The Hill's Morning Report — Trump buys more time on Mexico and China

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE on Thursday extended his own timelines for a crackdown on the U.S. border with Mexico and completion of a trade deal with China, underscoring the volatility of his rhetoric and ambition when it comes to international relations.

The president retreated from recent threats to close the United States’ southern border, telling reporters he will grant the Mexican government another year to block migrant caravans and drug trafficking before deciding whether to levy a different punishment, which he described as 25 percent tariffs on Mexican cars coming into the United States (The Hill).

“The only thing, frankly, better and less drastic than closing the border is tariff the cars coming in, and I will do it,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t play games.”

The New York Times: Trump gives Mexico a one-year warning.

The president said he believed Mexico, fearing he would follow through and close U.S. border entry, heeded his warnings in the last week and deported or expelled migrants from Central American countries moving across its own southern border.

“Mexico took a big chunk of our car business, which I don’t like,” the president added. “I don’t think we’ll ever have to close the border [because] tariffs would be massive.”

Analysts said auto tariffs with Mexico pose two challenges for U.S. policy, if Trump follows through early in 2020. First, tariffs would result in higher costs for U.S. consumers and for U.S. and European automakers. And second, 25 percent tariffs would likely breach the terms of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, which Trump embraces as a replacement for the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. The USMCA, as he calls it, already faces headwinds in Congress where ratification is the next step.

On trade with China, Trump said completion of a “comprehensive” deal with Beijing requires at least another month to six weeks of negotiations and that no summit meeting with President Xi Jinping of China will happen until a deal is reached. Previously, Trump indicated he wanted to close the deal with Xi himself, possibly at Mar-a-Lago this month or next.

Because China’s top trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, met with senior U.S. officials and the president on Thursday at the White House, expectations rose that Trump would announce a summit date with Xi as a signal that major progress was achieved after months of back-and-forth negotiations (The Los Angeles Times).

“This is an epic deal, historic, if it happens,” the president told reporters. “Some of the toughest things have been agreed to,” he said, but confirmed that enforcement provisions remain a sticking point with China. “We have some ways to go.”

By extending border brinksmanship with Mexico into 2020 and emphasizing a tough stance with China over trade and intellectual property this year, Trump continues to inject border and trade themes into his reelection messaging even in the absence of tangible results.

Indeed, he flies to Calexico, Calif., today to inspect a partially renovated section of border wall.

There is one complication, however, in publicly decrying a surge of migrants, asylum seekers and illegal drugs across the southern border against the backdrop of a national emergency declaration, while also granting Mexico a grace period of a year before taking other dramatic steps.

Trump’s emergency decision to carve out military appropriations to build a border wall has been challenged in court, and opponents dispute the legal underpinnings of the president’s end-run around Congress. Deciding against steps such as closing the border or levying tariffs for a year could be used by Trump’s opponents as evidence that a current national security emergency is merely a political prop.

On Thursday, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCutting tariffs is better than cutting payroll taxes to boost the economy Pelosi speaks with Israeli president after Trump controversy In debate over internet speech law, pay attention to whose voices are ignored MORE (D-Calif.) announced the House would file suit to challenge Trump’s determination, which he made under provisions of the National Emergencies Act. 

"The president's action clearly violates the Appropriations Clause by stealing from appropriated funds, an action that was not authorized by constitutional or statutory authority," the Speaker said in a statement that Republicans likewise pointed to as political stagecraft.



CONGRESS: With House Democrats ratcheting up the pressure on Trump to release years of tax returns, the focus is turning to one Cabinet member who will have some say: Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week Democrats push judge for quick action on Trump tax returns lawsuit Five key players in Trump's trade battles MORE.


As Naomi Jagoda and Sylvan Lane report, Mnuchin, who has been one of the president’s most loyal Cabinet allies for more than two years, could play a key role in protecting the president from Democrats’ long-promised pursuit of the returns, which Trump declined to release during his 2016 campaign. In recent days, the president has used the same line of defense: The returns are under audit and he is still not “inclined” to release them.




Not only has Mnuchin defended the president in most policy disputes, but also over his personal conduct when others wouldn’t go that far. Now, he is faced with a big test after the tax return request from House Democrats, as he will have to balance his loyalty to the president against a legislative request pegged to a statute that provides little wiggle room.


Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealDemocrats push judge for quick action on Trump tax returns lawsuit Trump argues NY tax return case should take place in DC NY files motion to keep Trump tax returns lawsuit out of DC court MORE (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, requested six years of returns through an avenue granted only to tax-writing committees in Congress that allows them to request tax information about any filer. He gave the IRS until April 10 to comply with the request.


Trump is almost certain to challenge the committee, and Republicans by and large have his back, with Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyRepublicans' rendezvous with reality — their plan is to cut Social Security The Social Security 2100 Act is critical for millennials and small business owners House panel releases documents of presidential tax return request before Trump MORE (R-Texas), the top GOP tax-writer in the House, calling it a Democratic attempt to embarrass a political foe.


> According to reporting by Morgan Chalfant, Olivia Beavers and Mike Lillis, House Democrats have sensed an opening late this week after reading a pair of articles in which some on special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE’s team are said to be frustrated with the Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrBarr says he has seen 'nothing' to undercut Epstein autopsy findings Prosecutors are mainly to blame for the criminal justice crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes MORE’s summary of the investigation’s findings. After The New York Times and The Washington Post reported anonymously sourced criticisms, Democrats sharpened their calls for the release of the full report, which is not expected from Barr until mid-April at the earliest.


> On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Democrats are pushing back against demands from influential progressives that they respond in kind against Senate Republicans after they invoked the “nuclear option” to approve hundreds of Trump nominees with the help of reduced requirements for debate.


As Jordain Carney reports, Democrats are brushing off progressive demands that they play hardball after Republicans invoked the "nuclear option" for a second time in as many years. Democrats are under pressure to hit back at Republicans, including calls for them not to return their “blue slips” on lower-court district nominees. But senators warn the tactics would backfire because it would result in blocking judges that Democrats would otherwise support.


POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Giuliani says he discussed Biden with Ukrainian official MORE has encouraged many former colleagues and high-profile Democrats to come to his aid in recent days as he became embroiled in a nearly week-long slog of allegations and complaints from women describing inappropriate or uncomfortable physical contact he initiated, often in public. However, one prominent Democrat remained silent: Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump has 62 percent disapproval rating in new AP poll Rising Warren faces uphill climb with black voters Obama explains decision to get into movie business: 'We all have a sacred story' MORE.


As Amie Parnes and Max Greenwood report, people close to the former president believe he stands behind Biden amid the allegations from four women. Despite the private support for his longtime friend, Obama has not commented publicly.



Obama is not expected to endorse any candidate in the 2020 contest until the primary is over. Biden is not officially in the race but is expected to announce his candidacy this month. According to The New York Times, the former vice president’s allies are hoping Obama will “speak favorably” about Biden’s service and experience.


In the meantime, Obama has met with and counseled a number of candidates in the nascent 2020 race, including Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Rising Warren faces uphill climb with black voters Inslee drops out of 2020 presidential race MORE (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Sanders targets gig economy as part of new labor plan MORE (D-N.J.), Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKrystal Ball: Elites have chosen Warren as The One; Lauren Claffey: Is AOC wrong about the Electoral College? Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster MORE (D-Mass.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate National poll finds tight race between Biden, Sanders and Warren MORE (D).


Biden will speak this morning in Washington to a construction and maintenance conference of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.


Associated Press: Biden to make 1st appearance since complaints about behavior


“Biden allies insist the eruption has done little to slow down planning for a 2020 campaign. Barring the unforeseen, he is expected to announce his candidacy, perhaps online, after Easter and immediately embark on a trip to early voting caucus and primary states. Those stops would be followed by a ceremonial kickoff.  Advisers say they are working to build out a robust campaign staff, including operatives in Iowa and South Carolina, states that are seen as key to his path to the nomination. Women are being considered for key roles, including senior strategist and deputy campaign manager, according to advisers, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the planning publicly.”


Jennifer Palmieri, TIME: I worked with Joe Biden. Here’s what you need to know about the frontrunner myth.


Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal : If Biden runs, they’ll tear him up


> The 2020 Democratic field is expected to grow again next week as Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Inslee drops out of 2020 presidential race Hickenlooper ends presidential bid MORE (D-Calif.), a fourth-term congressman, is expected to announce his intentions on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. According to The Atlantic, Swalwell is not expected to center his candidacy around his work on the House Intelligence Committee and the findings or fallout from the various Russia probes, but rather on gun control. He plans a town hall gathering in Coral Springs, Fla., next week.




On Thursday, Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanBiden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report Tim Ryan jokes he's having 'dance-off' with Andrew Yang The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE (D-Ohio) announced his 2020 candidacy, which he will launch this week with trips to Ohio and New Hampshire.


> Deputies of the president are encouraging Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzCapitol Police advised Gaetz against holding open events I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Gaetz cleared by Florida Bar after Cohen tweet probe MORE (R-Fla.), who represents a large part of the Florida Panhandle, to pick up and move north to Alabama to take on Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) next year in what is considered a top GOP pick-up opportunity.


As reported by Scott Wong, Gaetz, one of the president’s top loyalists and preeminent defenders on Capitol Hill, has considered the move as recently as Thursday.  Republicans roundly believe this is their best chance at picking off an incumbent Democrat, especially with Trump on top of the ticket in the deep-red state. Buoying Gaetz, 36, are campaign laws in the state, including a one-day residency requirement.


The top Republican in the race currently is Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneGOP Senate candidate 'pissed off' at Trump over health care for veterans House GOP fears retirement wave will lead to tsunami Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess MORE (R-Ala.), a third-term lawmaker who raised $1.2 million in the first quarter. He has $2 million in cash on hand.


One Alabama Republican dismissed a possible Gaetz run across the state line, along with his chances. They noted that he has no connection to Alabama and has just $150,000 in his campaign coffers.


