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Politico – May 16, 2018

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V O L . 1 2 • N O . 4 3 | W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8 | P O L I T I C O . C O M
Trump signs an Alabama
football, and drama ensues
on the Hill
Off Message: Does the
president care about cities?
John Kelly intervened after a senior official got the
president to sign a ball for the Alabama governor
during the Crimson Tide’s White House visit.
Homeland Security
secretary: ‘I didn’t
threaten to resign.’
President Trump is a lifelong city-dweller
who seems at war with America’s mayors.
That’s the challenge facing Steve Benjamin.
The cartoonist’s
daily take on the
world of politics.
Haspel clinches
Senate votes
for confirmation
The CIA nominee cleared the bar after
disavowing a past interrogation program
Gina Haspel on Tuesday locked
in the necessary support to become
President Donald Trump’s next
CIA director, winning over three
crucial Democratic senators as she
disavowed the spy agency’s past
use of brutal interrogation tactics.
Minutes after Haspel
secured the backing of
the Senate Intelligence
Committee’s top Democrat, Mark Warner of
Virginia, she received
an endorsement from
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D- Haspel
N.D.), who faces a difficult reelection in November. Sen.
Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), also battling
to keep his seat this fall, followed
soon afterward in announcing his
The one-two-three punch of
Democratic buy-in effectively
ensures Haspel’s confirmation as
soon as Thursday despite a handful
of still-undecided senators in both
parties — not to mention a vocal
push to defeat her by liberal and
civil rights activists.
Haspel herself helped deflate the
left’s campaign to reject her over
her central role in the CIA’s postSept. 11, 2001, interrogation program on Monday by sending Warner a letter that portrayed
the program’s use of torture against detainees as
a mistake. That gesture
to Warner, going beyond
Haspel’s more cautious
denunciation of CIA interrogations during her
confirmation hearing last
week, smoothed over his
concerns even before he
publicly endorsed her.
“The short answer is yes,” Warner told reporters when asked
whether Haspel’s pronouncement
on Monday helped make him more
comfortable. “The letter better reflected some of the conversations
I’d had with her on an individual
In his statement formally back-
Trump’s fight against sanctuary
cities is about to get some help
from deep behind enemy lines in
More than a dozen conservative
officials from across the state are
flying into Washington to meet
with the president on Wednesday
afternoon — a session that current and former administration
officials say is intended to highlight Trump’s commitment to
eradicate municipal safe harbors
for immigrants.
“It’s a show of force,” said a
Trump gives senators
a filibuster lesson
Republican lawmakers couldn’t get a word in edgewise when
the president showed up to lunch with them on Capitol Hill
HASPEL on page 14
Sanctuary cities battle
comes to the White House
SAN FRANCISCO — President Donald
President Donald Trump visits Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a rare meeting with GOP senators. “He spoke for
a long time. All of us had our hands up ready to ask questions but ran out of time,” Sen. Jeff Flake said.
Republican familiar with the
The political component of
the meeting is hard to miss. The
president gets an opportunity to
amplify his recent message about
the need for California officials to
cooperate with federal officials to
stem what he says is a new tide of
illegal immigration. And for the local Republicans, the bulk of whom
are from Southern California, the
event offers a national megaphone
to broadcast their anti-sanctuary
resistance — a central theme in
their efforts to roll back recent
Democratic gains in traditionally
P resident Don a ld T r u mp
showed a roomful of long-winded
senators how to wage a filibuster
on Tuesday.
Trump showed up to the Senate for a rare confab with GOP
senators and spoke for nearly
an hour, essentially uninterrupted. He managed to sidestep
all controversy — namely, his
aide’s joke last week about John
McCain’s vote not being needed
on Gina Haspel’s nomination as
CIA director because he’s “dying
Instead, Trump’s visit to Capitol Hill was something of a campaign rally, for an audience of 50
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said
he wanted to bring up the White
House aide’s disparaging comment about McCain but wasn’t
given the opportunity.
“There was no time. There
were two questions. He spoke
for a long time. All of us had our
hands up ready to ask questions
TRUMP on page 17
House GOP vs. Trump on Calif. gas tax repeal
House GOP leaders are funneling thousands of dollars toward a
California ballot initiative to repeal a recent state gas tax hike — a
move that stands in contrast to the
Trump administration’s preference
that states cough up more of their
own money for infrastructure.
Many House Republican lawmakers across the state — some
of whom are facing competitive
races — have mobilized in support of the ballot measure, which
would let California voters roll back
an April 2017 state law known as
SB 1 that raised the state gasoline
tax by 12 cents a gallon. The most
powerful among them is House
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy,
one of President Donald Trump’s
closest confidants in Congress.
The campaign to qualify a repeal
measure for the November ballot
in California, dubbed “Give Voters a Voice,” reported earlier this
GAS TAX on page 11
2 | POLITICO | W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8
The Farm Bill
is a Poison Pill
for Pollinators
The House Farm Bill’s Poisoned Pollinators Provision would undermine crucial safeguards from pesticides
for threatened and endangered species, including important pollinators like bees, butterflies, birds and
other wildlife. The Farm Bill is important to farmers across the country and promotes wildlife conservation
on private lands. But the Poisoned Pollinators Provision is a direct attack on the Endangered Species
Act—our nation’s most effective law in protecting wildlife in danger of extinction. Farmers who depend on
pollinators and intact natural systems for sound food production will also be hurt.
Our 7.5 million supporters urge House members to
Reject the Farm Bill (H.R. 2) and
its Poisoned Pollinators Provision
W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8 | POLITICO | 3
A daily diary of the Trump presidency
Trump warns of ‘dangerous
anti-police prejudice’
President Donald Trump
lamented what he called the
spread of a “dangerous antipolice prejudice” in the U.S.
during an event to honor fallen
and injured law enforcement
officials on Tuesday.
Speaking at the 37th annual
National Peace Officers Memorial
Service on Capitol Hill, an event
to recognize those killed in the
line of duty, the president vowed
his administration would work to
protect law enforcement officers.
Trump cited efforts by his
administration to boost border
security measures and tighten
federal immigration restrictions
as ways to curb violence
against U.S. citizens and law
enforcement officials.
“The fi rst duty of government
is to protect our citizens,”
Trump said. “That is why we are
calling on Congress to secure
our borders, support our border
agents, stop sanctuary cities and
shut down policies that release
violent criminals back into our
The president also lamented
what he described as a growing
“prejudice” against police
“If we want to bring down
violent crime, then we must
stand up for our police,” the
president said. “We must
confront and condemn dangerous
anti-police prejudice.”
He added: “Can you believe
this prejudice with respect to our
police? We’re not going to let bad
things happen to our police.”
During his remarks, the
president honored and addressed
the families of several fallen
officers, including Border Patrol
agent Rogelio Martinez, who
died in November in Texas near
the border with Mexico, and
New York police officer Miosotis
Familia, who was shot while in a
police vehicle in the Bronx on the
Fourth of July.
Trump reiterated his stance
that those convicted of killing
officers ought to face the death
penalty. “We believe criminals
who kill our police should get
the death penalty,” Trump said.
“Bring it forth.”
On the presidential campaign
trail, Trump said if elected he
would sign an executive order
mandating capital punishment
for convicted cop killers. He has
yet to enact such a measure.
— Cristiano Lima
Nikki Haley blames Hamas
for violence in Gaza
U.S. Ambassador to the United
Nations Nikki Haley said
Tuesday that the relocation of
the U.S. Embassy in Israel from
Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was not to
blame for deadly violence that
erupted along the Gaza border on
Monday, casting blame instead
on Hamas and its backers in the
Iranian government.
Addressing the U.N. Security
Council, Haley said Hamas, the
group that controls Gaza and is
labeled a terrorist organization
by the U.S., was behind the
clashes between Palestinian
protesters and Israeli forces that
left at least 60 people dead. She
bemoaned the “double standard”
an embolization procedure at
Walter Reed National Military
Medical Center on Monday, just
after Mother’s Day. Her office
said in a statement that there
were no complications.
Experts told POLITICO that
the procedure is typically used
to staunch blood flow to a part of
the body to stop a bleeding blood
vessel or kill a noncancerous
growth. But one nephrologist
said this embolization usually
follows another procedure. The
White House has not released
further information on Melania
Trump’s condition, though it
initially said she was expected
to remain at the Bethesda,
Maryland, hospital for the rest of
the week.
Trump went to Walter Reed
late Monday afternoon to visit
the fi rst lady.
— Eli Okun
Conway: Expect staff changes
in wake of McCain leak
‘Today, every American heart bleeds blue’
President Donald Trump greets Adrianna Valoy, the mother of New York Police Department detective Miosotis
Familia, who was killed in the line of duty, during the 37th annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service on
Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Trump lamented what he described as a growing “prejudice” against police officers.
that she said exists at the U.N.
under which Israel shoulders the
blame for violence she said was
spurred by Hamas and Iran.
“Let’s remember that the
Hamas terrorist organization
has been inciting violence for
years, long before the United
States decided to move our
Embassy,” Haley said. “This is
what is endangering the people of
Gaza. Make no mistake, Hamas
is pleased with the results from
The violence on Monday
made for a jarring split screen in
the region, with the pomp and
circumstance of the embassy
opening in Jerusalem carrying
on even as Israeli forces used
deadly force to stop protesters
from crossing a border fence
from Gaza. Protesters hurled
projectiles at Israeli forces and
lit tires on fi re, generating thick
black smoke.
On Tuesday, Haley highlighted
the tactics used by some
Palestinian protesters, including
the use of Molotov cocktails
attached to kites, and accused
Hamas of urging protesters to get
closer to the fence via recordings
on loudspeakers, incorrectly
telling them that Israeli forces
were withdrawing.
Those Security Council
nations castigating Israel should
consider, Haley said, whether
they would tolerate the type of
violence seen in Gaza along their
own borders.
“No country in this chamber
would act with more restraint
than Israel has. In fact, the
records of several countries here
today suggest they would be
much less restrained,” she said.
— Louis Nelson
Trump: ‘Media may be corrupt,
but the People truly get it!’
President Donald Trump
celebrated rising poll numbers
Tuesday as a repudiation of two
familiar annoyances: the news
media and special counsel Robert
Mueller’s Russia investigation.
“I now have my best Poll
Numbers in a year,” he tweeted.
“Much of the Media may be
corrupt, but the People truly get
Though Trump’s approval
rating has remained underwater
for nearly his entire presidency,
his numbers have been ticking
upward lately. FiveThirtyEight’s
daily aggregation of popularity
metrics has clocked Trump at
42.1 percent on five days this
month, including Monday —
his highest rating since May 8,
2017, the day before he fi red FBI
Director James Comey.
His numbers are still
historically low compared with
predecessors at this point in their
Trump said on Twitter that
his poll numbers are particularly
noteworthy “with all of the
made up, unsourced stories I
get from the Fake News Media,
together with the $10,000,000
Russian Witch Hunt (there is no
The White House has
oscillated in recent days between
slamming stories in the media
for relying on unauthorized
leaks and disclaiming the stories
themselves as fake or lacking
The “Russian Witch Hunt”
refers to Mueller’s probe into
Russian electoral interference
and potential coordination
with Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The special counsel’s team is
spending at a rate of roughly
$10 million a year, which was
projected to continue in the
White House’s fiscal year 2019
The president has consistently
insisted that his campaign did
not collude with Russia during
the campaign, though Mueller’s
investigation has expanded
beyond that question — much to
Trump’s frustration.
Trump’s rising numbers have
worried some Democrats anew
about their prospects in the
November midterm elections.
— Eli Okun
Trump: Melania ‘doing really
well’ after kidney procedure
President Donald Trump said
Tuesday morning that fi rst lady
Melania Trump is recovering well
from treatment for a “benign”
kidney condition and will head
home later this week.
“Our great First Lady is doing
really well. Will be leaving
hospital in 2 or 3 days,” he
tweeted. “Thank you for so much
love and support!”
Melania Trump, 48, underwent
Counselor to the president
Kellyanne Conway said Monday
that she expects personnel
changes in the White House in
the wake of President Donald
Trump’s latest outburst against
leaks that have proved damaging
to his administration.
