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The People

Trump's escalating trade war with China is the latest 2020 fight that the incumbent is itching to have. 

Nevermind the growing concerns from Senate Republicans and their constituents in rural America. The president has told advisers and top allies “that he has no intention of pulling back on his escalating trade war with China, arguing that clashing with Beijing is highly popular with his political base and will help him win reelection in 2020 regardless of any immediate economic pain,” according to my colleagues Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey and Sean Sullivan.

  • At its core: “Trump’s defiance is rooted in decades of viewing the Chinese as economic villains and driven by his desire to fulfill a core promise from his 2016 campaign: that he would dramatically overhaul the U.S.-China relationship,” Bob, Josh and Sean write. 
  • No end in sight: “When the time is right we will make a deal with China,” Trump tweeted early Tuesday morning, after announcing that he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at next month’s G-20 summit. 

Some White House advisers have expressed unease with the direction Trump is headed. Yet the Trump allies who attribute his political success in the heartland to his hard line approach to China and tough talk on trade are now also downplaying the economic pressure on farmers across the Midwest. 

  • The political risk will pay off, they say: Farmers might “turn on [Trump] in the polls for now — but the only poll that matters is November 2020. His approval rating will take a hit if the stock market continues to take a hit and if the economy slows down. But his rating now doesn't matter. It’s how he’s rating with voters in early November of next year and that’s still 18 months away,” Stephen Moore, a conservative economist who withdrew from consideration as a Trump Federal Reserve Board nominee, told Power Up.

  • A winning issue?: “At a 'Cocktails and Conversation' gathering of influential Republicans at the luxe 21 Club in New York City on Monday night, former Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn said he felt that the president might want to keep the debate over trade alive for the 2020 election, believing it to be a winning campaign issue, according to one of the attendees who was not authorized to speak publicly,” per Bob, Josh and Damian.

  • A Senate Republican staffer working on the issue texted: “No one is focusing on the political upside of Trump’s nationalist, anti-Chinese rhetoric. For every one farmer who resents Trump for his trade wars, there are 10 who support him more energetically and 1000 non-farmers who might see the price on their T-shirt from Walmart increase but probably won’t notice the difference at all but will appreciate a 'strong' president standing up to a foreign power trying to hurt us and bully us with threats."

BLOWBACK: Trump appeared unmoved by Republicans on the Hill warning against the expansion of the trade war -- and his commitment to keep pressing the issue will test their patience and that of his political base. 

  • A “bad approach”: “I mean, think about what we’re doing. We’re inviting this retaliation that denies our farmers -- the most productive farmers on the planet -- the opportunity to sell their products overseas. And then we say, 'but don’t worry we’ll have taxpayers send you some checks and make it okay,'” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters yesterday at the Capitol. “That is a very bad approach. I didn’t support it in the last round and I don’t support it in a subsequent round.”

  • Last week, Trump more than doubled U.S. tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports; China quickly retaliated by raising tariffs on U.S. agricultural and other goods. Trump this week took the first steps to expanding tariffs to cover the remaining Chinese imports

Farmers and Democrats who spoke with Power Up on Tuesday say it's not just about the immediate economic burden. They emphasized the long-term damage that Trump's sustained impasse with China has inflicted on a trade relationship that served as a lifeline for farmers, pork producers, and others. 

  • Outside the beltway perspective: “U.S. soybean farms have spent 40 years developing a market in China. And the longer this continues, the less we are perceived as a reliable suppliers to the Chinese,” Monty Peterson, a soybean and corn farmer in North Dakota told Power Up. “I don't think that you can have a breakdown for this long in trade and not substantially unroot relations that took decades to build. I don't think you can expect to get that business right back again. And that doesn’t sound logical.”
  • Peterson, a director on the board of North Dakota's Soybean Association, has been in the farming business for 39 years. Now he fears for younger producers who “can't weather this kind of market distraction without getting some serious aid.”
  • Union weighs in: “The markets [for American agricultural exports] have literally been destroyed in this process,” National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson told my colleague Tory Newmyer on Monday. 

It's an issue animating Democrats from rural America too: Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa) said that Trump's apparent lack of urgency to strike a deal with China “is reckless and lacks understanding of the damage that has already been done.” 

  • “China and Brazil have been making new soybean contacts and Brazil is deforesting as fast as they can to plant more beans,” Finkenauer told Power Up in an interview. 

The 29-year-old who unseated incumbent Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) in the 2018 midterms campaigned in opposition to Trump's trade war that was starting to ripple through the regional economy and hurt Iowa's export markets. Now, the House Freshman says she meets with U.S. Trade Rep. Robert E. Lighthizer's office every week “to make sure that they are hearing the personal stories.” 

  • “We have seen the administration, quite literally, use my friends and family and neighbors and people in my district as poker chips they were willing to bet on this trade war and willing to lose. And right now, they're losing,” Finkenauer added. “We need to get these deals done in a way that not only gets us back to where we were but makes improvements.” 

Reasons for concern: “Soybean futures fell to the lowest level in a decade as an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China dimmed hopes that the Asian nation will resume purchases of American beans and ease a supply glut,” Bloomberg's Michael Hirtzer reported on Monday

Money doesn't always talk: Trump promised an additional $15 billion dollar bailout to help American farmers affected by the trade war, on top of the $12 billion in aid that was provided to farmers last year. But “that's not the way farmers want to get paid," Peterson said. “We're not interested in aid packages from the government. That's not commerce." 

Kicker: Now, there's at least one farmer who counts himself as a former Trump supporter: 

  • “Yes, I did vote for Trump,” Peterson said. “I’m concerned, though. I’m questioning his ability to get a trade deal negotiated.”
  • “Originally when I voted for him, I thought he’d be a one-term president — he’d go in and try to fix things, get the job done in four years,” he added. “But I guess I was wrong on that assumption.”

