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File photo taken in November 2017 shows U.S. President Donald Trump (and Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a welcome ceremony in Beijing.

Trump stumbles over his confusion about his own trade policy

11/29/18 10:11AM

There was a great moment at a White House press briefing this week, when a reporter asked Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, about Donald Trump's trade policy. "Tariffs are, in effect, are tax on imported products that are paid for by the consumer," a reporter noted. "So does the president realize that these escalated tariffs are going to be paid for by the American citizens?"

Kudlow replied, "Well, look, he realizes the ramifications."

Kudlow couldn't say with a straight face, "Of course the president understands his own trade agenda," because he -- like the rest of us -- knows that plainly isn't true.

And yet, Trump can't seem to stop himself from flaunting his confusion.

A week ago, on Thanksgiving, Trump boasted, "Now, as of already, we're taking in -- right now, we're taking in billions. China is -- people don't understand this: China is right now paying us -- right now, paying us billions of dollars a month. That's never happened before." He repeated the line in separate interviews with the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, and then again this morning in a tweet:

"Billions of Dollars are pouring into the coffers of the U.S.A. because of the Tariffs being charged to China, and there is a long way to go."

I get the sense Trump genuinely believes this, which is a shame because it's ridiculously wrong. As Politico recently explained, "President Donald Trump said Monday that China is paying the U.S. billions of dollars in tariffs as he ramps up his trade war with Beijing. But that's inaccurate: American consumers and businesses are the ones who will be paying higher costs for imports after he slapped penalties on $200 billion in Chinese goods."

As Trump gets ready to attend the G-20 summit, which will include trade talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, it's a problem that Trump doesn't understand trade policy, but it's a far bigger problem that Trump doesn't realize how ignorant he is.

On the contrary, the president thinks he's an expert.

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Trump continues his offensive against his own deputy attorney general

11/29/18 09:26AM

The professional relationship between Donald Trump and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein hasn't always been friendly, but it's safe to say yesterday pushed their connection to new depths.

For reasons that are difficult to understand, the president thought it'd be a good idea to promote a Twitter message calling for the imprisonment of his perceived political foes. The text of the tweet read, "Now that Russia collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?"

It was accompanied by an image featuring a variety of people, including Barack Obama, James Comey, and Robert Mueller. But of particular interest was Rosenstein's inclusion in the image, since he is the president's deputy A.G. Does Trump really want to see a top Justice Department official incarcerated and charged with treason?

I assumed that the president, if asked, would simply laugh this off as some kind of odd joke, or perhaps argue that he didn't realize Rosenstein was included in the image. But when Trump sat down with the New York Post yesterday, he ended up saying something very different.

It was no accident that President Trump Wednesday retweeted an image of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein locked up.

When asked during an interview with The Post: "Why do you think he belongs behind bars?" Trump responded: "He should have never picked a Special Counsel."

This is, for what it's worth, a relatively new argument for Trump. After the president fired FBI Director James Comey in order to help derail the investigation into the Russia scandal, Rosenstein tapped former FBI Director Robert Mueller to oversee the probe.

It was a sound decision that drew bipartisan praise. It was not "treason" or grounds for imprisonment.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

Trump's misguided crusade against the cost of the Mueller investigation

11/29/18 08:40AM

On Monday morning, Donald Trump threw a little Twitter tantrum over Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, asking why investigators haven't focused on the members of the president's team who didn't communicate with our Russian attackers. A day later, the president threw another anti-Mueller tantrum, baselessly accusing the special counsel of "doing tremendous damage to our criminal justice system."

Yesterday, Trump wrote, somewhat cryptically, "So much happening with the now discredited Witch Hunt." And this morning, for the fourth consecutive day, the president directed yet another  online tantrum at the ongoing probe.

"When will this illegal Joseph McCarthy style Witch Hunt, one that has shattered so many innocent lives, ever end-or will it just go on forever? After wasting more than $40,000,000 (is that possible?), it has proven only one thing-there was NO Collusion with Russia. So Ridiculous!"

Well, "ridiculous" is probably the right word, but not for the reason the president thinks.

Let's put aside some of the more obvious nonsense and instead focus on one element of Trump's argument: the cost of the Mueller investigation. Two days ago, the president described the probe as a "$30,000,000 Witch Hunt." This morning, he increased the price tag to "$40,000,000."

