Suddenly, it looks less tarif-fying
Expectations weren't high in advance of the White House visit Wednesday by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who had called Trump's tariffs "stupid." But the two leaders emerged in the Rose Garden with the announcement of a truce, and the beginnings of a broader peace deal on one major front in Trump's trade war.
Less than two weeks after denouncing the European Union as a top U.S. "foe," Trump hailed a "very big day for free and fair trade." While the agreement was vague, he said the EU had agreed to buy "a lot of soybeans" and increase its imports of liquefied natural gas from the United States.
The two agreed to halt the spiral of new tit-for-tat trade barriers while they try to resolve a dispute over U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, which remain in place. That suggested that the U.S. will suspend plans to start taxing European auto imports. Trump and Juncker said they have agreed to work toward "zero tariffs" and "zero subsidies" on nonautomotive goods.
The agreement, incomplete as it is, buys Trump time as he faces growing unrest from Republicans who support free trade and fear foreign retaliation against U.S. tariffs that will cost business, jobs and votes in the midterm elections. Even as the tension with Europe eases, Trump's standoff with China shows signs of getting hotter. A revised NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico remains elusive.
In a tweet Wednesday morning, Trump said to relax: “When you have people snipping at your heels during a negotiation, it will only take longer to make a deal, and the deal will never be as good as it could have been with unity. Negotiations are going really well, be cool. The end result will be worth it!”
Tales of the tapes
Everyone can now hear Trump on tape from September 2016 discussing with his then-lawyer Michael Cohen a hush-money arrangement for Playboy model Karen McDougal, who has since said that they had a yearlong affair. What hasn't been heard is an explanation on why Trump's campaign spokeswoman falsely denied he knew about the payment, which was made by AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer.
Trump did tweet about his displeasure with Cohen, whose attorney Lanny Davis gave the tape to CNN. "What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad!" (Click here to hear.)
The Trump-Cohen conversation was about paying to acquire rights to the silenced story from AMI. Part of the federal investigation into Cohen concerns his work in 2016 to bury embarrassing stories from Trump's past — including the alleged sex fling with porn star Stormy Daniels — and whether the payoffs amounted to illegal campaign contributions.
Cohen has made a public show of renouncing his former loyalty to Trump and hinting he has more to tell. Davis said, "There are certainly more tapes” of Cohen and Trump. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Next summit: Trump's putin' it off
A day after Vladimir Putin sent word that this fall would be too soon for him to visit Washington, Trump has also decided it would be too soon, and that they should wait until 2019.
Trump issued the invitation last week, but a statement Wednesday from National Security Adviser John Bolton said: "The President believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we’ve agreed that it will be after the first of the year.”
A Kremlin aide Tuesday, explaining why Putin was in no hurry, cited the "atmosphere" after the Helsinki summit and said, "I think it would be wise to let the dust settle." Trump's conduct at the Helsinki summit was widely panned as too deferential to Putin. See Figueroa's story for Newsday.
Trump's anger translator on Russia?
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared before a Senate panel to say things about Russia that Trump doesn't like to say. Such as: "The United States does not and will not recognize the Kremlin's purported annexation of Crimea." Or that he had personally told top Russian officials that there will be "severe consequences" for any future interference in America's elections.
Both Republicans and Democrats were skeptical. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Trump appeared “submissive” in his interactions with Putin, adding that Trump is “antagonizing our friends and placating those who clearly wish us ill.”
At one point, Pompeo said the administration should be judged by its actions rather than the president's words. He later clarified that the president's words are indeed policy.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) charged that Pompeo, a former GOP congressman, would be peeling himself "off the Capitol ceiling" if Barack Obama had done what Trump did in Helsinki.
'Fakes' on a plane
On his recent European trip, the president flew into a rage when he discovered first lady Melania Trump's TV aboard Air Force One was tuned to CNN, which he denounces as "fake news," The New York Times reports. Trump's rule is that TVs for the White House must begin each trip tuned to Fox News, and officials have taken steps to make that happens.
The flap reflects how Trump lives in a world of selective information in which he bends the truth to his own narrative, the Times reports.
As for Melania, she's not giving up the remote control. Her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, after citing the first lady's bigger concerns, such as bullying and babies born with drug addiction, said it "seems kind of silly to worry about what channel she watches on TV (any channel she wants btw)."
Trump's 'F' grade for FCC
Trump late Tuesday made it clear, if it wasn't already, that he's not happy when the federal government doesn't reward media voices who are friendly to him and squeeze those who are not.
"So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn't approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune," Trump tweeted. "This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!" A day earlier, Trump tried to push for antitrust action and postal rate increases against Amazon — whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Washington Post, which "has gone crazy against me."
The FCC put the brakes on the merger last week on grounds that Sinclair — already the largest owner of local television stations — tried to game its way around the regulators' limits on market share. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai — a Trump appointee — stood by the decision on Wednesday as based on looking at facts and applying the law without regard to ideology, Bloomberg News reported.
Pai last year rebuffed Trump’s call for to revoke licenses of TV stations whose reports the president didn’t like, saying “I believe in the First Amendment.”
What else is happening:
- Trump took his feud with CNN a notch higher Wednesday, banning network reporter Kaitlan Collins from the news conference with Juncker because he didn't like her questions during an earlier photo op, including: "Did Michael Cohen betray you, Mr. President?" Fox News joined protests against the freeze-out.
- A federal judge ruled that Maryland and the District of Columbia can proceed with a lawsuit accusing Trump of unconstitutionally accepting payments from foreign and state interests through his Washington hotel. The decision clears the way for the plaintiffs to seek financial records from Trump's company.
- Trump will convene a meeting Friday of the National Security Council on election security, a session that could include a discussion of possible Russian interference in November’s midterm elections, a White House official told The Washington Post.
- How quickly the Senate takes up Trump's Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh may ride on the outcome of a battle between Republicans and Democrats on how many documents they need to see. The GOP is resisting Democratic demands for Kavanugh's records from his time as White House staff secretary.
- Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told skeptical Hispanic lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the government is "on track" to meet Thursday's court-ordered deadline for reuniting hundreds of migrant children with their families.
- A man wielding a pickax destroyed Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame early Wednesday. A suspect, Austin Clay, 24, surrendered to police and was held in an investigation of felony vandalism.
- Trump's choice, Brian Kemp, won a Republican primary runoff for governor in Georgia. Trump tweeted congratulations and denounced Kemp's Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, as "open border, crime loving."