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Global Power

TRUMP’S RUSSIAN RESET, AT LAST?: The end of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has allowed the Trump administration to resume discussions with Russia on “a lengthy list of topics, including arms control, Iran and Venezuela," according to my colleagues Anne Gearan and Anton Troianovski

  • “We can work together to make each of our people more successful and, frankly, the world more successful, too,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, dispatched by Trump to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his vacation home in Sochi, Russia. “And so President Trump wants to do everything we can, and he asked me to travel here to communicate that.”

Doing what Trump won't do: Despite the eagerness to pivot from the Mueller report to their geopolitical laundry list, a dispute over the report’s findings remained. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed a question about election interference during a news conference. Pompeo, in response, issued a 2020 warning:

  • “You can see we have some disagreements on this issue,” Pompeo told reporters. “I made clear to Foreign Minister Lavrov, as we’ve made clear in the past months, that interference in American elections is unacceptable. If the Russians were to engage in that in 2020 it would put our relationship in an even worse place than it has been, and we encourage them not to do that. We would not tolerate that.”

ON IRAN: During the visit, Pompeo also discussed tensions with Iran, telling the Russians “that if American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion," Anne and Anton report. 

The administration is currently “discussing a range of options for using military force against Iran, officials said Tuesday, as lawmakers from both parties complained that the White House has not fully briefed them on the escalating tensions,” Missy Ryan, John Hudson and Carol Morello report.

  • “Top advisers to President Trump met at the White House late last week to consider possible steps, including military action, as officials spoke of 'credible threats' by Iran or Iranian proxy forces to U.S. personnel. The Pentagon already has moved an aircraft carrier, strategic bombers and other military assets to re­inforce U.S. forces across the Middle East,” per Missy, John and Carol. 

Daylight on U.K. and U.S. intel: U.K. Major General Chris Ghika told reporters in a live-streaming press briefing from Baghdad on Tuesday that the U.K. did not “see any increased threat" from Iran, according to Defense One's Katie Bo Williams. 

  • The assessment runs counter to the Trump administration's claims that Iran is "mobilizing proxy groups in Iraq and Syria to attack American forces," as the New York Times's Eric Schmitt and Julian Barnes reported earlier this week.  

Outside the Beltway

ALABAMA PASSES STRICTEST ANTIABORTION LAW: The Alabama Senate on Tuesday night passed legislation that would virtually ban all abortions in the state — including for victims of rape and incest. The main purpose of the legislation, the bill’s sponsors say, is to ready the antiabortion movement for a court challenge that could overturn Roe v. Wade.

Details about the bill: 

  • Physicians performing an abortion could face up to 99 years in prison and up to a 10-year sentence for trying to preform an abortion.
  • It “permits abortion only when necessary to save a mother’s life, an unyielding standard that runs afoul of federal court rulings. Those who backed the new law said they don’t expect it to take effect,” our colleagues Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Chip Brownlee report
  • Passed 25-6, all Democrats voted against it. Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has not indicated her position on the measure, the Montgomery Advertiser's Brian Lyman reports.
  • The reason for lack of exceptions: “The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Terri Collins (R), said she has empathy for survivors of rape and incest. But she also wants to make sure the law is strong enough to force federal court intervention — something she and others hope will lead to national restrictions on abortion,” Emily and Chip write.

What other states are doing: “Sixteen states have passed or are working to pass bans on abortion after a doctor can detect what they call “a fetal heartbeat in the womb,” usually at about six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. That includes Georgia, where Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a “heartbeat bill” into law on Tuesday,” Emily and Chip write.

Reality check: Before the Alabama bill passed, our colleagues Deanna Paul and Emily wrote a lengthy fact check of the falsehoods and misleading details floating on many social media feeds about the Alabama and Georgia’s legislation.

  • Remember: Neither Alabama’s proposed ban nor Georgia’s abortion law is currently in effect. Georgia’s law won’t go into effect until 2020 and in Alabama, if Ivey signs the bill, the law won’t go into effect for another six months. And it's likely to be challenged in court.
  • Women are not criminalized: The Alabama bill explicitly “states that women are exempt from criminal and civil liability,” Deanna and Emily write. The Georgia law is more complicated, but experts told our colleagues that there are provisions elsewhere in the state’s law that would protect women.

At the White House

GOP SENATORS QUESTION KUSHNER'S IMMIGRATION PLAN: Publicly, Republican senators praised White House adviser Jared Kushner's pitch to them on the administration's forthcoming immigration plan. But privately, “Republican officials said Kushner did not have clear answers to some questions from the friendly audience, prompting Trump’s other senior adviser, Stephen Miller, to interrupt at times and take over the conversation,” our colleagues Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis report in a juicy behind-the-scenes story.

  • What about DACA? “At one point, Kushner told Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that his plan would not address Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that shields some young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation,” Rachael and Mike write. “This left several senators confused because dealing with the 'dreamers,' as the group of immigrants is often called, is crucial for securing any Democratic support.”
  • It's Miller time: “The joint appearance of Kushner, who is relatively moderate on the issue, and Miller, an immigration hard-liner, apparently was meant to present a united front to senators who have been frequently vexed by internal White House rifts obstructing policy plans. But the presentation failed to convince many Republicans in the room that real unity was at hand,” Rachael and Mike write.
  • Ouch. “ . . . Some GOP senators left the meeting wondering whether Kushner understood the issue, the GOP officials said. Though some appreciated his efforts, they did not think his plan would advance anytime soon. No senator has stepped forward yet to turn Kushner’s plan into legislation.”