Americans were already anxious about the potential for a military conflict with North Korea before President Donald Trump’s warning to Pyongyang Tuesday of “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
A CBS News poll conducted Aug. 3-6 found 72 percent of those surveyed reported unease about a possible conflict over the nuclear threat, and only 26 percent said they are “confident things will be resolved.” Confidence was also thin — 35 percent — on Trump’s ability to handle the situation.
Trump’s remarks — delivered from the clubhouse of his New Jersey golf club (video here) — came after reports that North Korea has successfully produced a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside its missiles and a threat from Kim Jong Un’s regime of “physical action” in retaliation for tougher UN sanctions.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said. Such threats are so commonplace it’s as if they’re on a playback loop, and Trump did not define what level of threat would trigger a response. But hours later, North Korea raised the possibility of a missile strike on Guam. See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.
Critics: Dial it down
Democrats and at least one Republican found Trump’s comments unsettling.
“This sounds more like a statement from the ‘Supreme Leader’ of North Korea than from the president of the United States,” tweeted Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City).
“The situation on the Korean Peninsula is already volatile enough. President Trump is not helping the situation with his bombastic comments,” tweeted Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told a Phoenix radio station: “I take exception to the president’s comments because you’ve got to be sure that you can do what you say you’re going to do.”
The take-away: Define leaking
Given Trump’s demand for a crackdown on leaks, his first stirring on Twitter Tuesday morning was a puzzler.
It was a retweet, Newsday’s Dan Janison writes, of a Fox News report that U.S. spy satellites detected North Korea moving cruise missiles into patrol boats. That’s sensitive military intelligence passed along by sources.
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley called the report “classified information” — and the reporting of it “a shame.”
As commander-in-chief, Trump could put out the information directly. So why the retweet?
'Good cop' Rex returns
Early Wednesday, after Trump riveted world attention with violent words, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he does not believe there's any "imminent threat" from North Korea, including to Guam.
Tillerson says that "Americans should sleep well at night." He says that they should "have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days."
Once again he is taking a position that seems to conflict with the flavor, if not the substance, of the momentary Trump message. They did it recently on the matter of Qatar and the Gulf states. To what effect, is tough to say.
Wednesday's tweet is full of ... Whoa!
The president figuratively waved his nukes around a bit more on Twitter early Wednesday. One message: "My first order as president was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before...."
This drew immediate ridicule for the idea that the arsenal was magically "modernized" within six months. His predecessor Barack Obama actually commenced a $1 trillion modernization that's being carried out over 30 years.
Then he declaimed: "...Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!"
North Korea nuclear brinkmanship aside, it was business as usual on Trump Twitter Tuesday.
With still more polls showing his approval mired in the 30-something range, he complained: “After 200 days, rarely has any Administration achieved what we have achieved. not even close! Don’t believe the Fake News Suppression Polls!”
There was also a ritual shot at The Washington Post and The New York Times.
Taking Afghanistan War private
Erik Prince, who founded the Blackwater defense contracting firm — and is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — is openly lobbying for a plan opposed by Trump’s national security officials to use more military contractors in Afghanistan instead of U.S. troops.
Prince said on CNN that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster “does not like this idea because he is a three-star conventional Army general, and he is wedded to that idea that the U.S. Army is going to solve this.” He said his idea got a better reception from political strategist Steve Bannon.
Pledge on opioid fight
Trump hosted a meeting at his golf club on opioid addiction and pledged, “We will fight this deadly epidemic and the United States will win.” He did not announce any new policy.
A commission led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has called on the president to declare a national emergency.
What else is happening
- While publicly complaining that investigations of Russian election meddling are a “witch hunt,” Trump has sent private messages of “appreciation and greetings” to special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump’s lawyer John Dowd told USA Today. Dowd did not elaborate.
- Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Trump administration’s deregulation push has gone too far in scrapping a plan to require testing of railroad crew members for sleep apnea. Since 2013, the disorder has blamed in fatal Metro-North and NJ Transit crashes, reports Newsday’s Alfonso A. Castillo.
- When the Transportation Department formed teams to dismantle regulations, it brought in people who have had deep industry ties, The New York Times reports, including a lobbyist for one airline, a lawyer for another and an auto executive.
- A draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies concludes Americans are already feeling the effects of climate change. The scientists are concerned that the Trump administration will try to suppress their findings, the Times said.
- Donald slept here: Trump’s former childhood home in Queens is being offered for short-term stays on the lodging website Airbnb, according to a recent listing on the site, reports Newsday’s Laura Figueroa. The price: $600 a night.
- Before every briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reads from a book of Christian devotionals, The New York Times reports in a profile. Of Trump’s excesses, she said, “Oftentimes, people want to make politicians perfect ... and that’s one of the actual beauties of Christianity, is understanding that no one is.”