That's quite an increase over the course of two days.

Trump's inflation/mendacity nexus notwithstanding, there's a related problem the president doesn't seem to appreciate: much of the Mueller investigation is paying for itself.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump threatens to disclose 'devastating' secret info (which may not exist)

11/29/18 08:00AM

The day after the midterm elections, Donald Trump held a press conference in which he expressed some anxiety about congressional investigations from House Democrats. The president threatened to expose "very questionable things" unnamed Dems have done, adding that he wouldn't work with Congress on substantive issues if he disapproved of lawmakers' oversight.

Yesterday, in an interview with the New York Post, Trump went a little further.

In a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with The Post, President Trump said Wednesday that if House Democrats launched probes into his administration -- which he called "presidential harassment" -- they'd pay a heavy price.

"If they go down the presidential harassment track, if they want go and harass the president and the administration, I think that would be the best thing that would happen to me. I'm a counter-puncher and I will hit them so hard they'd never been hit like that," he said during a 36-minute Oval Office sitdown.

Specifically, the president reportedly raised the prospect with the New York Post of declassifying materials related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the Russia scandal, which he predicted would expose some kind of conspiracy linking the FBI, the Justice Department, and Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.

Democrats, Trump warned, "will see how devastating those pages are."

He's evidently not prepared to share this evidence now. Rather, the president wants the incoming Democratic House majority to believe he has leverage: if they investigate him, Trump will offer proof to substantiate his anti-Justice Department conspiracy theories.

If, right about now, you find yourself smirking and struggling to stifle a laugh, rest assured, you're not alone.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 11.28.18

11/28/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Saudi lobbying didn't work this time: "Following a contentious administration briefing about the war in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Senate voted to advance a measure that would tie the hands of President Donald Trump's foreign policy as it relates to Saudi Arabia."

* They weren't persuasive, either: "Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday that there was no definitive proof that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was linked to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, backing up President Donald Trump who has defended the Saudi kingdom as a critical ally."

* Inviting a crisis: "Senate Republicans blocked a vote on a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday, despite a threat from a GOP senator to hold up judicial nominees until action is taken on the measure."

* The Fed: "Stocks surged on Wednesday after investors took comments by the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome H. Powell, to mean that the central bank could be closer than expected to ending its current push to lift interest rates. But some analysts warned that markets were overreacting to Mr. Powell's remarks."

* I'm always fascinated by acts of self-sabotage: "The UK would be significantly worse off under all possible Brexit scenarios in 15 years' time, according to a benchmark economic analysis produced by a range of government departments including the Treasury."

* Irresponsible: "The Trump administration has put the safety of thousands of teens at a migrant detention camp at risk by waiving FBI fingerprint checks for their caregivers and short-staffing mental health workers, according to an Associated Press investigation and a new federal watchdog report."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Manafort departs U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia

Trump refuses to rule out the possibility of a pardon for Manafort

11/28/18 04:06PM

In one corner, we see Special Counsel Robert Mueller pressuring Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's felonious former campaign chairman. In the other corner, we see the president himself, who seemed to send his former aide a not-so-subtle signal during an interview today with the New York Post.

He's never discussed a pardon for Paul Manafort, President Trump said Wednesday — but it's "not off the table."

"It was never discussed, but I wouldn't take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?" the president said during an Oval Office interview on Wednesday.

Trump added, "You know, this flipping stuff is terrible." It remains deeply odd to see a president repeatedly condemn a common and effective law-enforcement tool.

In the same interview, Trump went on to say, "I'm telling you, this is McCarthyism. We are in the McCarthy era. This is no better than McCarthy. And that was a bad situation for the country. But this is where we are. And it's a terrible thing,"

Every time the president tries to talk about McCarthyism, which is often, it's worth noting that Trump doesn't understand the issue nearly as well as he thinks he does.

Regardless, these new comments are brazen -- and by some measures, scandalous -- for a specific reason.

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

Senate GOP advances one of Trump's most controversial judicial nominees

11/28/18 02:23PM

To defeat Thomas Farr's judicial nomination, Senate Democrats needed just two Republicans to break ranks and oppose one of Donald Trump's most controversial picks for the federal bench. In the end, they fell one vote short.

