around and blurted it out: ‘I can’t decide what I think about abortion. I want to know what you think.’ … I took a deep breath. Her question took me by surprise, and yet I had been waiting for it since the day she was born. I always knew the time would come when I would have to tell my daughters the truth: I was raped. And I had an abortion. One day, you may face these challenges too.”
-- Foreign Policy, “IR Theory and ‘Game of Thrones’ Are Both Fantasies,” by Paul Musgrave: “Since the start of the series, Game of Thrones has been catnip for scholars of world politics and foreign policy. They eagerly applied their talents and theories to ranking each character’s chances of winning the throne—repeatedly. There are scholarly journal articles about how to use a simulation based on the show to teach international relations theory. Rand Corp. has compared the show’s dragons to nuclear weapons. A Foreign Affairs article argued that, despite its use of violence, the show was no realist text but ‘a critique of the myopic focus on national security over the needs of individuals and the collective good.’ (The author cited as evidence Daenerys Targaryen’s concern for civilians, a point that didn’t fare so well.) There’s a good reason for this. It would be hard to imagine a fantasy world better concocted to appeal to international relations scholars than that of Westeros, the setting of Game of Thrones. After all, in many ways, international relations theory and Westeros are cousins since they descend from the same source material: bad European history.”
-- “Date Lab: We set a straight woman up with a gay woman. (Not on purpose, though.),” by Rich Juzwiak: “[T]here is a perfectly rational explanation as to how a gay woman and a straight woman ended up on a Date Lab date. The situation was the result of a series of misunderstandings (and one pileup on Interstate 395) so that just a slight turn of the dial would have shifted the folly into focus. A near-perfect storm, this one.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“#TrumpTantrum spreads on Twitter after impromptu press conference,” from the Hill: “Calls for [Trump] to resign began circulating on Twitter on Thursday morning, mocking the president for throwing a ‘#TrumpTantrum’ and walking out of a meeting with Democratic leadership this week. The hashtag refers to [Pelosi’s] claim that Trump acted like a child before walking out of a scheduled meeting to discuss a potential infrastructure package. … The official Twitter account for The Democratic Coalition, an anti-Trump super PAC that targets Republican officials and candidates, began circulating calls for Trump to resign over the incident. … The #TrumpMustResign hashtag quickly gained momentum online, with more than 60,000 people using it on Twitter.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Twitter Bans #Resistance-Famous Krassenstein Brothers for Allegedly Operating Fake Accounts,” from the Daily Beast: “Twitter has permanently banned prominent anti-Trump brothers Brian and Ed Krassenstein, alleging that two of the biggest stars of #Resistance Twitter had broken the site’s rules about operating fake accounts and purchasing fake interactions with their accounts. ‘The Twitter Rules apply to everyone,’ a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement. ‘Operating multiple fake accounts and purchasing account interactions are strictly prohibited. Engaging in these behaviors will result in permanent suspension from the service.’ The suspensions are a major loss for the Krassensteins, who had used their massive Twitter followers and ability to quickly respond to tweets from [Trump] to make themselves internet celebrities."
Trump and the first lady will leave for Tokyo today.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, who has launched a primary challenge against Trump, accused the president of wanting an “Aryan nation”: “I celebrate that America has always been a melting pot," Weld said. “It seems he would prefer an Aryan nation." (ABC News)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Expect today to be packed with warmth and zero mugginess. The Capitol Weather Gang forecasts: “A great next couple of days for cleanup after our strong storms yesterday, or dealing with traffic leaving town. Classic summertime heat and mugginess return by Sunday though, along with the chance of a few showers or storms. Headed the beach? Look pretty decent.” And if you’re headed to the beach this weekend, our BeachCast shows that you can expect mainly sunny days at beaches in N.J/Del./Md./N.C./Va., but watch out for late-afternoon or evening showers and storms.
-- The Nationals lost to the Mets 6-4. (Jesse Dougherty)
-- Maryland’s newly elected House Speaker Adrienne Jones called for the removal of a Confederate plaque from the Maryland State House, saying the item “has no place here.” Erin Cox reports: “In her first official act outside a ceremonial bill signing, Jones — the first woman and first African American to preside over a Maryland chamber — made the request in a letter to the State House Trust, which oversees the preservation and maintenance of the 240-year-old building. ‘History clearly tells us there was a right and a wrong side of the Civil War,’ wrote Jones (D-Baltimore County). ‘I believe it is our duty to ensure truth in history for what it is, not what some may have wished it to be.’”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
John Walker Lindh, the American captured in Afghanistan in 2001 fighting for the Taliban, was released early from federal prison after 17 years yesterday:
Here's a view from the air of some of the tornado damage in Missouri:
Former HUD secretary Julián Castro stopped by Seth Meyers's show:
Stephen Colbert has a few suggestions for the title of Donald Trump Jr.'s new book:
Trevor Noah took a look into Trump's alleged temper tantrum: