The Hill's Morning Report: Can Trump close the deal with North Korea?



Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report, and happy end-of-April! This daily email, a successor to The Hill’s Tipsheet, is reported by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger to get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch.  (CLICK HERE to subscribe!)

High Stakes:

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE and North Korean president Kim Jong Un are hurtling toward a historic encounter against a backdrop of tentative optimism about a peace deal on the Korean Peninsula.

The New York Times: North Korea says it will abandon its nuclear weapons and will agree to formally end the Korean war if the U.S. promises not to invade.

The Wall Street Journal: North Korea to shut down nuclear test site in May.

Verification before trust:

Top Trump advisers insist U.S. strategy is driven by North Korea’s actions, not words.

“We've heard this before. This is the North Korean propaganda playbook … What we want to see from them is evidence that it's real and not just rhetoric.” – National security adviser John Bolton on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

While saying an outcome is uncertain, Trump’s team argues the president’s tough posture toward North Korea already delivered in ways that eluded his predecessors.

“We’re going to negotiate in a different way than has been done before. … President Trump and that pressure campaign are the reasons Kim Jong Un wants this meeting. It’s the objective of our administration to achieve the outcome.” — Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo: Talks with North Korea on returning war dead ‘productive and cooperative’ Trump: Why isn’t ‘fake news’ talking about North Korea? Trump’s arms export rules will undermine US security and risk human rights abuses MORE on ABC’s “This Week.”

The Memo: Korean thaw gives Trump a boost.

Reuters: North Korean media hails historic summit with South Korea as Trump presses for full denuclearization.

Some Democrats say the president’s unconventional approach to eliminating North Korea’s nuclear capability appears to be working.

“I think it’s more than fair to say that the combination of the president’s unpredictability and bellicosity had something to do with the North Koreans deciding to come to the table.” — Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffRussians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit Schiff expects Trump to take 'disastrous approach' on meddling in meeting with Putin Sunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin MORE (D-Calif). on ABC's "This Week."

Nonetheless, the administration maintains the U.S. will not get played before or during a Trump-Kim summit, which is expected to take place in late May or early June.

“We'll see how things go. I don't have a crystal ball. I can tell you we are optimistic right now that there's opportunity here that we have never enjoyed since 1950.” – Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Fears rise over Trump-Putin summit | McCain presses Trump to hold Putin 'accountable' for hacking | Pentagon does damage control after NATO meet Mattis doesn't mention Russia by name at meeting with Balkan officials: report Trump references ‘legitimate media and fake-news media’ at meeting with NATO leader MORE.

The Hill: Historic Korean summit sets high bar for Trump.

Related in Iran … does the U.S. honor denuclearization agreements?:

Trump is less than two weeks away from a deadline in which he could pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. As Pompeo left Israel for Jordan on Sunday, Trump spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has lobbied the president to reject the 2015 agreement.


AP: Pompeo, in Tel Aviv, said Trump “directed the administration to try and fix it, and if we can’t fix it, he’s going to withdraw from the deal.




The New York Times has a fascinating story about Trump’s view of the 2018 midterm elections, which most analysts agree will be a monumentally difficult cycle for Republicans.

One takeaway from the article: Congressional leaders and White House aides are warning the president that Republicans will lose the House in 2018 and it’s possible that they could lose the Senate, too.

            “That’s not going to happen,” the president told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh gets questionnaires for confirmation hearing Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Ky.) and White House legislative director Marc Short, according to the Times.

The Washington Post: Democrats were looking at suburban districts. Now they’re glancing toward rural ones too.

The lobbying firm CGCN Group emails clients: “Republicans are headed for a tough midterm election … It’s normal that sitting presidents lose many seats in midterm elections … Democratic voters continue to express significantly more interest in the upcoming midterms … enthusiasm gap compounded by the retirements of 46 House Republicans.”

Look for Trump to campaign much more in Senate races, particularly in states he won easily in 2016. He won’t be stumping for House Republicans in swing districts.

The Hill: Trump: If Dems win 2018 midterm elections they’ll impeach me.

The Washington Post: Little known GOP mega-donor sets tone for primaries.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board: Ethics panel rebukes New Jersey Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezCNN anchors break into laughter over comedian's alleged prank call to Trump Comedian claims he tricked Trump while impersonating Dem senator Schumer: Obama 'very amenable' to helping Senate Dems in midterms MORE, up for reelection, and Democrats yawn.