The White House has dealt
in recent days with fallout
from a leaked remark from
communications staffer Kelly
Sadler, who responded to Sen.
John McCain’s opposition to the
confi rmation of Gina Haspel to be
CIA director by saying it “doesn’t
matter, he’s dying anyway.”
McCain (R-Ariz.) has been away
from the Senate for weeks as
he receives treatment for brain
Sadler reportedly called
McCain’s daughter, Meghan
McCain, after the news of the
comment surfaced but has yet
to make a public apology. White
House spokespeople have not
denied that Sadler made the
remark but have declined to
comment on it other than to say it
is being dealt with internally.
On Monday, Trump wrote
online that “the so-called leaks
coming out of the White House
are a massive over exaggeration
put out by the Fake News Media
in order to make us look as bad as
possible” but added that “leakers
are traitors and cowards, and we
will fi nd out who they are!”
Asked later Monday whether,
in the wake of the president’s
tweet, she expects personnel
changes at the White House,
Conway told Fox News, “I do,
actually. Yes, I do.” She said she
had spoken to the president about
the subject of leaks earlier in the
“There are all kinds of leaks.
Some leaks exist to hurt, I guess,
colleagues, some leaks exist
because they disagree with the
policies that are being put forth,
but none of them are helpful,”
Conway said. “Something else
that’s gone on in this White
House but not as badly as it was
at the beginning, where it’s not
so much leaking as using the
media to shiv each other, and that
was going on quite a bit at the
beginning of this administration
and it’s less so now.”
— Louis Nelson
4 | POLITICO | W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8
Foreign policy experts: Trump approach hurting U.S.
But some at debate
say W.H.’s lack of
consistency, coherence
may offer silver lining
President Donald Trump and his
administration’s lack of a consistent and coherent foreign policy is
confusing U.S. allies and ceding
ground to countries that do not
share America’s interests, a group
of foreign policy experts said at a
debate on Monday evening.
But for all the criticism of the
president’s approach, some of the
panelists at the event in Dallas,
“The Future of America’s Global
Role,” argued that there might be
a silver lining in letting the world
know that the U.S. would not do
“I think the global perception has
gone from the U.S. being a reliable
partner, and someone that many
countries would aspire to emulate
in some ways, to someone who is
an unreliable partner,” said Loren
DeJonge Schulman, deputy director
of studies at the Center for a New
American Security in Washington. “That is not necessarily a bad
thing. … It is good, in some ways,
for people to think that the United
States is not going to solve every
problem for us constantly.”
Schulman, who served in President Barack Obama’s administration, stressed that if the U.S. continued to be insular, China and
Russia would rush to fill in the gaps
of global leadership in economic
power and political systems.
While he ran on a largely “America first” platform, Trump, like
his predecessors, has been forced
to respond to foreign crises and
Protesters stamp on prints of U.S. flags during a demonstration in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday. “This business of us going around the world foisting our
conception of how other people live on them is only causing us more problems rather than helping us solve anything,” professor Anna Simmons said.
problems as they’ve cropped up.
Moreover, after applying a pressure campaign against North Korea, Trump will join its leader, Kim
Jong Un, in Singapore next month
to talk about the possible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Robert L. Allbritton
Patrick Steel
John Harris
But it is Trump’s mercurial nature
that has frustrated foreign leaders
and allies around the globe.
The debate, the fourth in a series
of discussions focused on America’s
role in the world, was held at the
George W. Bush Presidential Center
and was convened by the Brookings
Institution’s Foreign Policy program
and the Charles Koch Institute, in
partnership with POLITICO. The
discussion was moderated by Gregory Hellman, a POLITICO reporter.
Anna Simmons, professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, cautioned against a belief
that America should force its values
on other countries.
“T h is busi ness of us goi ng
around the world foisting our conception of how other people live on
them is only causing us more problems rather than helping us solve
anything,” Simmons said.
One area the Trump administration is grappling with is whether the
president’s decision to relocate the
U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to recognize the holy city
as Israel’s capital will make peace
in the Middle East unachievable.
Schulman argued that the administration’s inconsistent approach in
the region had left the U.S. looking
like an “idiot.”
Ted Piccone, a senior fellow at
Brookings, said that, domestically,
attacks on the media, judges and
other core institutions of U.S. democracy had “damaged” America’s
reputation in the world.
“If we want to have allies on
the team … we’re making it much
harder for them to join us,” he said.
Amid all the uncertainty, one
possible benefit is that Americans
can begin to get used to a world in
which the U.S. is declining in power
and other nations begin to rise up,
said John Schuessler, an associate
professor in the Department of International Affairs at Texas A&M.
“I don’t see as a choice where we
have a question on who we’re going
to hand off the reins to,” Schuessler
Poppy MacDonald
At the behest of Bolton, White House
eliminates top cyber adviser post
Carrie Budoff Brown
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The Trump administration has
eliminated the White House’s
top cyber policy role, jettisoning
a key position created during the
Obama presidency to harmonize
the government’s overall approach
to cybersecurity policy and digital
POLITICO first reported last
week that John Bolton, President
Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, was maneuvering to
cut the cyber coordinator role, in a
move that many experts and former
government officials criticized as
a major step backward for federal
cybersecurity policy.
According to an email sent to
National Security Council staffers
Tuesday, the decision is part of an
effort to “streamline authority” for
the senior directors who lead most
NSC teams. “The role of cyber coordinator will end,” Christine Samuelian, an aide to Bolton, wrote in
the email to NSC employees, which
POLITICO obtained from a former
U.S. official.
The NSC’s cyber team has two
senior directors, Samuelian wrote,
and thus “cyber coordination is already a core capability.”
Rob Joyce, Trump’s first coordinator who came from the National
Security Agency, left the White
House on Friday and will return to
Fort Meade. Cyber policy experts,
lawmakers and former officials had
urged Trump to replace Joyce and
not to abolish the position.
“I don’t see how getting rid of
the top cyber official in the White
House does anything to make our
country safer from cyber threats,”
Senate Intelligence Committee
ranking member Mark Warner (DVa.) tweeted Tuesday.
In her email, Samuelian said
that “eliminating another layer of
bureaucracy delivers greater ‘decision, activity, secrecy and despatch,’” quoting Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 70.
The cyber coordinator led a team
of directors and senior directors who
worked with agencies to develop a
unified strategy for issues like election security and digital deterrence.
The coordinator also represented
the administration in meetings with
foreign partners and at conferences
and other public events.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for
W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8 | POLITICO | 5
Sending the price we get for
our sugar back to 1985 lows
isn’t “modest reform”
It’s bankruptcy.
- The Bakke Family | Ulen, Minnesota
Don’t cut sugar farmers out of the Farm Bill.
6 | POLITICO | W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8
President Donald Trump meets with head coach Nick Saban and the 2017 national champion University of Alabama football team at the White House on April 10. An attempt by then-White
House aide Cliff Sims to have Trump sign a ball for Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey went astray and wound up involving chief of staff John Kelly in what should have been a routine process.
Trump signs an Alabama football, and drama ensues
Official’s quest on behalf of state’s governor
shows W.H. is still not ready for prime time
When Cliff Sims cleared out his
desk in the White House press office
earlier this month, his colleagues
immediately thought of the football
incident — an odd and ultimately
trivial episode that nonetheless attracted the attention and frustration of the chief of staff.
In April, when President Donald
Trump invited members of the University of Alabama football team to
the White House to celebrate their
national championship win, Sims
— an Alabama grad — surprised
his colleagues by popping unannounced into the Oval Office, pigskin in hand, as Trump was posing
for pictures with head coach Nick
Saban and others.
Sims, whose title was special assistant to the president and director
of White House message strategy,
explained that he needed to get the
ball signed as a gift for Republican
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, at the
request of the university. Sims
dropped the ball off with another
White House staffer and left the
Trump signed the ball.
But that’s where things seem to
have gotten off track.
Sims told colleagues he had re-
ceived sign-off from the White
House counsel’s office to have the
ball signed and gifted to the Alabama statehouse, and never handled the ball again after dropping
it off. Other staffers said they saw
it in Sims’ office after the team left
the White House campus.
Either way, the ball eventually
ended up on John Kelly’s desk, and
the frustrated White House chief
of staff summoned Sims into his
office to ask him what the heck
was going on with his unexpected
presence in the Oval Office, and a
signed football floating around
the White House. Sims declined
to comment.
But the football incident illustrates how “Veep”-like levels of
clumsiness in the Trump White
House reach all the way to the top
of the chain of command — and underscores how, almost a year into
his tenure as chief of staff, Kelly is
still struggling to maintain order,
acting at times more like a middle
school principal than a Cabinetlevel executive.
In an interview with National
Public Radio last week, Kelly
criticized the White House press
corps for covering rumors and innuendo he claimed they received
from low-level sources and spun
into misleading narratives about
the Trump administration. But
the curious case of Sims and the
football demonstrates that Kelly,
himself, is also sometimes spending his day mediating trivial disputes that are unimaginable in any
other administration.
“Kelly should have much more
important things on his plate than
chasing footballs around the West
Wing,” said Chris Whipple, author
of “The Gatekeepers: How the
White House Chiefs of Staff Define
Every Presidency.” Whipple said he
sees shades of President Ronald
Reagan’s second chief of staff, Donald Regan, in Kelly’s performance
on the job. “Regan micromanaged
and thought he was the CEO and
the president was the retired chairman of the board,” said Whipple.
“I think Kelly has a lot in common
with Regan.”
John Podesta, who served as
chief of staff under President Bill
Clinton, said he would not have
involved himself in signed memorabilia when he was in the hot
seat job. “Given the thousands of
items that Bill Clinton tried to sign
in a rope line, I wouldn’t wonder
whether he was signing tchotchkes
in the Oval,” Podesta said. “I didn’t
feel like I needed to approve all of
it. You would think Kelly would be
spending more time on making sure
Trump is prepped for his bilateral
meeting with Kim Jong Un than he
was on football-gate.”
The White House did not respond
to a request for comment.
But Norm Eisen, who served as
ethics czar under President Barack
Obama, said there is a formal protocol for any piece of memorabilia entering the Oval Office to be
signed — at least there used to be.
“People are restricted from what
they can bring into the Oval,” he
said. “In previous administrations,
you would have had to go through
the director of Oval Office operations to make arrangements for
memorabilia to be signed. The office of the most powerful man in the
world is not supposed to look like
the memorabilia line at the baseball
trading card show.”
One of Kelly’s first orders of
business in the West Wing was to
limit “walk-in” privileges in the
Oval Office. But Sims — a staffer
who predated Kelly and still felt
comfortable walking into the Oval
without the proper sign-offs — is
a disappearing breed in Trump
world: a White House aide who has
rubbed many of his colleagues the
wrong way but managed to survive
and thrive in the administration
nonetheless because of his status as
a former campaign staffer. Founder
of the conservative Alabama political blog Yellowhammer News,
he clashed repeatedly with staffers
pulled from the Republican National Committee, who viewed him as
a troublemaker and suspected him
of leaking information about them
to the news media.
He benefited from closer relationships with campaign-era aides
who are no longer there: people like
Trump’s body man Johnny McEntee and former White House communications director Hope Hicks,
who staffers said was sympathetic
to Sims because of his longtime
loyalty to the president. But after
Hicks left the administration in
February, and McEntee was pushed
out in March, Sims was left more
marooned than ever among staffers
who resented him.
But just a month after the football
incident, Sims is now gone from the
West Wing. POLITICO reported
last week that he had accepted a
position as an adviser to Mike Pompeo, with whom he bonded when he
helped with Pompeo’s recent confirmation as secretary of state. A
White House spokesperson would
not confirm Sims’ new position.
The Alabama governor’s office
did not respond to a request for
comment as to whether it had ever
received the signed football that
was accidentally — or not — left
behind after the ceremony.
One other mystery endures: what
became of the football. The piece of
Roll Tide memorabilia, according
to two people familiar with the episode, may still be floating around
somewhere in the White House.
W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8 | POLITICO | 7
What unites all of these organizations?
