Posts Tagged ‘Mitch McConnell’

White House Says Trump Has Power to Fire Mueller — But Republican Lawmakers Want Mueller to Finish His Job

April 11, 2018

Experts outside the administration have said the president can’t directly dismiss the special counsel

The White House said Tuesday that President Donald Trump believes he has the power to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, above.
The White House said Tuesday that President Donald Trump believes he has the power to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, above. PHOTO:YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS

WASHINGTON—The White House said Tuesday that President Donald Trump believes he has the authority to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, as lawmakers from both parties warned against doing so one day after the FBI raided properties tied to the president’s longtime lawyer.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said that Mr. Mueller “should be allowed to finish his job,” though he rebuffed calls for legislation to protect the special counsel. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said on CNN that it would be “suicide” for Mr. Trump to fire the special counsel.

Mr. Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said the president “certainly believes he has the power” to fire Mr. Mueller directly. The special prosecutor is examining Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign and whether associates of Mr. Trump colluded with Moscow. Mr. Trump and Russian officials have denied the allegations.

Ms. Sanders’s comment was a departure from the more measured responses that the administration has given to such questions in the past. In late March, after Mr. Trump criticized Mr. Mueller on Twitter, White House lawyer Ty Cobb issued a statement that said the president was “not considering or discussing” firing the special counsel.

Ms. Sanders said the White House had consulted with legal experts, including those at the Justice Department, on the president’s power to fire the special counsel. Ms. Sanders didn’t say the president would take such action. Still, she said: “I think the president has been clear that he feels this has gone too far.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman didn’t respond to a question about whether agency lawyers had given such advice to the White House. Many legal experts outside the administration have said Mr. Trump can’t fire Mr. Mueller directly.

The exchanges came a day after Federal Bureau of Investigation agents searched properties connected to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, seizing records including those related to a $130,000 payment he made weeks before the 2016 election to former adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, professionally known as Stormy Daniels. Ms. Clifford received the payment as part of an agreement that barred her from discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump in 2006.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mr. Mueller, personally approved the raids, according to a person familiar with the matter. People close to the president said that revelation was likely to increase pressure on Mr. Rosenstein, who was appointed by the president.

Mr. Trump has expressed frustration with Mr. Rosenstein in the past and has considered firing him, according to people familiar with the matter. West Wing officials in the last day have advised Mr. Trump not to fire Mr. Rosenstein or any other Justice Department officials, according to a White House aide.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan has opened an investigation that it is coordinating with Mr. Mueller’s office, according to a person familiar with the matter.

White House Says Trump Has Power to Fire Mueller

In a CNN interview, Mr. Cohen said Tuesday the agents who conducted the raid were “courteous and respectful.” Asked if he was worried, he said: “I would be lying to you if I told you I am not.”

Mr. Trump was angered by news of the raids of his longtime lawyer, according to a person close to the Republican president.

Mr. Trump has been highly critical of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, blaming him for setting in motion Mr. Mueller’s appointment after he recused himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump’s decision to fire then-FBI director James Comey last spring led Mr. Rosenstein to appoint Mr. Mueller.

“The more he looks at this investigation, the Sessions recusal becomes a deeper wound,” a person close to the president said. Ms. Sanders’s remarks were meant as a “reminder to the American people that there are constraints on Mueller,” the person said.

Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker and a close ally of Mr. Trump, said in an interview that some staff members worry the president will retaliate by firing Mr. Mueller. A White House official said advisers are counseling the president against such a move.

Trump Calls Cohen Raids a ‘Witch Hunt’

On Monday President Trump called the raids at the office of his lawyer, Michael Cohen, a “disgrace” and a “witch hunt” and discussed the possibility of firing special counsel Robert Mueller. Photo: Getty.

“This is a president who has a very strong temper and who feels he is being abused by people who are clearly his enemies,” Mr. Gingrich said. “Everyone around him keeps telling him—as I would tell him any time we chat—it’s a non-starter. Firing him [Mr. Mueller] would be a disaster. It would guarantee splitting the Republican Party.”

Mr. McConnell said he didn’t believe the president would fire the special counsel. “I haven’t seen clear indication yet that we needed to pass something to keep him from being removed,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) said he doesn’t believe Congress needs to take action to protect Mr. Mueller “at this point,” but cautioned the president should be careful in what he says and does about the investigation.

“I think Mueller is perfectly capable of protecting himself,” Mr. Hatch said. “He’s acting within legal limits in my book and I have a high regard for him.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the chamber’s Democratic leader, called for legislation to protect Mr. Mueller.

“President Trump made it frighteningly clear that he may be considering firing special counsel Mueller,” he said. “Our Republican colleagues must not continue ignoring the elephant in the room.”

Mr. Schumer also warned Mr. Trump not to fire the deputy attorney general. “Any attempt to remove Rod Rosenstein will create the exact same constitutional crisis as if you fired special counsel Mueller,” Mr. Schumer said. “Don’t do it. Do not go down this path.”

Other Democrats, including Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, said the criticism by Mr. Trump of the probe showed that Congress needed to protect Mr. Mueller’s probe. “More than ever, Congress must support the rule of law and protect this investigation,” he said.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R., Texas) said he doesn’t think Mr. Trump will fire Mr. Mueller and that it was “pretty universally being conveyed” by lawmakers to the president not to fire him.

