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 TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' 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 PompeoGrassley to administration: You must consult Congress on refugee cap Graham knocks South Korea over summit with North Shrapnel in Yemen strikes links US-made bombs to 63 civilian deaths: report 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 SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh and his accuser will testify publicly Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems Trump to declassify controversial text messages, documents related to Russia probe 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: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes Mattis dismisses reports of his exit: 'I love it here' Publisher says Woodward book sales largest in its history 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.


LEADING THE DAY

 

POLITICS:

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 McConnellSanders hits Feinstein over Kavanaugh allegations: Now it’s clear why she did nothing for months On The Money: Senate approves 4B spending bill | China imposes new tariffs on billion in US goods | Ross downplays new tariffs: 'Nobody's going to actually notice' McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal 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) MenendezDems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints Dem senators introduce resolution calling on Trump to stop attacking the press Booming economy has Trump taking a well-deserved victory lap MORE, up for reelection, and Democrats yawn.

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

STEEL, ALUMINUM TARIFFS:

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.


IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES


➔ WOLF HOWLS:

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 SpicerSpicer: People at White House are 'burnt out' Spicer: On-camera briefings have become 'grandstanding' opportunity for reporters Photographer cropped inauguration photos to make crowd look larger after Trump intervention: report 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.

➔ SENATE:

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP candidate scores upset win in Texas state Senate runoff McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal Cornyn takes on O'Rourke over AR-15s 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) TesterCBS Poll: Missouri, Montana Senate races in dead heats Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski Watchdog groups to file complaint against Montana candidate alleging coordination with NRA 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.

➔ HOUSE:

More fallout for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCorey Stewart fires aide who helped bring far-right ideas to campaign: report GOP super PAC hits Randy Bryce with ad starring his brother Super PACs spend big in high-stakes midterms 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.

➔ ADMINISTRATION:

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGowdy requests FEMA administrator’s travel records amid allegations Nunes: Russia probe documents should be released before election Gowdy: House Intel panel should release all transcripts from Russia probe MORE (R-S.C.) is ramping up his investigation into the spending and misconduct allegations against Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas EPA inspector general to resign Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog says agency failed to properly monitor asbestos at schools| Watchdog won’t investigate former Superfund head’s qualifications| Florence causes toxic coal ash spill in North Carolina 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.


OPINION


Former DNI James ClapperJames Robert ClapperRetired admiral resigned from Pentagon advisory committee after writing open letter to Trump Hillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law Former NSA chief breaks with other ex-intel officials over Brennan letter MORE’s actions look like political manipulation, by Jonathan Turley, opinion contributor with The Hill.  https://bit.ly/2FpsYlG

 

Justice Kennedy, please stay. America needs you, by The New York Times editorial board. https://nyti.ms/2JFteQa

WHERE AND WHEN

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 MnuchinTrump announces tariffs on 0B in Chinese goods Trump: China tariff announcement to come Monday afternoon Trump could hit China with tariffs of 0 billion as soon as Monday 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.


ELSEWHERE

STATE WATCH:

> 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 BluntMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow 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)

THE CLOSER

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.”