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The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump lauds tariffs on China while backtracking from more

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Happy Wednesday! Our newsletter gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Co-creators are Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver (CLICK HERE to subscribe!). On Twitter, find us at @asimendinger and @alweaver22.

President Trump on Tuesday talked up the economy and his tariffs on Chinese imports, telling a Pennsylvania audience that he brought the U.S. steel industry back from the grave.


During a 67-minute speech at a petrochemical plant near Pittsburgh, the president told workers dressed in yellow vests and hard hats that his tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from China increased the market for American steel, reviving U.S. manufacturing.


“Steel was dead. Your business was dead,” he told his audience, “and now your business is thriving.”


The president’s scattershot and improvised remarks – a stream-of-consciousness performance that interrupted his New Jersey vacation this week – took place hours after the administration backtracked on Trump’s threat to add new tariffs to additional categories of Chinese goods by Sept. 1.


Worried about a slowing economy, a struggling manufacturing sector and the imperative of continued U.S. consumer spending, the administration said Chinese exports subject to additional 10 percent tariffs will get a reprieve or be exempted for at least four months. The action cheered financial markets (CNBC).


Trump’s decision to defer new punishment until after the bulk of the U.S. holiday shopping season reflects mounting fears that the trade war could choke off economic expansion — and that it will not be resolved anytime soon ( The Hill).


“We’re doing this for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers,” the president said.


Although the visit to Monaca, Pa., was billed as an official event paid for by the taxpayers, it was by any other appraisal a reelection rally in which Trump derided former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who are currently competing for the chance to try to unseat him.  


The Hill: Trump blasts news media, Biden, Warren in Pennsylvania.


Trump reminisced that he won Beaver County, Pa., by 28 points in 2016, when in fact he beat Hillary Clinton by 18.5 points, according to local election officials. He confided to his audience that his campaign “just got numbers in Florida,” adding without describing his internal polling that the results were better than he expected.


He said he has always loved “trucks” and “cranes,” but doesn’t like windmills. He’s wealthy, but complained the presidency is costing him $3 billion to $5 billion (billion, with a “b”) in legal fees. And at 2:41 p.m., the president gazed toward the rear of the room and said, “That’s a lot of people back there for like an 11 o’clock speech.”


Trump’s skimming on and off his teleprompter presented a narrative of fact and fiction along with musings about the past more than pledges for the future. The president narrowly won Pennsylvania in 2016 and he worries that Biden, born in Scranton and well known in the state, could make it tough if the former vice president is the Democratic nominee.


Of late, Trump has taken aim at Biden’s age, his mental acuity, his stamina and his long habit while in politics of misspeaking, often in tangled sentence fragments.


The Washington Post: Do Biden’s gaffes pale in comparison to things Trump says?


The New York Times: At chemical plant under construction, Trump builds list of grievances.


In the course of an hour, the president managed to deliver a message of economic renewal he wanted western Pennsylvania supporters to remember on Election Day:


This would’ve never happened without me.”





POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: 2020 Democrats are taking a page out of the president’s playbook as they look for a leg up in the race for the party’s nomination: taking shots at the media.


As Jonathan Easley reports, Democratic presidential candidates are airing their grievances against the media over what they view as unfair coverage. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has led the way. His accused the The Washington Post of bias and voiced complaints about Amazon and Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO who also owns the newspaper.


The Post maintains that Bezos has no influence over day-to-day editorial decisions, but Sanders hasn’t limited his barbs at the Bezos-owned publication, similarly going after The New York Times for their campaign coverage. 


Sanders is by no means the only Democrat to lodge complaints. Other campaigns, including those of former Vice President Joe Biden and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) have also vented frustration with what they view as a focus on trivial gaffes or an obsession with horse race politics over substantial policies. 


The rhetoric from the Democratic contenders comes after years of defending the news media from attacks against Trump, which Democrats have described as an assault on First Amendment rights and an undermining of public trust in an institution they have described as one of the pillars of democracy.


Dan Balz: For Joe Biden, some lessons from Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign?


David Ignatius: Democrats need to stop running scared on foreign policy.





> September debate: Another Democrat has qualified partly for the September debate stage. Tom Steyer, the billionaire entrepreneur and climate change activist, revealed on Tuesday that he has reached the requisite 130,000 individual donors needed for inclusion for the next round of debates. 


Steyer gained more than 48,000 donors in the last week alone as he aggressively spent on digital advertising after joining the race just over a month ago. Democrats have until Aug. 28 to qualify for the debates on Sept. 12 and 13 in Houston. 


