The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies for Putin summit: 'He's not my enemy'

 

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani: Trump interview with Mueller ‘further away’ ACLU calls for Trump officials to hand over info on immigrant children Kushner to join Pompeo for meetings with Mexican leaders MORE will hold a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May this morning followed by noon tea with Queen Elizabeth II in Berkshire, a day after storming out of Brussels, having played the part of disruptor at the annual NATO summit.

At the 8:45 a.m. presser with May, the president will undoubtedly be asked about this explosive interview with The Sun, a Rupert Murdoch-owned paper. Trump repeatedly criticized and undercut the British prime minister at a time when she’s dealing with extreme political pressure at home over her handling of Brexit.

Bloomberg: Trump deals blow to May, says her Brexit plan will kill U.S. trade deal.

The Associated Press: Trump’s barbed remarks upset British hosts.

The interview was conducted earlier this week while Trump was still in the U.S. but the story dropped while the president and May were having dinner last night. May had been rolling out the red carpet for Trump amid widespread protests against him in England.

The latest flap underscores the president’s indifference to fostering relationships with U.S. allies. Upon Trump’s arrival at the Winfield House yesterday, the Brits played the Beatles song “We Can Work It Out.” As the song suggests, life is very short…

“The president likes and respects Prime Minister May very much. As he said in his interview with The Sun, she is a very good person and he never said anything bad about her. He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person. He is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the Prime Minister here in the U.K.” – White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The capstone of Trump’s latest trip abroad comes on Monday, when he meets with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

The Memo: Fears rise about Trump-Putin meeting.

At a freewheeling press conference on Thursday, Trump outlined the topics he plans to raise with Putin amid concerns in Washington that he will go soft on the ex-KGB nationalist who oversaw an unprecedented interference campaign in the 2016 U.S. election.

The president described the forthcoming summit as a “loose meeting” that may last only a short time.

Here’s what he said he plans to speak with Putin about:

    • Election Meddling: “He may deny it … all I can do is say, ‘did you?’ and ‘don’t do it again,’ but he may deny it.”
    • Russia’s annexation of Crimea: “That was on Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump says recent poll shows he’s more popular than Lincoln Trump makes Obama great for midterm voters Can Trump refuse asylum to aliens who make illegal entries? MORE‘s watch. That was not on Trump’s watch. Would I have allowed it to happen? No, I would not have allowed it to happen. But he did allow it to happen, so that was his determination … What will happen with Crimea from this point on? That I can’t tell you. But I’m not happy about Crimea.”
    • A new arms reduction treaty.
    • U.S. military exercises in the Baltics, and whether they will continue.
    • NATO, which represents a check on Putin’s power.
    • Russian support for Syrian leader Bashar Assad, who has used chemical weapons on his own people, and wages civil war to stay in power.
    • Russia’s efforts to destabilize Ukraine.

Lloyd Green: Mr. President, don’t abandon Ukraine.

The president on Thursday also offered his broad take on Putin:

“He’s not my enemy. Is he a friend? No, I don’t know him well enough. But the couple of times that I’ve gotten to meet him, we got along very well. I hope we get along well … He’s representing Russia. I’m representing the United States. So in a sense, we’re competitors. Not a question of friend or enemy. He’s not my enemy. And hopefully, someday, maybe he’ll be a friend. It could happen.”

That remark received a blistering rebuke from Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Jordan, Strzok engage in fiery exchange over Trump-Russia dossier McCain rips Trump: NATO actions ‘disappointing’ but not surprising MORE (R-Ariz.), who is recovering at home from brain cancer.

“Singing his praises for no good reason sends a terrifying message to our allies. … Flattering such a man … is simply bizarre. That the admiration comes from an American president, well, that is unconscionable.” – Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOvernight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Lawmakers demand answers from Mnuchin on tariffs | Fed chief lays out stakes of Trump trade war | Consumer prices rise at highest rate in six years | Feds to appeal AT&T merger ruling Flake: Trump’s flattery of Putin ‘simply bizarre,’ ‘unconscionable’ MORE (R-Ariz.)

