The ally-oop play
One of Donald Trump's standard applause lines at rallies is to declare that under his "America First" presidency, "America is respected again, respected like never before." At the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, this weekend, the respect he got seemed at times to sink to Rodney Dangerfield levels.
Trump was caught off guard when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made a surprise visit to Biarritz at the last-minute invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, according to The Washington Post. Zarif met with the French foreign minister for more than three hours. Macron joined for the last 30 minutes, and Zarif said he also briefed officials from Britain and Germany.
All three European countries are parties to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement that Trump pulled the United States away from, leading to a steady worsening of tensions. Trump didn't have much to say about the Zarif meetings. He had earlier shrugged off Macron's Iran initiatives: "I can’t stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk.”
While Trump gave no outward sign he felt shown up by Macron, a former top administration official wasn't so reticent.
"This is completely disrespectful to @realDonaldTrump and the other leaders at the G7," tweeted Nikki Haley, ex-U.S. ambassador to the UN. She concluded, "Manipulative of Macron to do this and very insincere," tacking on the hashtag "#NotWhatFriendsDo." Once it was over Trump professed to have known in advance, further muddling the picture.
Trump, of course, has reveled at throwing elbows at U.S. allies during past gatherings and pursued go-it-alone policies on other fronts, including his trade battles and withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. The allies, in turn, have become less deferential to U.S. leadership.
French officials said Trump did get a heads-up about Zarif at some point, but U.S. officials told a Bloomberg News reporter it wasn't before he left Washington. Macron said the Group of Seven leaders had agreed on a common outreach to Iran at a meeting Saturday, but Trump said he had not signed onto any joint message. “No, I haven’t discussed that,” he said.
Call the second-thought police
Trump caused a stir at the G-7 when asked if he had second thoughts about escalating the trade war with China. “Yeah, sure. Why not,” he said. “Might as well. I have second thoughts about everything.”
White House aides sprang into action and stumbled over one another trying to clean that up.
“The president responded in the affirmative — because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher,” press secretary Stephanie Grisham said. On Sunday talk shows, there were alternative explanations. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “He has no second thoughts, no second thoughts.” Economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Trump "didn’t quite hear the question." (Trump was asked three times by reporters making sure they heard him right.)
Was it another case of Trump causing confusion because of his clumsiness with words? No way, his aide Stephen Miller told Fox News. “The president is very tactical and specific about what he chooses to say,” Miller said. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
What a lovely trade war
Trump said he got no pressure from the other G-7 leaders to ease up on the trade war with China.
"I think they respect the trade war ... nobody has told me that, and nobody would tell me that," Trump said
Seated alongside Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sorta did tell him that. After serving up a heaping pile of flattery — "I congratulate the president on everything that the American economy is achieving" — Johnson cautioned, "We’re in favor of trade peace on the whole, and dialing it down if we can.” The PM added: “We don’t like tariffs, on the whole.” On Saturday, he warned Trump's trade war could cause a global recession.
Trump boasted about a new trade agreement in Japan whose details still need to be worked out. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wouldn't play along completely when Trump urged him to discuss "the hundreds of millions of dollars of corn ... that you'll be buying." Abe downgraded it to “the potential purchase of American corn.” There's still no deal with Japan on cars and auto parts.
Believe it or not
Trump's most improbable report back to the American people on the results of Sunday's G-7 meetings came in this tweet:
"The question I was asked most today by fellow World Leaders, who think the USA is doing so well and is stronger than ever before, happens to be, 'Mr. President, why does the American media hate your Country so much? Why are they rooting for it to fail?’ ”
Trump's attention wandered from the day's diplomatic business to tweet birthday greetings to actor Sean Connery, former TV host Regis Philbin and wrestling mogul Vince McMahon, and to congratulate Fox News host and Trump fan Jesse Watters on his engagement while complaining about Fox News polls.
By Monday Trump's attention had wandered so far from governance that he was actively promoting his own resort in Doral, Florida, for the site of the next G-7 meeting.
This Trump idea is the bomb
Trump has suggested multiple times to senior Homeland Security and national security officials that they explore the use of nuclear bombs to stop hurricanes that threaten the United States, Axios reported.
The report cited sources who have heard the president's remarks and have been briefed on a National Security Council memorandum that recorded those comments.
Despite the sourcing, Trump denied it on Monday.
Still, a senior administration official, defending Trump for raising the idea, said, "His goal — to keep a catastrophic hurricane from hitting the mainland — is not bad." The official added, "It takes strong people to respond to him in the right way when stuff like this comes up." The official also groused that "somebody is going to use this to feed into 'the president is crazy' narrative."
Scientists long ago determined that nuking a hurricane wouldn't work and would have the unfortunate side effect of spreading radioactive fallout carried by trade winds to land areas.
From Trumper to challenger
Joe Walsh, a conservative radio host and former tea party Republican congressman from Illinois, announced Sunday he will challenge Trump in the primaries. While Trump commands support in polls from a large majority of GOP Republican voters, never-Trump Republicans hope Walsh's in-your-face style will make enough of a splash to give Trump a headache.
"We’ve got a guy in the White House who's unfit. Completely unfit to be president," Walsh said on ABC's "This Week." He also expressed remorse for his own past in making politics "personal" and "ugly," including racist remarks aimed at Barack Obama, among others, and a menacing tweet on the eve of the 2016 election that if Hillary Clinton won and Trump lost, “I’m grabbing my musket.”
Walsh said Trump's conduct as president has "made me reflect on some of the things I've said in the past."
Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, another GOP challenger way to Trump's left, welcomed Walsh into the race and hoped an expanded field would increase the chances for televised Republican primary debates. For more, see Newsday's story by Scott Eidler.
What else is happening:
- Newsday's Emily Ngo explores the tug of war for the soul of the Democratic Party and the 2020 nomination between the left, led by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and the center, whose current favorite is Joe Biden. The core argument is whether progressivism or pragmatism will appeal to more voters.
- Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor at the bottom of the top tier, occupies an ideological space between the left and the middle. In bringing about change, he said on CNN, "how bold you are is not always the exact same thing as how left you are.”
- A protester interrupted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's appearance on a CNN town hall on why more officers weren't strongly punished in the Eric Garner case. De Blasio said Trump's Justice Department "failed here miserably" by not prosecuting. For more, see Ngo's story for Newsday.
- Biden kept racking up the gaffes in recent days. Asked Saturday in Keene, New Hampshire, his feelings about that town, he said, "What's not to love about Vermont...?" On Friday, recalling the killings of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968, he posed an unsettling question: What if Obama had been assassinated?
- Mental health advocates say Trump's idea to bring back the type of mental institutions that were prevalent in the mid-20th century as an answer to gun violence is wrongheaded, reports Newsday's Figueroa. They point to massive abuses that plagued such facilities and the better care than can be offered through smaller community-based mental health centers.
- Trump tweeted Saturday about "looking forward to helping" extend Manhattan's Second Avenue Subway to Harlem. New York officials were puzzled because they haven't heard of any specific funding approval, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.
- Condo owners at the Trump International Hotel and Tower near Columbus Circle in Manhattan are grumbling that the Trump name is depressing resale prices. To mollify them, the Trump Organization is considering a plan to change signage and make the address, 1 Central Park West, more prominent, The New York Times reported.