Many legal experts said Mr. Trump wouldn’t be able to fire the special counsel himself, but he could order Mr. Rosenstein to do so. Mr. Rosenstein could refuse, and Mr. Trump could fire him and then try to replace him with someone who would terminate the special counsel.

Former federal prosecutor Jimmy Gurulé said Mr. Mueller is operating under a statute enacted by Congress that “expressly provides that the deputy attorney general has the authority to fire the special counsel—but even then, only for cause.”

Mr. Gurulé said the president would likely argue that as the chief executive officer, he has the authority to fire anyone who works in the executive branch. But the Supreme Court has previously ruled that Congress may impose reasonable limitations on the president’s authority to fire employees working in the executive branch, Mr. Gurulé said.

The raids involving Mr. Cohen provide the clearest signal so far that the investigation has expanded beyond a narrow special counsel probe of alleged Russian electoral meddling, and is now a multifaceted Justice Department inquiry into an array of Mr. Trump’s associates.

That has significant legal and political consequences, experts said. Other prosecutors aren’t limited by Mr. Mueller’s restricted mandate, and the large number of Justice Department investigators now involved could make it harder to depict the effort as a partisan crusade by a few biased officials.

The raid targeting Mr. Cohen was directed by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan after it received a referral of potential criminal conduct from Mr. Mueller’s office. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are exploring matters related to Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, while New York state investigators are also scrutinizing Mr. Trump’s associates.

The multipronged effort suggests that the probes would continue even if Mr. Mueller were somehow sidelined. Beyond the additional prosecutors involved, other Justice Department prosecutors would likely pick up the threads of Mr. Mueller’s investigation if he departed. The special counsel’s office has also filed multiple cases in court, which would likely proceed regardless of Mr. Mueller’s status.

“Firing Mr. Mueller is now clearly not going to end federal investigations since there is a second set of prosecutors that seem to be involved,” said David Super, a law professor at Georgetown University.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at, Del Quentin Wilber at and Kristina Peterson at

Appeared in the April 11, 2018, print edition as ‘Trump Asserts Power To Fire Mueller.’


GOP Warns Trump a Trade War Will Cost the Party in November

April 5, 2018


By Sahil Kapur

  • Economic impact would fall heavily on Republican strongholds
  • Republicans face strong challenge in congressional elections
 Image result for Max Baucus, on bloomberg, photos
Max Baucus Says Tariffs Won’t Slow Down `Made in China 2025′

Max Baucus Says Tariffs Won’t Slow Down `Made in China 2025′

Republicans are warning President Donald Trump that a trade war with China would deal an economic blow to politically important areas of the country that will cost the party in November’s congressional elections.

The president’s proposed tariffs on a variety of imports are aimed at fulfilling a campaign promise to protect domestic industries slammed by globalization. But the impact of retaliation by China could drown out the GOP message that tax cuts are delivering prosperity, which the party is counting on to save their majorities in the House and Senate in what’s already a tough election year.

“If tariffs and a trade war erase the positive economic impact we have seen from tax reform, it is a big, big problem,” said Michael Steel, a managing director at Hamilton Place Strategies, who previously worked for former House Speaker John Boehner.

The latest salvo came Wednesday from China, which announced $50 billion worth of tariffs on American products including soybeans, pork and aircraft in retaliation for Trump’s plan to impose duties on 1,333 Chinese products. The biggest potential impact will be in rural areas that long have been part of the Republican base. Eight of the 10 biggest soybean-producing states went for Trump in the 2016 election and three of those will feature close Senate races in November.

Soothing Markets

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross argued that China’s response won’t disrupt the U.S. economy, and other administration officials said the world’s two biggest economic powers still have time to back away from a trade war. That helped markets reverse early losses Wednesday as investors speculated the back-and-forth may not do much damage to global growth.

Wilbur Ross

Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

But many Republicans still were left with some dread of a potentially perilous road ahead.

“The problem is the potential for larger retaliation from China, and perhaps other countries, if it spills over. That’s a huge fear,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist with the American Action Forum, a research and advocacy group with close ties to the House GOP leadership.

Researchers at the Dallas Fed said in an analysis published Wednesday that the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump previously announced, if fully implemented, would probably reduce U.S. gross domestic product by a quarter-percentage point over the long run. If the situation escalates to a trade war involving the U.S., China and the European Union, the disruptions could reduce GDP by 3.5 percent, according to the analysis.

‘Sensitive Electorates’

Holtz-Eakin said some of the responses from other countries to Trump’s trade pronouncement put a target on “sensitive electorates.”

Mitch McConnell

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

After Trump announced plans for tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, the European Union threatened to impose new duties on bourbon from Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and motorcycles made by Harley Davidson, which has its headquarters in Wisconsin, the home state of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Trump gave the EU a temporary exclusion from the tariffs. China’s proposed retaliatory steps would hit hardest in farm states where Republicans dominate.

“That’s all about making the Republicans hurt,” Holtz-Eakin said.


If China follows through on it retaliatory tariffs, they’d be hitting just as campaigns are gearing up for the midterm elections that will decide control of Congress. Republicans already are confronting signs that Democrats have a solid chance to seize control of the majority in the House of Representatives, with Democratic voter disdain for Trump driving up turnout. At the same time, three of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats represent states that would be among the most affected by soybean tariffs — Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota

In an interview with Kentucky Today published on Wednesday, McConnell warned that 2018 will be a “challenging election year” for the GOP. “We know the wind is going to be in our face. We don’t know whether it’s going to be a Category 3, 4 or 5.”