Fox News poll: Majority say Trump is not tough enough on Putin.

Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Hillicon Valley: DOJ appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | FBI agent testifies in heated hearing | Uproar after FCC changes rules on consumer complaints | Broadcom makes bid for another US company | Facebook under fire over conspiracy sites Hillicon Valley: Justice Department appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | New report on election security | FBI agent testifies in marathon hearing MORE (D-Va.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Hillicon Valley: DOJ appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | FBI agent testifies in heated hearing | Uproar after FCC changes rules on consumer complaints | Broadcom makes bid for another US company | Facebook under fire over conspiracy sites Hillicon Valley: Justice Department appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | New report on election security | FBI agent testifies in marathon hearing MORE (R-Fla.): The U.S. will spotlight and resist Russian aggression. https://usat.ly/2LcjSMR

There are deep concerns in Washington about how Trump will handle Putin after he turned the NATO summit upside down with attacks on U.S. allies, like Germany, and demanded that all of the nations immediately ramp up their defense spending.

The president left Brussels declaring victory, saying that the NATO nations had agreed to spend tens of billions more.

Zalmay Khalilzad: A strategic reset for NATO.

Armstrong Williams: Trump walks a tightrope with comments on NATO.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and French President Emmanuel Macron are among those who said Trump’s blunt talk and insistence all member countries be held to the same standard strengthened the organization.

But Trump’s style is viewed as counterproductive and damaging to U.S. interests by some observers.

Ivan Krastev: Sorry NATO, Trump doesn’t believe in allies.

LEADING THE DAY

INVESTIGATIONS: Lawmakers finally got a crack at FBI agent Peter Strzok, the top counterintelligence official at the bureau who played a key role in the investigations into Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGiuliani: Trump interview with Mueller ‘further away’ 5 takeaways from wild hearing with controversial FBI agent Zealous Dems fail to hear out Trump’s constitutional rights MORE in 2016.

The 10-hour public hearing was over-the-top political theater that routinely devolved into shouting matches between lawmakers, who couldn’t stop bickering or talking over one another as Strzok looked on.

It took 90 minutes to get through the first question.

The Hill: Five takeaways from a wild hearing.

Republicans on the panel focused almost entirely on the anti-Trump text messages Strzok sent to former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom he was having an affair.

Strzok told Page that he’d do what he could to “stop” Trump from getting elected and described Trump’s supporters as “hillbillies” he could recognize by their smell.

Strzok expressed regret for those statements but insisted that his personal views did not color his handling of the investigations.

Conservatives are not buying it. 

Still, Strzok had the strongest exchange of the day, issuing a blistering rebuke of Republicans on the panel, who he accused of slandering the FBI.

“At no time, in any of these texts, did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took … [FBI leadership] would not tolerate any improper behavior in me anymore than I would tolerate it in them. That is who we are as the FBI, and the suggestion that I, in some dark chamber somewhere in the FBI, would somehow cast aside all of these procedures, all of these safeguards, and somehow be able to do this is astounding to me. The proposition that that is going on and that might occur anywhere in the FBI deeply corrodes what the FBI is in American society, the effectiveness of their mission, and it is deeply destructive.” – Strzok. 

Democrats burst into applause, pounding on their desks. Republicans were apoplectic.

As an example of the absurdity of the highly politicized hearing, consider the chasm between these two lawmakers:

“Mr. Strzok, if I could give you a Purple Heart, I would.” – Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenGOP advances bill demanding documents from FBI Dems rip Trump concessions, ’embarrassing’ rhetoric with Kim Lawmakers spar at hearing over census citizenship question MORE (D-Tenn.)

