Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

Trump allies want Congress to find anonymous op-ed author

September 7, 2018

Key congressional allies of President Trump are floating the idea that Congress could take steps to try and find out who wrote the anonymous op-ed in The New York Times disparaging the president.

That action could take the form of an investigation, legislation or hearings.

“We’re looking right now at what’s the appropriate action from a legislative standpoint to review what’s happened,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus who also leads a subcommittee that conducts oversight of federal employees, told USA Today. “It is alarming when you have people … that would suggest resistance to the president that they’re serving, especially in light of discussion that may go into the national security realm.”

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Mark Meadows

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a one-time presidential rival to Trump, suggested White House officials who hold a security clearance should undergo lie detector tests in an attempt to ferret out staffers speaking ill of the president.

And House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) didn’t rule out the possibility of a congressional probe.

“I’m sure we have a number of members that are looking at it right now,” Scalise, the No. 3 Republican in House leadership, told The Hill.

Trump loyalists are enraged that there are administration officials working against the president, casting such agents as “cowards” and “spies” who should immediately resign. They have also lambasted The New York Times for printing an op-ed written by someone purportedly working as a senior administration official describing the actions of an internal resistance group.

But Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters Thursday at his weekly news conference that he didn’t think Congress should be getting to the bottom of the op-ed mystery.

Asked if Congress has any role to investigate, Ryan replied: “Not that I know of.”

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), who serves on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also poured cold water on the idea that Congress should get involved.

“Other than expressing your sentiment, there is little we can do, realistically,” Ross told The Hill.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill and the frontrunner to become the next Speaker if Republicans retain control of the House — said the administration, not Congress, should investigate the matter.

“I think the White House should look into it,” he told The Hill on Thursday, while raising concerns that the anonymous official could continue working for the administration.

“I think that’s a real problem if that person stays in the job they currently are in,” he said.

The op-ed author described Trump as erratic, ill-informed and amoral. The writer also described a group of “unsung heroes” in and around the White House who have aggressively worked to halt Trump’s “agenda and his worst inclinations.”

Trump has called on The New York Times to reveal the identity of the author, saying he or she may have committed treason.

“If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!” Trump tweeted.

Sebastian Gorka, former deputy assistant and strategist to Trump, told The Hill that treason is a very real possibility.

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“There are only two possible scenarios given the current lack of credibility the New York Times is suffering form and the wording of the piece: 1) This is a complete fabrication. 2) It was written by the low-level Obama-era holdover, not a ‘senior official’ given the complete lack of any evidence in the piece demonstrating that this was written by a person working close to the President,” Gorka wrote in a text message.

“If it is the latter, then this is a textbook case of Sedition. And if this were 1917 or 1944 it would be Treason,” added Gorka, an opinion contributor to The Hill. “No one elected this person, as a result they have no choice but to dutifully serve the duly elected President. Or resign. If they don’t General Kelly will root them out and President Trump will fire them.”

Some GOP lawmakers close to Trump found themselves facing questions about the Times op-ed at an unrelated news conference at the Capitol on Thursday.

“I don’t believe that that person is doing a good service to faithfully execute their job and the performance of their duties,” said GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin, who has campaigned with Trump in their home state of New York. “That person should not be inside of the administration and they should submit their letter of resignation and move onto something else.”

But Zeldin would not say whether the writer had committed treason, as the president intimated.

Another Trump ally, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), interjected to say, “I think the job is called spy.”

Morgan Chalfant contributed.


Blame Congress for Politicizing the Court

September 6, 2018

When lawmakers hand power to bureaucrats, the people expect judges to act as superlegislators.


U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, Sep. 5.
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, Sep. 5. PHOTO: CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Brett Kavanaugh has been accused of hating women, hating children, hating clean air, wanting dirty water. He’s been declared an existential threat to the nation. Alumni of Yale Law School, incensed that faculty members at his alma mater praised his selection, wrote a public letter to the school saying: “People will die if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed.”

It’s predictable now that every Supreme Court confirmation hearing will be a politicized circus. This is because Americans have accepted a bad new theory about how the three branches of government should work—and in particular about how the judiciary operates.

In the U.S. system, the legislative branch is supposed to be the center of politics. Why isn’t it? For the past century, more legislative authority has been delegated to the executive branch every year. Both parties do it. The legislature is weak, and most people here in Congress want their jobs more than they want to do legislative work. So they punt most of the work to the next branch.

The consequence of this transfer of power is that people yearn for a place where politics can actually be done. When we don’t do a lot of big political debating here in Congress, we transfer it to the Supreme Court. And that’s why the court is increasingly a substitute political battleground.

If there are lots of protests in front of the Supreme Court, that’s an indication that the republic isn’t healthy. People should be protesting in front of this body instead. The legislature is designed to be controversial, noisy, sometimes even rowdy—because making laws means we have to hash out matters about which we don’t all agree.

How did the legislature decide to give away its power? We’ve been doing it for a long time. Over the course of the past century, especially since the 1930s and ramping up since the 1960s, the legislative branch has kicked a lot of its responsibility to alphabet-soup bureaucracies. These are the places where most actual policy-making—in a way, lawmaking—happens now.

What we mostly do around this body is not pass laws but give permission to bureaucracy X, Y or Z to make lawlike regulations. We write giant pieces of legislation that people haven’t read, filled with terms that are undefined, and we say the secretary or administrator of such-and-such shall promulgate rules that do the rest of our jobs. That’s why there are so many fights about the executive branch and the judiciary—because Congress rarely finishes its work.