Some Republicans are pleading with the president to ease off.

“It’s my hope that the Trump administration will reconsider these tariffs and pursue policies that enhance our competitiveness, rather than reduce our access to foreign markets,” Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst said in a statement.

Iowa’s other Republican senator, Chuck Grassley, said in a statement Wednesday that he warned Trump in February that tariffs on Chinese goods would cause China to retaliate against U.S. agriculture and “that’s exactly what happened.”

Economic Issues

“The best thing the Trump administration has going for it is a strong economy,” said Doug Heye, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee and House leadership who has been critical of Trump. “Talk of tariffs and trade wars may play well with part of Trump’s base, but economic growth — job and wage growth — may ultimately be the only thing that can help stem a potentially disastrous midterm.”

The president tweeted Wednesday that a trade conflict with China has little downside for the U.S. given the current trade imbalance between the two countries. “When you’re already $500 Billion DOWN, you can’t lose!” he wrote on Twitter.

The defiant tone echoes his campaign-trail rhetoric that won him decisive votes in Midwestern states that are home to domestic industries that have been hammered amid increasing globalization and free trade policies. His success in the election revealed a substantial base of political support for an anti-trade platform. But many of those states also have substantial agricultural interests, which largely have benefited from trade.

The White House said Wednesday the president is playing a long game.

“We may have a little bit of short-term pain but we will have long-term success,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday.

Trump’s advisers sought to deliver reassurance despite his strong rhetoric. Ross, in an interview with CNBC said the U.S. isn’t entering “World War III” and left the door open for a negotiated solution.

“Even shooting wars end with negotiations,” Ross said.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow emphasized the prospective nature of the president’s trade moves.

“None of the tariffs have been put in place yet, these are all proposals,” he said in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg News. “We’re putting it out for comment. There’s at least two months before any actions are taken.”

— With assistance by Jennifer Jacobs, and Alan Bjerga

Republicans angered as Trump congratulates Putin

March 21, 2018

AFP and The Associated Press

© Yuri Kadobnov / Pool / AFP | Russian President Vladimir Putin meets at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 19, 2018.


Latest update : 2018-03-21

President Donald Trump called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to congratulate him on his re-election, drawing bruising criticism from members of his own party, including a leading senator who scorned the election as a “sham.”

Trump also said he and Putin might meet “in the not too distant future” to discuss the arms race and other matters.

What they didn’t discuss on Tuesday was noteworthy as well: Trump did not raise Russia’s meddling in the U.S. elections or its suspected involvement in the recent poisoning of a former spy in England.

“An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and has pressed the Trump administration to respond aggressively to Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic, called the president’s call “odd.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump “can call whomever he chooses” but noted that calling Putin “wouldn’t have been high on my list.”

At the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said it was “no surprise” that Putin was re-elected, commenting that some people were paid to turn out to vote and opposition leaders were intimidated or jailed. She also cited a preliminary report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that said Russia’s election took place in an overly controlled environment that lacked an even playing field for all contenders.

Her comments were notably tougher on Russia than those coming from the White House.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s call, and noted that President Barack Obama made a similar call at the time of Putin’s last electoral victory.

“We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” Sanders said.

The action and reaction fit a Trump White House pattern of declining to chide authoritarian regimes for undemocratic practices.

Trump himself has long been reluctant to publicly criticize Putin. He said that during their hoped-for meeting the two men would likely discuss Ukraine, Syria and North Korea, among other things.

“I suspect that we’ll probably be meeting in the not too distant future to discuss the arms race, to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control, but we will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have,” Trump said.

Russia has received global condemnation after Britain blamed Moscow for the recent nerve agent attack that sickened Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Russia has denied the accusation.

Trump’s call came at a period of heightened tensions between the two nations after the White House imposed sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 U.S. election and other “malicious cyberattacks.” Sanders insisted that the administration has scolded Putin at the appropriate times.

“We’ve been very clear in the actions that we’ve taken that we’re going to be tough on Russia, particularly when it comes to areas that we feel where they’ve stepped out of place.”

The Kremlin said in a statement that Trump and Putin spoke about a need to “coordinate efforts to limit the arms race” and for closer cooperation on strategic stability and counterterrorism.

“Special attention was given to considering the issue of a possible bilateral summit,” the Kremlin statement said.

In addition, the two presidents expressed satisfaction with the apparent easing of tensions over North Korea’s weapons program, according to the Kremlin.

No details were released about the timing or location of a possible meeting, which would be their third since Trump took office in January 2017. They met on the sidelines of an international summit in Germany last summer and again more informally at another gathering of world leaders in Vietnam in November.

The presidents “agreed to develop further bilateral contacts, taking into account changes in the U.S. State Department,” the Kremlin statement said in a reference to Trump’s decision to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Russia has repeatedly said it hoped for better ties with the U.S. under Trump.

Putin received calls from a number of other foreign leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many others, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, sent congratulatory telegrams.

The White House had said Monday that it was “not surprised by the outcome” of Sunday’s presidential election in Russia and that no congratulatory call was planned.

Trump continues to grapple with the shadow of the ongoing investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russian officials during the 2016 election that sent him to the White House.