“I was debating a ‘who?’ or just sending the mugshot,” the Alabama Republican said of Gaetz, pointing to his 2008 DUI arrest, although he wasn’t charged. “There’s one person in Alabama that could lose to Doug Jones — Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreGOP Senate candidate 'pissed off' at Trump over health care for veterans Durbin says he has second thoughts about asking for Franken's resignation Alabama GOP senate candidate says 'homosexual activities' have ruined TV, country's moral core MORE. There’s a lot of people in Florida that could lose to him though, including Matt Gaetz.”


In other political news … Biden was spotted with a film crew in Scranton, Pa., outside his childhood home (WNEP) … New Hampshire is expected to take center stage this weekend with number of candidates slated to appear, including Booker, Buttigieg, Swalwell, Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program Sanders targets gig economy as part of new labor plan Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries Biden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report MORE (D-Colo.) (Paul Steinhauser).

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America’s universities are finally waking up to the China threat, by Josh Rogin, The Washington Post.

Sure, let’s make the Senate less deliberative, by The New York Times editorial board.



The House meets at noon on April 8. 

The Senate meets at 4 p.m. on April 8.

The president flies to Calexico, Calif., to tour a section of border wall and talk to law enforcement and homeland security officials. He then travels to Los Angeles and headlines a roundtable and joint fundraising dinner hosted in Beverly Hills by health care executive Lee Samson (CBS News and TMZ). Trump then flies to Las Vegas, where he remains overnight and then speaks on Saturday at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting, joined by the vice president.

Vice President Pence flies from Indianapolis to Houston this morning with second lady Karen PenceKaren Sue PencePence on battling critics: 'Spend more time on your knees than on the internet' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Acosta resigns amid controversy over Epstein plea deal The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives MORE to visit a Homeland Security Investigations facility and to be briefed on conditions at the U.S. southern border. Later, Pence speaks at Rice University’s Baker Institute of Public Policy to discuss conditions in Venezuela and to reinforce U.S. opposition to the government of Nicolas Maduro. From there, the vice president will travel to College Station, Texas, to participate in a program honoring the late President George H.W. Bush at the presidential library he founded. The Pences will spend the night in Las Vegas.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its employment report for March at 8:30 a.m., which analysts expect will clarify that February’s lower-than-expected jobs data was a fluke (Reuters).Jobless claims data released on Thursday were at a half-century low, which cheered markets and analysts. But a private-sector report said job layoffs spiked to the highest level seen at the start of a year in at least a decade (CNBC).


Boeing: “Erroneous” data contributed to a pair of Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashes that resulted in the deaths of 346 people, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg conceded on Thursday in a video. “It’s apparent that in both flights the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, activated in response to erroneous angle of attack information,” he said, acknowledging that it was the company's responsibility to resolve issues with the system (The Hill). The crashes have left the world’s largest planemaker in crisis (Reuters).

Federal Reserve: President Trump on Thursday said Herman Cain, a former pizza executive and 2012 Republican presidential candidate known at that time for his “nine-nine-nine” tax plan, is in “good shape” for nomination to a Fed board seat (The Hill). In selecting Cain, Trump seeks to shake up the Fed (The Wall Street Journal). He recently tapped another unconventional Fed pick, economist and frequent cable television pundit Stephen Moore, whose personal financial clashes with the IRS and his ex-wife attracted recent headlines (CNBC). The Senate must confirm the nominees.  

Catholic Church: To address upheaval caused by clerical sexual abuse scandals, Pope Francis named Atlanta’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory as archbishop of Washington, D.C. Gregory, 71, the only living archbishop who is black, succeeds Cardinal Donald Wuerl, 78, who resigned in October but stayed on for a transition period (The Washington Post).

In the Know: Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker joined lawmakers on Thursday to announce a new initiative to help rebuild communities ravaged by conflict in Africa. The Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative, which he founded, is partnering with the United States African Development Foundation to provide grants and support services to 40 small businesses run mostly by women and young people in South Sudan and Uganda. “The thing is, if we want lasting peace our efforts must go beyond the surfaces of security and violence," Whitaker said, "by bringing communities to speak out on their own." (The Hill).



And finally … Kudos to winners of this week’s Morning Report quiz. The puzzle this week was inspired by the 40th anniversary of the movie “Alien,” and these moviegoers aced the questions: Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: Insurance lobby chief calls Biden, Sanders health plans 'similarly bad' | Trump officials appeal drug price disclosure ruling | Study finds 1 in 7 people ration diabetes medicine due to cost Collins downplays 2020 threat: 'Confident' reelection would go well if she runs Cook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' MORE (not Maine’s senator!), Grant Froelich, Joel Punausuia, Milt Mungo, Luther Berg, Rick Mito, Ian Jackson, Patrick S. Randall and Kane Martin.

They knew that Ridley Scott directed 1979’s “Alien,” which, by the way, he originally envisioned as a kind of space-based “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

The writers named the “Alien” spaceship Nostromo.

The extraterrestrial in “Alien” had acid for blood, a plot invention to help explain why the Nostromo crew did not shoot the creature in some camera shots. 

“Alien” took place in 2122. (FYI, this was tricky for readers, many of whom thought the correct answer might be “unspecified future.”)

The memorably gory scene in which an astronaut’s chest explodes as an alien hatches from its host was inspired by the life cycles of certain wasps.