There are rational arguments one could make for this new system. Congress can’t manage all the nitty-gritty details of modern government, and this system tries to give power and control to experts in technical fields, about which most of us in Congress don’t know much of anything.

But the real reason this institution punts most of its power to executive-branch agencies is because it is a convenient way to avoid responsibility for controversial and unpopular decisions. If your biggest long-term priority is your own re-election, then giving away your power is a pretty good strategy.

But when Congress gives power to an unaccountable fourth branch of government, the people are cut out of the process. Nobody in Nebraska, Minnesota or Delaware elected the deputy assistant administrator of plant quarantine at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If that person does something that makes Nebraskans’ lives difficult, where do they go to protest? How do they navigate the complexity of this town to do executive-agency lobbying? They can’t.

They don’t have any ability to speak out or to fire people through an election. When the administrative state grows—when there is this fourth branch of government—it becomes harder for the concerns of citizens to be represented and articulated by officials who answer to the people. The Supreme Court becomes a substitute political battleground. It’s only nine people. You can know them; you can demonize them; you can try to make them messiahs. Because people can’t navigate their way through the bureaucracy, they turn to the Supreme Court looking for politics. They look to nine justices to be superlegislators, to right the wrongs from other places in the process.

When people talk about wanting “empathy” from the justices, that’s what they’re talking about—trying to make the justices do something Congress refuses to do as it constantly abdicates its responsibility. The hyperventilating that we see in this process shows us a system that is wildly out of whack.

The solution is not to try to find judges who will be policy makers or to turn the Supreme Court into an election battle. The solution is to restore a proper constitutional order with the balance of powers. We need a Congress that writes laws, then stands before the people and faces the consequences. We need an executive branch that has a humble view of its job as enforcing the law, not trying to write laws in Congress’s absence. And we need a judiciary that applies written laws to facts in cases that are actually before it.

This is the elegant, fair process the Founders created. It’s a process in which the people who are elected can be fired, because the men and women who serve America by wearing black robes are insulated from politics. This is why we talk about an independent judiciary. This is why we shouldn’t talk about Republican and Democratic judges and justices. This is why we say justice is blind. This is why we give judges lifetime tenure.

And this is why this is the last job interview Judge Kavanaugh will ever have. Because he’s going to a job in which he’s not supposed to be a superlegislator.

Mr. Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is adapted from his opening statement at Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.

Appeared in the September 6, 2018, print edition.

Trump Administration Tries to Ease Republican Worries About Trade Fights

July 27, 2018

Truce with Europe is touted, but lawmakers push for accelerated efforts on other fronts

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A crowd listens to President Donald Trump as he speaks at Granite City Work, Granite City Ill, Thursday, July 26, 2018. Photo by Cristina M. Fletes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch



WASHINGTON—The Trump administration on Thursday touted its truce with Europe to nervous lawmakers as evidence that its trade policies are starting to show results, but Republicans pushed the administration to accelerate efforts to find similar solutions on other trade fronts.

President Trump flew to the agricultural and industrial Midwest Thursday to highlight what he said are the emerging successes from his hardball trade tactics, such as reopened steel mills protected by tariffs and European pledges to buy crops recently shut out of China, part of an accord reached on Wednesday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

President Trump spoke about trade at U.S. Steel's Granite City Works in Granite City, Ill., on Thursday.
President Trump spoke about trade at U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works in Granite City, Ill., on Thursday. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Trump’s aides said his threats were also starting to show results in the form of newly active negotiations from North America to Asia to Africa. They said that has raised the prospect of new trade gains amid the pain already felt in the U.S. from higher import prices and from exports lost due to retaliation by trading partners.

“This is a real vindication that the president’s trade policy is starting to work,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters as he traveled with Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump, he said, hopes to push for a global reduction in trade barriers, “but to get there, we had to take a route of trying to make it more painful for the other parties to continue bad practices.”

Back in Washington, Trump advisers got an earful from angry lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who blasted the administration’s approach, criticized the Europe pact as weak, demanded faster relief for ailing constituents and pledged to ramp up efforts to tie Mr. Trump’s hands in shaping trade policy going forward.

“There was a lot of pushback on the strategy,” said Rep. Andy Barr (R., Ky.), following a closed meeting between House Republicans and two administration officials—Lawrence Kudlow, head of the National Economic Council, and Peter Navarro, a White House trade adviser. Mr. Barr is one of 24 GOP representatives whose re-election this November is rated a toss-up by the Cook Political Report, and he complained that bourbon makers in his district were being hurt by European retaliation for U.S. steel tariffs. “We want to know when we’re going to get a solution.”

With Republicans growing increasingly worried about losing control of the House this fall, fears aggravated by polls showing the unpopularity of Trump trade policies, Rep. Bill Huizenga (R., Mich.) read aloud to the White House advisers a text from a tool-and-die maker in his district who was facing higher raw-material costs because of the aluminum and steel tariffs. “I was making sure that they heard the message that this is not just uncomfortable—it’s painful and it’s damaging,” Mr. Huizenga later told reporters. He said that because his district also includes farmers, who are getting squeezed by the retaliatory tariffs, “we’re getting it coming and going in western Michigan.”

Many of the lawmakers said the GOP-led Congress should keep alive the prospect of legislation to curb Mr. Trump’s ability to impose tariffs on the table, even after the apparent thaw in relations between the U.S. and EU. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) indicated that he wasn’t ready to drop his threat to advance such a measure, which Republicans on his panel have been discussing for weeks, saying, “We’re still going with that.”