Last month, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three organizations on charges of interfering in the election. Three of Trump’s associates   former national security adviser Michael Flynn, deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates and campaign aide George Papadopoulos   have pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has pleaded not guilty to a variety of money laundering and other criminal charges.


Lawmakers, business brace for rollout of Trump’s tariff plan

March 8, 2018

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says Mexico, Canada and other countries may be spared from President Donald Trump’s planned steel and aluminum tariffs under national security “carve-outs,” a move that could soften the blow amid threats of retaliation by trading partners and dire economic warnings from lawmakers and business groups.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the exemptions would be made on a “case by case” and “country by country” basis, a reversal from the policy articulated by the White House just days ago that there would be no exemptions from Trump’s plan.

The update came as congressional Republicans and business groups braced for the impact of expected tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum, appearing resigned to additional protectionist trade actions as Trump signaled upcoming economic battles with China. Trump was expected to announce the tariffs Thursday afternoon.

The looming departure of White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has opposed the promised tariffs, set off anxiety among business leaders and investors worried about a potential trade war.

“We urge you to reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to the U.S. economy and its workers,” 107 House Republicans wrote in a letter to Trump.

Republicans nervous

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he’s encouraged the White House may reconsider blanket tariffs on steel and aluminum as he urges President Donald Trump take a more “surgical” approach on China and other countries. (March 6)

At the White House, officials were working to include language in the tariffs that would give Trump the flexibility to approve exemptions for certain countries.

“He’s already indicated a degree of flexibility, I think a very sensible, very balanced degree of flexibility,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC. “We’re not trying to blow up the world.”

Trump signaled other trade actions could be in the works. In a tweet, he said the “U.S. is acting swiftly on Intellectual Property theft.” A White House official said Trump was referencing an ongoing investigation of China in which the U.S. trade representative is studying whether Chinese intellectual property rules are “unreasonable or discriminatory” to American business.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said an announcement on the findings of the report — and possible retaliatory actions — was expected within the next three weeks.

Business leaders, meanwhile, continued to sound the alarm about the potential economic fallout from tariffs, with the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce raising the specter of a global trade war. That scenario, Tom Donohue said, would endanger the economic momentum from the GOP tax cuts and Trump’s rollback of regulations.

“We urge the administration to take this risk seriously,” Donohue said.

The president has said the tariffs are needed to reinforce lagging American steel and aluminum industries and protect national security. He has tried to use the tariffs as leverage in ongoing talks to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement, suggesting Canada and Mexico might be exempted from tariffs if they offer more favorable terms under NAFTA.

Lawmakers opposed to the tariffs, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have suggested more narrowly focused approaches to target Chinese imports. But members of Congress have few tools at their disposal to counter the president, who has vowed to fulfill his campaign pledge.

“I don’t think the president is going to be easily deterred,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who has suggested hearings on the tariffs.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Trump had listened to him and others who disagree with the direction of the trade policies. “I thank him for that and he’s been a good listener. The difficulty is so far I haven’t persuaded him,” Alexander said.

Republicans in Congress have lobbied administration officials to reconsider the plan and focus the trade actions on China, warning that allies such as Canada and members of the European Union would retaliate.

The EU said it was prepared to respond to any tariffs with counter-measures against U.S. products such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Levi’s jeans and bourbon. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said the EU was circulating among member states a list of U.S. goods to target with tariffs so it could respond quickly.

The president plans to rally Republicans in western Pennsylvania on Saturday in support of Rick Saccone, who faces Democrat Conor Lamb in a March 13 special House election. Trump has told associates the tariffs could be helpful to the GOP cause in the election in the heart of steel country.


Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Matthew Daly and Alan Fram in Washington and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.



Donald Trump Set to Sign Tariffs Decree Amid GOP Lawmakers’ Dissent

March 8, 2018

Plan would spare Canada and Mexico at the outset and they would remain exempt if new Nafta deal is reached

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump is expected to sign a decree this week laying out his plan to impose new tariffs on steel and aluminum, sparing both Canada and Mexico, after people on both sides of the issue made final pleas to either scuttle the measure or ensure he doesn’t back off.

At the White House on Wednesday, aides began preparations for the ceremony ushering in a turn in trade policy that could recalibrate relations between the U.S. and its allies and trading partners.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Warning of economic fallout, congressional Republicans and industry groups pressed President Donald Trump on Tuesday to narrow his plan for across-the-board tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum. Trump appeared unmoved, declaring, “Trade wars aren’t so bad.”

The president said he planned to move forward with special tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, contending the U.S. has long been “mistreated” in trade deals.

“We’re doing tariffs on steel. We cannot lose our steel industry. It’s a fraction of what it once was. And we can’t lose our aluminum industry,” Trump said during a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

Hours later, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, who has opposed the tariffs, announced his plans to depart the White House, another signal that the president intends to go through with the penalties.

The president’s pledge for action, which would be in line with a one of his campaign promises, came after House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin called for a “more surgical approach” that would help avert a potentially dangerous trade war. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said there was concern Trump’s plan could lead to such disruptive turmoil.

“We are urging caution,” McConnell said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he’s encouraged the White House may reconsider blanket tariffs on steel and aluminum as he urges President Donald Trump take a more “surgical” approach on China and other countries. (March 6)

Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, who opposes the tariffs, said after meeting Tuesday with White House chief of staff John Kelly that the administration was willing to consider his views. “Absolutely. There’s an openness now,” Perdue said.