Answer: Strong opposition to the disastrous Rep. Steve King Amendment
“Irresponsible” and “threatens the ability of individual states to
govern commerce within their own borders”
“This is not a Commerce Clause issue, but rather an effort which
would weaken the sovereignty of state and local governments to
protect the health and general welfare of its citizens.”
“Will undercut the will of the people and force states and localities
to allow the sale of dangerous and inhumanely-produced products”
Rep. Steve King’s Amendment in the House Farm Bill is a dangerous and controversial provision
that could undermine hundreds of state and local laws covering everything from food safety to child
labor to animal welfare. It presents a major threat to families, farmers, and animals nationwide.
8 | POLITICO | W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8
In midterms, Dems run on GOP health care ‘sabotage’
Unified message
targets Republicans
for declining care and
rising premiums
Democrats are confidently running on Obamacare for the first
time in a decade.
They have a unified message
blaming Republicans for “sabotaging” the health care law, leading
to a cascade of sky-high insurance
premiums that will come just before
the November midterm elections.
They’re rolling out ads featuring people helped by the law. And
Tuesday, they started a campaign
to amplify each state’s premium
increases — and tie those to GOP
That’s a big change from four
election cycles of reluctance to talk
about Obamacare on the stump.
During those campaigns, red-state
Democrats were often on the defensive, dodging accusations they
imposed government-run health
care on unwilling Americans,
made it impossible for people to
keep their doctors and health plans
and caused double-digit premium
increases every year.
Now, even those Democrats see
Obamacare as a political advantage.
The Affordable Care Act has grown
significantly more popular. And as
Republicans learned last year, when
they failed to repeal it, the public
had scant interest in taking away
coverage from millions of Americans, including low-income and
vulnerable people on Medicaid.
Democrats are also seizing the issue
of rising prescription drug prices —
another health care cost problem
for which the public holds the GOP
responsible, according to polls.
While health insurance premiums are still going up — by double-digits, according to the first
few preliminary state filings for
2019 — Democrats say the rising
costs are now an albatross around
Republican necks.
“Democrats need to prosecute
the case against the Republican
approach to health care,” said Brad
Woodhouse, campaign director at
Protect Our Care and a longtime
Democratic strategist.
They will blame the next round
of premium spikes on the GOP
because Republicans repealed the
individual mandate, eliminated a
low-income subsidy, and let people
enroll in health plans that don’t
have the full range of ACA benefits
and patient protections.
Republicans counter that they
are expanding consumer choice and
offering more affordable alternatives to the burdensome Obamacare. But they haven’t developed a
cohesive message since their repeal
efforts collapsed, after years of insistent campaign promises to undo
Obamacare. Their best argument so
far is that Democrats want to impose a single-payer health system
on the country — a progressive idea
that Democrats are trying to downplay this year for fear it will hurt
them in general election contests.
During the past four election
cycles, only the most progressive
Democrats touted their Obamacare
vote. But this year, even Democrats
running in states that President
Donald Trump carried in 2016 are
After four election cycles in which they avoided talking about Obamacare, Democratic candidates and strategists are making defense of the health
care law — and what they call its “sabotage” by the GOP — the centerpiece of their campaign message in the midterm elections.
touting their health care achievements and the idea of protecting
“I don’t know that we talked
about health care much in 2012,”
said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.),
referring to the last time he appeared on the ballot. That was just
two years after the 2010 Republican wave, when about half of the
moderate Democrats lost their
races in part because they backed
Obamacare. “I mean, truthfully, we
talked about pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps and that was
about it.”
He’s not the only red-state Dem-
aid under Obamacare, and states
with large rural populations, such
as North Dakota and Montana,
which have long struggled to keep
their hospitals open in the face of
rising costs.
For two years, Tester has been
holding roundtables with doctors,
hospitals and patients, pledging he
wants to fix the law but not repeal it.
Heitkamp has taken the same
tack and warns that her opponent
has voted to repeal Obamacare
dozens of times with no replacement ready.
“One of the worst provisions
of the bill Kevin Cramer voted
United States junior senator from
North Dakota, it would have been
repealed and replaced with something that provides more money
and more flexibility for people in
North Dakota.”
Matt Rosendale, the Montana
Republican who is likely to face
Tester this fall, says there is no way
Democrats can hoist responsibility
for Obamacare rate hikes onto the
GOP. “I have seen folks’ premiums
absolutely skyrocket,” said Rosendale, who happens to be the state
official responsible for overseeing
the insurance industry.
Still, Republicans don’t have a
“One of the worst provisions of the bill Kevin Cramer voted for was eliminating
the Medicaid expansion. We would have eliminated health care for thousands
… of people in North Dakota. … I don’t know how you justify that.”
— Sen. Heidi Heitkamp
ocrat owning the health law.
Health care will be a defining
difference in North Dakota, where
incumbent Democrat Sen. Heidi
Heitkamp faces GOP Rep. Kevin
Cramer, who backed repeal. In
Arkansas, Clarke Tucker, a cancer
survivor, says health care is the reason he’s running for Congress. And
in New Jersey, Democrat Andy Kim
is talking health care as he tries to
unseat Rep. Tom MacArthur, who
played a key role in finally getting a
repeal bill through the House, only
to see it die in the Senate.
Health care could be a particularly potent campaign topic
in states that expanded Medic-
for was eliminating the Medicaid
expansion,” Heitkamp said. “We
would have eliminated health care
for thousands and thousands and
thousands of people in North Dakota — people with opioid addictions,
people whose children are disabled
or the elderly in a nursing home. I
don’t know how you justify that.”
For his part, Cramer — a House
Republican — welcomes the debate
over Obamacare.
“If that fight doesn’t come to me,
it will come from me. All I would
say is, one vote matters, doesn’t it?”
he said, referring to the Senate repeal bill falling just one vote short
last year. “If we had a different
cohesive answer to their flameout
on repeal — a failure that obliterated a reliable applause line for
GOP candidates in every cycle
since 2010.
“We’re going to have to figure out
a good way to address it because I
think a lot of people are frustrated
because insurance rates are going to
continue to go up,” said Rep. Brett
Guthrie (R-Ky.).
He says blame for those rate hikes
rests with the Democrats. “It’s the
way the law is drafted. You can’t
give all these benefits without the
insurance rates going up,” he said.
But even Guthrie acknowledges
that a wonky conversation about
death spirals, insurance actuaries
and silver loading — the insurance
industry practice of raising the
price of “silver-tier” health plans to
maximize subsidies — won’t work
in a 30-second TV spot. Republicans argue those changes make
insurance more affordable.
Complicating matters further for
Republicans is the slow growth in
the law’s favorability beginning in
late 2016, according to a monthly
poll conducted by the Kaiser Family
In April 2017, when House Republicans were at the peak of their
repeal effort, the favorability numbers surpassed the unfavorable
numbers for the first time — and
have climbed since then. As of last
month, 49 percent of all Americans
have a favorable view of the law,
and 43 percent have an unfavorable view. It’s still not overwhelmingly popular, but the dynamic has
Some conservatives are hoping
that the rising premium costs could
force the GOP to consider yet another stab at repeal, which would
require a complex procedural tool
called reconciliation to prevent a
Democratic filibuster. But that is essentially a nonstarter, because there
aren’t enough Republican votes.
“We right now don’t have the
votes to do another reconciliation
— that’s just a practical matter. It’s
not the sort of thing you say in a
stump speech. But we’ve made such
great progress turning this [huge]
federal government around,” said
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), referring to broader GOP achievements
under the Trump administration.
“I think voters are fair, and they
know the direction that we’ve tried
to go and generally succeeded.”
W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8 | POLITICO | 9
WTO opens door for U.S. to retaliate against EU
In Airbus dispute,
report confirms that
European Union
ingnored WTO’s rules
The World Trade Organization
has set the stage for the Trump administration to potentially retaliate
on billions of dollars of European
goods after it said the European
Union had not complied with previous decisions against government
support for Airbus.
“This report confirms once and
for all that the EU has long ignored
WTO rules, and even worse, EU
aircraft subsidies have cost American aerospace companies tens of
billions of dollars in lost revenue,”
U.S. Trade Representative Robert
Lighthizer said in a statement.
“Unless the EU finally takes action to stop breaking the rules and
harming U.S. interests, the United
States will have to move forward
with countermeasures on EU products,” he added.
T he EU said it would move
swiftly to comply with the decision, while trumpeting parts of
the ruling that went in its favor
and downplaying the points it lost.
It also argued that a complete
picture of the litigation would not
be clear until another WTO appellate body rules on whether the
United States has complied with
previous WTO decisions against
government support for Boeing.
That’s expected later this year or
in early 2019.
“We look forward to the upcoming ruling by the Appellate
Body on U.S. compliance with the
WTO findings of the massive and
persistent government support
to Boeing,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in
a statement.
Boeing hailed Tuesday’s decision, saying it expected the U.S.
to ask the WTO for permission to
increase tariffs — known in WTO
parlance as imposing countermeasures — on billions of dollars worth
of European goods.
It is now up to the U.S. to decide whether any new steps taken
by the EU are enough to stave off
“There is no opportunity for Eu-
On Tuesday, the WTO’s Appellate Body upheld an earlier finding by a compliance panel that so-called launch aid
support provided to Airbus led to significant loss of sales for aircraft manufacturer Boeing in two major markets.
rope to go back to the WTO and say,
‘We did this or we did that’ and then
seek, if you will, another compliance review. They had their chance
up until today and failed to take the
necessary steps,” Boeing’s longtime
outside counsel, Bob Novick, told
reporters during a conference call.
“The United States will retaliate
or put countermeasures in place
until it’s satisfied that Europe has
USTR did not specify how much
in damages it could seek from the
WTO — a process that will take
at least 60 days for a new panel to
The long-running dispute dates
back to October 2004, when the administration of President George
W. Bush filed for relief over howls
of protests from the EU.
Then-U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick announced
the United States was walking
away from the 1992 U.S.-EU Agreement on Large Civil Aircraft that
governed subsidies on both sides of
the Atlantic and starting litigation
at the WTO against European government support for Airbus, which
had increased its share of the global
civil aircraft market from 30 percent to 50 percent over the previous
12 years.
The EU followed suit, challenging a number of federal and state
government programs for Boeing.
Multiple rulings later, both parties
are still waiting for a resolution to
one of the longest, most complicated and costliest disputes in the
WTO body’s history.
In its ruling on Tuesday, the
WTO’s Appellate Body upheld an
earlier finding by a compliance
panel that so-called launch aid
support provided to Airbus led to
significant loss of sales for U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing in two
major markets.
One is the twin-aisle category,
which covers Airbus’ A330 and
A350 XWB aircraft and Boeing’s
767, 777 and 787 aircraft. The other
is the very large aircraft market,
which covers the Airbus A380 and
the Boeing 747 jumbo jets.
The appeals body said the support continued after Dec. 1, 2011
— the date by which the EU was
supposed to comply with the original panel ruling. It also upheld the
compliance panel’s finding that
Airbus paid a lower interest rate
on financing for the development
of its latest aircraft, the A350 XWB,
than it would have obtained on the
commercial market.
However, the Appellate Body did
agree with the EU that a member
cannot be required to “withdraw”
or to “remove the effects of” a subsidy that expired before December
It also did not find that subsidies
the EU continued to grant or maintain after December 2011 for the
launch of Airbus’ A350 XWB and
A380 were causing adverse effects
in the market for single-aisle aircraft, such as the Boeing 737.
“Today’s final ruling sends a
clear message: disregard for the
rules and illegal subsidies is not
tolerated,” Boeing CEO Dennis
Muilenburg said in a prepared
statement calling on Airbus and
European government to “fully
comply” with the ruling.
Any U.S. retaliation could be
largely directed at French, German, Spanish and British goods,
since those countries provide the
launch aid loans for Airbus. But the
Trump administration could also
hit other EU countries to maximize
pressure for reform.
The European side de-emphasized the possibility of significant
U.S. retaliation.
“Today, the WTO Appellate
Body, the highest WTO court, has
definitively rejected the U.S. challenge on the bulk of EU support to
Airbus, and agreed that the EU has
largely complied with its original
findings,” Malmstrom said. “Significantly, it dismissed the vast
majority of U.S. claims that this
support had damaged Boeing’s
aircraft sales.”
