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Power Up: Fire and farmers: Trump and Biden duel in Iowa over ways to tackle China threat

with Brent D. Griffiths

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Outside the Beltway

BATTLE OF IOWA: President Trump and Joe Biden duked it out in the battle for farm country yesterday, from multiple stops in Iowa where farmers are wrestling with historically terrible weather and the impact of tariffs.

The septuagenarian opponents were in agreement on at least one thing: that China is a threat to the U.S. But they offered antithetical approaches on how best to address that threat — when they weren't lobbing highly personal attacks at one another. 

  • “'The president is literally an existential threat to America,' Biden said in Ottumwa, the first of several events in Iowa in which he delivered a multipronged indictment of Trump’s policies, values and character,” report my colleagues Matt Viser, John Wagner and Jenna Johnson. 

  • “He’s a different guy,” Trump said as he left the White House for Iowa. “He looks different than he used to. He acts different than he used to . . . Joe Biden is a dummy,” Trump concluded.

Focus on farmers: Biden hammered Trump for imposing aggressive tariffs on China that “crushed” farmers. “No one knows that better than Iowa,” Biden said at a stop in Davenport. China is Iowa’s 4th largest export market. 

  • “We are in a competition with China,” Biden told the crowd. “We need to get tough with China. They are a serious challenge to us, and in some areas a real threat. And every single step that Donald Trump is taking is only exacerbating the challenge.”
  • Zinger: “Now I’m watching Trump destroy the industry President Obama and I helped save.”

Trump disputed Biden's characterization: “Nobody has treated the farmers better than Donald Trump,” the president, speaking in third person, claimed. 

  • At a stop at Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy in Council Bluffs, Trump reminded the audience that he “fought very hard for ethanol” and touted “reversing decades of failed trade policies, opening up new markets, and fighting to give our farmers the fair and level playing field they deserve.”
  • Trump claimed that the USMCA will “go down as one of the greatest trade deals” but conceded that the administration is “still working on China.” 
  • “We're also taking long-overdue steps to stand up to China’s chronic trade abuses. Have to do it,” Trump told the group, adding that “somebody had to say 'no more.' And Obama-Biden didn’t say it.”

Biden put forward a more holistic approach to take on China. 

  • His proposals ranged from forming “a united front of allies to challenge China's abusive behavior”; tightening the hold on U.S. technology; and finding areas of cooperation with Beijing when it comes to climate change and nuclear weapons.
  • He's also focusing on U.S. investment: “While Trump is pursuing a damaging and erratic trade war, without any real strategy, China is positioning itself to lead the world in renewable energy,” he said. 
  • Key quote: "[Let's] invest in ourselves — that’s why I’ve proposed a historic initiative in scientific research, cutting-edge infrastructure, and a modern workforce that will help American workers and entrepreneurs compete and win.”

Trump’s campaign was quick to say that Biden's language was a departure from his previous rhetoric on China:  

  • “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man,” Biden said at a campaign stop in Iowa City earlier in May. Saying Beijing has its hands full dealing with its own domestic and regional problems, Biden said, “guess what? They’re not competition for us.”
  • LOL: “Who got to him on this one? Shannen Doherty?," Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told Power Up, referring to Biden's reversal on his position on the Hyde Amendment last week. The Atlantic reported that Alyssa Milano had informally advised the Biden campaign to reverse his position. (The two actresses starred on the show Charmed together). 

Bad news bears: The New York Times's Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman reported that Trump is trailing behind Biden in many must-win states, according to internal polling presented that was presented to him by his campaign pollster Tony Fabrizio.

  • The public polling also doesn't bode well at the moment for the president: “Quinnipiac University has for the first time conducted national head-to-head polls matching up Trump and some of the leading Democratic hopefuls . . . Trump trails all six by between five and 13 points, with Joe Biden holding the biggest advantage and the lesser-known candidates — Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg — holding the smallest leads,” per my colleague Aaron Blake. 

But Trump’s support in Iowa among Republicans hasn’t eroded — at least not yet: 

  • Per the Des Moines Register’s March Iowa Poll: “81 percent of registered Republicans approved of the job Trump is doing as president — the same level of approval as in a December 2018 Iowa Poll. Just 12 percent of Iowa Republicans disapproved of the job he's doing, and 7 percent are unsure.” 
  • And Trump’s election has precipitated a major shift in the state's politics as his popularity in traditionally Democratic blue-collar areas helped move the state legislature to its most conservative tilt in decades. 
  • But Democrats did receive good news in the midterm elections when they flipped two House seats in Cedar Rapids and the Des Moines suburbs and nearly ousted Rep. Steve King from his Northwest Iowa stronghold.

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The People

HERE WE GO AGAIN?: Ever heard of Andom Ghebreghiorgis? It's a name you might want to get acquainted with. He hopes to be the next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, after all. 

The 33-year-old Yale graduate-turned-special education teacher from Mount Vernon, New York will announce a primary challenge today to 72-year-old Congressman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), who has represented the 16th District of New York in the House for 31 years. 

Sound familiar?: Ghebreghiorgis — and his platform — represents a striking alternative to one of the most powerful members of the Democratic caucus and the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Mount Vernon resident of Eritrean descent told Power Up on Tuesday that he’s undeterred by the lack of establishment support, plans to reject corporate PAC money, and hopes to mobilize people in his district whom he says have previously been excluded from the political process throughout the Bronx and Westchester County. 

