Trump’s loose change
Like a salamander shedding his skin, President Donald Trump keeps tossing away stands from the campaign. Day 83 was a flip-flopperooza.
He used to be down on NATO. But now? “I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete,” Trump told a joint news conference Wednesday with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Trump said that’s because he cajoled NATO to fight terrorism, though NATO was already headed that way since a series of terror attacks in Europe.
Or he changed because priorities changed. Trump, who had promised action to brand China as a currency manipulator on Day 1, has withdrawn the threat.
In a Wall Street Journal (pay site) interview, he said it was more important to get China’s help against North Korea than to pursue the unfair-trade grievance.
Or he just knows better now. Candidate Trump was going to scrap the Export-Import Bank, which helps finance trade. But the president told the Journal it turns out “lots of small companies are really helped.”
As Trump explained after going against years of his own advice and ordering the missile strike on Syria, “I do change and I am flexible, and I’m proud of that flexibility.”
Russia: A flexible view
Trump said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s meetings in Moscow, including a session with Russian President Vladimir Putin, “went pretty well, maybe better than anticipated.”
Seconds later, he said, “We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia.” For his part, Putin told Russian TV that Russia’s relationship with the U.S., “especially on the military level, has not improved, but has rather deteriorated” since Trump took office.
But even as Tillerson assailed Russia’s support for Syria in the aftermath of the gas attack that killed scores of civilians, Trump, as always, avoided taking a personal shot at Putin.
“It’d be a fantastic thing if we got along with Putin and if we got along with Russia, and that could happen, and it may not happen.” See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.
Exit strategy for Bannon
With even Trump hinting that chief strategist Steve Bannon is in the doghouse, his leading patron, megadonor Rebekah Mercer, is looking into post-White House possibilities for him, The New York Times reported.
Trump downplayed the former Breitbart News chief’s importance during a New York Post interview Tuesday and indicated he was wearying of factional fighting inside the West Wing, which has pitted Bannon against Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, among others.
“Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will,” Trump said.
Rebekah and her father, Long Island hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, have been big funders for Bannon’s right-wing projects and for Trump.
Not chocolate bombe?
Trump said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping were eating dessert at Mar-a-Lago last Thursday night when he gave his dinner guest the news of his missile strike against Syria.
“We had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen, and President Xi was enjoying it,” Trump said in a Fox Business Network interview that aired Wednesday.
“So what happens is I said, ‘We’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq,’ ” Trump said. (He corrected that to “Syria” at interviewer Maria Bartiromo’s prompting.)
Spicer’s apology tour
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is still kicking himself in public after the fiasco at a briefing in which he said Syria’s Bashar Assad was worse than Hitler when it came to using poison gas — neglecting to factor in the Holocaust.
“I sought people’s forgiveness because I screwed up” and “I’ve let the president down,” Spicer said at a forum at Washington’s Newseum Wednesday.
“It’s a very holy week for Jewish and Christian people. ... To make a gaffe and a mistake like this is inexcusable and reprehensible,” Spicer said.
Dems resist on sanctuary cities
Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney wants a crackdown against sanctuary cities included in a spending bill that must pass to avoid a government shutdown, Politico reports.
But it’s unlikely the bill can pass either house of Congress with Republican votes alone, and Democrats are expected to put up stiff resistance against a restriction of grants from Washington to cities that do not enforce federal immigration policies.
What else is happening
- Trump promised during the campaign to eliminate the $20 trillion national debt by the end of his second term. But Mulvaney told CNBC: “It’s fairly safe to assume that was hyperbole.”
- Such details aside, Trump tweeted Wednesday night: “One by one, we are keeping our promises — on the border, on energy, on jobs, on regulations. Big changes are happening!”
- Trying to force Democrats into negotiations on health care, Trump warned that funding for a key Obamacare subsidy program could come to an end, Politico reports.
- First lady Melania Trump won a payout of about $2.9 million and an apology from the London-based Daily Mail to settle defamation lawsuits for a story last summer that falsely suggested she provided other “services” during her fashion-model days.
- In a special election Tuesday, Republicans kept a House seat vacated in Kansas when Rep. Mike Pompeo was picked to lead the CIA. But the single-digit victory in a district where GOP landslides are the norm is an early warning sign for the Republicans in the 2018 midterms and is stoking Democrats’ hopes.
- The Associated Press reports financial records confirm onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort received at least $1.2 million in payments from a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. Previously, Manafort and a spokesman maintained a ledger listing the payments as fake.
- Trump, who once owned an airline, told The Wall Street Journal that the incident in which a United Airlines passenger was dragged off a plane was “horrible.” He said there shouldn’t be a cap on the incentives airlines could offer to find volunteers to leave flights.