The EU’s case has consistently
run about six months to a year behind the U.S. case after Brussels in
June 2005 filed a second complaint
that was incorporated into its original filing.
“Today’s significant legal success for the European aviation
industry confirms our strategy
which we have followed over all
those years of the dispute,” Airbus
CEO Tom Enders said. “Of course,
today’s report is really only half the
story — the other half coming out
later this year will rule strongly on
Boeing’s subsidies and we’ll see
then where the balance lies.”
Airbus also renewed its call for a
negotiated settlement — an option
that has been available for the past
14 years. However, the litigants
have instead waited to see how
much in retaliation the WTO would
authorize for each side.
Planning for Trump-Kim summit will ‘absolutely’ go on, State says
The State Department vowed
on Tuesday that planning for the
historic summit between President
Donald Trump and North Korean
leader Kim Jong Un will “absolutely” go on amid reports that Pyongyang is threatening to pull out over
ongoing military exercises between
the U.S. and South Korea.
Yonhap News Agency, the Seoulbased media outlet, reported earlier Tuesday that North Korean officials are canceling a high-level
meeting with South Korean officials and are mulling withdrawing altogether from the highly anticipated summit between Trump
and Kim amid frustration with the
military drills.
North Korea’s state-run Central
News Agency called the exercises
between South Korea and the U.S. a
“provocation,” Yonhap and Reuters
State Department spokesperson
Heather Nauert told reporters during a briefing that the agency had
“received no formal or even informal notification of anything”
relating to the tests or the summit
from North Korean officials, adding
that discussions about the gathering with top U.S. officials would
“Absolutely, we will continue to
go ahead and plan the meeting with
Kim Jong Un,” she said when asked
whether planning for the summit
would go on.
Nauert pushed back on the
characterization of the drills as
provocative, saying the exercises
“are things that we do all over the
world with many of our partners
and allies.”
The State spokesperson pointed
to Kim’s own past remarks on the
drill to a delegation of South Korea
officials, whom he reportedly told
he “understands” their position on
the matter.
“Kim Jong Un had said previously
that he understands the need and
the utility of the United States and
the Republic of Korea continuing in
its joint exercises,” she told reporters roughly an hour after Yonhap
broke news of North Korea’s threat.
“They’re exercises that are legal;
they are planned well, well in
In a statement, a Department
of Defense spokesperson said the
drills are part of the “routine, annual training program to maintain
a foundation of military readiness”
by U.S. and South Korean forces.
“W hile we will not discuss
specifics, the defensive nature of
these combined exercises has been
clear for many decades and has not
changed,” said Col. Rob Manning.
The spokesperson made no direct
mention of the reported North Korean threat.
North and South Korean officials
were poised to hold a meeting at a
border village to discuss efforts
to reduce tensions and restart reunions for families separated by the
Korean War, according to Yonhap.
It is not clear when, or whether, the
meeting will be rescheduled.
The two-week military exercise
between the U.S. and South Korea
started Friday, the news agency
North Korean officials are
reportedly mulling withdrawing
from a summit between Kim Jong
Un and President Donald Trump
amid frustration over military drills.
10 | POLITICO | W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8
Vice President Mike Pence has silently stepped aside when President Donald Trump has decided the spotlight should be his, such as when Trump attended the World Economic Forum in Davos,
Switzerland, instead of Pence. “What Mike Pence wisely recognizes is his wagon is hitched to Donald Trump no matter what,” said former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
Trump makes sure vice president stays in his shadow
With Pence taking a higher profile on the trail,
the president steps in to assert his dominance
President Donald Trump wasn’t
planning to attend the recent National Rifle Association convention
— that is, until he learned that Vice
President Mike Pence would be giving the keynote address.
That led to a change of plans in
the West Wing, according to two
people familiar with the arrangement, and nearly a week after the
NR A announced Pence would
speak, the president was added
to the schedule to speak moments
after Pence.
It wasn’t the first time Trump
has changed his plans to one-up
the veep. It was originally Pence,
not Trump, who planned to travel
to the World Economic Forum in
Davos, Switzerland. But upon seeing who else would be attending,
Trump decided to make the trip
himself instead, bumping Pence
off the schedule, according to a
person familiar with the matter.
A White House official said that
neither scheduling decision was
based on the vice president’s plans.
And Trump is elbowing out
Pence in other, smaller, ways: On
Monday, the anti-abortion group
Susan B. Anthony List announced
Trump would be headlining its annual Washington gala this year, after Pence gave the keynote address
last year. An official said that plan
was weeks in the making.
From the start, the former Indiana governor has avoided criti-
cizing Trump or even disagreeing
with him publicly, and has silently
stepped aside when Trump has decided the spotlight should be his —
so much so that the conservative
columnist George Will recently accused him of “groveling.” Pence has
played the role of loyal surrogate,
enthusiastic cheerleader and constant defender, calling on special
counsel Robert Mueller to wrap up
his investigation and dismissing
questions swirling around Trump’s
former lawyer Michael Cohen as a
“private matter.”
And Pence’s team has worked assiduously to dispel any rumors that
Pence might be harboring his own
ambitions for the Oval Office, even
as Pence hired a political operator
as his chief of staff and formed a
leadership PAC to support Republican congressional candidates.
But that hasn’t stopped the
president from going out of his
way to make sure Pence stays in
his shadow.
“It was always pretty apparent
that Pence had a role, and that role
was to be subservient to Trump,”
said a former White House official
who also served on the campaign.
“Pence should be not seen and not
heard and kind of put away in a corner and used as needed.”
The vice president has in recent months taken a starring role
on the campaign trail, promoting
the Republican tax reform bill for
America First Policies, Trump’s
issue-advocacy group.
But on Monday, Trump’s first
campaign manager and frequent
adviser Corey Lewandowski announced he’ll be joining Pence’s
political action committee, Great
America. “Proud to be joining the
Great America PAC. @realDonaldTrump and @MikePenceVP
continue to fulfill the Camapign
[cq] Promises they made to Make
America Great Again!” Lewandowski tweeted. “The Rep’s will
expand majorities in the Senate
and hold the House to keep America
moving forward.”
The PAC, which finances Pence’s
travel around the country to stump
for GOP candidates and cuts checks
to favored members of Congress
and governors, has been viewed
by some as a vehicle for Pence to
pursue his own ambitions beyond
the vice presidency. Lewandowski’s
move, which was first reported by
Fox News, puts one of the original
Trump loyalists at the heart of
Pence’s political camp.
“This is all in preparation for
the reelect,” said Marty Obst, a top
Pence adviser who oversees the PAC.
“Our goal is to support the president’s agenda, support candidates
who do the same. That’s the whole
purpose of the leadership PAC.”
The first sign of tensions emerged
in recent weeks when it was revealed that Pence’s doctor, Jennifer
Peña, was among the more than 20
people who spoke with the Senate
Veterans’ Affairs Committee about
concerns regarding the conduct
of Ronny Jackson, Trump’s White
House doctor, who subsequently
withdrew his nomination to lead
the Department of Veterans Affairs.
But Pence’s team quickly sought
to demonstrate fealty to Trump.
Peña, they noted, was assigned
to him by the White House Medical Unit and was not a handpicked
member of Pence’s staff. Days after
Jackson withdrew his nomination,
Peña resigned.
Strain, or the illusion of it,
between the president and vice
president has been a near-permanent feature in Washington, with
Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s
unusually close relationship being the exception that proved the
rule. Vice President Dick Cheney
was seen as a hawkish puppeteer in
George W. Bush’s White House and
was marginalized as Bush’s presidency wore on. Al Gore famously
sought to distance himself from Bill
Clinton during the 2000 presidential race in the wake of the Monica
Lewinsky affair.
Pence toyed with making a 2016
presidential run but announced
in May 2015 he’d sit out the race,
a month before Trump declared
his candidacy. The vice president
played a key role in Trump’s failed
effort to repeal Obamacare as well
as in the successful tax bill push.
He has so far remained clear of
Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — and was cast as a victim of
former national security adviser
Michael Flynn’s lies about contacts
with Russians before Flynn’s firing
in February 2017.
“Mike Pence, while having a
political future, has been 100 per-
cent loyal to Donald Trump, which
may or may not present Pence issues down the road,” said Ari
Fleischer, former press secretary
to Bush. “What Mike Pence wisely
recognizes is his wagon is hitched
to Donald Trump no matter what.”
With that in mind, he said, it
only makes sense for Pence to be
as ardent a supporter as possible
of Trump’s agenda. “A successful Trump presidency will put
Mike Pence in a relatively strong
position,” Fleischer said. “An unsuccessful presidency for Donald
Trump will likely doom him.”
But Pence could face a challenge
in the near future as Republican
Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is
battling brain cancer, is expected to
request, according to reports, that
Pence attend his funeral rather than
the president, who insulted McCain’s war record early in his candidacy and more recently has done
nothing to disavow comments made
by a staffer dismissing McCain as a
result of his terminal illness.
Seeing Pence warmly welcomed
by someone who snubbed him could
trigger Trump’s anger — or, more
likely, send him on an unrelated
Twitter rant to draw the attention
back to himself.
“Knowing the president somewhat, I do not think Trump thinks
anyone overshadows him,” Mary
Matalin, a former counselor to
Cheney, wrote in an email to
POLITICO. “And he is right about
Christopher Cadelago and Eliana
Johnson contributed to this report.
W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8 | POLITICO | 11
DHS chief Nielsen denies she threatened to resign
Secretary urges
Congress to tighten
standards for asylum
and close all ‘loopholes’
Homeland Security Secretary
Kirstjen Nielsen denied Tuesday
that she threatened last week to
resign after receiving a reported
tongue-lashing from President
Donald Trump over an uptick in
illegal immigration.
“I have not resigned,” Nielsen
said in response to a reporter’s
shouted question as she left a
hearing of the Senate Homeland
Security and Governmental Affairs
Committee. “I didn’t threaten to
A DHS spokesperson last week
denied that Nielsen considered
resigning, as first reported by The
New York Times and later confirmed to POLITICO by a senior
administration official.
But in her own initial statement
last week about the matter, Nielsen
neither confirmed nor denied that
she’d weighed resigning. White
House chief of staff John Kelly
later told a Fox News reporter that
he called the secretary after the
Cabinet meeting and implored her
to remain on the job.
Lawmakers didn’t mention the
resignation reports during the
roughly two-hour hearing.
In her appearance before the
committee, Nielsen urged Congress
on Tuesday to tighten standards
for asylum, which she portrayed
as “loopholes” that encourage illegal immigration.
“Asylum is for people fleeing
persecution, not those searching
for a better job,” Nielsen said in her
opening remarks. “Yet our broken
system — with its debilitating court
rulings, a crushing backlog and
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen denied that she threatened last week to resign after receiving a
reported tongue-lashing from the president over an increase in illegal immigration. “I have not resigned,” she said.
gaping loopholes — allows illegal
migrants to get into our country
anyway and for whatever reason
they want. This gaming of the
system is unacceptable.”
Nielsen also expressed support
for the administration’s recent
decision to refer for prosecution
all people suspected of crossing the
border illegally, which will likely
lead to an increase in families separated at the southwest border.
“[Attorney General Jeff Sessions] has declared that we will
have zero tolerance for all illegal
border crossings,” she said. “And
I stand by that.”
Trump touted a precipitous drop
in border arrests during his first
year in office, but numbers have
climbed steadily in recent months
to more closely resemble levels during the Obama administration. In
April, arrests on the southwest border were more than three times the
number during the same month one
year earlier.
The president has fumed publicly about the need to halt rising
illegal immigration, particularly
when a caravan of Central American migrants traveled last month
through Mexico toward the United
States. At least 150 members of the
caravan ultimately sought asylum
in the U.S., according to a report
in Reuters.
Nielsen, as the top homeland security official, shoulders responsibility to execute Trump’s border
security agenda, although many
components of the White House
plan to combat illegal immigration require legislative action — and
Congress appears unlikely to pass a
sweeping bill before the November
midterm elections.