I can’t help but wonder when I see you looking there with a little smirk — how many times did you look so innocently into your wife’s eye and lie to her about Lisa Page.” – Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller Gohmert5 takeaways from wild hearing with controversial FBI agent GOP lawmaker asks FBI agent about lying to wife over affair Live coverage: FBI agent defends anti-Trump texts in tense hearing MORE (R-Texas)

Page is up next. After initially defying a congressional subpoena to testify behind closed doors, she has agreed to be interviewed by the House Judiciary Committee today and Monday.

> In his forthcoming book, former White House spokesman Sean SpicerSean Michael SpicerSpicer describes Trump as ‘a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow’ in new book Ex-Fox News exec Bill Shine to join White House The Hill’s 12:30 Report MORE breaks with Trump, who has sought to downplay Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortThe Hill’s 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP spars with FBI agent at tense hearing Manafort mugshot released The Hill’s Morning Report — Trump denigrates NATO allies, floats 4 percent solution MORE’s role as brief and unimportant during his campaign. Manafort became Trump’s campaign chairman, and Spicer described him as invaluable to management and communications  bringing “a much-needed maturity to the Trump campaign when it needed an experienced political professional operative (The Guardian).”

Manafort, if convicted, could spend the rest of his life in prison. Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE has brought serious financially related charges against him, and he’s currently jailed in Alexandria, Va., awaiting trial. His mugshot was released Thursday.

 

***

SUPREME COURT: Nominee Brett Kavanaugh appears to be on track for confirmation among Senate Republicans, including abortion rights supporters Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Russian hackers used fake accounts disguised as local news: report Kavanaugh lauded Rehnquist’s Roe v. Wade dissent in speech last fall: report MORE of Maine and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiDems in terrible bind on Kavanaugh nomination What to expect during Kavanaugh’s confirmation battle The Hill’s Morning Report — Dems attack, but know they don’t have the votes on Kavanaugh MORE of Alaska. The pressure is on centrist Democrats (The Hill).

> Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinDem senator: Kavanaugh would ‘turn back the clock’ on women’s health care Dems seek to rebuild Rust Belt ‘blue wall’ in governor races The Hill’s Morning Report — Dems attack, but know they don’t have the votes on Kavanaugh MORE, who is up for reelection in a state Trump won in 2016, announced her opposition to Kavanaugh on Thursday. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDem pollster: Kavanaugh nomination outcome won’t impact how people vote in November Lawmakers demand answers from Mnuchin on Trump tariffs McConnell accuses Dems of trying to ‘bork’ Kavanaugh MORE (R-Ky.) accused his Democratic colleagues of trying to “bork” Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, a reference to Democrats’ successful opposition to Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert Bork in 1987 based on his conservative ideology, not his qualifications. “Bork” became a verb in the dictionary, meaning to obstruct “through systematic defamation or vilification” (The Hill).

McConnell said Democrats in the Senate are peddling “conspiracy theory catnip” by suggesting that Kavanaugh’s writings about whether presidents can be criminally indicted or investigated while in office is part of a strategy to protect Trump from the findings of Mueller’s investigation. Some Democrats have said Kavanaugh should recuse himself, if elevated to the Supreme Court (NBC News).

Democrats’ attacks on Kavanaugh focus on his conservative positions on abortion and reproductive rights, health care, and his expansive views of presidential executive power.

But there was a bright spot for the nominee, who earned praise from former housemates at Yale, his alma mater. They recall a sports junkie with finicky tastes for bland food and almost no appetite for politics. The accomplished group of friends hold annual reunions, and say they hope they’ll see Kavanaugh, who has been a regular attendee over the years (Yale Daily News).

 

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Democrats have introduced a bill to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and shift the agency’s responsibilities elsewhere (The Hill). House Republican leaders are eager to oblige and will be bringing it up for a vote to get Democrats on the record (The Hill).

Progressives have embraced the “abolish ICE” movement while moderate Democrats and those up for reelection in red states have warned the party against a leftward lurch on border security.

The debate has opened a new fissure among Democrats, who are also dealing with a generational debate over who should lead the party going forward.