Raleigh attorney Thomas Farr moved one step closer to final confirmation to become a district judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina. With Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote, the Senate agreed to limit debate on Farr's nomination, setting up a final vote Thursday.

President Donald Trump nominated the 64-year-old Farr to be a U.S. District Court Judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina in 2017 and again earlier this year. Though Farr cleared a Senate committee in January, his nomination has languished in the Senate -- as Democrats and civil rights groups hammered him as hostile to voting rights for blacks.

The entire Democratic caucus opposed Farr, as did Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who's vowed to oppose all nominees until the Senate votes on his bipartisan bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), seemed to struggle with the vote, and paused the process for quite a while, before eventually voting the way his party wanted him to.

The result was a 50-50 tie, which Pence broke.

It's important to emphasize that this was a procedural vote to end the floor debate, not a final confirmation vote. But to defeat Farr's nomination, one of the 50 Republicans who voted "aye" this afternoon would have to change his or her mind before tomorrow. Since that appears unlikely, he'll almost certainly be confirmed.

And for Farr's many critics, that's a bit of a disaster. Trump has sent some offensive nominees to the Senate for lifetime positions on the federal bench, but few district court nominees have faced this kind of criticism.

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File photo taken in November 2017 shows U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Trump's inconsistencies and contradictions leave China 'confused'

11/28/18 12:42PM

Donald Trump is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit on Saturday in Buenos Aires, and a reporter asked the American president how he's preparing for the talks in the midst of an escalating trade dispute.

"I'm very prepared," the famously unprepared president declared. "I've been preparing for it all my life. You know, it's not like, 'Oh, gee, I'm going to sit down and study.' I know every ingredient. I know every stat. I know it better than anybody knows it.... It's not a question of preparing."

One starts to get the impression that Trump isn't a homework kind of guy.

Regardless, the New York Times reports that the Republican has begun rethinking his negotiating position.

President Trump is projecting a steely facade as he prepares for a critical meeting on trade this weekend with President Xi Jinping of China. But behind his tough talk and threats of higher tariffs is a creeping anxiety about the costs of a prolonged trade war on the financial markets and the broader economy.

That could set the stage for a truce between the United States and China, several American officials said, in the form of an agreement that would delay new tariffs for several months while the world's two largest economies try to work out the issues dividing them.

That would almost certainly be a positive development for all involved, though working out "the issues dividing them" is tougher than it sounds -- in part because there's no meaningful agreement about what those issues are.

In an interview this week with the Wall Street Journal, Trump was asked what, specifically, he'd like to see Beijing do. The American president said, over and over again, that he wants a "fair deal," but when pressed to explain what that might look like, Trump said effectively nothing.

The problem is not limited to the president. Annie Lowery recently wrote for The Atlantic that Chinese trade negotiators are "confused" by the Trump administration and its position: "American officials raise issues only to later drop them. They contradict one another. The ideological warfare within the White House, as well as the lack of experience on the international economic team, has left China and others unsure of U.S. policy, or even its goals."

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.28.18

11/28/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* In Mississippi's U.S. Senate runoff, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) ended up defeating Mike Espy (D), 53% to 46%. The seven-point margin means this is another key contest in which Democrats over-performed relative to recent cycles.

* House Democrats will meet today for a closed-door caucus meeting at which members will nominate a leadership team. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is expected to fare well, with the more significant challenge slated for Jan. 3, when the new Congress officially elects a new House Speaker.

* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reason to be pleased with this year's election results, but they came at a cost: the DCCC is now facing $18 million in debt. Their Republican counterparts, meanwhile, have a $12 million debt.

* Donald Trump retweeted four anti-Hillary Clinton messages this morning, including one from a fake Mike Pence account. For those keeping score, Election Day 2016 was 750 days ago.

* The Washington Post reports that appointed Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) isn't expected to remain on Capitol Hill much longer, though there's some debate in Republican circles over who should replace him. GOP leaders reportedly prefer former Rep. Martha McSally (R), who lost her Senate bid earlier this month, though Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) isn't so sure.

* Though I'm not sure I'd go this far, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Hugh Hewitt yesterday, "Texas is no longer, I believe, a reliably red state. We are on the precipice of turning purple." Cornyn is up for re-election in two years.

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