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Trump stumbles across the stages of grief

In this Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, video frame,

In this Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, video frame, Myeshia Johnson cries over the coffin of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. President Donald Trump told the widow that her husband "knew what he signed up for," according to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who said she heard part of the conversation on speakerphone. Credit: WPLG via AP

In deep with his sympathies

It keeps happening. Donald Trump wants everyone to know he’s better than the presidents before him, whether it’s legislative wins, response to disasters or conveying sorrow to families of the military’s fallen.

So he makes stuff up. Gets called out. Fires back. Blames the media.

An unseemly controversy began when he was asked why he hadn’t spoken about four U.S. servicemen killed in Niger. His answer was to falsely portray himself as a more conscientious consoler than Barack Obama or George W. Bush.

As the White House pushed back over how sensitively he handled a phone call to one grieving widow, a very Trumpian story emerged from The Washington Post: The dad of a soldier killed in Afghanistan in June said that when Trump called, he offered him $25,000, but no check arrived.

“He said, ‘No other president has ever done something like this,’ but he said, ‘I’m going to do it,’ ” recalled Chris Baldridge.

A White House spokeswoman said Wednesday afternoon that “the check has been sent” and called the media “disgusting” for how it reported Trump’s “generous and sincere gesture.” The check just went out Wednesday, CNN reported.

Short on comfort

Was it what he said, or how he said it?

Trump was angry with Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) for saying he was “insensitive” on a phone call to widow Myeshia Johnson, telling her Army Sgt. La David Johnson “knew what he signed up for . . . but when it happens, it hurts anyway.”

“Totally fabricated . . . (and I have proof),” Trump tweeted.

At the day’s briefing, Newsday’s Emily Ngo reports, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked for the proof. She said chief of staff John Kelly — whose son died in Afghanistan — heard the phone call and found Trump’s manner “appropriate” and “respectful.”

Huckabee Sanders called Wilson’s account “appalling and disgusting,” but didn’t deny Trump spoke of what the soldier “signed up for.”

Johnson’s mom, who also heard the call on speakerphone, backed up the congresswoman’s version.

The father of another of the Green Berets had a more positive take on his call from Trump. “He was real cordial . . . I did most of the talking,” Arnold Wright told CBS News.

Lost in the paper shuffle?

Staffers at the National Security Council drafted and circulated a statement of condolence for Trump to make almost immediately after the deadly Oct. 4 ambush in Niger, Politico reports. It’s unclear why it was never released.

The takeaway: Respect, except

Trump demands respect for the military — accusing the NFL’s kneelers of failing to do. He’s also unscathed politically from his scrapes with heroes and their families, and the latest flap is unlikely to change that, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

Trump rolled to the GOP nomination last year after belittling Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War Navy pilot tortured as a prisoner of war, saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.”

He won the election after attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, a Muslim immigrant and U.S. Army captain who died in the Iraq War. At the Democratic convention, Khan’s father spoke against Trump’s proposed Muslim ban.

Trump’s medical mystery

A day after voicing support for a “short-term fix” for Obamacare that would continue subsidies, Trump went back to opposing them.

A co-author of the bipartisan plan, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), said Trump called him Wednesday morning and encouraged him to continue his effort but left himself wiggle room.

Trump tweeted: “I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co’s who have made a fortune w/ O’Care.”

The subsidies help make insurance for more affordable for lower-income customers.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), when asked for her take on Trump’s comments on the subsidies, replied: “He’s said several things about it. Depends what hour of the day.”

See Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.

Crunched by the numbers

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has backed off his onetime pledge that Trump’s tax-overhaul plan would have no “no absolute tax cut for the upper class.” It’s a math problem, he explained to Politico.

“When you’re cutting taxes across the board, it’s very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy with tax cuts to the middle class,” he said. The math, given how much you are collecting (from the top 20%) is just hard to do.”

Mnuchin also warned that if Congress fails to pass a tax bill, the stock market will tank.

Trump gives a knee

Trump isn’t satisfied with the NFL’s decision announced Wednesday after owner meetings to urge players to stand during the national anthem, but not require it.

The president tweeted: “@NFL: Too much talk, not enough action. Stand for the National Anthem.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said only a half-dozen players continue to kneel during the anthem as a protest against racial injustice, and his goal is to reduce that number to zero.

What else is happening:

  • An Economist/YouGov poll finds 53% of Americans disapproved of Trump’s order to end Obamacare subsidies, while 31% favored it.
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions strongly defended Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, but he repeatedly declined at a Senate hearing to discuss private conversations with the president about it.
  • Steve Bannon is trying to pry Republican megadonors loose to back his insurgent primary candidates against those favored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Politico reports.
  • Almost half of voters — 46% — believe the news media makes up stories about Trump and his administration, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll. Only 28% agree with Trump’s call to revoke broadcasting licenses of news organizations he accuses of running fake news.
  • Greg Pence, an older brother of Mike Pence, is running for an Indiana House seat that the vice president represented for 12 years.
  • Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is due to meet with Trump at the White House Thursday to discuss the island’s recovery and rebuilding after Hurricane Maria.
  • White House officials are debating whether the president should visit the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea when he tours Asia next week.
  • Pitching his tax plan to a group of senators, Trump said something alone the lines of “you might see my taxes one day,” participants said. He was kidding.

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