On Thursday, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who knocked off Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), the No. 4 Democrat in the House in a primary earlier this month, accused Crowley of launching a third-party bid to challenge her in the general election.

Crowley denied it, but the flap was more evidence that Democrats are struggling to put on a united front just four months before the midterm elections.

More politics … Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDem senator: Kavanaugh would ‘turn back the clock’ on women’s health care Jane Fonda: Kavanaugh confirmation would be a ‘catastrophe’ Dems introduce bill to eliminate ICE, shift duties elsewhere MORE (D-N.J.) has been drowned out by potential 2020 Democratic rivals but is carving out a name for himself now by leading the opposition to Kavanaugh (The Hill) … Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel Jordan5 takeaways from wild hearing with controversial FBI agent Jordan, Strzok engage in fiery exchange over Trump-Russia dossier Pelosi: Jim Jordan ‘should have known’ about OSU abuse MORE (R-Ohio) has so far weathered the political storm that engulfed him last week when reports surfaced that he did not act to stop sexual abuse while he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State University more than two decades ago (The Hill) … Trump’s pardons of two convicted arsonists strain efforts to bridge mainstream and the extreme, particularly in the context of the growing anti-government movement in Western states (The Hill.)

WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: Staff changes, book contracts, migrant children, and opioid prosecutions…

West Wing staff: As expected, Trump’s legislative affairs director, Marc Short, announced he’ll leave the White House later this month to join a consulting firm, and also become a senior fellow at the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia (Politico).

With the announcement, the center felt a need to publicly explain its long history of bringing aboard senior presidential advisers from both Democratic and Republican administrations.

 

The president named Shahira Knight to move into Short’s post from her deputy position on his National Economic Council (Politico).

Trump’s former (and second) national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who was pushed out in April and replaced by John Bolton, is writing a book titled “Battlegrounds,” according to Publisher’s Weekly. Publication date is … wait for it … 2020. 

HHS – migrant children: The Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday said all eligible children under 5 years old (57 out of 103 in HHS custody) who were separated from their parents at a U.S. border have been reunited, two days after a court-mandated deadline (The Hill). The next court-ordered deadline for reunification of children older than 5 years with their parents is July 26.

> The ACLU says the government’s information about the reunified families this week could not be verified (Politico). In a court filing, the group said immigration officials were to notify attorneys when and where each reunification would take place, and allow third parties to witness them, but did not do so.

Justice Department – opioids: Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsCNN political director: Strzok’s claim that Trump texts aren’t biased ‘flat wrong on its face’ Trump administration says it has completed reunifying migrant kids under 5 Trump implementing new policy to turn away more asylum seekers at border MORE wants to reduce the supply of synthetic opioids in high impact areas of the country, and to identify wholesale distribution networks and international and domestic opioid suppliers, he announced on Thursday.

In a speech, Sessions said the department named the effort Operation SOS, which stands for Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge.

“I am ordering our prosecutors in 10 districts with some of the highest overdose death rates … to systematically and relentlessly prosecute every synthetic opioid case. We can weaken these networks, reduce fentanyl availability and save lives.” – Sessions

The Morning Report is created by journalists Jonathan Easley jeasley@thehill.com & Alexis Simendinger asimendinger@thehill.com. Suggestions? Tips? We want to hear from you! Share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!

OPINION

Seeking asylum does not make illegal entry into America legal, by Jonathan Turley, opinion contributor with The Hill. https://bit.ly/2Nd7sVD

Trump should stay out of Texas’ deregulated electricity market, Dallas Morning News editorial. https://bit.ly/2ue2tgj

Zealous Democrats fail to hear out Trump’s constitutional rights, by Alan Dershowitz, opinion contributor with The Hill. https://bit.ly/2utbf9q

WHERE AND WHEN

The House convenes at 9 a.m. to consider a bill sponsored by Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxUMITA is the bipartisan regulatory relief Americans need This week: Senate braces for Supreme Court scramble Taxpayers and consumers alike should cheer defeat of the farm bill MORE (R-N.C.) dealing with the effect of unfunded mandates on states.