“I think there’s been a step back,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “I don’t think he’s reconsidering, but I think he’s trying to figure out what his best step is forward.”

But those views sounded more like wishful thinking after Trump’s news conference, in which he reiterated his plans to impose the tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports. He said he’d respond to unfair treatment by foreign countries and huge trade deficits. “We’re going to straighten it out and we’ll do it in a very loving way,” Trump said.

The president also reaffirmed the possibility that Canada and Mexico might not face the tariffs if they are willing to offer more favorable terms under the North American Free Agreement, which is being renegotiated.

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and staff from the State Department and National Security Council will be meeting Wednesday with Mexico’s president and foreign minister in Mexico City.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers Trump was trying to balance protections for beleaguered steel and aluminum producers while “making sure that we don’t do undue harm to the economy.”

“We are not looking to get into trade wars. We are looking to make sure that U.S. companies can compete fairly around the world,” Mnuchin said at a House hearing.

Trump has been keenly aware of how the tariffs may play in a March 13 special House election in western Pennsylvania, part of the nation’s steel belt, White House officials have said. The president is headlining a Saturday rally in support of Rick Saccone, who is battling Democrat Conor Lamb in the Republican-leaning district.

The dispute over tariffs has exposed a rift between advocates of free trade, who have long dominated GOP circles, and a president who has railed against China and pushed for more protectionist trade policies.

Internally, White House officials who oppose the blanket tariffs have urged the administration to limit the countries that would be affected and to impose time limits. This would help the president say he delivered on his promise and still try to avoid possible negative consequences, said Stephen Moore, a former campaign adviser and now an economist with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Republicans in Congress and within Trump’s administration say industries and their workers who need steel and aluminum for their products would be hurt by Trump’s threatened tariffs. They say Americans will face higher costs for new cars, appliances and buildings if the president follows through on his threat and other nations retaliate.

Trump has said the tariffs are needed to preserve the American industries and protect national security. But he has also tried to use them as leverage in the current talks to revise NAFTA.

Business leaders are mobilizing against the tariffs. The Aluminum Association, a trade group representing 114 member companies with more than 700,000 U.S. jobs, told Trump in a letter Tuesday that it was “deeply concerned” about the effects of the planned tariffs and urged him to seek alternatives such as targeting China and other countries with a history of circumventing trade rules.

Ryan said Trump was correct to focus on the problem of the dumping of steel in the U.S. at lower prices. But he said the administration’s approach was “a little too broad and more prone to retaliation.”

“What we’re encouraging the administration to do is to focus on what is clearly a legitimate problem and to be more surgical in its approach,” Ryan said.

Republicans have suggested they may try to undercut the tariffs if Trump goes ahead with them. But Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he was doubtful the GOP majority would be able to muster the votes to pass legislation to block the special taxes.

Flake said it was tough to dissuade Trump because the president “keeps coming back like a homing pigeon on trade deficits.”

Mnuchin defended the possible tariffs, telling lawmakers that Trump “loves farmers and the farm community.” Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, responded, “It doesn’t seem so with some of the policies that are coming out.”

Mnuchin said the administration hopes to release details on the tariffs this week. “He does understand the potential impacts it has on the economy and I think we have a way of managing through this,” he said.


Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Kevin Freking, Martin Crutsinger and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.

Donald Trump Sounding Like a Gun Control Democrat — Joins the overwhelming majority of Americans — Will Republican lawmakers follow?

March 1, 2018
Donald Trump urges Congress to back tougher gun controls
US president accuses lawmakers of being too fearful of the National Rifle Association

President Donald Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018 in Washington, during a meeting with members of Congress to discuss school and community safety. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

By Barney Jopson in Washington
February 28, 2018

Financial Times (FT)
Donald Trump has made his strongest call yet for restrictions on gun sales, urging US lawmakers to take action in the wake of the recent Florida school shooting.

In a televised White House meeting with Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday evening, the US president urged lawmakers to back measures such as expanded background checks for gun buyers, even though they have been opposed for years by some in his party and the National Rifle Association.

“We can’t wait and play games and nothing gets done,” Mr Trump said at the start of a freewheeling session with 17 House and Senate lawmakers. “We want to stop the problems.”

Mr Trump was holding his fourth gun policy discussion since 17 people were killed in a mass shooting on February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Teenage survivors of the shooting have added extra momentum to the push for reforms.

Mr Trump accused lawmakers of being afraid of the NRA that has exercised strong influence over Republican lawmakers in the past and campaigned strongly against any weakening of constitutional protections of gun ownership.

“They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. I don’t need it,” he said, according to Reuters.

Mr Trump said he was still a “big” fan of the NRA. “These are great people, these great patriots. They love our country.” But he added: “That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything,” he said.

Citing the absence of big changes to gun laws under previous administrations, Mr Trump sought to portray himself as a bridge-building leader who could bring the two parties together — a promise he made frequently on the campaign trail but has rarely fulfilled.

“It would be so beautiful to have one bill that everyone could support,” he said. “It’s time that a president stepped up.”

A similarly freewheeling public debate on immigration in January raised hopes that Mr Trump could forge a deal by showing sympathy to Democratic views and persuading Republicans to make concessions. But since then, the two sides in Congress have remained deadlocked.