Steyer, who has been a vocal proponent of impeaching the president, is also on the cusp of qualifying with polling. He has hit 2 percent in three separate polls, needing one more to qualify. Nine candidates have already reached the donor and polling threshold and will partake in the debate, with Steyer and two others — former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — reaching the donor prerequisite (The Hill).


FiveThirtyEight: Who will make the debate stage in September and who might miss it?


The Hill: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock knocks DNC rules after Steyer reaches donor threshold for fall debates.


The Hill: Julián Castro buys ‘Fox & Friends’ ad to send ‘message’ to Trump on El Paso shooting.


> Hickenlooper out?: After months of struggling to gain traction in the 2020 Democratic race, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is looking seriously at dropping his presidential bid and launching one for the Senate instead.


As Reid Epstein reports for The New York Times


“Mr. Hickenlooper, who is mired at the bottom of public polling of the presidential race, hopped into Senator Michael Bennet’s car on Friday night in this Northern Iowa town to discuss his impending decision, said Democrats familiar with the discussion, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe confidential talks.”


“Officials who have been in discussions with the Hickenlooper campaign said Tuesday that the former two-term governor is giving serious consideration to switching to the Senate race but stressed that a final decision has not yet been made. Short of a massive change in political momentum, Mr. Hickenlooper is certain to fail to qualify for the next round of presidential debates in September, an additional blow to a campaign struggling to attract attention and financial contributions.”


A Hickenlooper Senate run would be a boon to national Democrats and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has lobbied Hickenlooper to make the move to run against Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is viewed as one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans up for reelection next year.


Bloomberg: Republican donors told to wait as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo considers Kansas Senate run.


The New York Times: Stacey Abrams will not run for president in 2020, focusing instead on fighting voter suppression.


Elsewhere on the political scene … Former Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) is making a trip to New Hampshire this week as he looks at potentially launching a primary bid against Trump. Sanford left for the first-in-the-nation primary state on Tuesday and is expected to hold meetings with key activists as he considers a bid, which he would center on spending and fiscal responsibility (The Associated Press) … Former MLB pitcher Curt Schilling is considering a run for Congress in Arizona, and captured encouragement from Trump, who tweeted news of a potential run by the former Philadelphia Phillies starter is “terrific!” (The Hill).




CONGRESS: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and a handful of House Democrats returned to Washington on Tuesday to pressure Senate Republican leaders to take up gun reform legislation following a string of deadly mass shootings around the country. 


Tuesday’s event in the Capitol highlights a major challenge facing the Democratic gun reformers: how to maintain enough pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Republicans to act on the issue in September, even against the backdrop of the long summer break and a frenetic news cycle. Lawmakers are slated to be out of town until Sept. 9, and McConnell closed the door last week on the possibility of returning to town early to work on gun violence legislation. 





Democrats have long fought for an expansion of background checks before gun sales, which passed through the House in February, and they’re hoping the public outcry surrounding back-to-back shootings in El Paso and Ohio will compel Senate Republicans to consider the bill, but they have their work cut out. 


McConnell has been a long-time opponent of Second Amendment restrictions, including the background check expansion, but he did mention background checks and “red flag” laws as two areas they will examine over the next month before lawmakers return to Washington (The Hill). 


While it remains unpopular in Republican circles, Democrats have been vocal in support of enacting a ban on sales of assault weapons, particularly those in the House and among 2020 Democrats. 


Biden has been front-and-center of that argument, including in an op-ed in The New York Times on Monday, pointing to his work to pass the 1994 assault weapons ban (The Hill). 


WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons on Tuesday to temporarily reassign the warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York to the bureau’s Northeast Regional Office pending the outcome of the FBI and inspector general investigations into the apparent suicide of Jeffrey Epstein, 66, over the weekend. Two corrections officers on duty when Epstein died allegedly fell asleep and are suspected of falsifying records. They were placed on leave (The New York Times) … The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office has not released findings from Epstein’s autopsy, conducted Sunday (The Associated Press) … Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wants the government to “rip up” the non-prosecution agreement reached with Epstein in 2008 to uncover more information about “co-conspirators” who allegedly helped a sexual predator break the law (The Hill). And federal officials face intense pressure to explain events as conspiracy theories multiply on social media (The Hill) … The New York Fire Department is probing how details of Epstein’s death appeared in the online message board 4chan about 40 minutes before the news of his death broke, and whether a paramedic was the tipster (The New York Post). …  Mark Epstein, the younger brother of the multimillionaire, is in the public eye because of his business ties to his sibling and the prospect that he might eventually inherit his assets (The Daily Beast).