In the Europe statement, Mr. Trump and Mr. Juncker agreed to launch trade talks that would seek to eliminate tariffs, non-tariff barriers and subsidies on industrial goods, and would suspend Mr. Trump’s threat of auto tariffs as long as those negotiators were continuing. The two sides also agreed to try to reach an agreement to lift U.S. tariffs on European steel and aluminum and European tariffs imposed in retaliation, though they didn’t give a timetable for doing so.

As part of their campaign to reassure anxious lawmakers, Trump officials said they were moving to follow the European announcement with more trade deals. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a Senate hearing Thursday morning that “we are close to beginning negotiations” with a number of countries, citing the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa as specific prospects.

He said he was also optimistic about striking a deal soon to modernize North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, and followed his Senate appearance with meetings with his visiting Mexican counterpart to accelerate the process. “I think we’re close to the point where we’re going to have that finished,” Mr. Lighthizer said.

While the Trump team now seems in a rush to show progress in improving relations with a roster of trading partners, officials indicated they didn’t anticipate any quick fixes in their expanding battle with China. In fact, they suggested their motivation for striking deals with Europe and others was an attempt to line up allies in their standoff with Beijing.

“China is going to be a longer-term problem,” Mr. Lighthizer told lawmakers. The Trump administration has already imposed tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese imports, prompting equivalent retaliation from China, and the U.S. has proposed duties on more than $200 billion in additional imports.

Asked what he considered the most important part of the Europe agreement, Mr. Kudlow told Fox News that “No. 1: the United States and the EU will be allied in the fight against China…. President Juncker made it very clear yesterday that he intended to help us.”

A worker walked past steel coils at the U.S. Steel Corp. Granite City Works facility on Thursday.
A worker walked past steel coils at the U.S. Steel Corp. Granite City Works facility on Thursday. PHOTO: DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Mr. Trump’s trip to the Midwest had him visiting a region that was crucial to his 2016 election victory, but where polls show his popularity slumping ahead of this year’s election. In Granite City, Ill., he held a rally at a steel factory that recently restarted long-idled blast furnaces, a move the company has attributed to the higher prices made possible by the metals tariffs.

A series of workers and managers came up and personally thanked Mr. Trump for helping get their jobs back.

In his visit to the Midwest, Mr. Trump also suggested a link between his agreement with Europe and his desire to keep a GOP majority in Congress this fall, saying his actions were designed to help farmers, who might otherwise vote for Democrats in the fall. But Mr. Trump, in that speech, and one earlier in the day in Iowa, appeared to exaggerate the extent that the Europe deal would help farmers, as sharply different explanations from Washington and Brussels emerged over just the breadth of agricultural talks.

“We just opened up Europe for you farmers,” Mr. Trump said in Iowa. And Mr. Lighthizer told Congress that “our view is that we are negotiating about agriculture, period. That’s part of the process.”

But the joint statement between the sides makes no mention of covering agriculture beyond a pledge to buy more soybeans, nor any promises to discuss addressing European agriculture tariffs and subsidies—a major source of trade tensions with the U.S. European officials said they had successfully rebuffed such a demand, making clear that no broader agricultural talks would be held. Officials on both sides said Europe also agreed to revive an old, unfilled pledge to buy more American beef.

The U.S. “heavily insisted to insert the whole field of agricultural products—we refused that because I don’t have a mandate and that’s a very sensitive issue in Europe,” Mr. Juncker told reporters after his joint announcement with Mr. Trump.

And while European officials did vow to try and buy more soybeans—to help offset American sales lost as a result of Chinese retaliation against the U.S.—they said that was really an affirmation of market forces, as prices for U.S. crops tumble, rather than a promise to buy a quota.

“We are not going to turn into some kind of a Soviet-style economy,” one said. “Market rules will remain in place.”

Write to Siobhan Hughes at and Jacob M. Schlesinger at

Appeared in the July 27, 2018, print edition as ‘Trump Tries to Ease GOP Trade Worries.’


Three Top FBI Cybersecurity Officials to Retire

July 20, 2018

Departures come as U.S. faces threat of cyberattacks

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Christopher Wray at the Aspen Security Forum
Three top cybersecurity officials are retiring from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.



Three of the top cybersecurity officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation are retiring from government service, according to people familiar with the matter—departures that come as cyberattacks are a major concern for the country’s security agencies.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials warn that the country is at a “critical point” facing unprecedented cyberthreats, including Russia’s ongoing attacks on the American political system. The retirements also come as the FBI is facing regular criticism from President Donald Trump and his supporters, and is working to attract and retain top cyber talent.

Scott Smith, the assistant FBI director who runs the Bureau’s cyber division, is leaving this month. His deputy, Howard Marshall, also left in recent weeks. Mr. Marshall has accepted a job at Accenture , a consulting firm that is expanding its cybersecurity portfolio. Mr. Smith is also expected to move to the private sector.

David Resch, executive assistant director of the FBI’s criminal, cyber, response and services branch, is departing the bureau as well. Mr. Resch, who was named to his senior post by FBI Director Christopher Wray in April, supervised Mr. Smith and Mr. Marshall.

Additionally, Carl Ghattas, executive assistant director of the FBI’s national security branch, has decided to leave for the private sector. And Jeffrey Tricoli, a senior FBI cyber agent who oversaw a Bureau task force addressing Russian attempts to meddle in U.S. elections, left last month for a senior vice president position at Charles Schwab Corp. , the Journal reported last week.

The FBI confirmed the departures. One U.S. official said more people are expected to leave soon, declining to provide additional names.

Several people familiar with the moves said that while it was abnormal to see so many senior-level people leave at the same time, it wasn’t uncommon for agents to depart after becoming eligible for retirement benefits at age 50. However, Mr. Marshall’s exit was seen as “highly unusual,” according to one person, because he is stepping away before retirement age.