The US has seen episodes of intense pressure for legislative action on guns before — most notably after the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre that killed 26 — only for the moment dissipate with nothing done.

One sign of a shift in current mood, however, came on Wednesday with two big companies introducing restrictions on their sales. Dick’s Sporting Goods, one of America’s largest sports retailers, decided to stop selling assault-style rifles and to end gun sales to people under the age of 21 after a teenager used an AR-15 to kill 17 people at a high school in the recent Florida shooting.

Walmart also decided to end sales of guns and ammunition to people under 21. The Walmart statement said the company had ended sales of “modern sporting rifles”, including the AR-15, in 2015.

Mr Trump encouraged lawmakers to start with a bipartisan bill first put forward in 2013 that would expand background check requirements to include gun purchases online and at gun shows. It was brought down by the Republican opposition months after the Sandy Hook shooting.

The president also appeared to back the idea of allowing police to temporarily seize guns from people reported to be dangerous, even without a court order.

“Take the guns first, go through due process second,” he said.

Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, commended the president for wanting to do more than just upgrade the national database used for background checks.

“The president’s comments indicate that he supports universal background checks and even possibly an assault weapons ban. But the next step is even more important — despite the huge pressure that will come from the hard right, the president must stick with these principles,” Mr Schumer said.

“The president must push congressional Republicans to resist the NRA and support these proposals which are endorsed by the overwhelming majority of Americans.”

Republicans in Congress remain divided over how to address gun violence and whether to open debate on improving the background check database for gun buyers.

“I didn’t hear a consensus. I don’t know what the leader [Senator Mitch McConnell] is going to do,” said Senator John Kennedy, speaking after a Republican luncheon on Capitol Hill.

Congress looks for more clarity from Trump as it weighs response to Florida school shootings

February 28, 2018

President Trump pauses as he listens to people recount stories of the school shooting in South Florida during a listening session with high school students and teachers at The White House on Feb. 21. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The Washington Post
February 27 at 7:39 PM
Ahead of a bipartisan meeting at the White House, Capitol Hill struggles to coalesce around a response to the school shooting in Florida.

President Trump has backed off his call on raising the minimum age for rifle purchases — or at least that’s what Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) believes.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), meanwhile, thinks the administration is seriously weighing expanding background checks for gun purchases. Yet Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), a close ally of the White House who has spoken with Trump on the issue, has personally gotten no such indication.

Lawmakers, in other words, have no real idea what Trump wants from them on gun policy in the wake of the massacre at a South Florida high school.

“It’s really unclear what they’re for and what they’re not for,” Murphy, one of the most prominent gun-control advocates on Capitol Hill, said Tuesday. “I don’t think there’s a secret agenda that they have not released. I think it’s just hard. I think they’re trying to figure it out.”

In advance of the bipartisan gun summit at the White House on Wednesday, lawmakers are searching for signals from the administration on how it wants Congress to respond to the Feb. 14 shooting and how serious Trump is about the various proposals he has floated in the days since 17 people were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

There is also an open question in Congress over how much Trump will actually affect the debate, with some Senate leaders pushing for more guidance from the president given his continuing focus on the shootings, while other top senators are skeptical that any guidance from the mercurial president — such as during the stalemate on immigration — will ultimately matter much.

Trump and his senior aides have publicly floated several gun-related proposals since the shooting in Parkland, including legislation to encourage agencies to report relevant information to a federal database used to screen potential gun buyers, banning devices known as “bump stocks” and arming teachers, a controversial proposal Trump has emphasized in his public remarks.

Trump has also discussed raising the minimum age for rifle purchases to 21, despite opposition from the National Rifle Association — a policy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that the president still supports for “certain firearms.”

The White House has invited an assortment of lawmakers to Wednesday’s meeting, including Murphy; Cornyn; Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who co-authored a universal background checks measure in 2013; and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, who wrote the 1994 assault weapons ban.

Sanders said the administration plans to release some policy proposals this week, probably giving some clarity to the GOP-led Congress on where Trump wants to focus and whether there will be any areas of tension between the White House and congressional Republicans — particularly the most conservative lawmakers.

“The president, as you know, has made a number of statements over the past few days,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the third-ranking Senate Republican. “Him weighing in probably matters quite a bit with a lot of members, and, you know, what he would like to see done. But the Congress is going to work its will on this, like it usually does.”

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a close Trump ally, said lawmakers want Trump to take the lead on the gun debate.

“I don’t think there’s any consensus whatsoever that there’s anything on, quote, gun control,” Collins said. “We’re an independent body, and we will do what our members think is best.” But, he added, “I would say the president’s leadership on this is going to be key; there’s no doubt.”

Republican leaders have been hesitant to weigh in publicly on how to respond to the Parkland shootings until they know where Trump stands and what policies could be supported by their members.

On Tuesday, neither Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) nor other House GOP leaders would commit to holding a vote on modest gun-related measures that have broad bipartisan support. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to pass the Fix NICS Act, meant to improve reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. He also began promoting a separate proposal from Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) that would provide grants to states for school safety programs, including training to identify threats and improving physical security through such things as improved locks on classroom doors.