Nielsen on Tuesday rejected the
notion that a rise in recent years in
the percentage of Central American families and children arrested
at the border was attributable to
poverty and violence in their home
“Some say these increases are the
result of spreading crime or failing
economies in source countries,” she
said. “But in those places, we are
actually seeing economic growth
and lower homicide rates.“
During the secretary’s opening remarks, roughly two dozen
women and children rose and exited
the room in protest of policies that
increase family separation.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)
grilled Nielsen about whether the
administration intended to use the
threat of family separation to deter
illegal immigration.
Nielsen said she hadn’t been
directed to split up families as a
method of deterrence.
“My decision has been that
anyone who breaks the law will
be prosecuted,” Nielsen said. “If
you’re a parent or you’re a single
person or you happen to have a
family, if you cross between the
ports of entry, we will refer you
for prosecution. You’ve broken
U.S. law.”
GOP push to repeal California gas tax may run afoul of Trump
GAS TAX from page 1
month that it took in contributions
of $50,000 and $25,000 from the
campaign arms of Speaker Paul
Ryan and GOP Whip Steve Scalise,
respectively. That money pads the
$300,000 McCarthy has donated
to the effort in his home state since
November 2017.
Those who support repeal say
the tax increases weren’t necessary because the state has plenty
of money that could be spent more
wisely. Meanwhile, opponents,
which include a broad coalition of
construction industry groups, say
it’s a political ploy to help downballot Republicans in a tough election year.
“Having the Republican delegation from California supporting
repeal of S.B. 1 does not bode well
for the Trump administration’s
plan that … incentivizes states to
do more on their own,” said Dean
Franks, senior vice president of
congressional relations at the
American Road and Transportation Builders Association.
Either way, Beltway Republicans throwing their weight behind
the effort indicates that, despite
Trump’s openness to a federal gas
tax boost, they think revoking one
at the state level is a political win.
And it comes as work on Trump’s
marquee infrastructure legislation
appears stalled just three months
after the administration rolled out
its long-awaited infrastructure
“Well, I’m from California. The
way the gas went up the fastest was
the Democrats raised the taxes on
it. We’re actually, in California,
we just submitted an initiative to
repeal that gasoline tax — actually lower the price for individuals — just like we did in the tax”
code overhaul, McCarthy said on
May 7 on Fox News, when asked
about wage growth and climbing
gas prices.
A spokesman for McCarthy
did not respond to requests for
The California law at issue also
hiked diesel taxes and levied sliding
scale fees for vehicles registered in
the state. The ballot measure would
additionally stipulate that the Legislature can’t set fuel tax or vehicle
fee increases in the future without
subjecting the proposals to a voter
Conservatives who support the
repeal effort say the state has a history of diverting gas tax revenues
to projects other than roads and
“We can have the best roads in
the country if we put the existing
gas tax into roads,” said Carl DeMaio, a San Diego Republican and
talk radio host who’s a vocal backer
of the ballot initiative.
“Just because you write something in the Constitution doesn’t
mean it has actual teeth,” he added.
DeMaio was referring to the California state Constitution, which
contains an article essentially
precluding the Legislature from
using transportation trust fund
revenues to pay for anything other than highway and mass transit
projects, as well as some park and
recreational purposes.
Those who want to keep the recent gas tax hike say they’ll be protected as long as California voters
approve a separate ballot measure
next month that acts as a “lockbox”
on the new tax and fee revenues by
extending to them the existing constitutional protections.
California needs the extra $5
billion-plus a year the levies are
estimated to bring in, they say, because unless the gas tax is indexed
to inflation, the buying power of its
revenues declines as time passes —
the state last raised its gas tax in
1994. On top of that, California has
tens of thousands of state highway
miles that need to be maintained to
support a car-centric system, while
strict fuel economy rules hamstring
the amount of taxes collected.
“It’s a local issue, and just like
Trump’s proposal is asking states
to go first, we took responsibility
for ourselves and addressed that
issue, and now Republicans in
Congress want to undo that,” said
Michael Quigley, executive director
of the California Alliance for Jobs, a
labor-construction industry coalition that’s mobilizing in opposition
to the ballot measure.
One Ca l i forn ia Republ ica n
prominent in the infrastructure
space who hasn’t taken a position
on the measure is Rep. Jeff Denham,
who’s vying for the top GOP slot
on the Transportation Committee
next Congress.
When POLITICO asked whether
he was staying neutral, he said he’s
“focused on the federal policy, and
we’ve got to fix our gas tax from
the federal level, so we continue
to debate that and how it fits into
our overall national policy.”
Still, when asked whether it runs
counter to the White House’s in-
frastructure principles, Denham
hewed close to what supporters of
the ballot measure say.
“No, because the state of California again and again has failed to
protect the voters — meaning every
time we pass a ballot initiative, or
the state Legislature passes a tax,
they fail to put the money and guarantee it’s gonna go where it says it’s
gonna go,” he said, citing fights
over how the state government
wanted to spend proceeds from a
tobacco tax and a water bond.
Peter Tateishi, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of
California, said some of his members have approached lawmakers
who back repealing the tax to say
they’re no longer supporting the
lawmaker’s reelection bids.
Tateishi said it’s not surprising
that McCarthy has engaged his fellow leadership members on the ballot measure, but his position could
put him in a tough spot if Congress
does end up moving an infrastructure bill with elements of Trump’s
plan after California has undone its
gas tax hike.
“That’s a question that Mr. McCarthy is going to have to answer if
the people of California do repeal
SB 1,” he said.
14 | POLITICO | W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8
Heitkamp, citing McCain, says yes vote not ‘easy’
HASPEL from page 1
ing Haspel, Warner described
the vote as “a difficult decision”
and pointed to “valid questions”
about her past at the spy agency,
where she’s spent more than three
decades. But his status as the top
Democrat on the intelligence panel,
and a potential future chairman,
freighted his vote on her confirmation with added significance to
long-term relationships with the
Warner added that “I also respect
my colleagues” who have chosen
to oppose Haspel over her involvement in the George W. Bush administration’s interrogation program.
Heitkamp, in announcing her “yes”
vote, directly named Haspel’s most
prominent GOP critic in describing
her vote as “not an easy decision.”
“Ms. Haspel’s involvement in
torture is deeply troubling, as my
friend and colleague, John McCain,
so eloquently reminded us,” Heitkamp said in a statement.
Nelson’s pro-Haspel statement,
released after he met with her on
Tuesday, echoed arguments from
her supporters in touting her backing from former Obama administration intelligence officials.
“Gina Haspel has publicly acknowledged that the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program
should not have been undertaken
and has vowed to uphold our nation’s laws and values in leading the
agency,” Nelson said.
One publicly undecided Republican, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah,
also came out in support of Haspel
through a spokesman after meeting with her on Tuesday. McCain’s
fellow Arizona Republican, Sen.
Jeff Flake, said Tuesday that he
continues to weigh his vote on
the 61-year-old CIA veteran. The
remaining uncommitted Demo-
CIA nominee Gina Haspel, shown last week, received support Tuesday from three key Democratic senators,
including Bill Nelson, who touted her backing from former Obama administration intelligence officials.
crats on Haspel’s nomination
include Senate Minority Leader
Chuck Schumer of New York and
Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Maggie Hassan of New
Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), another potential swing vote, came out
against Haspel on Tuesday. “While
her career has been impressive, Ms.
Haspel’s role in programs that conducted torture is very troubling,”
he said in a statement, adding that
Haspel’s Monday letter on CIA interrogations “has not relieved my
concerns, which are rooted in both
the responsibility I feel as a senator
and in my own deeply held faith.”
Despite Jones’ response, however, Haspel’s eventual confirmation appeared all but assured after
her note to Warner. Advocates who
had hoped to push him into the no
camp were frustrated by the move.
“This is a fight that he simply
didn’t want to have and is finding any excuse to avoid having it,”
ACLU national political director Faiz Shakir wrote in an email.
“His statement should have just
read, ‘I don’t want to pick a fight
with Trump on torture and national
During her confirmation hearing last week, Haspel vowed not to
start a similarly harsh CIA interrogation program if confirmed, but
she stopped short of disavowing a
program that she said produced
“valuable information.”
Haspel stood by her judgment
that the CIA interrogation program
generated helpful leads from suspected terrorists, but her letter to
Warner went further by acknowledging that both she and the spy
agency “have learned the hard lessons since 9/11.”
“While I won’t condemn those
that made these hard calls, and I
have noted the valuable intelligence
collected, the program ultimately
did damage to our officers and our
standing in the world,” Haspel
“With the benefit of hindsight
and my experience as a senior
Agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the
CIA should have undertaken,” she
added. “The United States must be
an example to the rest of the world,
and I support that.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) remains
opposed to Haspel, heightening
the importance of her Democratic
support given the Senate’s narrow
division in the absence of McCain.
The intelligence panel is expected
to send her nomination to the full
chamber on Wednesday, and a final
confirmation vote could take place
as soon as Thursday or next week
at the latest.
Federal judge rejects Manafort’s bid to dismiss Mueller indictment
A federal judge on Tuesday rejected an attempt by Paul Manafort,
a former Trump campaign chairman, to get an indictment against
him dismissed by claiming that
special counsel Robert Mueller’s
appointment was flawed.
In a blow to Manafort’s defense,
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Mueller’s
prosecution of the longtime political consultant on charges of money
laundering and failing to register as
a foreign agent for a Ukrainian political party was “squarely” within
the authority that Deputy Attorney
General Rod Rosenstein granted to
Mueller last May.
“The indictment falls squarely
within that portion of the authority
granted to the Special Counsel that
Manafort finds unobjectionable:
the order to investigate ‘any links
and/or coordination between the
Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign,’”
Jackson wrote.
“Manafort was, at one time,
not merely ‘associated with,’ but
the chairman of, the Presidential
campaign, and his work on behalf
of the Russia-backed Ukrainian
political party and connections to
other Russian figures are matters
of public record,” the judge added.
“It was logical and appropriate for
investigators tasked with the investigation of ‘any links’ between the
Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign
to direct their attention to him.”
Manafort’s lawyers argued that
a portion of Rosenstein’s order
that gave Mueller the authority to
pursue “any matters that arose or
may arise directly from the investigation” gave the special counsel
more authority than permitted under Justice Department regulations
for such prosecutors.
Ja c k s o n , h o w e v e r, s a i d
Manafort’s arguments were not
persuasive for several reasons.
First, she said, the subjects that
Manafort was indicted for in federal court in Washington were part
of Mueller’s basic focus, not some
expansion of it. Second, she said,
outsiders don’t have the authority to enforce the special counsel
regulations, because they’re internal Justice Department policies.
And third, she found that Rosenstein has validated the indictment
through continuing consultation
with and supervision of Mueller.
A spokesman for Manafort did
not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.
Jackson, an appointee of President
Barack Obama, has imposed a gag
Paul Manafort was “not merely ‘associated with,’ but the chairman of, the
Presidential campaign,” Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote.
order limiting public comments by
prosecutors, defense attorneys and
Manafort’s defense team has appeared more hopeful about a similar motion to dismiss filed against
another criminal case Mueller
brought against him in Virginia on
charges of bank fraud, tax evasion
and failing to report foreign bank
The judge in that case, T.S. Ellis III, gave Manafort’s defense a
much-needed boost earlier this
month by expressing skepticism
about Mueller’s authority to pursue
charges with no obvious connection
to Russia.
Ellis, an appointee of President
Ronald Reagan, seized on the fact
that the alleged fraud in the Virginia case dated back to 2005, about
a decade before the Trump campaign came into existence. That
arguably makes the case more
factually removed from Mueller’s
central mandate.
Manafort could still lose his motion if Ellis agrees with Jackson that
the special counsel regulations
can’t be enforced by defendants
or finds that Rosenstein approved
an expansion of Mueller’s authority
for the bank and tax fraud charges.
Even if the judge does find a violation, it’s possible he won’t dismiss
the case but will simply reassign it
to federal prosecutors in Virginia.