“As I retire after 28 years of government service to transition into the private sector, I have full confidence that under Director Wray’s steadfast leadership, the Bureau will remain the FBI the American people have depended on for 110 years,” Mr. Resch said in a statement provided by the Bureau.

An FBI spokeswoman said the agency had a surge of special-agent hires about 20 years ago, so many senior officials are now hitting the age where they qualify for pensions. The FBI expected a higher level of retirements to continue for the next couple of years, the spokeswoman said.

Some former FBI officials and others close to the Bureau said morale has been damaged by attacks from Mr. Trump and some congressional Republicans, who have criticized the agency for its handling of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and Hillary Clinton’s emails.

“One-and-one-half branches of our government appear to be committed to attacking the Bureau, its workforce and its mission on a near-daily basis,” said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The White House declined to comment.

Mr. Wray on Wednesday disputed any suggestion of flagging morale. The FBI had a special-agent attrition rate of 0.6% this past year, he said, and it receives so many applications annually that it is more selective than Harvard or Yale Universities.

“Would they (FBI agents) prefer not to get criticized? Of course,” Mr. Wray said during an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. “But at the end of the day, the criticism we care about is the people who know our work.”

An internal FBI survey, obtained and published last week by the Lawfare blog, confirmed that morale overall remained high. But confidence in the vision and ideas of Mr. Wray and his leadership team fell from a year ago, when former Director James Comey was at the helm.

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey in May 2017. Mr. Wray on Wednesday noted the survey was taken shortly after he arrived last year.

Some former FBI officials said the pull of leaving was especially strong within the cyber division, which must compete with lucrative salaries and flexible lifestyles offered by technology firms in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.

Others cited bureaucratic frustrations. “There’s an internal tension in terms of how to staff cyber properly,” said a former official. “We constantly have new people in leadership reinventing the cyber program.”

Several cyber and law-enforcement experts said they were confident the work of the FBI’s cyber division would remain high but that turnover takes a toll.

“What is harmful is the churn,” said Leo Taddeo, former special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York cyber division and chief information security officer at Cyxtera Technologies. “Bringing on talent, training talent and then having that talent leave—it creates a gap.”


U.S. Senate leader asks for proposals to block future Russian meddling (Was the Obama Administration’s lack of cyber security criminal?)

July 19, 2018

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday said he had called on two key Senate panels to recommend additional action aimed at preventing future election meddling by Russia as well as hold hearings on Russia sanctions law.

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters at the Capitol as fallout continued over U.S. President Donald Trump’s Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2018. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

McConnell, in a statement, said he asked the Republican chairmen of the Senate Banking and Foreign Relations Committees to act “as part of Congress’ ongoing efforts to form part of any national response to meddling by Russia or any other nation in our 2018 elections.”

Cyber-attack from Russia - Stock photo (picture-alliance/chromorange/C. Ohde)


Reporting by Susan Heavey and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Mohammad Zargham


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FILE PHOTO: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a press conference on the Trump Administration’s tax cuts at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, U.S., on June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan/File Photo

Did Hillary’s email security negligence as U.S. Secretary of State invite Russian cyber meddling?

Hillary Clinton speaking during a campaign event in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday.

Personal, not secure, “home-brew” email server? Poster child for bad cyber security/National security.

Hillary Clinton was exonerated for mishandling classified email by:

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Vladimir Putin in Moscow in December. Credit Pool photo by Alexei Druzhinin



Ten Years of Russian Cyber Attacks on Other Nations

President Barack Obama announced the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran, a prisoner swap and the $1.7 billion settlement with Iran in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Jan. 17.

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John Emerson, Washington's man in Berlin, to meet with Guido Westerwelle, German foreign minister, over claims Angela Merkel's phone was tapped by US

Chancellor Merkel called President Obama demanding answers after reports emerged that the US may have been monitoring her phone Photo: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS

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James Clapper talking to a group of people
James Clapper

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks at the Center for American Progress’ 2014 Making Progress Policy Conference in Washington November 19, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron


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Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at a joint news conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 25.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at a joint news conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 25. Photo: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg News

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Containing Putin—and Trump

July 18, 2018

Congress needs to block any new arms deal until Russia stops cheating.

In this video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian Television on March 1, Russia's new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile blasts off during a test launch from an undisclosed location in Russia.
In this video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian Television on March 1, Russia’s new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile blasts off during a test launch from an undisclosed location in Russia. PHOTO: RU-RTR RUSSIAN TELEVISION/ASSOCIATED PRESS


President Trump rarely admits mistakes, so it was good on Tuesday to see him reverse his claim of Monday that Russia may not have interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. The problem is that he still doesn’t seem to understand the nature of the adversary known as Vladimir Putin whom he wants to make his friend.

“I have full faith in our intelligence agencies,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday at the White House. He added that he unintentionally erred Monday when he said, “I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia” that had done the cyber-hacking. He said he meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.”

We wonder who thought of that one, but never mind. At least Mr. Trump has at last publicly sided with his own advisers over the former KGB agent in the Kremlin. He also said “we are doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference” in the 2018 election, which his intelligence advisers have also warned him about.

Less encouraging is Mr. Trump’s continued enthusiasm for working with Mr. Putin on issues like Syria and arms control. On nuclear weapons in particular, Mr. Trump is a neophyte compared with the Russian who wants to rewrite the historical record to lure the President into further reducing the U.S. arsenal.

