Roll the dice
Why talk back at that guy on TV when you can bring him into the room? That could be one reason behind President Donald Trump’s decision to offer the job of top economic adviser to CNBC pundit Larry Kudlow.
So what if Kudlow, like the departing Gary Cohn, thinks tariffs are a bad idea — or thought so until Wednesday. Or said the other day that ending NAFTA would be “a calamitously bad decision” that would “frankly blow up the whole stock market.” Kudlow has now pivoted to touting Trump’s skills as a negotiator.
Besides, Kudlow has been all aboard all along for tax cuts and deregulation, and Trump has known him for a long time. So the president might cut him more slack for a polite disagreement than, say, a Rex Tillerson.
Still, Americans may not want Kudlow to be the last voice in Trump’s ear on economic forecasting. Among other bad calls, Kudlow ridiculed early warnings of the 2007-2009 housing crash, the stock market meltdown and the Great Recession. In 2010, he predicted higher inflation was coming. Didn’t happen.
Kudlow was a chief economist for Bear Stearns before losing the gig in the 1990s while in the throes of cocaine and alcohol addiction, which he has frequently discussed publicly.
Based on unofficial results, it appears neither a personal appearance by Trump nor a steady drumbeat of tweets nor an announcement of steel tariffs could save the Republican candidate in a special House election in western Pennsylvania.
Democrat Conor Lamb led by 627 votes over Republican Rick Saccone in a district that has long leaned Republican, and which in 2016 favored Trump by about 20 points.
The White House spin is that if Trump hadn’t shown up, Saccone would have taken a worse beating. House Speaker Paul Ryan, in a meeting with rank-and-file Republicans, called the election a “wake-up call” and pushed them to step up fundraising ahead of November’s midterm elections.
The president's steady stream of false utterances in private and public life has been well documented. But he usually doesn't brag about faking the facts.
Trump did so on Wednesday. He said in a fundraising speech that he made up information in a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, according to an audio recording cited by the Washington Post.
Trump's bizarre confession, which is itself wrapped up in dubious claims (liar's paradox?), had it that Trudeau denied any trade deficit with the United States.
"I said, 'Wrong, Justin, you do.' I didn't even know...I had no idea." Trump said he "sent one of our guys out" to research it, who returned and told him "Well, sir, You're actually right. We have no deficit, but that doesn't include energy and timber. And when you do, we lose $17 billion a year. It's incredible."
That number looks like pure moonshine. Trump's own Office of the United States Trade Representative says the United States has a trade surplus with Canada. And it gives details here.
As juicy as it has been, the Stormy Daniels story has been running into the so-what factor. As in: So what if Trump had a consensual extramarital affair a dozen years ago with a porn actress and $130,000 was paid to keep her quiet about it?
Newsday’s Dan Janison notes it’s hardly the worst thing he has been accused of, or could be accused of in the future, depending on the course of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The Stormy stories haven’t drawn a response from Trump equivalent to his “NO COLLUSION!” denials.
No collusion here either?
A Trump Organization lawyer is now part of the legal effort to force Daniels to honor the hush agreement, CNN reports.
A Feb. 22 document lists Jill Martin as the attorney representing Essential Consultants — the company that Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen set up to pay Daniels $130,000 for her silence.
A Trump Organization statement said Martin was working in a private capacity on behalf of Cohen’s attorney, Lawrence Rosen.
The buck stops there
New York and New Jersey Republicans said Ryan told them Wednesday that if they want $900 million for the Gateway rail project in the spending bill due for a vote next week, they’ve got to work it out with Trump.
The speaker told them that Trump threatened to veto that spending bill if the Hudson River tunnel and bridge is in it, though he hasn’t explained why, said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).
King said he’ll get a chance to talk to Trump during Thursday’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, “so I have to figure out how to bring it up between the bagpipers,” he said. Several lawmakers suspect Trump is opposing the funding to squeeze Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on a variety of matters. See Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.
Vengeance vs. the pension?
Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who became a Trump whipping boy, ends his 21-year career at the bureau Sunday with a full pension. Unless he gets fired first.
It wasn’t Trump’s tweets; rather, an inspector general’s review recommended his termination, alleging McCabe wasn’t candid during an examination of his role in giving reporters background about an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation. McCabe has denied wrongdoing.
For other reasons, such as his wife’s Democratic candidacy for the Virginia legislature in 2015, the president has cast McCabe as a pro-Clinton, anti-Trump villain.
The decision about McCabe rests with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He could cite the IG’s finding to justify a firing. But a Trump tweet in December about McCabe “racing the clock to retire with full benefits” would fuel suspicions of political revenge.
Trump’s cheerleaders often ridiculed the sometime strategy of Barack Obama of “leading from behind” in world affairs. But on the matter of the attempted assassination of an ex-spy in Salisbury, England, Trump seems more comfortable in the background.
In a blistering speech at the UN, Ambassador Nikki Haley said the U.S. believes Russia is responsible and “If we don’t take immediate concrete measures to address this now, Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons used.”
Later, a White House statement said, “We support the United Kingdom’s decision to expel Russian diplomats as a just response.”
The statement was issued in the name of press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. From Trump himself on Wednesday, there was no peep or tweet.
What else is happening
- Senate confirmation isn’t expected to be easy for Trump’s choices to be the new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and CIA director, Gina Haspel, writes The Associated Press.
- Trump floated a short-term deal protecting DACA immigrants in exchange for border wall funding in the spending bill, but congressional Republicans are holding out for a wider bill that includes new limits for legal immigration, Politico reported.
- Last month, a HUD spokesman denied Secretary Ben Carson and his wife had any role in purchasing $31,000 in dining furniture for his office. Newly released emails show that was false, The Washington Post reported.
- Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has been pulled back from the brink of firing because he retains the support of GOP lawmakers and veterans, and there is no likely successor in the wings, Politico reports.
- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke denounced “innuendo” and “insults” about his travel spending. “I never took a private jet anywhere,” said Zinke — they were chartered propeller planes.
- At a Boeing factory in Missouri, Trump said he was working with Congress on a second package of tax cuts. It wasn’t clear what he has in mind.