> U.S. budget flows red: The government collected $2.9 trillion in receipts thus far in this fiscal year, which is a 3 percent increase. However, it spent 8 percent more than it took in, leaving a sea of red ink. The gap widened 27 percent in the first 10 months of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30 (The Wall Street Journal). Congress and the president completed a two-year budget framework along with a hike in the nation’s borrowing limit before the August recess, meaning few in Washington are disposed to wring their hands about deficit spending until after the 2020 election.


> Defense: Mark Esper just completed his first international trip as Defense secretary and was well received on the international stage. He believes North Korea’s missile tests are likely to continue, and despite Kim Jong Un’s objections, joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea will remain in place, he said. Ellen Mitchell rounds up takeaways from the trip (The Hill).

The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: and We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!


The truth about suicide behind bars is knowable, by Five Omar Mualimm-Ak and Homer Venters, opinion contributors, The Hill. 


Democrats’ worst scenario: Nominating an uncompetitive far-left candidate, by J.T. Young, opinion contributor, The Hill. 


Hill.TV’s “Rising” at 9 a.m. EDT features U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services acting Director Ken Cuccinelli, on the administration’s newest immigration restrictions on green cards and citizenship; Steven Greenhouse, former New York Times labor reporter, discussing his book “Beaten Down, Worked Up,” and Richard Hasen, law and political science professor at the University of California-Irvine, an expert in campaign finance issues. Find Hill.TV programming at or on YouTube at 10 a.m.


The House and Senate continue to meet in pro forma sessions but are not scheduled to return for votes until Sept. 9. 


The president is on a working vacation in New Jersey and has no public events today.


Pompeo will officiate at the swearing-in ceremony for David Satterfield as U.S. Ambassador to Turkey at 11:00 a.m.


Hong Kong: Flights restarted at the Hong Kong airport today as pro-democracy protesters apologized after violence erupted on Tuesday when riot police clashed with young demonstrators. Footage of the confrontations dominated media coverage and led to a series of statements from U.S. lawmakers from both parties warning China against escalating the confrontation (The Hill). Trump on Tuesday described it as a “tough” situation and urged calm, but said nothing publicly about how China should respond (The Hill). Five people were detained in the latest disturbances, bringing the number of arrests since the protests began in June to more than 600 (Reuters). China today compared the demonstrators to “terrorists.”





Sexual harassment: Plácido Domingo, 78, one of the most celebrated and powerful artists in opera, attempted to pressure women into sexual relationships by dangling jobs and then sometimes punishing the women professionally when they refused his advances, numerous accusers told The Associated Press. “The allegations from these unnamed individuals dating back as many as thirty years are deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate,” Domingo said in a statement. “Still, it is painful to hear that I may have upset anyone or made them feel uncomfortable — no matter how long ago and despite my best intentions. I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual.” … The AP report prompted two music companies to cancel appearances by Domingo and the Los Angeles Opera said on Tuesday it will launch an investigation.


State Watch: A coalition of 29 states and cities on Tuesday sued to block the Trump administration from easing restrictions on coal-burning power plants. The lawsuit, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, argued the Environmental Protection Agency had no basis for weakening an Obama-era regulation that set the first-ever national limits on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants (The New York Times) … Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses — a huge draw for candidates, campaign teams, journalists and politically-minded tourists — have little impact on the Hawkeye State’s economy during election cycles, economists say (The Hill). 


Tech: Facebook paid hundreds of outside contractors to transcribe snippets of audio from users of its services, although the contractors say they do not know the origin of the audio, how it was obtained or why the company wants it transcribed (Bloomberg).


And finally … We’re applauding a spirit of generosity this summer in Georgia. Grant Rivera, school superintendent in Marietta donated his $10,000 bonus to help youngsters in his school district afford college applications. According to CNN, Grant requested in his contract that any bonus he received be repurposed to benefit students and subsequently began working with the college adviser and scholarship coordinator at Marietta High School to come up with the best way his bonus could support college access.


“When a student applies to college early action or early decision, we know that a student has greater opportunity for both college acceptance and financial aid,” Rivera said. “I want to leverage my bonus to motivate and support students who might not otherwise have the opportunity for college access.”




Tags Ben Sasse Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Cory Gardner Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Jeff Bezos Joe Biden John Hickenlooper Mark Esper Mark Sanford Michael Bennet Mike Pompeo Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Steny Hoyer Steve Bullock Tom Steyer Tulsi Gabbard William Barr

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