Nuclear weapons are “the greatest threat of our world today,” Mr. Trump told reporters Tuesday. Russia is “a great nuclear power, we’re a great nuclear power. We have to do something about nuclear, and so that was a matter that we discussed actually in great detail, and President Putin agrees with me.”

Uh oh. In an interview with Fox News host Chris Wallace Monday, Mr. Putin lamented America’s “unilateral withdrawal” from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) during the George W. Bush Administration. “We didn’t want the United States to withdraw from the ABM treaty, but they did despite our request not to do it,” Mr. Putin said.

What Mr. Putin didn’t explain is that the ABM Treaty, which limited deployments of missile defenses, was a bilateral pact that the U.S. adhered to and the Soviets repeatedly violated, notably by building a large, phased-array radar at Krasnoyarsk. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the ABM Treaty was effectively voided, yet Republican and Democratic Presidents kept the treaty in place.

George W. Bush finally withdrew from ABM in 2002, explaining that the Cold War had ended, Russia was no longer an enemy, and the treaty hindered the U.S. “ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks.” The Bush Administration understood that the treaty left the U.S. defenseless against a missile from the likes of Iran and North Korea.

Mr. Bush’s withdrawal was legal under the treaty’s termination clause, and at the time Mr. Putin said the move was “mistaken” but “presented no threat to Russia’s security.” Yet on Monday Mr. Putin said Russia’s development of new offensive weaponry like the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile was “born as a response to the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the ABM Treaty.”

In his news conference with Mr. Trump, Mr. Putin also excused Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which bars ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Mr. Putin blamed “implementation issues.” He didn’t say that the Pentagon believes a new medium-range nuclear cruise missile that Russia has deployed in Europe violates the INF treaty. And Mr. Trump didn’t call him on it.

Mr. Putin wants to draw Mr. Trump into an arms-control negotiation that would revive the ABM limits while expanding Barack Obama’s New Start reductions in U.S. missiles. Mr. Trump is so confident of his personal deal-making skills, and so untutored in nuclear arms, that we hope the negotiations never begin.

This is where Congress needs a containment strategy—for Mr. Putin and for Mr. Trump’s desire to cut deals with him. Members of both parties can make clear that no new arms deal is possible until Mr. Putin stops cheating on current treaties; that no limit on missile defenses is tolerable; and that any new deal must be submitted to the Senate as a treaty requiring a two-thirds vote for ratification.

Appeared in the July 18, 2018, print edition.

Rudy Giuliani: Peter Strzok’s testimony was a disgrace — Plus Trump and the Return of Divine Right

July 13, 2018

President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani insisted early Friday that congressional grilling of FBI agent Peter Strzok showed the investigation against his client is irreparably biased.

Giuliani called for special counsel Robert Mueller’s entire probe of the Trump campaign — and potential collusion with Russia — to be ended immediately, because Strzok once wrote text messages critical of the president.

Peter Strzok’s testimony was a disgrace,” the former New York mayor tweeted at 12:44 a.m.

“It taints the entire Mueller witchunt. President Trump is being investigated by people who possess pathological hatred for him. All the results of the investigation are `fruit of the poison tree’ and should be dismissed.”

During a marathon session of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Republicans accused Strzok of extreme bias.

The White House and Trump, who is away this week on a diplomatic tour in Europe, did not immediately comment on the Judiciary Committee fireworks.


Trump and the Return of Divine Right

In deploying his pardon power freely and using the Bible to justify family separation, the president is exactly the sort of ruler that Enlightenment thinkers feared.

By David Armitage

Mr. Armitage is a professor of history at Harvard.
Commentary: The New York Times

CreditIllustration by Tyler Comrie; Photographs by Bahadir Tanriover, Imran Kadir Photography, and Jason_V, via Getty Images

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The heartbreaking scenes on the southern border seem a world away from recent presidential pardons. Sobbing children and bereft parents have nothing in common with Joe Arpaio, Dinesh D’Souza and, most recently, the Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, who had been convicted of arson in 2016 and whom President Trump pardoned on Tuesday. Yet both come down to a relationship between justice and mercy that has a long history — and a cautionary moral for the president.

Family separation shows justice without mercy. The pardon power displays mercy in the name of justice. The administration cites the biblical injunction to obey the powers that be as one explanation for their zero-tolerance policy on immigration. With regard to immigration, it seems, there can be no discretion. By contrast, presidential pardons show how extensive discretion can be, because the Constitution gives the president “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in case of impeachment.”

Most Enlightenment thinkers were uneasy about the pardoning power. The two greatest oracles for the Constitution’s framers, the French philosopher Montesquieu and the English lawyer William Blackstone, both attacked it. “Clemency is the characteristic of monarchs,” wrote Montesquieu, who thought it inappropriate in republics. Blackstone was adamant. “In democracies,” he thundered, “this power of pardon can never subsist.” Contemporary reformers like Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham were just as skeptical about pardons. So was Immanuel Kant, for whom it was one of the slipperiest rights of the sovereign, a majestic encouragement to injustice.

Eighteenth-century Europeans didn’t have to look far to find examples to prove their case. At his trial for treason in January 1649, King Charles I of England had denied the authority of the court set up by Parliament on the grounds that “no earthly power can justly call me (who am your King) in question as a delinquent.” Yet the court insisted on its authority to try him and he was convicted of “a wicked design to erect and uphold in himself an unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will.” In the later 17th century, Parliament proceeded to crimp the royal prerogative until little residue of an absolute monarch’s godlike capacity remained in the hands of George III.