  • “For my generation of students born after 9/11, all they have known, every year of their life, is war; the threat of climate extinction; and the intractability of wage stagnation, college unaffordability, and income inequality,” Ghebreghiorgis will say in a campaign announcement speech later this morning. “This urgent time for change was yesterday, but it’s not going to come on its own. Turnout has been abysmally low for a reason. Wakefield, Edenwald, all of Uptown, Mount Vernon, parts of Yonkers have been shut out of the fold.” 

His platform of generational change, perhaps a sign of what's to come this election cycle, calls to “reimagine a politics that is inclusive, representative, and transformative, a politics that brings in voices that have been excluded and marginalized.”

  • Ghebreghiorgis will call out Engel for being a 16-term incumbent who is beholden to “millions of dollars in contributions from real estate, the health care industry, the military/defense lobby, and Wall Street.” (Engel’s office did not respond to requests for comment.) 
  • He’ll also voice his support for Medicare-for-all, the Green New Deal and fully-funded public education from pre-K through college. 

Ghebreghiorgis will also take direct aim at Engel’s record on foreign policy, arguing that it’s impossible to disentangle his opponent’s hawkish and “militaristic” foreign policy from his domestic policy. Per an excerpt of his announcement speech obtained by Power Up: 

  • “Our representative’s hawkish record is clear: he voted for the Iraq War, voted against withdrawing the U.S. from Afghanistan, opposed the Iran Nuclear Deal, supported Trump’s decision to unilaterally move the U.S. Embassy to Israel and supported Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan Heights. Humanity does not benefit from these militaristic policies that we typically expect to be supported by the Republican Party.”
  • “This cannot be the moral foundation we stand on. In this campaign, we will oppose all U.S. wars, occupations, and support for oppressive regimes. We will fight to end military aid for regimes that commit human rights violations. We assert that our domestic policy is our foreign policy. We cannot invest in what we need to live here unless we divest from what kills there.” 

Global Power

WAY BACK WEDNESDAY: This time last year, Trump pronounced it a “great honor” to be meeting with the North Korean leader, the first time in history such a moment had occurred. Trump beamed with the possibility that the opulent setting at the Capella Hotel just off the Southern coast of Singapore would be the sight of the start of a “terrific relationship.” True to form, Trump had long boasted that he could find agreement where his predecessors had failed for decades.

But a year later, despite “[falling] in love,” the president appears no closer to getting North Korea to relinquish its nuclear weapons and the prospect of future talks remains uncertain at best — as experts fear that a prolonged silence could lead Pyongyang to do something drastic.

Foreign policy experts told us that the Singapore summit, while helping cool any immediate chance of war, set the U.S. on an uneasy footing that undermined future talks -- that started with allowing Kim to stand alongside a U.S. president without giving up anything serious in return.

The bottom line: Kim still has his nuclear weapons. “We have a status quo that North Korea still has its major nuclear weapons program and despite two major summits, a summit with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, three summits with [South Korean] President Moon [Jae-in] and four with Chinese President Xi Jinping we’re still at the status quo on the nuclear weapons program,” Pak said.

Where do we go from here?: Experts agree that absent any progress before the end of the year, Pyongyang could ratchet up tensions once more.

  • North Korea has a history of not responding well to failures: “The thing that worries me most after Hanoi [talks earlier this year] is that North Korea will do some sort of major WMD test," Cha said. "We have data on this where we look at North Korean provocations cross-tabulated with U.S. diplomacy and whenever the diplomacy stops, usually within a period of half a year, North Korea will carry out some sort of major demonstration."
  • Trump is still talking about his correspondence with Kim, though: "I can’t show you the letter obviously, but it was a very personal, very warm, very nice letter,” Trump told reporters yesterday about a note that arrived a day earlier. “North Korea has tremendous potential, and he’ll be there. Under his leadership . . . And the one that feels that more than anybody is [Kim]. He gets it. He totally gets it.”

Next steps: Pompeo and Trump are also set to talk to South Korea again soon. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the president will travel to South Korea late this month after the G20 summit in Osaka. Trump and Moon, the State Department said, will "continue their close coordination on efforts to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization" of the peninsula. 

In the Media

HOW FALLING COFFEE IS DRIVING MIGRANTS TO THE U.S.: "Guatemala is now the single largest source of migrants attempting to enter the United States — more than 211,000 were apprehended at the Southwest border in the eight months from October to May," our colleague Kevin Sieff reports. "Here in western Guatemala, one of the biggest factors in that surge is the falling price of coffee, from $2.20 per pound in 2015 to a low this year of 86 cents — about a 60 percent drop. Since 2017, most farmers have been operating at a loss, even as many sell their beans to some of the world’s best-known specialty-coffee brands. A staggering number of those farmers have decided to migrate."

  • Behind the price drop: "Guatemala’s coffee farmers are at the mercy of one of the world’s most volatile commodity markets. Over the past two years, the price has been pushed down by the increase in cheap, mechanized coffee production in Brazil — the Saudi Arabia of coffee — the strength of the U.S. dollar and increased production in Vietnam, Honduras and Colombia," Kevin writes. "It’s a perfect storm that has eaten away at the value of the beans even as the price of lattes and Americanos in U.S. shops has risen."
  • Why Trump's strategy might not be effective: "Trump has blamed weak border security in Mexico and loopholes in America’s asylum system for the increase. The deal by Mexico and the United States last week focused largely on deterring Guatemalan migrants through tougher enforcement. But many here are still considering the journey — and falling incomes are a major part of the calculus."
  • In discussion: “I asked him what he could do about the price,” Genier Hernández, the head of Hoja Blanca’s coffee cooperative said of his question to acting homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan traveled to Guatemala in May and met with growers.