AP: US Border and Customs: no room for asylum seekers who made it to border.


It’s unclear how Trump will navigate the 12:01 a.m. Tuesday deadline he set to apply 25 percent tariffs on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports. The president granted temporary waivers in March to some major trading partners, including Canada, Mexico and the European Union. A last-minute extension of waivers is possible, but leaders in the UK, France and Germany prepared over the weekend to impose retaliatory tariffs.

The E.U. drew up a list of targeted products, focused on inflicting pain in the GOP heartland: recreational power boats made in Tennessee, digital flight recorders made in Arizona, and playing cards made in Kentucky.

But… Trump has to date shrugged off red-state complaints from lawmakers, manufacturers, state officials and his supporters expressing unhappiness with his tariffs policies.


The New York Times: U.S. allies brace for trade war as talks on tariffs stall.



Comedy Central comedian Michelle Wolf prompted anger from the right and from some journalists at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) on Saturday night for her takedowns of Trump, the GOP and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, which were viewed by some as bullying and cruel.

AP: Wolf drew laughs, gasps at correspondents’ dinner.

Politico: Wolf routine stuns at correspondents’ dinner; some Trump loyalists walk out.

C-SPAN: The Hill’s Judy Kurtz, who interviewed Wolf prior to the annual spring dinner, dissected the dust-up with host Steve Scully Sunday… “It’s a really tough balance and I think Michelle Wolf anticipated that.”

Press secretary Sanders earned praise for composure under fire. But some writers argued Wolf never actually skewered Sanders’s appearance (Vulture).

Current and former GOP White House aides said they were livid. Although the WHCA dinner has experienced entertainment controversies before this, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted that White House staffers should stop attending the WHCA dinner. Former association president and Fox News journo Ed Henry called on the WHCA board to apologize to Sanders.


WHCA President Margaret Talev, a White House correspondent for Bloomberg who had hoped to make the evening a nonpartisan celebration of the First Amendment, defended Wolf’s free speech while distancing herself from some of Wolf’s jokes (CNN video). She issued a written statement Sunday night to association members defending the WHCA’s mission and the purpose of the annual dinner. Talev expressed regret that “the entertainer's monologue was not in the spirit of that mission.”

The president volunteered ideas for next year’s entertainer, tweeting, “‪@greggutfeld‪ should host next year!@PeteHegseth,” referring to two of his favorite Fox News personalities. By Sunday night, Trump had more advice: do away with the dinner or “start over.”



And lastly, some miscellaneous dinner chatter beyond that hubbub: Sean SpicerSean Michael SpicerDem lawmaker: Trump finally got his 'largest audience ever' in London protests The dishonesty of the deep state The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies for Putin summit: 'He’s not my enemy’ MORE told us his book “The Briefing” comes out July 24 (Amazon says July 23) and he had just seen the cover art; Chris Christie and wife Mary Pat Christie enthused about life as ex-governor and former first lady of New Jersey. “Any day I only worry about shoveling out my own driveway is a good day,” he told us.


Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Memo: Trump leaves chaos in his wake in UK Beto O'Rourke is dominating Ted Cruz in enthusiasm and fundraising — but he's still headed for defeat GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Texas) is re-emerging as an agitator in the GOP conference, once again questioning McConnell’s strategies. Polls show Cruz has an increasingly difficult reelection fight on his hands against Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas). (The Hill)


Trump unloaded on Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Dems in terrible bind on Kavanaugh nomination Election Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race MORE (D-Mont.) at his Saturday night rally, calling on the senator to resign and hinting that he has dirt on the Montana Democrat. The president is still fuming at Tester for detailing the allegations of drunkenness that derailed White House doctor Ronny Jackson’s nomination to be Veterans Affairs secretary. Tester responded: “It’s my duty to make sure Montana veterans get what they need and have earned, and I’ll never stop fighting for them as their senator.”


Politico: Jackson will not return as Trump’s personal physician; replaced by Navy officer Sean Conley.

The Washington Post: Loyalty alone can earn a nod from Trump, leading to hiring headaches.


More fallout for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders jockey for affection of House conservatives Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump walks back criticism of UK Brexit strategy | McConnell worries US in 'early stages' of trade war | US trade deficit with China hits new record MORE (R-Wis.), who forced the House chaplain, Patrick Conroy, to resign. The Hill’s Scott Wong and Mike Lillis report that the move exposes deep religious fault lines among members of Congress and has injected politics into what has traditionally been a nonpolitical role.