In this sense the American Constitution actually pushed back against Europe’s anti-monarchical movement. The framers argued that “without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel,” as Alexander Hamilton argued in Federalist No. 74. This was particularly true in “season of insurrection or rebellion,” Hamilton continued, “when a well-timed offer of pardon to the insurgents or rebels may restore the tranquillity of the commonwealth.”

With the ratification of the Constitution, George Washington received an array of powers many European monarchs might have envied. The president could veto legislation — something no British monarch had done since 1707. He was commander in chief of the armed forces; 1743 was the last time a British king had led an army, at the Battle of Dettingen. And after 1789, the French revolutionaries abolished the pardoning power that America’s elective monarch now retained.

Washington wielded his pardon power for the first time to reprieve insurgents in the Whiskey Rebellion in 1795, “to mingle in the operations of government every degree of moderation and tenderness which the national justice, dignity, and safety may permit.” Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson later pardoned rebels during and after the Civil War. In this way, mercy tempered justice, to justify importing kingly clemency into the republic.

“A pardon is an act of grace,” opined Chief Justice John Marshall in 1833. His view held for a century until the Supreme Court overturned this view to argue, in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., that a “pardon in our days is not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power. It is a part of the Constitutional scheme.” The pardoning power may be sanctioned by the Constitution but it is now exercised by the president at his own discretion. The ability to absolve an individual of a legally mandated punishment remains a semi-divine power cloaked in constitutional dress.

Despite suggestions at the Constitutional Convention that Congress should share in the determination of pardons, the proposal did not fly. The pardoning power is absolute and unmitigated.

There is a tension here, as well. The president’s and Mr. Sessions’s claim to be bound by law to tear children apart from their parents is a lie. Not only is that a lie — the president has broad powers to set administrative policy — it is also hypocritical. The president can casually exercise his discretionary power to pardon Mr. Arpaio, who abused prisoners in his care, but then claims he is powerless to end a policy worthy of Sheriff Joe himself. As Hamilton might have said, that is not justice. It is sanguinary and cruel.

Fortunately, the founders did not leave the people powerless. Impeachable offenses — high crimes and misdemeanors, carried out in the exercise of official duties — are literally unpardonable. King Charles lost his head for claiming a divine prerogative; a president can lose only his job. No one is above the law, not even the wielder of the pardoning power himself. King Donald should beware.

David Armitage (@DavidRArmitage) is a professor of history at Harvard and the author of “Civil Wars: A History in Ideas.”

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Trump’s Trade Policy Goes From Bad to Worse

July 13, 2018

And Congress is letting it happen.

Trump and Lighthizer have usurped Congress on trade.Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images


Announcing plans for additional tariffs on $200 billion of imports, the Trump administration has taken another dangerous step toward escalating its trade war on China. China’s response, so far, has been measured, and that’s encouraging. The U.S. Congress has managed only the feeblest gesture of protest, and that’s disgraceful.

The president has told U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to draw up new 10 percent tariffs on a wide range of Chinese goods and materials. All the objections to the previous round of tariffs on $34 billion of goods apply, only more so. If the policy goes ahead after the seven weeks allowed for public comment, it will impose a hefty new tax on U.S. consumers and producers. Supply chains and investment plans will be thrown into disarray. And if China retaliates, as it might feel it must, the economic damage will be compounded.

Its reaction so far has been cautious. The Ministry of Commerce said it was shocked by the latest move and that the Trump administration was “hurting China, hurting the entire world and hurting the U.S. itself.” All of which is true. It’s come to something when the world needs China’s communist government to school the U.S. in basic economics.

There’ll be a limit to China’s forbearance, though. As this pointless fight drags on, its government will be as concerned to save face as Trump is. It can’t retaliate dollar-for-dollar with tariffs on U.S. imports, because it buys less than $200 billion from the U.S., but other methods — assorted non-tariff barriers to trade and inward investment — are available.

Trouble as far as the eye can see.

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg


If Beijing resorts to such measures, the risk of lasting harm will be compounded, because these administrative barriers could reverse earlier moves by China toward more market-friendly economic interventions. The trade conflict that Trump is stoking is capable, in the worst case, of obstructing further liberalization and pushing China toward heavier-handed state direction of its economy — to say nothing of chilling U.S.-China relations for years if not decades to come.

Many in the U.S. Congress recognize the danger posed by this insidious trade-war logic, but their response so far has been pitiful. On Wednesday the Senate voted 88-11 to instruct itself to insert language into a funding bill “providing a role for Congress” on tariffs. The vote is non-binding, so the senators left themselves free to ignore their own instruction.

Language providing a role for Congress on tariffs can already be found in a more authoritative law — the U.S. Constitution. It provides that trade policy is the responsibility of the legislative branch. Trump’s maneuvers, which began under cover of a specious “national security” exception, violate the spirit and probably the letter of that provision. Yet all Congress has managed in reply to this dangerous usurpation of its role is a timid squawk of protest.

Trump’s trade policy is getting more reckless by the day. If worse comes to worst, a self-enfeebled Congress will be equally to blame.

—Editors: Clive Crook, Nisid Hajari, Mary Duenwald.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley .

Washington Post seemed to blame Congress ….

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FBI’s Peter Strzok Denies Claims of Bias in Acrimonious House Hearing

July 13, 2018

Republicans call his explanation of critical text messages about Donald Trump unbelievable

FBI agent Peter Strzok is sworn in before testifying at a hearing of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees.
FBI agent Peter Strzok is sworn in before testifying at a hearing of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees. PHOTO: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTTE/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

WASHINGTON—An FBI agent whose anti-Trump text messages prompted sharp criticism over his handling of two politically charged investigations, told Congress he never permitted his views to affect his official actions, a claim GOP lawmakers derided.

