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🚨: "Israeli work crews on Monday began demolishing dozens of Palestinian homes in an east Jerusalem neighborhood, in one of the largest operations of its kind in years," per the Associated Press's Alon Bernstein.
- "The demolitions capped a years-long legal battle over the buildings, built along the invisible line straddling the city and the occupied West Bank. Israel says the buildings were erected too close to its West Bank separation barrier. Residents say the buildings are on West Bank land, and the Palestinian Authority gave them construction permits."
KIMYE'S FAUSTIAN BARGAIN: One of the most bizarre albeit predictable subplots of the Trump presidency has been Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's open line to the White House to call in favors to President Trump. The latest example is Kardashian-West's hitting up Jared Kushner to help free rapper friend A$AP Rocky following his arrest and detention in Stockholm.
Kushner swiftly elevated the request to his father-in-law, as first reported by TMZ, who quickly took action.
- “I will be calling the very talented Prime Minister of Sweden to see what we can do about helping A$AP Rocky,” Trump tweeted. “So many people would like to see this quickly resolved!”
- Status: Trump and Prime Minister Stefan Lofven spoke for 20 minutes on Saturday. Trump tweeted that "our teams will be talking further" but Lovfen emphasized "the complete independence of the Swedish judicial system, prosecutors and courts,” per his spokesperson. Trump also offered to guarantee bail for the rapper, but the country doesn't use such a system.
- "The Associated Press, citing Sweden’s TT News Agency, reported that Carl Risch, U.S. assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, was seen Friday at the Stockholm prison where Rocky and his associates are being held. The State Department announced Risch’s trip earlier this week, but did not specifically mention Rocky’s case," The Post reported.
TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE: The request from Kanye and Kim came at a particularly fraught moment for Trump as his racist tweets about four congresswomen of color renewed scrutiny of his past statements about racial minorities and opportunistic history on race relations. Kardashian-West gave Trump a chance to put the full force of the U.S. presidency behind the African American rapper who was imprisoned after a June 30 altercation.
- In the Oval Office this past Friday, Trump told reporters that “many, many members of the African American community have called me, friends of mine, and said, ‘Could you help?’”
- Trump, who has a habit of spelling out the transactional fine print of such scenarios, noted that Rocky “has tremendous support from the African American community in this country.”
The calculus: Kardashian-West has defended her relationship with the White House. After she successfully lobbied earlier this year for Trump to commute the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a first-time nonviolent drug offender, the reality-TV show celebrity has stepped up her advocacy efforts on criminal justice reform with the White House.
- “And I just kind of weighed the decision where it was like . . . to save a life or to get maybe bad tweets about me or a bad news story for a few days. I guarantee you the people sitting behind bars do not care who the president is. They just want that relief. And so if I could have done that, I don't care,” Kardashian told CNN's Van Jones.
Trump's intervention in the A$AP Rocky case, in which the Swedes are accused of unfairly imprisoning the rapper because of his race, spurred others celebrities and liberals to comment:
I want my friend out.. I appreciate you trying to help him. But while your at it @realDonaldTrump can you also let those kids out of cages?— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) July 20, 2019
Kardashian-West told Jones that's she's raised other issues in her conversations with Trump and White House officials -- "on immigration in particular" -- but that she "can't do everything."
This tacit conclusion being that Kardashian, like many Republicans, has accepted the terms of Trump's playbook: it's okay to call in favors but at the same time bite your tongue at things you don't like. The size and importance of the favor may vary but the unwritten terms remain the same.
- Hence Kardashian's tweet which came as Trump grappled with the backlash from sparking “Send her back chants” that thanked Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Kushner and “everyone involved with the efforts to Free ASAP Rocky & his two friends. Your commitment to justice reform is so appreciated.”
The New York Times's Peter Baker, Michael Grynbaum, Maggie Haberman, Annie Karni and Russ Buettner reported out Trump's decades long history of allegedly using race for gain.
- “Over the years, Mr. Trump has deflected criticism by citing friendships with black celebrities. In the 1980s, he became a fixture ringside in Atlantic City, befriending the boxing legends Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson and the promoter Don King. He briefly owned a United States Football League team, leading to friendship with its star player, Herschel Walker,” per the Times.
- “As the hip-hop industry flourished in the 1990s and 2000s, rappers often used Mr. Trump’s name in lyrics as a symbol of wealth and flash. Along the way, he became friendly with Sean Combs, Snoop Dogg and Russell Simmons. Mr. Trump boasted about the mention of his name in rap videos, asking one of the secretaries to find examples on YouTube and play them for guests. 'The blacks love me,' he said proudly.”
ON THE DOCKET: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan will visit the White House today in pursuit of a reset in Islamabad-Washington relations, according to my colleagues Shaiq Hussain and Jon Gerberg.
- A reset?: Khan's visit comes as the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has chilled over the leaders' Twitter sparring after Trump accused Pakistan of being "just one of many countries that take from the United States without giving anything in return," before he proceeded to suspend "$300 million in aid to Pakistan over what the U.S. government said was Pakistan’s failure to crack down on militancy within its borders,” per Shaiq and Jon.
- But first, a snub: “Khan arrived in Washington on Saturday evening to a low-key welcome — perceived in some quarters as a diplomatic snub — as he stepped out of a commercial Qatar Airways flight, only to be greeted by Pakistani Embassy officials who escorted him to a mobile buggy that transfers all disembarking passengers to immigration counters,” per The Times of India's Chidanand Rajghatta.
However, Pakistan has been integral to bringing the Taliban to the table as Trump tries to negotiate a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. The White House views the visit as an opportunity to ask Pakistan to “pressure the Taliban into a permanent ceasefire and participation in inter-Afghan negotiations that would include the Afghan government,” according to a senior administration official.