Still, any ruling from Ellis that
Mueller overstepped his authority
is certain to be celebrated not only
by Manafort, but also by Trump
and his supporters. Indeed, after
Ellis’ criticism of Mueller’s team
at the hearing earlier this month,
Trump seized on the statements,
reading them aloud from the stage
at a speech he was delivering in
Ellis has not yet issued a ruling on Manafort’s motion, but the
judge set a deadline of this Friday
for Mueller’s office to file with the
court an August 2017 memo laying
out the designated scope of the special counsel’s investigation.
W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8 | POLITICO | 15
California GOP, Trump have ‘show of force’
red San Diego and Orange counties,
a region that’s pivotal to the fight
for control of the House.
Republican strategist Matt Cunningham, a veteran of Orange
County politics, says the meeting is
a savvy move by the administration
on an issue that’s gaining resonance
even in solidly blue California.
The debate over Senate Bill 54,
the California Values Act, he said,
“kind of touches on a disconnect
between the liberal elites who run
this state and ordinary people who
feel like the elites are more concerned with protecting illegal aliens
from deportation than they are with
rising crime and homelessness and
a crumbling infrastructure.”
On the record, White House officials are downplaying the political significance of the Wednesday
“We believe that California
should help us, and all municipalities and states should help the
federal government in enforcing
federal law, in helping to deport —
when appropriate — criminal, illegal immigrants, and help … stem
the tide of illegal immigration in the
United States,” said deputy press
secretary Raj Shah.
Asked Monday about the purpose
of the meeting with California officials, Shah added that unauthorized immigration is “actually on the
rise now. It’s a point of frustration
for the president and for the administration. So that will be part
of, obviously, what’s discussed.”
Shah appeared to be referring to
Department of Homeland Security figures announced earlier this
month, claiming that Border Patrol agents arrested 37,393 people in
March, which the agency said was a
200 percent increase over last year.
But critics have suggested those
numbers are suspect — and some,
like California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, have also raised concerns
about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent statement in California that officials may act to separate
children and their undocumented
parents if they are placed under
The White House meeting on
sanctuary cities comes as Republican leaders around the state
acknowledge the issue’s potency
in the 2018 midterm elections. In
Orange County — a legendary GOP
bastion — the stakes are especially
high for the party, which hopes to
energize its base in advance of the
June 5 primary.
The Democratic Congressional
Campaign Committee in recent
weeks has aggressively focused on
a handful of seats represented by
the region’s embattled and retiring
Republican House members — with
an eye toward advancing the party’s
goal of flipping the House.
The DCCC has ramped up ads
and attacks on incumbents, including Reps. Mimi Walters and
Dana Rohrabacher, as well as on
GOP candidates hoping to fill the
seats of retiring Reps. Darrell Issa
and Ed Royce.
Among those who have said they
will attend the White House meeting are Orange County Supervisor
Michelle Steel, who has in recent
weeks taken on a high-profile role,
appearing on Fox News to defend
the administration’s stance on
sanctuary cities. Steel is married to
Welcome to PI. Tips, tips, tips,
tips, tips, tips, tips: mlevine@ and tmeyer@ You can also follow
us on Twitter: @theodoricmeyer
and @marianne_levine.
Akin Gump adds Portman Aide
Immigration activists protest the Orange County Board of Supervisors’ decision to join a federal lawsuit
opposing California’s so-called sanctuary law on March 27.
a high-powered GOP national operative — Orange County attorney
Shawn Steel, a former chairman of
the California Republican Party and
now a member of the Republican
National Committee.
Shawn Steel, in a series of local
newsletters, has celebrated what
he’s called a red state “revolution” against SB 54, the so-called
“sanctuary state” law aimed at pro-
“We will not sit idly by
and watch Sacramento
leverage the safety
of our communities
in order to make a
political point.”
— Michelle Steel
Orange County supervisor
tecting undocumented immigrants
without criminal records from deportation. He recently denounced
“storm troopers” who demonstrated against the GOP effort, saying
they were tied to the bill’s author,
state Sen. Kevin de León.
Shawn Steel has issued calls to
arms to cities and counties across
Southern California to back the
president’s agenda.
Michelle Steel told POLITICO
that local officials who have questioned the validity of SB54 have
been buoyed by an “incredible”
outpouring of support.
“We will not sit idly by and watch
Sacramento leverage the safety of
our communities in order to make
a political point,” she said. “For too
long politicians in Sacramento have
used California as a pawn to further
their own agenda and this issue has
brought us to the tipping point.”
Steel is expected to be joined in
the West Wing session by House
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy,
San Diego Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, Los Alamitos Mayor Troy
Edgar and Mayor Pro Tem Warren
Kusumoto, and more than a halfdozen other California municipal
and law enforcement officials. Administration officials in attendance
will include Sessions, Department
of Homeland Security Secretary
K irstjen Nielsen and T homas
Homan, director of Immigration
and Customs Enforcement.
Democrats contend Republicans are digging themselves only
further into a political hole with
their movement focusing on the
sanctuary cities bill, arguing that
it will safeguard public safety by
encouraging immigrants to cooperate with law enforcement officials
in reporting crimes.
De León, a candidate for Senate who is challenging Feinstein
in the Democratic primary, told
POLITICO: “We have surging violence in the Middle East, a brewing
crisis in Iran, a trade war unfolding with most of the world and our
president is fixated on California’s
refusal to serve as the shock troops
in his war on immigrants.”
“How can he make peace on the
global stage,” he asked, “when he
won’t stop warring with his own
Democrats insist the effort to use
the law as a cudgel will only further weaken the GOP’s standing in
California, which has continued to
slide statewide since former Gov.
Pete Wilson pushed the landmark
anti-immigration Prop. 187 in 1994.
The latest figures show that in
solidly blue California, Republicans are now down to 25.2 percent
in voter registration rolls, said
veteran campaign adviser Garry
“They can try to fire up that base
all they want, but it’s still 25 percent,” South added.
But Trump, who has made immigration the centerpiece of his
message, has continued to link illegal immigration with a swell in
violent attitudes toward the authorities. On Tuesday, he turned
his attention to the MS-13 gang at
an event to honor fallen and injured
law enforcement officials, using the
opportunity to link the violent gang
to the sanctuary cities issue.
“The first duty of government is
to protect our citizens, and the men
and women of DHS are on the front
lines of this incredible heroic fight.
That is why we are calling on Congress to secure our borders, support
our border agents, stop sanctuary
cities, and shut down policies that
release violent criminals back into
our communities,” Trump said.
“We don’t want it any longer. We’ve
had it. Enough is enough.”
Zachary Rudisill, who served as
tax counsel to Sen. Rob Portman
(R-Ohio), is leaving the Hill to
join Akin Gump Strauss Hauer
& Feld. Tax lobbying continues
to drive business on K Street
nearly six months after the
Republican tax law’s passage,
and firms have been eager to
snap up the relatively small
number of congressional and
administration staffers who
helped draft it. In an interview,
Rudisill said he’d worked on some
of the provisions in the bill since
2015, when Portman co-chaired
the Senate Finance Committee’s
international tax reform working
group, and served as Portman’s
“right-hand man when it came
to all aspects of the bill.” He
previously worked as legislative
director to Rep. Dave Reichert
Q Rudisill is barred under
Senate rules from lobbying
Portman’s office or the Senate
Finance Committee for one
year, but he’s allowed to lobby
other Senate offices, the House
and the Trump administration.
“Zach’s knowledge of tax policy
and his strong relationships in
the Senate and with the Trump
administration will be an
incredibly powerful complement
to our team of tax lawyers and
policy advisors,” Hunter Bates,
a co-head of Akin Gump’s public
law and policy practice, said in a
New business
Wells Fargo has added Cypress
Advocacy to its stable of
Washington lobbyists. The
bank also retains Federal Street
Strategies; the Lugar Hellmann
Group; Morgan Lewis & Bockius;
and North South Government
Strategies, according to
disclosure filings. And the
National Retail Federation has
hired Steptoe & Johnson, joining
Alliance Management Group,
Fierce Government Relations,
Lincoln Policy Group and
Prime Policy Group among the
federation’s outside lobbyists.
Jobs report
Van Ness Feldman has added
the former Honeywell lobbyist
Eric Wagner as a senior policy
Q Kevin Lewis has joined Blue
Engine Media as a counselor on
the strategic communications
team. He was previously chief
spokesman for former President
Barack Obama’s personal office.
Q Michael Magdelinskas has
joined Altice USA as director of
government affairs and business.
He was previously senior
associate in JPMorgan Chase’s
global engagement division.
Q The Institute for Energy
Research has added Erin
Amsberry as communications
manager. She previously was
a social media and digital
advertising associate at the
American Enterprise Institute.
— Theodoric Meyer and Marianne LeVine
16 | POLITICO | W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8
Don’t just take our word, here’s
what others are saying:
“…the notion that every
agribusiness sector has a right to
the same taxpayer-backed aid is
pretty much as grotesque as the
sugar program itself.”
“The evidence is
overwhelming — this is an
expensive and damaging
special-interest giveaway and
it must be stopped.”
The Washington Post, Editorial Board, 5/13/18
U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx and Grover Norquist,
President of Americans for Tax Reform,
National Review, 5/11/18
“Resources are skewed toward
people who don’t need it.”
“The only winners
are Big Sugar and
the politicians
who rake in its
campaign cash.”
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer,
The Hagstrom Report, 5/15/18
Tampa Bay Times,
Editorial Board, 5/14/18
Paid for by the National Confectioners Association, a member of the Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy.
W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8 | POLITICO | 17
President Donald Trump on Tuesday is escorted to a luncheon with GOP senators by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “It was sort of a rapid-fire delivery,” Sen. Pat Roberts said of Trump’s
long speech. “He was probably at his best.” Trump knocked “Sleepin’ Joe Donnelly” — the vulnerable Indiana Democrat — and ridiculed former President Barack Obama.
Trump’s Senate stemwinder sidesteps controversies
TRUMP from page 1
but ran out of time,” Flake said.
Trump diverged from talking
points circulated to White House
aides earlier in the day, touting
Republicans’ improved general
election hopes rather than pressing
senators to confirm his nominees.
He did, however, put in a plug for
his decisions to withdraw from the
Iran nuclear deal and to re-engage
with North Korea. He ridiculed
former President Barack Obama for
declaring climate change was the
biggest threat to the United States.
Instead, Trump insisted that the
primary menace to the country is
nuclear war and that that’s why
he’s so focused on Iran and North
Korea, according to senators and
The fireworks-free meeting
marked another step in Trump’s
takeover of the Republican Party,
where his internal critics are increasingly shying away from direct confrontation with him. It’s
not that Republicans don’t have
issues with his trade policies, antagonism toward McCain or attacks
on special counsel Robert Mueller.
But to hear Republicans tell it, they
couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
“The president really just gave a
speech. It wasn’t a Q&A the way it
often is when he comes,” said Sen.
Susan Collins of Maine. “It was really a presentation.”
That came as a surprise to White
House advisers, who had equipped
the president with a succinct list
of talking points going into the
meeting. They wanted him to push
Republican lawmakers to rally behind Haspel, as well as on judicial
nominations, according to a source
familiar with planning for the session — who expected a contentious
back-and-forth between Trump
and the rest of the group.
But Haspel’s name went unmentioned during the president’s
Trump came equipped with jokes
to disarm his critics. He thanked all
“It was sort of a rapid-fire delivery. He was probably at his best,”
said Pat Roberts of Kansas, often
judged by his colleagues as one of
the funniest senators.
Only two senators had an opportunity to question Trump, according to lawmakers who were
there, and those weren’t even really
questions. Sen. Lamar Alexander of
Tennessee said Republicans need to
talk more about the GOP’s accomplishments, and Sen. Dean Heller
of Nevada heaped praise on Trump
and aides.
The hope among Republicans is
that GOP voters will no longer view
Trump and Senate Republicans
as foes. Trump has attacked the
chamber at times for moving too
slowly, advising Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to gut the
legislative filibuster and criticizing McCain and other senators for
resisting his agenda.
But on Tuesday, at least, Republican lawmakers said all was good.
“I thought it was the best talk
“I thought it was the best talk he’s made. He talked about a lot of the accomplishments.
There are many. Of course, you guys don’t want to talk about those.”