Peter Strzok’s testimony at a joint House committee hearing repeatedly devolved into partisan discord, with Republicans at one point threatening to hold him in contempt for refusing to answer some questions Mr. Strzok said the Federal Bureau of Investigation had told him not to answer. The FBI declined to comment.

“Let me be clear, unequivocally and under oath: Not once in my 26 years of defending my nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took,” Mr. Strzok said. He added that he understood why supporters of President Donald Trump would have concerns about the nature of his messages.

Gowdy, Strzok Spar Over Controversial Texts

House Republicans slammed FBI agent Peter Strzok for sending text messages about Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. After a tense back-and-forth with Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, Mr. Strzok hit back as he explained one of his more controversial texts. Photo: AP

Mr. Strzok was the lead agent on the FBI probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. He later served as the lead agent in the early days of special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Mueller removed him from the probe a year ago, after the Justice Department inspector general uncovered Mr. Strzok’s exchange of tens of thousands of text messages from 2015 through 2017 with a former FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, with whom he was having an affair.

“We want the FBI and DOJ to be off the front pages and to return to doing what they are best at—battling crime, terrorism and espionage and protecting all of us from harm,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.). “We don’t want to read text message after text message dripping with bias against one of the two presidential candidates,” he said.

Mr. Goodlatte added, “Imagine if you were under investigation and the investigator hated you, disparaged you in all manner of ways, and fraternized with another employee working on the case who also hated you.”

Mr. Strzok noted that he criticized a variety of figures besides the Republican Mr. Trump—including his Democratic rival in the 2016 campaign, Mrs. Clinton—in the text messages. He saved his sharpest barbs for Mr. Trump, though, whom he referred to as an “idiot” and a “douche.”

“Like many people, I had and expressed personal political opinions during an extraordinary presidential election,” Mr. Strzok said. “Many contained expressions of concern for the security of our country—opinions that were not always expressed in terms I am proud of.”

Some of the agent’s sharpest exchanges in the all-day hearing came with Rep. Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The lawmaker pressed Mr. Strzok on several of the most controversial messages, including one in which he told Ms. Page, who was concerned about the prospect of a Trump presidency: “we’ll stop it.”

“I don’t care when it was written. I don’t care whether it was longhand, cursive…. I want to know what ‘it’ meant, Agent Strzok,” Mr. Gowdy said.

In a report last month, the FBI’s inspector general chastised Mr. Strzok for sending the messages and said it “cast a cloud” over the FBI and “sowed doubts” about its work. But it didn’t find evidence that political bias affected the outcome of the Clinton probe, which concluded that no criminal charges were warranted.

Democrats sided with Mr. Strzok, noting that many mainstream Republicans expressed harsh opinions about Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign, particularly after an audio tape emerged with him boasting about groping women.

They asked Mr. Strzok why he was so concerned about Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election. Mr. Strzok, a former counterintelligence agent, said he agreed Russia was a nefarious actor and meddling in the election was a “a direct attack by a foreign adversary—and it is no less so simply because it was launched against our democratic process rather than against a military base.”

Russia has denied meddling in the election, and Mr. Trump has denied that members of his campaign colluded with Russia.

What People Really Mean When They Say ‘Collusion’

When it comes to the Russia investigation, the word “Collusion” gets thrown around a lot. But there’s not a lot of clarity on what it actually means. Is it illegal? Is it grounds for impeachment? We asked a law professor to explain. Photo Illustration: Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Trump and his supporters have cited the texts as evidence of political bias in the FBI investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s use of the private email server, as well as the bureau’s probe of Russian interference in the election and whether there was any coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump tweeted: “How can the Rigged Witch Hunt proceed when it was started, influenced and worked on, for an extended period of time, by former FBI Agent/Lover Peter Strzok? Read his hate filled and totally biased Emails and the answer is clear!”

Write to Aruna Viswanatha at and Del Quentin Wilber at

Appeared in the July 13, 2018, print edition as ‘FBI’s Strzok Denies Bias Against Trump.’

Includes videos:

Why nothing seems to be stopping Trump’s trade war

July 12, 2018

President Trump is remaking the global trade order without significant political resistance or penalty, unchecked by a largely compliant Congress and bolstered by the loyalty of his supporters — even those likely to be hurt by his burgeoning global trade war.

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The Senate on Wednesday passed a nonbinding measure calling for a greater role in overseeing Trump’s trade decisions, an implicit criticism of new tariffs the president has levied on some of the country’s closest allies and largest trading partners. But the vote has no power to prompt a course change from the White House. And it follows failed attempts to advance measures that could have given Congress new power to restrain Trump.

By Erica Werner and Heather Long
The Washington Post

Congress’s passivity in the face of Trump’s escalating trade conflict is one of several factors that have made it easier for the president to push on. Others have included markets that haven’t melted down, business leaders who have done little beyond using rhetoric to criticize the trade spat, and Republican voters who have stood by their president. In each of these cases, critics of his trade policy had hoped Trump would find reason to be dissuaded.

The trade changes mirror Trump’s rapid and similarly unchecked efforts to reposition the United States in the global political order. During his trip to Europe this week, the president has antagonized the country’s NATO allies. He also plans to meet next week with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, seeking to tighten ties with a traditional rival.

On trade, U.S. partners have retaliated with their own tariffs on U.S. goods, targeting GOP strongholds and paining sensitive industries and areas that depend on access to foreign markets. New polling suggests, however, that Trump supporters in those areas are standing by the president.