- The thaw is beginning: Just last week, Trump praised Pakistan on Twitter for finding and arresting the "mastermind" of the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, India.
- " . . . we're at a critical juncture and we need to see more cooperation from Pakistan. They need to use their full leverage with the Taliban in this endeavor,” said a senior administration.
Notable: Conversely, the Trump administration wants Pakistan to release Dr. Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor believed to have assisted the U.S. in identifying Osama bin Laden. He is currently serving a prison sentence in Pakistan.
- “I think Pakistan could demonstrate its leadership role in the region and among the international community by freeing Dr. Afridi, who remains unjustly imprisoned in Pakistan,” the senior administration official told reporters.
IMPEACHMENT WATCH: With pumpkin spice latte lover (former special counsel Robert Mueller) testifying on the Hill on Wednesday, we've got our eye on the number of Democrats in favor of initiating an impeachment inquiry into Trump.
- "After the release of the Mueller report, 92 House Democrats say they support at least opening an impeachment inquiry into whether the president committed 'high crimes and misdemeanors,'" per our colleagues JM Rieger, Amber Phillips and Kevin Schaul.
- The House Democrats who are bullish on impeachment believe that number will only riseafter Mueller airs "very substantial evidence" that Trump is guilty of "high crimes and misdemeanors," per the Associated Press's Hope Yen.
Longshot: However, our colleague Devlin Barrett spoke to a number of Mueller's former colleagues who believe that getting new information out of Mueller will be next to impossible.
- John Pistole, who served as Mueller’s deputy during his time as FBI director, told Devlin that he expects Mueller to be “as unresponsive as possible, while telling the truth. I think his first approach will be, ‘Read the report and form your own conclusions.’ He’s no longer a government employee, and he can tell them to pound sand, not that he would use those words.”
DEAL OR NO DEAL? Late last night, the White House and congressional officials "rushed to hammer out the final details of a sweeping budget and debt deal are unlikely to include many — if any — actual spending cuts, even as the debt limit is lifted for two years, people familiar with the talks said," according to my colleagues Damian Paletta and Erica Werner.
- Key: "The pending deal would seek to extend the debt ceiling and set new spending levels for two years," Damian and Erica report.
- Obstacle?: "As some White House officials backed away from demands for spending cuts, their focus shifted to trying to block an attempt by Democrats to restrict funding for a wall along the Mexico border. Democrats have fought to limit or eliminate the White House’s ability to transfer money in this way, but White House officials have pushed hard to retain the flexibility to do so. The exact resolution was uncertain."
PUERTO RICO GOVERNOR REFUSES TO RESIGN: “On Sunday evening, [Gov. Ricardo] Rosselló announced on Facebook Live that he will not seek reelection in 2020 but will stay in office to do the work he was elected to do. He also has stepped down as leader of his party,” our colleague Arelis R. Hernández reports from the island. But opposition to Rosselló is only expected to grow today.
- One million protesters: “ … Organizers say they expect more than 1 million residents — about a third of the U.S. territory’s population — to join an unprecedented national march,” Arelis writes. “They plan to shut down San Juan’s main avenue, where businesses are planning to close for the day, and many downtown offices are giving their employees the day off.”
- 2020 pressure: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) traveled to Puerto Rico on Friday and added her name to lawmakers and celebrities to call for #RickyRenuncia. (Ricky is Rosselló’s nickname and translated it means Ricky, resign!) Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass), Cory Booker (N.J), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio) are among the other 2020 hopefuls who have explicitly called for the governor’s resignation.
- Why is this happening?: “The immediate unrest stems from the disclosure of an infamous 889 pages of leaked chat messages, in which Rosselló and his inner circle of administration officials, lobbyists and friends targeted opponents, journalists and female politicians with vulgar taunts, and, perhaps most egregiously, appeared to poke fun at those who suffered in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island two years ago,” Arelis writes.
- But it’s more than just the chats: “The embarrassing exchanges unmasked a political class detached and indifferent to the suffering of the largely working-class and poverty-stricken population still rebuilding their lives after the hurricane.”
SCORCHING HEAT WAVE ACROSS U.S.: “Torrid levels of humidity combined with high temperatures in the upper 90s to low 100s are combining to form dangerous heat conditions across the United States,” our colleague Andrew Freedman wrote of the extreme heat that stretched across two-thirds of the country.
- According to CBS News, at least six deaths can be attributed to the heat.
- And summer nights are getting hotter.
Key Question: "The question that naturally comes to mind for many people is - can we blame climate change?," NPR's Steve Inskeep asked NPR reporter on their science desk, Rebecca Hersher, of the extreme heat.
- "Average temperatures are rising, right? The hottest days are getting hotter, heat waves are getting longer. So that means weather like this is more likely," per Hersher. "But, you know, the part of global warming that really helps you understand something like this is not the overall warming, it's extreme weather. So as the Earth gets warmer - and it already is getting warmer. So it's already about two degrees Fahrenheit hotter on our planet than it was in the late 1800s...Weather gets more extreme. So that means hotter hots, it means colder colds, it means wetter wets."
The news just keeps getting worse for farmers: “High heat and humidity have farmers across the Midwest stressed about their already vulnerable corn and soybean crops,” CNBC’s Emma Newburger reports of the concerns of more damage after farmers are already dealing with the aftermath of flooding and Trump’s trade war.
It was hot enough that the National Weather Service in Nebraska cooked biscuits outside:
And after nearly 8 hours in the sun, the outside of the biscuit is actually edible. The middle is still pretty doughy though. The max temp on the pan was 185! Also we made festive biscuit hats 😂 Stay cool out there. #HeatSafety #LookBeforeYouLock pic.twitter.com/ptWP2jksrU— NWS Omaha (@NWSOmaha) July 18, 2019