— Sen. Richard Shelby
the senators in the room for their
well-wishes for first lady Melania
Trump after her medical procedure this week, cracking that her
poll numbers are so good that he’s
told her not to challenge him in the
2020 election, according to a source
familiar with the meeting.
Trump also bragged about how
nice Sen. Joe Manchin is to him,
claiming that the West Virginia
Democrat hugs him all the time,
the source said. But Trump warned
that he’s so popular in the state that
Manchin will have a problem this
for his work on the economy.
“He really didn’t have an ask. It
was really more of a thank you,”
a GOP senator said of Heller, the
most vulnerable Republican senator
up for reelection this year.
Trump went on at length about
how he would help congressional
Republicans take on Democrats
this fall. He knocked “Sleepin’ Joe
Donnelly” — the vulnerable Democratic Indiana senator — during
the meeting. And the president told
Republicans that he’s “very optimistic” about the GOP’s chances in
November, according to senators
he’s made. He talked about a lot of
the accomplishments,” said Sen.
Richard Shelby of Alabama. “There
are many. Of course, you guys don’t
want to talk about those.”
Notably, Trump did not press
for a Senate rules change during
the meeting to ease the logjam of
judicial and administration nominees awaiting confirmation. White
House aides had urged him to press
lawmakers about confirming them.
He also did not demand that McConnell cancel August recess, senators said.
Instead, T rump focused on
common ground: withdrawing
from the Iran deal and the potential for a breakthrough with North
“Some of the things we’re doing are beginning to resonate. The
truth of the matter is, if North Korea comes out well, that would be a
huge success foreign policy-wise,
and slowing Iran down will resonate,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of
South Carolina.
Some Republicans left the lunch
still concerned about Trump’s
White House. McConnell afterward called on the administration
to apologize to McCain. Other
senators said they worry about the
administration easing economic
restrictions on China, or pulling
out of the North American Free
Trade Agreement and causing the
economy to slow just before the
But the president has learned
how to handle this crowd.
“He basically shared with us
that he thought we had a lousy
deal in NAFTA to begin with and
he wanted to make it better and he’s
going to get the best deal he can,”
said Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota. “He understood that farmers
are concerned, and he said, ‘I care
about the farmers as well.’”
But during his Tuesday stemwinder, Trump was unusually restrained on the topic.
“The word ‘withdraw,’” said Sen.
Bob Corker of Tennessee, “was not
18 | POLITICO | W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8
W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8 | POLITICO | 19
Commerce chief losing sway with Trump on China
Backpedaling on phone-maker ZTE illustrates
divide between Wilbur Ross and White House
Wilbur Ross has largely been
sidelined in high-stakes trade negotiations with China in the latest signal that President Donald
Trump is losing confidence in his
commerce secretary, according to
three people with knowledge of the
Ross — whom Trump once affectionately called a “killer,” a
high compliment in the president’s
lexicon — has steadily become a bit
player, with the president regularly
leaning on Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and White
House trade adviser Peter Navarro.
T he com merce secreta r y’s
standing took another hit this
week when the president tweeted
criticism of the department’s recent decision to block the Chinese
phone-maker ZTE from accessing U.S. technology, according to
a current administration official
and a former official familiar with
the internal discussions.
“He’s not a prime-time player
here,” said one trade strategist
closely tracking the administration’s trade discussions.
With Ross ma rg i na l i zed,
Mnuchin’s inf luence with the
president is on the rise, according
to current and former administration officials. The president has
warmed to the idea of reaching an
agreement with China meant to
avert a lengthy trade war ahead
of the midterm elections, a position backed by Mnuchin and other
moderates in the administration.
Trump’s new openness to a deal
is a sharp departure from his fiery
rhetoric against China’s trade practices, and it would mark a major defeat for Navarro and Lighthizer, the
administration’s strongest critics
of Beijing.
The situation for Ross got worse
on Monday when, one month after imposing what many analysts
viewed as a “death sentence” on
ZTE, he was forced to say the administration was reconsidering
his decision to ban U.S. companies from doing business with the
Chinese state-owned enterprise for
seven years.
A former Obama administration
official said the ZTE problem appeared to be of Ross’ own making.
The commerce secretary meted out
an extremely harsh sentence on the
company after it was caught violating the terms of a March 2017
penalty agreement that included
a $1.19 billion fine and required it
to reprimand employees involved
in sales to Iran and North Korea.
Instead, many were awarded bonuses, incurring Ross’ wrath. The
commerce secretary’s crackdown
last week forced the company to
file notice that it was ceasing major
business operations.
“This does not seem to have been
handled thoughtfully or strategically,” the former Obama administration official said. “This was
something that they clearly didn’t
understand what a big deal it would
be. And then for the president to
cross the line into an enforcement
matter is just unprecedented and a
terrible precedent as well.”
“There’s no doubt these guys
[ZTE] are bad actors and deserve
punishment. They admitted to
lying to the Commerce Department,” the former Obama official
said. “But the secretary has a huge
amount of discretion at that point
about what to do, and from my
perspective, you’ve got to be proportionate to what they’ve done.”
Trump’s Sunday tweet was at
least in part a response to warnings from Chinese officials that
crucial trade discussions could be
undercut if the United States did
not rethink Commerce’s ZTE decision, according to a former Trump
administration official and another
person close to the White House.
Many of the president’s aides,
worried about the negative impacts
of a trade war ahead of the midterm
elections, are eager to reach a deal
with China on trade that the president can cast as a victory.
“In order to avoid catastrophe,
you need some trade wins and
you need them soon,” the former
Trump administration official said.
Mnuchin and other senior administration officials have been
in direct discussions with the
Chinese, and one option under
discussion is ratcheting back the
penalties on ZTE in exchange for
lifting Chinese tariffs on agricultural products, according to one
person briefed on the issue. Trump
is also laser-focused on reducing
the United States’ trade deficit
with China, another issue that
could play prominently in the deal.
President Donald Trump once called Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross a
“killer,” but their relationship has been deteriorating for more than a year.
Some hard-liners in the administration are strongly opposed to such
a deal, arguing that China can’t be
trusted to follow through and worrying privately that the president is
being swindled by more moderate
aides who opposed his aggressive
approach to Beijing. Some have also
begun to gripe about Mnuchin’s
central role in the talks, asserting
that he is bigfooting other advisers and is too eager to clinch a deal
with China.
Another administration official pushed back at the idea that
Mnuchin is bigfooting other administration players, saying it
was clear to everyone involved in
the talks that Trump himself would
decide the major components of any
agreement with China.
Mnuchin is the highest-ranking Cabinet member involved in
the talks with China, so protocol dictates that he lead the U.S.
Meanwhile, Ross’ relationship
with Trump has been deteriorating for more than a year. During the
transition and early part of Trump’s
presidency, he was a central player
in trade and manufacturing policy.
But current and former administration officials said Ross infuriated
the president by pushing a 2017
deal that reopened the Chinese
market to U.S. beef — but only to
a tiny portion of U.S. production
from cattle raised without artificial
growth hormones.
Ross also backed a Chinese offer
in 2017 to cut its steel production
capacity by 150 million metric tons
by 2022.
Trump chafed when the beef deal
came under heavy outside criticism, and he rejected Ross’ proposal
on Chinese steel capacity, calling
instead for strict tariffs, according
to the former Trump administration official.
“Wilbur in many ways has been
his own worst enemy,” the former
official said.
Ross was also a last-minute addition when Mnuchin led a delegation of U.S. officials to China
in early May for high-level trade
talks. Originally, he had expected
to remain in the U.S. working on
a potential steel tariff agreement
with the European Union.
White House spokesman Raj
Shah said in an email Monday that
Trump has “full confidence in Secretary Ross and his efforts to bring
the Chinese to the table and negotiate on behalf of American workers.”
“This anonymous report about
Secretary Ross is incorrect,” he
said. “Talks remain ongoing.”
The Commerce Department did
not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The turmoil comes as Chinese
Vice Premier Liu He is set to visit
Washington this week for high-level trade talks that have grown out of
the Trump administration’s threat
to impose tariffs on up to $150 billion worth of goods because of concerns over China’s alleged theft of
intellectual property.
Ross tried to downplay any connection between the talks and ZTE.
“Our position has been that’s an
enforcement action separate from
trade,” he said.
Trump appeared to contradict
Ross in a tweet Monday afternoon: “ZTE, the large Chinese
phone company, buys a big percentage of individual parts from
U.S. companies,” he wrote. “This
is also reflective of the larger trade
deal we are negotiating with China
and my personal relationship with
President Xi.”
Still, the White House, concerned about the perception that
Trump was trading away a criminal
penalty on a Chinese firm for some
gain on the trade front or Beijing’s
cooperation in nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea,
said the ZTE issue was just one of
many in the “complex” U.S.-China
“The president has asked Secretary Ross to look into it, consistent with applicable laws and
regulations,” Shah told reporters at
a briefing Monday. China has raised
the issue with the United States “at
a number of levels, as part of bilateral talks on a number issues,” and
not just in the trade talks, he said.
However harsh Ross’ decision
last month to impose a seven-year
year ban on ZTE may have been,
Trump’s intervention in what is essentially a law enforcement matter
may be even worse, some analysts
“Saying we’re not going to enforce American law is a terrible
precedent, especially with regard to the Chinese, but really in
general,” said Derek Scissors, a
China specialist at the American
Enterprise Institute. “It’s insane
that we would let the Chinese off
the hook.”
AP, Fox News’ new exit poll will survey voters — and no-shows
The Associated Press unveiled
a new project Tuesday to supplant
traditional exit polling, beginning
with the 2018 midterm elections.
AP VoteCast will combine traditional, probability-based polling with an online, opt-in survey
of voters in targeted states. It will
measure the preferences and opinions of those who have or will cast
ballots in this year’s midterms, and
also ask nonvoters why they chose
not to turn out.
The project is being launched in
conjunction with Fox News, with
both news organizations abandon-
ing the embattled model of in-person exit polling that has dominated
election nights for decades.
“It’s sort of been a constant
search to get the right approach
and the right methodology to get
the best results on Election Day,”
said David Scott, AP’s deputy managing editor.
In a news release on Tuesday, the
AP said it had already signed The
Washington Post as a subscriber
for “several states” in this year’s
elections. The AP will also use
the VoteCast project to inform its
industry-standard race calls for
statewide contests.
The Tuesday announcement
represents the culmination of
nearly two years of research on
how to improve exit polling at a
time when large numbers of voters in many states don’t vote on
Election Day at their polling place.
Some states — like Colorado, Oregon and Washington — mostly
vote by mail, while other states
offer robust early voting options,
sometimes more than a month before Election Day.
Public opinion researchers from
Fox News and NORC at the University of Chicago, which is working
with both outlets on the project,
will present the findings of their
testing this weekend at the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s annual conference
in Denver.
The AP says its new Election
Day survey will be “more accurate” than the traditional exit poll,
which is still used by other major
news organizations. Those media
outlets use exit polls to project individual races and as a trove of data
on the demographics and attitudes
of those who turned out.
Joe Lenski, co-founder and executive vice president at Edison
Research, which conducts exit
polls for the National Election
Pool, told POLITICO last year that
ABC News, CBS News, CNN and
NBC News have committed to receiving exit polling and election
results from Edison through the
2020 elections.
Scott, in a phone interview Tuesday, said he is confident with the
AP’s decision, with Fox, to strike
out on its own.
“Trying to continue to work
within [the existing] approach, we
didn’t see that as the best way to
go anymore,” he said. “We really
felt this was the moment when we
needed to start from scratch.”
20 | POLITICO | W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8
What’s really driving politics with Isaac Dovere
Trump doesn’t speak to the ‘needs of American cities’
Conference of Mayors
chief on the president:
‘I am not sure what
we’re dealing with’
Donald Trump is the fi rst
American president to live
his whole life in a city, but the
war on American cities in his
presidency so far has put him and
congressional Republicans on the
wrong side of a “moral battle,”
said Steve Benjamin, the new
president of the U.S. Conference
of Mayors.
Last week, Benjamin, who
is in his third term as mayor
of Columbia, South Carolina,
took over the bipartisan group
with a pledge of inclusion.