The parts of the country most affected by Trump’s trade war remain supportive of the president for now. Among the 15 states most affected by the tariffs, Trump’s approval rating is 57 percent, according to a recent Washington Post-Schar School poll. Trump won 52 percent of the vote in those states in 2016.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) stops to field questions from reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill. The Senate approved a nonbinding resolution calling for a greater role in overseeing President Trump’s tariff decisions. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Much of the pain has centered on soybean farmers, whose crops are exported widely and who have seen prices nosedive since the trade war intensified.

“I am in Brussels, but always thinking about our farmers,” Trump wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “I am fighting for a level playing field for our farmers, and will win!”

Trump’s unimpeded trade efforts could face more resistance, however, if disputes with allies intensify and more of their economic consequences hit home.

Though Trump has been making trade threats since the start of his presidential campaign, the opening rounds of tariffs are only now taking effect. If the U.S. economy were to slow meaningfully because of the conflict, Trump could yet be forced to change course.

But despite the escalating trade spats, markets have not cratered. While U.S. stocks slid Wednesday, with the Dow Jones industrial average falling 219 points, markets have kept relatively calm in recent weeks even as the United States and China swapped punitive trade measures.

Washington investment manager Michael Farr said that after months of presidential outbursts, Trump fatigue is setting in among investors.

“Wall Street seems to be beginning to get him,” said Farr, who believes investors have largely priced in Trump’s trade actions and aggressive statements.

Senators looking to check Trump’s trade agenda saw hope for more action after Wednesday’s vote, when the Senate voted 88 to 11 to approve language asserting “a role for Congress” when Trump imposes tariffs in the name of national security, as he has done with steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico, the European Union and others.

But one of the measure’s strongest supporters, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), acknowledged after the vote that if the measure had had teeth, it wouldn’t have passed.

Image result for Jeff Flake, photos

Jeff Flake

“If we had had a binding vote today, we wouldn’t have won it,” Flake, who is retiring at the end of the congressional session, said Wednesday.

He added: “Some are still giving the president some kind of license or leash here. But most of us think we know where the president wants to go. And it’s not where we want to be.”

As the Senate suggests it should have more oversight, the administration has not paused in ramping up trade disputes.

Early this week Trump identified $200 billion in Chinese imports he would hit with tariffs unless Beijing agreed to major trade concessions. The massive levies would add to the $34 billion in Chinese imports on which Trump officially imposed new tariffs earlier this month — a move that drew an immediate dollar-for-dollar retaliation from China.

Tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports remain in place on most countries around the world, despite protests from Republican lawmakers and long-standing international allies.

Trump’s ability to unilaterally impose trade measures comes after Congress has repeatedly ceded its authority over trade through laws and fast-track agreements. That approach had worked well for congressional Republicans and other free-trade advocates, as presidents negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other pacts. Then Trump arrived determined to ride roughshod over all of it.

Many lawmakers from both parties believe Trump abused his authority in invoking Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which allowed him to unilaterally impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports after his administration determined they posed a threat to U.S. security. He’s now threatening to do the same with automobiles, which lawmakers are warning could be even more ruinous to the economy.

Trump’s rejection of free trade is his most pronounced break from traditional Republican Party doctrine. But by most accounts, the president cannot be dissuaded from the protectionist views he formed decades ago and made a centerpiece of his campaign for president.

“He’s very true to what he said he was going to do during the campaign for president,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).

For months, Roberts and other Republicans have been sounding the alarm about retaliatory tariffs on farm country and elsewhere, and warning that a trade war threatens the strong economy that will be the GOP’s calling card in the upcoming midterm elections, in which Democrats will aim to retake control of Congress.

A majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of trade and think escalating tariffs with China will be “bad” for jobs, according to the Washington Post-Schar School poll conducted from June 27 to July 2. There’s more worry about rising prices — nearly three-fourths of Americans believe tariffs will be bad for the cost of imported goods, according to the poll.

And even though Trump’s support in the 15 states most affected by the trade war remains high, a majority of respondents in those states also said they disapproved of the president’s handling of international trade.

But when people are asked what their top issues are heading into the midterm elections, trade is low on the list, below issues such as the economy, jobs, health care, immigration, guns and taxes, according to the recent poll.

That may be in part because most Americans aren’t feeling the impacts of these higher import taxes yet. The tariffs in place so far — and the retaliatory measures from other countries — will cost the average family about $80 more a year, according to economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics. Many large companies aren’t even passing the additional costs on to consumers yet because they knew the tariffs were coming and planned ahead by buying supplies before the higher prices went into effect.

“The impact is fairly negligible for most Americans right now,” said Chris Ellis, director of the Survey Research Laboratory at Bucknell University.

Phil Ramsey, chair of the Indiana Soybean Alliance membership and policy committee, said he speaks multiple times a day with other farmers in his state.

“Most of us farmers are extremely patient,” said Ramsey, a 58-year-old soybean and corn farmer who voted for Trump and attended his inauguration. “We dump hundreds of thousands of seeds and fertilizer into these fields. Then we wait for them to grow. We know it will happen.”

But lawmakers from farm states are cautioning Trump that he is testing voters’ patience.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said trade was a constant theme in 10 county meetings last week in his home state.

“People are very nervous, and they’d like to have me say, ‘Well, we’re going have this settled by September the 15th or November the 15th.’ I can’t give them that assurance,” Grassley said. “I can just tell them the president’s negotiating approach is the longer you negotiate, the better deal you get. And so everybody’s nervous, and it’s costing a lot.”

He warned that “as time goes on, as prices go down, there’s less patience” from the voters for the president.

Scott Clement and Tom Heath contributed to this report.