The Hill (op-ed): The next GOP leader needs political acumen and a whole lot more.

Meanwhile, expect Congress to focus heavily on tech and financial issues in the coming weeks.

The Hill: Federal turf war complicates cybersecurity efforts.     

The Hill: Tech relishes role as Trump antagonist.

The Hill: Banks poised to win Dodd-Frank changes.

AP: Sprint and T-Mobile agree to combine in $26.5 billion deal.


House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGowdy rules out Rosenstein impeachment Russians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit Gowdy: I don't think Mueller probe is a witch hunt MORE (R-S.C.) is ramping up his investigation into the spending and misconduct allegations against Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittNew EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt Overnight Energy: House to vote on anti-carbon tax measure | Dem says EPA obstructed 'politically charged' FOIA requests | GOP looks to overhaul endangered species law Top Dem: EPA slowed ‘politically charged’ FOIA requests MORE.

“We got documents Friday. We are scheduling witness interviews.” — Gowdy on CBS’s Face the Nation.

The Hill: EPA inspector general to investigate Pruitt’s condo rental from lobbyist.

The Hill: Pruitt directs aides to approve big expenditures made on his behalf.

Meanwhile, Trump’s nominee to be the next CIA director is looking to head off questioning about her involvement with post-9/11 harsh interrogation techniques ahead of her May 9 hearing.

The Hill: Gina Haspel says she won’t let agency restart interrogation program.

That won’t be enough to satisfy lawmakers, who are digging through confidential documents pertaining to Haspel’s long history as an intelligence official.


Former DNI James ClapperJames Robert ClapperClapper: Trump was serious when he said he wants citizens to act like North Koreans do for Kim Clapper: It's getting 'harder and harder to believe' Trump didn't know about Russia contacts The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Furor grows over child separation policy MORE’s actions look like political manipulation, by Jonathan Turley, opinion contributor with The Hill.


Justice Kennedy, please stay. America needs you, by The New York Times editorial board.


The House and Senate are out this week.


President Trump declared this “Small Business Week.” The president welcomes Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to the White House for a working lunch and joint news conference. Later, Trump will meet with supporters in town for a dinner event.


Vice President Pence is in El Centro, Calif., to receive a briefing on the Calexico border wall system and to speak to U.S. Custom and Border Protection employees. Later, after flying to Burbank, Calif., he’ll spend the evening at a “Protect the House” political event, and overnight in Los Angeles.


Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinMexico's president presses Pompeo on reuniting migrant families Senators seek data on tax law's impact on charitable giving 'Our Cartoon President' takes on Mueller probe, NATO and Melania in second season MORE speaks in Beverly Hills today at noon at the Milken Institute Global Conference (the secretary is scheduled to head to Beijing later in the week for his first visit to China as secretary).


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wraps up a three-day trip that included stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan and returns to Washington today.



> CALIFORNIA – State Republicans hope to motivate conservative voters in a blue state with a push for a gas tax repeal (New York magazine).

> MISSOURI – Scandal-plagued GOP Gov. Eric Greitens poses a PR problem for fellow Republicans in his state. Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntOvernight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Hillicon Valley: DOJ appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | FBI agent testifies in heated hearing | Uproar after FCC changes rules on consumer complaints | Broadcom makes bid for another US company | Facebook under fire over conspiracy sites Hillicon Valley: Justice Department appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | New report on election security | FBI agent testifies in marathon hearing MORE said Sunday it’s not his job to say if the governor should resign. “Voters voted for him. There are two ways to deal with these issues. One is the legal process going on. The other is the legislative process,” Blunt told NBC News (St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

>   OHIO – A narrow special election win for the GOP in Arizona’s 8th District encourages Democrats to look ahead to Ohio’s special election in August (CNN).

> TEXAS – The state’s reworked voter ID law does not discriminate and can stand, a federal appeals court ruled (Dallas Morning News)


And finally… engineering undergrads at Texas’s Rice University created a robotic horse to bolster motion, balance and even children’s speech as a therapeutic, rehabilitative stand-in for patients who don’t have ready access to horses. Check out this video of the mechanical creature nicknamed “Stewie.”