TESTING TRUMP: All over the world, President Trump's "America First" posture toward allies and frenemies will be tested as his signature trade negotiations with China are on the rocks and a cease fire has been reached in Gaza.
- Israel: Gaza militants agreed to a ceasefire with Israel early at 4:30 a.m. local time this morning after Israel trained airstrikes on them following more than 600 rockets aimed at it. Meanwhile, Jared Kushner prepares to roll out the administration's Middle East peace plan after the conclusion of Ramadan.
- China: Perhaps the most consequential deal of Trump's presidency is on the line: Chinese negotiators set to arrive in Washington this week to resume trade talks might no longer be arriving as scheduled after President Trump threatened to raise tariffs on Chinese imports on Twitter on Sunday.
- More: As Trump's twin Twitter threats sent the stock market tumbling, China's censor-machine went into effect, Bloomberg News reports.
- On the ground: "More than 14 hours after Trump’s threat to raise tariffs on Chinese goods up-ended global markets, few Chinese news outlets have reported them. From the official Xinhua News Agency to the more market-oriented Caixin and the typically belligerent Global Times, there was little information on what sent the nation’s stocks to their biggest loss since 2016 and caused the sharpest yuan weakening in three years."
- Iran: Late last night, national security adviser John Bolton announced the U.S. is deploying an aircraft carrier and a bomber task force to the Middle East in response to “escalatory” movement by Iran.
- Venezuela: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is headed to Finland for a meeting of the Arctic Council where he is expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and discuss Russia's involvement in Venezuela after Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó's U.S.-backed military uprising to oust President Nicolás Maduro fell apart last week.
- North Korea conducted its first missile test since 2017 on Friday as talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump have stalled.
The series of events underscores criticisms of the White House's global strategy (or lack thereof), Trump's volatile negotiation tactic and the president's tendency to conduct foreign policy via Twitter.
- Surprise!: Trump's hard-line threats on Twitter to increase tariffs on "$200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent on Friday and levy a new 25 percent fee on all remaining Chinese imports” caught Chinese officials, along with investors, by surprise as the U.S. and China were expected to finalize a trade deal by the end of the week, according to my colleagues David Lynch, Damian Paletta and Robert Costa.
- “This has all the makings of a complete disaster that could lead the stock market to crater this week,”Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist for Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, wrote in a client note obtained by David, Damian and Bob.
- It's just politics: Analysts speculate that Trump's tweets were simply a means of scoring some political points as China has refused to bend to some of Trump's far-reaching demands.
- “With President Trump, you never know, but there is a good chance that this is just a threat,” Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told the Wall Street Journal's Bob Davis and Rebecca Ballhaus, and Lingling Wei. “If they announce a deal later this week, it will make it appear as if he acted as tough as possible to get the deal.”
Public dissonance: Meanwhile, as the situation in Venezuela — and Maduro's resolve to maintain power — has dragged on, a schism in the administration between Trump and his national security team has become increasingly exposed. Bolton has pushed for a more aggressive policy (including military options) while others at the Pentagon have urged caution regarding the use of force.
- “This is not the first time that members of the U.S. administration say that all options are on the table . . . I really hope that this doesn't reflect the intentions of President Trump. In his call with Putin [Trump] didn't say anything like that. The conversation was about helping the people of Venezuela overcome the crisis,” Lavrov said during a news conference over the weekend, referring to possible U.S. military intervention.
There's also heightened concern about the potential absence of congressional authorization for any military action in Venezuela from Capitol Hill:
- During an interview on ABC's “This Week,” Pompeo confirmed “that the Trump administration is making contingency plans for U.S. military intervention in Venezuela, but he refused to say whether the administration would seek congressional authorization first,” per my colleagues Karoun Demirjian and Paul Sonne.
Trump has “occasionally mused to others that Bolton wants to get him into wars”; Bolton's bellicose tactics were on display on Sunday night in his statement on the decision to dispatch an aircraft carrier and other military resources in response to Iran's “troubling” actions.
- “The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces,” Bolton said in the statement.
- “A defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, said there were indications 'that Iranian forces and proxies were making preparations to possibly attack U.S. forces in the region,'" per my colleagues Missy Ryan and Karen DeYoung.
- “The administration blames Iran for fueling instability across the Middle East, and Bolton has been a longtime advocate of using military force against the government in Tehran. The statement, issued in Bolton’s name, was released late Sunday evening without elaboration,” Missy and Karen report.