But one day into his new job,
he was out with a statement
responding to the White House’s
proposed $60 billion in cuts
to the spring spending bill,
including $15 billion in social
safety-net spending, almost half
of which targets the Children’s
Health Insurance Program. The
move, said Benjamin, would be
“disastrous for cities from coast
to coast.”
The proposed cuts are
the latest split between the
White House and the leaders
of America’s cities. At stake:
policies that shape the lives of the
Americans — 80 percent of the
population — who live in urban
metropolitan areas.
The bipartisan group of mayors
has taken on Trump over his
proposed Obamacare repeal, the
elimination of the state and local
tax exemption, the crackdown
on so-called sanctuary cities,
infrastructure proposals
that seem to go nowhere in
Washington and the Trump
administration’s addition of a
citizenship question to the 2020
census — which many mayors
fear will lead to an undercounting
that will reduce the federal
funding and representation their
cities receive.
Benjamin is now the leader
of those mayors, forced to try
and fi nd a balance between the
intense anger many feel over the
administration’ policy decisions
and the pragmatic need to fi nd
deals that can be made with the
When I asked Benjamin in an
interview for POLITICO’s Off
Message podcast whether he has
an honest broker in the White
House, he said, “Honestly, some
days I am not sure what we’re
dealing with.”
Asked repeatedly whether
Trump himself is an honest
broker, the most Benjamin would
say: “He’s the president of the
United States of America.”
Does the president care about
cities and the people who live in
“I don’t know exactly what the
president cares and doesn’t care
about,” Benjamin said.
Does he act like he cares?
“If you look at the president’s
budget from last year and some
of the issues that he’s advanced,”
“I don’t know exactly what the president cares and doesn’t care about,” said U.S. Conference of Mayors President
Steve Benjamin, who is promoting his “three ‘I’s” agenda — innovation, infrastructure and inclusion.
Benjamin said, “I don’t feel
that they speak to the needs of
American citizens, not on the
whole, but certainly not to the
very special needs of American
cities that are driving our
Benjamin is taking a careful
approach coming into the new
position. Mayors love to say that
cities are where government is
actually working — as opposed
to Washington or state capitals
— and where people are held
responsible when government
doesn’t work. He and others
will also point out that pretty
much everywhere across the
country, local government is
regularly four or five times more
popular than the federal or state
government. And Benjamin
doesn’t want the group to
become just another player in the
new national political pastime
of angry fi nger-pointing and
Twitter flaming.
“For some reason, cities have
become the whipping boy for
certain Washington politicians
who want to distract us from
their inaction,” said Los Angeles
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who many
believe is looking to go up against
Trump as a 2020 presidential
candidate. But Garcetti
cautioned that the big political
blowups mask the lowerlevel cooperation underway.
He’s in constant contact with
government officials, he said,
including meeting with the head
of Customs and Border Patrol
and having his staff talk with
members of Congress on a range
of issues.
By Garcetti’s estimate, eight of
10 interactions with the federal
government are positive.
“It’s a strange thing,” Garcetti
said. “You’re simultaneously on
offense and playing defense every
day, where the distractions of
the ideological extremism slows
down some of the other work that
we’re doing.”
Benjamin is trying to thread a
way through the labyrinth, and
calling on his own experience
to do it. He’s figured out how
to be popular enough as a black
Democrat that, in a city that is
48 percent white, 41 percent
black and has a significant
population of Republicans,
his election last year was
officially canceled because
no one ran against him and
he automatically got a third
term as mayor of Columbia. He
had a great relationship with
Republican Nikki Haley when
she was governor of South
Carolina and still texts with
her now that she’s at the United
Nations, and has a good one
as well with new Gov. Henry
McMaster, one of Trump’s
strongest allies. (That record and
reputation has people chattering
that Benjamin could one day be
the state’s fi rst black governor.)
Benjamin is continuing the
conference’s lawsuit against
the federal government over
the citizenship question on the
census, and railing against the
White House and the Justice
Department for trying to crack
down on sanctuary cities while
the immigration bill is so far
off Trump’s radar and mired in
Congress that 15 Republicans
have joined a discharge petition
to try and force it to a vote on the
House floor.
He’s glad he joined the other
mayors who canceled their
White House meeting in January,
scheduled for the afternoon
after the Justice Department
threatened 23 cities and counties
with subpoenas over their
sanctuary cities provisions.
Back when John Kelly was still
Homeland Security secretary,
Benjamin and other mayors met
with both him and Attorney
General Jeff Sessions over
sanctuary cities, but Benjamin
said that he thinks they still don’t
get the values “that go to the core
of who we are.”
Rather than slamming Trump
directly, Benjamin talks more in
terms of opportunities missed,
talking up his “three ‘I’s” agenda
— innovation, infrastructure,
inclusion — and hyping that he’s
a Southern Democrat whose vice
president at the Conference of
Mayors is Bryan Barnett, the
Republican mayor of Rochester
Hills, Michigan, a suburban city
of just under 75,000.
“The American people are tired
of the approach you see out of
Washington where you vilify the
people who are in opposition to
you and if you speak louder than
the other guy, you win. I don’t
think those are real wins,” said
But Barnett struggled to
name any significant specific
issue on which he could see
the conference or many of its
mayors working with the Trump
administration anytime soon —
which makes for uncomfortable
times for Republicans in the
group. In January, Barnett stood
alongside Benjamin, Garcetti,
then-conference president
and New Orleans Mayor Mitch
Landrieu and Chicago Mayor
Rahm Emanuel as they ripped
into the president over the
sanctuary city subpoenas, but
he was visibly uncomfortable
afterward with a posture of
opposition to Trump and
attended a speech by the
president later that afternoon at
the White House.
“I’m going to agree with my
Democratic colleagues a lot over
the next few years, and that
may make some Republicans
uncomfortable, but if it advances
an agenda that benefits my
residents, I’m OK with that,”
Barnett said. (“I have not been
invited to play golf,” he added.
“But if I need an answer from the
White House, I get one.”)
Benjamin is trying to contain
a group of mayors who skew
heavily Democratic, and as
Democrats, skew heavily toward
hating Trump on everything. But
he’s also trying to call attention
to the reality that all of them,
Democratic and Republican alike,
feel left behind.
“We need a partner. We
need the federal government,”
Benjamin said.
Asked whether mayors have
that partner, Benjamin’s answer
was short and simple: “We do
To subscribe to POLITICO’s “Off
Message” podcast with EdwardIsaac Dovere, search for “Off
Message” in your favorite podcast
W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8 | POLITICO | 21
The upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un is an achievement, but the U.S. should take lessons from talks with North Korea, Libya and Iran, the author writes.
Hold the Nobel Prize: Kim is setting a trap for Trump
It’s far too early to get excited about the possible
outbreak of peace on the Korean Peninsula
ecretary of State Mike
Pompeo completed
his second trip in as
many months to North Korea,
returning with the remaining
three American hostages and
setting the agenda for the historic
summit — which President
Donald Trump announced will be
held on June 12 in Singapore.
Reading news reports out of
last month’s meeting between
the leaders of the two Koreas
could lead one to conclude that
Kim Jong Un is ready to abandon
North Korea’s nuclear program in
exchange for security guarantees
from the United States. If
accurate, this may be the basis for
a peaceful, diplomatic outcome
to one of the most urgent security
threats facing the United States.
But before we declare peace or
book flights to Oslo for the Nobel
ceremony, let’s take account of
lessons from prior negotiations
with North Korea to counter
what is likely Kim’s attempt to
undercut support for sanctions
and drive a wedge between the
United States and South Korea.
The Panmunjom Declaration,
issued after the late April meeting
between Kim and South Korean
President Moon Jae In, feels like
a Hollywood movie remake with
new actors but the same tired
story. North Korea has pledged on
multiple occasions not to acquire
nuclear weapons, beginning
with the North’s accession to
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty in 1985. In 1992, Kim’s
grandfather committed to three
no’s: no nuclear weapons, no
nuclear reprocessing and no
uranium enrichment. North
Korea was caught red-handed
cheating multiple times on all
three nuclear no’s, but still
received security assurances
from the United States in 2005,
when both sides pledged “to
respect each other’s sovereignty,
States, in part, by insisting on
long, drawn-out negotiations.
If North Korea rejects the
reported U.S. insistence on quick
denuclearization — complete,
verifiable and irreversible
— Trump should return to
Washington and amp up the
maximum pressure campaign
focused on hurting Kim where
he cares most: North Korea’s
creaking economy, which he’s
vowed to improve. Trump should
remember his predecessor’s
refrain on the Iran nuclear deal
North Korea that focuses only
on its nuclear program will leave
Pyongyang’s military threat
intact, including its missile force
and chemical and biological
weapons capabilities. This threat
will need to be addressed, and
so will the North’s proliferation
and cyber activities, and its
abhorrent treatment of its own
citizens. While the end of the
North’s nuclear program would
be a major accomplishment, it
will leave other challenges to be
If North Korea rejects the reported U.S. insistence on quick denuclearization
— complete, verifiable and irreversible — Trump should return to
Washington and amp up the maximum pressure campaign.
exist peacefully together” and
normalize relations. All of these
efforts ended in the same place,
with a different Kim breaking his
promises and enjoying tangible
concessions from the United
States and its allies.
To counter Kim’s smile
diplomacy and avoid his trap, the
Trump administration should
take four lessons from prior
negotiations with North Korea,
Libya and Iran.
1. Be prepared to walk
away from the table
The previous three American
presidents, Republicans and
Democrats alike, have all
negotiated flawed nuclear deals
with North Korea. The Kim
family has played the United
that “no deal is better than a
bad deal.” Except this president
should mean it, and back up his
words with deeds.
2. Nuclear-only deals do not
solve the strategic issues
Trump exited the Iran nuclear
deal, the Joint Comprehensive
Plan of Action, because it
suffered from a number of fatal
flaws, including its sole focus on
the nuclear issue to the exclusion
of Iran’s other problems
(terrorism, human rights,
missiles, regional aspirations).
The Trump administration is
now dealing with the failure of
Obama’s aspirational foreign
policy, which was supposed to
moderate the hard-line clerics
who really run Iran. A deal with
3. Insist on the Libya model
of denuclearization
The sequencing of
denuclearization will show how
serious North Korea is about
this process. Pyongyang will
likely prefer to use Kim Jong
Il’s framework, in which both
sides participate in long, drawnout negotiations. This would
allow the North to continue
his nuclear weapons program
and run out the clock to the
U.S. 2020 presidential election.
The United States should insist
instead on the Libya model for
denuclearization: complete, total
and near-instantaneous. This
will not come cheap; Pyongyang
will insist on significant U.S.
concessions. But there’s another
reason to push for the maximum:
Iran is watching Trump’s North
Korea dealings, closely, and any
precedent set with Kim will be
noted in Tehran.
4. Don’t release the pressure
The past two presidents have
relieved effective sanctions
pressure before receiving
tangible results. In 2007, the
George W. Bush administration
relieved sanctions on a key
bank facilitating North Korea’s
illicit activities and removed
Pyongyang as a state sponsor
of terrorism. In return, the U.S.
received empty promises, and
the North Korean actions were
easily reversible. In 2015, the
Obama administration relieved
crushing sanctions on Iran that
had harmed the Iranian economy.
With North Korea, Trump
should hold off on sanctions
relief until Kim takes real — and
irreversible — actions toward
The Trump-Kim summit is an
achievement in and of itself. But
it could easily fail. Fortunately,
Trump possesses the upper hand
thanks to his team’s adept use
of all the elements of American
power. If Kim balks, Trump
should ramp up the economic and
military pressure. That’s really
what Kim fears, and Trump
should use that leverage to his
Anthony Ruggiero, a senior
fellow at the Foundation for the
Defense of Democracies, was the
nonproliferation adviser to the
U.S. delegation to the 2005 rounds
of the Six-Party Talks and spent
more than 17 years in the U.S.
22 | POLITICO | W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8
W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8 | POLITICO | 23
24 | POLITICO | W E D N E S D A Y, M A Y 1 6 , 2 0 1 8
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