Friends to a means
Donald Trump had identical words of warmth — “a friend of mine for a long time” — for two men Monday.
One is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who he has complained “couldn’t get it done” on ending Obamacare. The second is Steve Bannon, axed as his chief political strategist.
Trump’s buddy acts face another test: Bannon has declared “war” on the GOP “establishment,” orchestrating 2018 primary challenges to McConnell-backed incumbents and aiming to topple the majority leader. Bannon says his targets are disloyal to Trump’s agenda.
For now, Trump tilts toward McConnell. The president said of Bannon’s plan, “Some of the people that he may be looking at, I’m going to see if we talk him out of that.”
But Trump could turn on McConnell again. Hours before they stood together at a White House news conference, Trump groused, “some Republicans ... should be ashamed of themselves” for “not getting the job done.” Said Trump: “I’m not going to blame myself.”
See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.
Perils for Trump
Bannon’s hard-right nationalism is more in sync with Trump, but it also may be more hazardous to the president’s political health.
Republicans worry that by undermining their members, Bannon is increasing the chances Republicans could lose their majorities in Congress, CNN reports. In a Democratic-led House, an effort to impeach Trump wouldn’t be far-fetched.
McConnell, at the news conference, recited names of GOP insurgents in recent election years who won primaries only to get trounced by Democrats. “You have to nominate people who can actually win, because winners make policy and losers go home,” he said.
The take-away: Opioid haze
Trump is promising an announcement next week on a long-awaited national strategy to combat opioid addiction. He would have faced questions on the credibility of the effort had he stuck by his nominee to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.). On Tuesday Trump tweeted that Marino was withdrawing his name.
An investigation by The Washington Post and CBS’ “60 Minutes” showed Marino was a key player in weakening federal enforcement against drug companies that flooded the market with pain pills. The law shepherded through Congress by Marino made it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies.
See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.
Fun with Mike Pence
In public and, as far as is known, in private too, Trump has no regrets over choosing Mike Pence for vice president. But that doesn’t mean he won’t have fun at his expense.
Pence’s deeply conservative religious beliefs become Trump punchlines, according to a profile of the vice president in The New Yorker.
A Trump campaign staffer recalled that Trump would ask people after meeting with Pence, “Did Mike make you pray?” During a conversation with a legal scholar that touched on gay rights issues, the report said, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy — he wants to hang them all!”
Until Monday’s news conference, Trump had neither spoken nor tweeted about four Army Green Berets killed in an attack in Niger on Oct. 4. Asked about that, the president said he had written personal letters to the families and “they’ve been sent, or they’re going out tonight.”
Trump then went on to say he will also call them — something, he claimed falsely, that Barack Obama and some other presidents didn’t do when service members died in action. That set off an immediate, furious reaction on Twitter by veterans of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, who called the statement a “lie.”
When another reporter challenged Trump, he retreated. “President Obama I think probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told,” Trump said.
Trump: Obamacare is dead
Now that he has cut off Obamacare subsidies, Trump said he expects a bipartisan, “short-term fix” and then a third Republican try at a “long-term fix” for the nation’s health care coverage system. But he declared Obamacare dead, even if it isn’t just yet.
“Obamacare is finished. It’s dead. It’s gone. It’s no longer — you shouldn’t even mention. It’s gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore,” Trump said after a Cabinet meeting.
What else is happening
- Trump’s close friend Tom Barrack plans to invest in the The Weinstein Company — reeling from the sex scandal surrounding ousted co-founder Harvey Weinstein — and may buy it. That could mean taking over the rights to filmmaker Michael Moore’s upcoming anti-Trump documentary, “Fahrenheit 11/9.”
- Tensions are rising over U.S. demands in the Nafta talks.
- Canadian Joshua Boyle, held hostage for five years by terrorists in Afghanistan, said that when one of his captors told him Trump was president, “It didn’t enter my mind that he was being serious.”
- Jared Kushner’s family company could end up losing control of its crown jewel, the debt-laden 666 Fifth Avenue office tower, Bloomberg News reports. Its partner Vornado Realty is telling brokers it won’t go along with an ambitious renovation plan that the Kushners need to salvage their investment.
- The White House refused to provide details requested by House investigators on officials’ use of private email and encrypted messaging apps, including possible violations of federal record-keeping laws, Politico reports.
- California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation aimed at Trump that would have required 2020 presidential candidates to release their tax returns if they wanted to appear on the state’s ballot. Brown said it would be a bad precedent and its constitutionality was dubious.