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'Tariff man' Trump sounds retreat in China trade war

Trump with Chinese President Xi Jinping in June

Trump with Chinese President Xi Jinping in June at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan. Credit: AFP/Getty Images/Brendan Smialowski

From staredown to blinkmanship

All through the 19 months-plus of Donald Trump's trade war with China, the president assured American consumers that the tariffs wouldn't be passed on to them as higher costs for imported goods. No, he was just sticking it to China.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced it is delaying most of the import taxes it planned to impose on Chinese goods from Sept. 1 until Dec. 15 and is dropping others altogether.

Why? Among the chief reasons is to avoid sticker shock during the pre-Christmas sales months for popular Chinese-made consumer goods such as cellphones, laptops, video game consoles, some toys, computer monitors, shoes and clothing.

“We’re doing [it] just for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs could have an impact,” the president told reporters in New Jersey. It's a belated bow to the reality that tariffs are taxes paid by U.S. importers, not by China, and are often passed along to U.S. businesses and consumers through higher prices.

The decision prompted a bounceback in the stock market, with the Dow up 372 points after a decline of more than 1,400 points in the past month. It's hazy just what, if anything, Trump got in return from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"As usual, China said they were going to be buying 'big' from our great American Farmers," Trump tweeted. "So far they have not done what they said. Maybe this will be different!"

CNBC reported a fresh round of skepticism about Trump's strategy from Wall Street. "It does look like President Trump has blinked,” said one hedge fund manager, Kyle Bass. Another, Jim Chanos, asked: “So then tell me why Xi should not continue to wait out The World’s Greatest Negotiator, who keeps ‘dealing’ with himself?”

Janison: Idler of the free world

Perhaps recalling a time when American presidents spoke out more forcefully for freedom and democracy around the world, some of the protesters in Hong Kong have been waving American flags.

But Trump has been quieter than his own State Department and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who warned China that a violent crackdown in Hong Kong would be “completely unacceptable."

On Tuesday, Trump told reporters: “It’s a very tricky situation. I think it will work out and I hope it works out, for liberty. I hope it works out for everybody, including China.” On Aug. 1, he called the demonstrations "riots," echoing Beijing's rhetoric. A Chinese Communist Party newspaper ran a headline: "Trump Tells Truth about HK Riot."

Trump cannot be accused of inconsistency, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. As a private citizen in 1990, he spoke with seeming approval of the bloody 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing: "They were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength."

It was only a 'retweet'

Trump isn't walking back from posting a no-evidence conspiracy theory suggesting the Clintons played a role in the jailhouse death of pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. He's just giving himself implausible deniability for spreading it.

"That was a retweet. That wasn’t from me; that was from him" — meaning the comedian Terrence K. Williams. But Trump also talked up his source. "He's a very highly respected, conservative pundit. He's a big Trump fan … he's a man who has half a million (Twitter) followers," the president said.

Pundit may be a stretch, though Williams' Trump fandom has gotten him face time on Fox News. An appearance last year on "Watters World" was cut short when Williams made racist jokes about an Asian American journalist.

Pass the MAGA hat for Trump

Trump visited a petrochemical plant under construction in western Pennsylvania to tout his fossil fuel-favoring energy policies, but veered off to other topics during his 67-minute speech.

They included trade, immigration, trucks, his 2016 victory, anti-Trump union leaders, his poll numbers, Iran, the media, steel and why the Green New Deal and windmills are bad.

That's not all. He shared with the assembled workers a grievance about lawsuits charging his business interests violate the emoluments clause of the Constitution by profiting from foreign governments.

"This thing is costing me a fortune being president," Trump said. "Somebody said, 'Oh, he might have rented a room to a man from Saudi Arabia for $500.' What about the $5 billion I'll lose?"

As The Hill reported, there's no evidence to support Trump's claim that the presidency has cost him billions. He won't release his tax returns. Financial disclosure forms show his properties earned tens of millions of dollars in the past year.

No torch for you

Ken Cuccinelli, the Trump administration official who unveiled plans for new restrictions on legal immigration, offered a revision to the iconic poem that has adorned the base of the Statue of Liberty since 1903, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Out: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

In: "Give me your tired and your poor — who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” Cuccinelli told NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Tuesday when asked if Emma Lazarus’ words were still part of the “American ethos.”

Given criticism that the policy is aimed at black and brown peoples, Cuccinelli didn't help himself later on CNN when he said the poem was about "people coming from Europe."

The Fredo fracas

Trump joined a pile-on against CNN host Chris Cuomo after a video went viral of him berating and threatening a Trump supporter who addressed him as "Fredo" at a Shelter Island bar.

"He looked like a total, out-of-control animal," Trump said of the TV host, who is Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's brother and a persistent critic. Chris Cuomo's contention on the video that calling an Italian-American "Fredo" — a reference to a character in "The Godfather" — was comparable to the use of the N-word drew skepticism from various quarters, including Donald Trump Jr.

"Hey @ChrisCuomo, take it from me, 'Fredo' isn’t the N-word for Italians, it just means you’re the dumb brother," tweeted the president's eldest son, who indeed speaks from experience.

Cuomo got support from a surprising source, Fox News rival and Trump pal Sean Hannity. "I say good for @ChrisCuomo. He’s out with his 9 year old daughter, and his wife, and this guy is being a jackass in front of his family … Chris Cuomo has zero to apologize for."

After that, Trump complained of a double standard, tweeting: "When a Conservative does even a fraction of what Chris Cuomo did with his lunatic ranting, raving, & cursing, they get destroyed by the Fake News. But when a Liberal Democrat like Chris Cuomo does it, Republicans immediately come to his defense. We never learn!”

What else is happening:

  • In a way, Trump's speech in Pennsylvania Tuesday was a throwback to another time. Gesturing toward the news cameras, Trump said, "That's a lot of people back there for like an 11 o'clock speech." It was 2:40 p.m.
  • The Trump Justice Department is urging the federal employment rights agency to change its position and urge the U.S. Supreme Court to rule it's OK for businesses to discriminate against transgender employees, Bloomberg News reported.
  • Kamala Harris has stepped up efforts in Iowa, where polls indicate she is running third among 2020 Democrats, Politico reports.
  • Pete Buttigieg had a friendly but unsettling conversation with an Iowa voter, as tweeted by a CNN video producer. "I shook Robert Kennedy’s hand in 1968,” a woman told the candidate. “So you’re good luck?” he asked. “Not really — he was shot a month later,” she replied.
  • Billionaire Tom Steyer, a late entry into the Democratic race, is outspending his rivals in campaign ads as he tries to attract enough support and small donations to qualify for September's debates, according to ABC News.
  • Former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado is in discussions about ending his presidential bid and running for Senate in his state next year against a vulnerable Republican opponent, Cory Gardner, The New York Times reported.
  • Bill Mitchell, a Trump superfan who attended his recent social media summit, outraged followers after he raised almost $15,000 from them to move his online video show to Washington. Instead, he got a place in Miami, the Daily Beast reports. "DC gets maybe 4 nice months a year,” Mitchell tweeted. “Miami gets 10.”

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