Iranian Foreign Minister @JZarif says he does not believe military confrontation will happen between the U.S. and Iran, but he thinks the U.S. “is putting things in place for accidents to happen.” pic.twitter.com/MjYVTNWi59— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) April 28, 2019
John Bolton's statement on Iran comes on the heels of violence between Israel and the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Palestinian militants launched more than 600 rockets into Israel on Sunday, and Israel responded with airstrikes on more than 300 targets in the deadliest day of fighting in nearly five years.
- “Four Israeli civilians were killed, the first from rocket fire from Gaza since 2014, and 23 Palestinians died. The exchange threatened to push the sides toward a new war and derail efforts to broker a longer-term truce,” our colleagues Loveday Morris, Ruth Eglash and Hazem Balousha report.
- Netanyahu responds: The prime minister met for more than four hours with his security cabinet. “He said he had instructed the military to continue strikes and prepare “for the next stages,” Loveday, Ruth and Hazem report.
- Trump weighs in: “Once again, Israel faces a barrage of deadly rocket attacks by terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. We support Israel 100 percent in its defense of its citizens …,” the president wrote in a series of tweets. “ . . . To the Gazan people — these terrorist acts against Israel will bring you nothing but more misery. END the violence and work toward peace — it can happen!”
Remember: Kushner is still working on a Middle East peace plan. The first son-in-law offered a preview just last week when he said the plan is an “in-depth operational document” that is “realistic, executable . . . and will lead to both sides being much better off,” read more of CNN’s Betsy Klein, Michelle Kosinski and Nicole Gaouette report from Friday.
At the White House
TRUMP SAYS MUELLER ‘SHOULD NOT’ TESTIFY: President Trump reversed himself on Sunday by declaring special counsel Robert Mueller should not testify before Congress, a move that also contradicts his attorney general, possibly some of his biggest congressional allies and will only further irk Democrats.
- As is often the case, Trump’s reversal came via Twitter:
....to testify. Are they looking for a redo because they hated seeing the strong NO COLLUSION conclusion? There was no crime, except on the other side (incredibly not covered in the Report), and NO OBSTRUCTION. Bob Mueller should not testify. No redos for the Dems!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2019
When asked by reporters in the Oval Office on Friday, Trump said of Mueller’s possible testimony: “I don’t know. That’s up to our attorney general, who I think has done a fantastic job.”
Top Democrats have previously said they are working out dates for Mueller to appear. Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said the panel is eyeing May 15 as a possible date. But even Republicans have called for Mueller, whose discord with Attorney General Bill Barr has broken into the open, to come before them.
- Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Judiciary Republican, has previously urged lawmakers to call Mueller, along with Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a top Trump ally. Graham has said that Mueller should let him know if Barr misrepresented Mueller’s point of view.
- The focus on Mueller has only grown since The Post reported that Mueller’s conversations with Barr included a letter Barr testified was “a bit snitty” saying the AG should have released more of the special counsel’s findings right away instead of Barr's four-page summary letter.
P.S.: The White House's strategy to stonewall congressional investigations and requests for witnesses is still in full effect. This week could be indicate whether that playbook will be ultimately score any victories.
MNUCHIN'S DEADLINE: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has until today to respond to House Democrats' request for Trump's tax returns. Mnuchin has thus far missed two deadlines imposed by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.). It seems pretty unlikely he will comply, setting up a probable court fight.
“Mnuchin, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meetings, said 'the implication of this is way beyond in my mind a congressional oversight issue, and a president issue,'" per Reuters's David Lawder and Pete Schroeder.
Hmmm: “I feel a responsibility that we get this right and that the IRS does not become weaponized like it was under the Nixon administration.”
“This is probably one of the most important decisions I will make,” Mnuchin told reporters. “It’s not just about a congressional investigation into the president’s tax returns — it’s about my responsibility to follow the law.”
In the Media
IN OTHER NEWS:
- Michael Cohen heads to prison today: Cohen's prison reality: A bunk bed in barrack-style hall. By The Associated Press's Michael Sisak and Jim Mustian.
- The the first on-the-record interview of a Boeing board member since the crashes: ‘Safety was just a given’: Inside Boeing’s boardroom amid the 737 Max crisis. By The Post's Douglas MacMillan.
- Puerto Rico: Alex Cora won't visit the White House with the Boston Red Sox. By El Nuevo Día's Esteban Pagán Rivera.
- Also happening today: In Tiger Woods, Trump Finds a Hero and a Business Opportunity. By the New York Times' Annie Karni and Kevin Draper.
- Forget Maximum Security’s misstep; the whole of horse racing is a foul. By The Pos's Sally Jenkins.