The House passed a version of the Fix NICS measure in December, in conjunction with a controversial provision that would force states to recognize concealed-carry licenses from other states. The Senate is exploring passing the background check proposal as a stand-alone measure as soon as this week, but Ryan would not say Tuesday whether he would bring that bill or a ban on bump stocks — devices that allow a semiautomatic rifle to mimic the rapid fire of an automatic weapon — up for a vote.

“We’re waiting to see what the Senate can do,” he said, adding, “We obviously think the Senate should take our whole bill, but if the Senate cannot do that, then we’ll discuss and cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Cornyn said that he spoke with Trump over the weekend and that the president has “a lot of ideas” but that he hasn’t discussed with him any legislation on background checks broader than the Fix NICS Act. Murphy, meanwhile, said he thinks the White House would be willing to go beyond the bare-bones bill for a more expansive background-check measure.

“There’s something stirring over there on background checks,” Murphy said. “I just haven’t exactly figured out what it is yet.”

Democrats said that after years on inaction in Congress following mass shootings, they believe there is momentum to do something substantive and that even members from states and districts where restrictions on gun purchases have traditionally been unpopular are feeling emboldened.

“Not every Democrat will run on banning assault weapons, but every Democrat should be running on background checks,” Murphy said. “Background checks is popular in every state and every congressional district, it’s a loser for Republicans everywhere.”

While lawmakers are left waiting for the administration’s policy proposals, they’re doing their own pitching.

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who wrote the doomed background checks measure with Manchin five years ago, spoke directly with Trump earlier Tuesday and is urging him to get behind the duo’s legislation to expand background checks to gun shows and online sales. Trump was “listening,” Toomey said simply of the president’s reception of their idea.

Meanwhile, Hatch has discussed his school safety bill with White House officials. “They’re interested,” he said Tuesday.

In coordination with the departments of Education and Health and Human Services, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is working on his own proposal to bolster security at schools, such as by encouraging additional school counselors, a spokeswoman said.

The White House has sought in some instances to feel out what types of legislation may get introduced by lawmakers who have spoken publicly about how Washington should respond to the latest school shooting.

After Roberts said last week that he would support increasing the minimum age to purchase certain rifles to 21, the administration contacted him and asked whether he planned to introduce legislation along those lines, the senator recalled Tuesday.

Roberts said he wasn’t, and added, “I think they’ve backed off it now, though.”

But Trump has discussed raising the purchasing age for rifles with Cornyn, according to the Texas Republican, who isn’t eager to support the idea but said he could probably live with it as part of a bigger gun package.

An unpredictable factor in the ongoing debate are the surviving students from Stoneman Douglas, who have taken a visible role in pushing officials to take action and enact new gun restrictions.

Eight of the students took their case to Capitol Hill this week, culminating in a private meeting Tuesday with Ryan. The students were joined in the meetings by Rep. Ted Deutch, the Democrat who represents the district that includes the school. He described a frank meeting in which Ryan acknowledged that some of the more ambitious gun restrictions the students are advocating — such as a ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines — would not pass the Republican Congress.

But, according to Deutch, Ryan said he was interested in quickly bringing consensus legislation to the House floor on issues such as background checks and school security. Deutch is a co-sponsor alongside Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.), a former county sheriff, of a school safety bill unveiled Tuesday that would provide federal aid for security and prevention measures.

“Look, I’ve been very clear about what I think needs to happen, but I’ve also been clear that it’s important that we show that we can act and that we can take steps forward,” Deutch said. “This is a bipartisan piece of legislation. If we can’t come together around something that already has bipartisan support, I’m not sure where we can.”

In a statement released after the meeting, Ryan thanked the students for sharing their experiences and said they “had an important discussion about how to keep our kids and our schools safe.”

“We will continue to work to find common ground on solutions that can help prevent the kind of senseless violence these students endured,” he said.

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

Russian radio hosts once pranked Adam Schiff with promise of ‘naked Trump’ photos

February 7, 2018

By David K. Li
The New York Post

Image may contain: 1 person

Russian radio hosts pranked the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, saying they had compromising images of President Trump, according to a report Tuesday.

The Daily Mail posted audio of the prank pulled last year by Vladimir “Vovan” Kuznetsov and Alexey “Lexus” Stolyarov against Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

The Atlantic reported the prank last month, but The Mail story went a step further with purported audio of the joke.

The caller identified himself as Andriy Parubiy, speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, when “Parubiy” was actually both Kuznetsov and Stolyarov.

The pranksters claimed Trump had an affair with Russian model and singer Olga Buzova in 2013.

“She got compromising materials on Trump after their short relations,” the pranksters told Schiff.

“OK, and what’s the nature (of the material)?” Schiff asked.

“Well, there were pictures of naked Trump,” said the pranksters, adding that Russian president Vladimir Putin was aware of the compromising material.

Schiff responded that “obviously we would welcome the chance to get copies.”

A rep for Schiff had earlier told The Atlantic that the call was reported to “appropriate law enforcement and security personnel” because “of our belief that it was probably bogus.”

The Russian pair has pulled similar stunts on Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

House GOP Plans Spending Vote to Fund Military

February 6, 2018

Bill meant to extend government funding and avert shutdown is unlikely to pass the Senate; Democrats press for an equal increase for domestic programs

Image result for Carlos Curbelo, photos

WASHINGTON—House GOP leaders on Tuesday are expected to bring up for a vote legislation that would fund the Defense Department for the rest of the fiscal year, but keep the rest of the government running only through March 23, setting up a showdown with the Senate.