The Senate convenes on Monday at 3 p.m. to resume consideration of the nomination of Scott Stump to be assistant secretary for career, technical, and adult education at the Department of Education.

The president is in England for meetings and lunch with Prime Minister May at her Chequers retreat, and the two leaders plan a joint news conference. Trump earlier visited Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for a salute to U.S. and British military officers. The president and first lady also are guests of Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle (USA Today). Trump and Melania TrumpMelania TrumpThe Hill’s 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP spars with FBI agent at tense hearing The Hill’s Morning Report — Trump denigrates NATO allies, floats 4 percent solution The Hill’s 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Trump takes off gloves at NATO summit MORE then fly to Scotland for the weekend, where the president owns golf property. There, he plans to prepare for his Monday summit with President Putin in Helsinki.

Vice President Pence will campaign for Rep. Peter Roskam Peter James RoskamOvernight Health Care: Official defends suspending insurer payments | What Kavanaugh’s nomination means for ObamaCare | Panel approves bill to halt employer mandate House panel advances bill that would temporarily halt ObamaCare’s employer mandate Overnight Health Care: Trump officials want more time to reunite families | Washington braces for Supreme Court pick | Nebraska could be next state to vote on Medicaid expansion MORE (R-Ill.) in Chicago – a district Clinton carried in 2016 – and will make remarks about tax cuts, then spend the weekend in Indiana. He returns to Washington on Sunday.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoKushner to join Pompeo for meetings with Mexican leaders Trump’s harsh immigration policies are a gift for human traffickers Pompeo to meet with Russian, Finnish foreign ministers in Helsinki MORE is in Mexico City, Mexico, and meets this morning with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. This afternoon, he greets U.S. Embassy staff and families, and later meets with Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The secretary will also sit down with his counterpart, Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray Caso. Later today, Pompeo and Caso hold a joint news conference.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the U.S. import and export price indexes for June at 8:30 a.m.

ELSEWHERE

> Justice Department appeals AT&T-Time Warner merger, by Harper Neidig of The Hill. The Justice Department on Thursday appealed a federal judge’s decision last month to approve the $85 billion merger.  

> Hawaii this week became the latest state to ban gun bump stocks (Governing and Stateline). Hawaii joins Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington in banning the devices since the Las Vegas mass shooting last year.

> Soccer: ⚽ The FIFA World Cup final on Sunday at 11 a.m.: Croatia v. France …Tennis: Seven-time champion Serena Williams, 36, will play Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon final on Saturday at 9 a.m. ET. It’s a chance for Williams to equal Margaret Court’s long-standing record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. The men’s final takes place on Sunday at 9 a.m. ET. Find out how to watch both finals HERE.

THE CLOSER

And finally … Reunification. This week presented many different versions of what that meant to families.

⦿ Air Force Staff Sgt. Taylor Sanford, deployed for two years in the Middle East and Europe, pulled off a surprise visit yesterday that stunned his mother in Madison, Wis., while she was attending an outdoor concert. The happy video is HERE.

⦿ In Thailand, 12 boys rescued from flooded caves after more than two weeks remained at arm’s length from their exhausted, weeping parents – as a hospital precaution (Los Angeles Times). They were reunited, but not quite. They had to remain 6 feet from the boys, and no hugging was allowed.”

⦿ Some migrant parents, separated at the U.S. southern border from their children for weeks and in some cases for months, were reunited by the government with their toddlers, under federal court order. Accounts of the family dramas underscored the emotions and the confusion that Trump’s “zero tolerance policy” created before it was halted. Families, often assisted by volunteers, were brought back together in many locations, including El Paso (Texas Monthly); New York City (The New York Times); and Phoenix (The New York Times). The coverage is worth reading in detail.

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