With the government’s current funding set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Friday, House Republicans are preparing to approve a bill that stands little chance of passing the Senate.

But House GOP lawmakers said Monday night their strategy was the only way they could secure enough votes to pass another short-term spending bill now—and that they expect the bill to change later in the week.

“Everyone understands that this will probably end up being a ping-pong situation” where a bill is bounced between the House and Senate,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R., Fla.) said Monday night as he left the House GOP’s closed-doors meeting. “And we’ll see where the ball lands.”

The House bill would fund the government through March 23, boost spending for the Defense Department for the full fiscal year, which goes through September, and fund community health centers for two years, lawmakers said.

Adding the extra defense money helped win over conservative House Republicans, whose votes will be needed. Most House Democrats are expected to oppose the short-term spending bill until a fight over immigration has been resolved.

“We’re in good shape to be able to pass it with Republican-only votes,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters Monday night.

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Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.)

Senate Democrats support lifting military spending above limits established in the 2011 debt-limit fight, but they have pushed to secure an equal increase in spending for domestic programs in continuing negotiations over a two-year budget deal.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D, N.Y.) said earlier Monday that Democrats wouldn’t support a stopgap spending bill that only provides long-term funding for the military.

Sending a bill to the Senate “that just funded defense and cut programs crucial to the middle class, would be barreling headfirst into a dead end,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor, warning that it could “jeopardize the positive discussions going on right now about the budget, immigration, disaster aid and more.”

Few lawmakers expect this week’s spending fight to culminate in a repeat of last month’s three-day partial government shutdown. But the week’s trajectory remains uncertain, largely because congressional leaders appear to be closing in on a long-term budget deal that has eluded them for months.

“Serious, bipartisan negotiations continue on long-term spending levels, along with other important issues,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said on the Senate floor Monday. “I am optimistic these talks will bear fruit.”

If congressional leaders do reach an agreement this week to lift both military and domestic spending for two years, that could ease the concerns of many Republicans who want to provide more stable funding to the Defense Department.

And some Senate Democrats, many of whom had hoped to use their leverage on spending bills to secure an agreement on immigration, are starting to view the two issues as separate. As part of the agreement to reopen the government last month, Mr. McConnell agreed to bring an immigration bill to the Senate floor under a process that would be fair and neutral to both parties.

“I’m open to taking a look at a budget deal on its own,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) said Monday.

Lawmakers are negotiating in both chambers over how to address the fate of Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. at a young age. President Donald Trump in September ended the Obama-era program shielding them from deportation, but gave Congress until March 5 to pass a replacement.

It isn’t clear how many House Democrats would support a spending agreement if Congress hasn’t yet passed any legal protections for the Dreamers, which many have said must be done first.

And conservatives are likely to balk at a budget deal that would significantly raise federal spending levels, though Mr. Meadows said it would depend on the specifics.

“If you plus up the size of government substantially, it certainly loses some conservative support,” he said.

If a two-year budget agreement isn’t reached this week, the Senate could vote to strip out the additional defense funding and return the bill back to the House.

The chamber is expected to adjourn for the House Democrats’ annual policy retreat on Wednesday afternoon, but lawmakers said they would expect to remain in town or return to Washington should they need to vote again on a modified spending bill to avoid another shutdown.

Write to Kristina Peterson at

Senate Democrats’ Vote to End Shutdown Infuriates Some on the Left

January 23, 2018

WASHINGTON — The decision by Senate Democrats to end the government shutdown on Monday in exchange for a promised immigration vote enraged liberals, who accused the lawmakers of betrayal and threatened to mount primaries against some of the Democrats who voted yes.

Regardless of what happens in the Senate, progressive and immigrant advocacy groups said House Republican leaders will never take up a bill that would offer legal status to young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children without excruciating concessions on other immigration issues. They accused Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and moderate Democratic senators of capitulating to protect senators up for re-election in November in Republican-leaning states.

“They blinked because they’ll always put the party and the success of the party first,” said Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez of Illinois, one of the leading Democratic advocates for immigrants, complaining that Hispanics got short shrift. “It’s the one word they know in Spanish: mañana.”

The hasty retreat by 33 Senate Democrats was particularly humiliating in the immediate aftermath of the anniversary of the Women’s March, which saw thousands of activists reconvene in cities across the country to protest against President Trump and congressional Republicans. Liberal groups such as began urging members to sign up on Monday for rallies aimed at pressuring Republicans to protect the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.

By noon, their own ostensible allies in Congress had buckled.

“The grass-roots are rightly furious with a slew of elected Democrats,” said Ben Wikler, the Washington director of “In the Obama years, Republicans learned to be more afraid of primary challenges than general elections. But Democrats are still operating as though the Tea Party is more powerful than The Resistance.”

The anger on the left was reminiscent of conservative unrest that fueled primary race challenges against sitting Republican senators accused of appeasing an opposition president, Barack Obama, and his congressional allies.

Mr. Schumer, determined to keep the fissures in his party coalition muted, used a meeting of Senate Democrats before the vote to urge the liberals in his caucus not to criticize those voting to reopen the government, according to one senator who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

And for the most part, the liberal senators who opposed the agreement held their fire. Democrats have largely avoided the internal insurrections that upended Republicans over the past decade. Mr. Schumer is not a figure of derision on the left as Mr. McConnell is on the right.

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