THE BIG IDEA: Rudy Giuliani’s contentious conversation with Chris Cuomo last night recalled one of the more memorable moments in television history. In 1977, David Frost pressed Richard Nixon on why he had authorized burglaries, wiretapping and other illegal actions. “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,” Nixon answered.
President Trump’s personal attorney appeared on CNN shortly after The Washington Post reported that an intelligence official’s whistleblower complaint about Trump centers on Ukraine. Giuliani spoke at length about hypothetical wrongdoing – and the president’s right to do it.
“The complaint involved communications with a foreign leader and a ‘promise’ that Trump made, which was so alarming that a U.S. intelligence official who had worked at the White House went to the inspector general of the intelligence community,” Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris, Greg Miller and Carol Leonnig reported. “Two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed, Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and political newcomer who was elected in a landslide in May. That call is already under investigation by House Democrats who are examining whether Trump and [Giuliani] sought to manipulate the Ukrainian government into helping Trump’s reelection campaign. … The Democrats’ investigation was launched earlier this month, before revelations that an intelligence official had lodged a complaint with the inspector general.”
— Giuliani contradicted himself when asked whether he pressed the Ukrainian government to look into former vice president Joe Biden. Initially, he said no. Thirty seconds later, he said: “Of course I did.”
“You want to cover some ridiculous charge that I urged the Ukrainian government to investigate corruption. Well, I did. And I’m proud of it,” Giuliani said, channeling his inner Nathan Jessup from “A Few Good Men.”
— Perhaps more revealing, though, was when Cuomo asked Giuliani if Trump told the new Ukrainian president what he wanted done with investigations into Biden and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. “I never asked him that,” Giuliani said. “I don’t know if he did, and I wouldn’t care if he did. He had every right to do it as the president of the United States. He had every right to say to the Ukrainian president that we have two outstanding allegations of massive corruption, and you should investigate.”
— Giuliani then suggested that it would actually be commendable for Trump to demand investigations. “All I can tell you is, if what is reported is true, it doesn’t make a dam,” Giuliani said. “It doesn’t make any difference. If the president of the United States said to the president of Ukraine, investigate the corruption in your country that has a bearing on our 2016 election, isn’t that what he’s supposed to do?”
— In a tweet after the interview, Giuliani reiterated that the president is “doing his job” by telling a foreign leader to investigate corruption:
A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job. Maybe if Obama did that the Biden Family wouldn’t have bilked millions from Ukraine and billions from China; being covered up by a Corrupt Media.
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) September 20, 2019
— Giuliani later told Robert Costa that he expects to meet with Trump today:
Checked in w/ Giuliani a few mins before midnight. Said he hasn’t spoken w/ Trump since Cuomo. But expects to see him Fri. Said his tweet doesn’t confirm anything but “only that if he did do it, it’d be appropriate.” Declined to discuss timing of last convo w/ POTUS on Ukraine.
— Robert Costa (@costareports) September 20, 2019
— Trump denied wrongdoing in fresh tweets this morning:
….statement. Strange that with so many other people hearing or knowing of the perfectly fine and respectful conversation, that they would not have also come forward. Do you know the reason why they did not? Because there was nothing said wrong, it was pitch perfect!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2019
— We’ve seen this movie before. During the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, Trump’s legal team argued that the president could not technically be guilty of obstructing justice.
“Collusion is not a crime,” Giuliani said on Fox News in July 2018.
“I don’t even know if that’s a crime — colluding with Russians,” the former New York mayor, speaking as Trump’s lawyer, added on CNN that same day. “Hacking is the crime. The president didn’t hack. He didn’t pay for the hacking.”
— These are remarkable stances to take, and they should be viewed as part of this president and his team’s Nixonian and imperial view of presidential prerogative. In Tuesday’s edition, for example, I wrote about just how aggressively the White House counsel is pushing the envelope by claiming that former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who has never worked for the executive branch, is covered by executive privilege. Among other things, Attorney General William Barr has spent his career championing the expansion of presidential powers. (Tom Hamburger took a deep dive on this history in May.)
— Trump filed a federal lawsuit yesterday against the Manhattan district attorney in an attempt to block him from subpoenaing tax returns in a probe of the hush-money payments made before the 2016 election. “In the suit, Trump argues that District Attorney Cyrus Vance is conducting a criminal investigation of him, which he contends is not allowed under the Constitution,” David A. Fahrenthold reports. “That’s because the Constitution prohibits any prosecutor from investigating any sitting president for any criminal wrongdoing, he says. If that were permitted, Trump says, it could give local authorities too much power to hamstring a president’s actions. ‘All you need is one prosecutor, one trial judge, the barest amount of probable cause, and a supportive local constituency, and you can shut down a presidency,’ Trump’s complaint says, quoting law professor Jed Shugerman … Instead, Trump argued, the power to investigate presidents is invested in Congress, which has the power to impeach and remove presidents for ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’”
— But, but, but: Trump won’t cooperate with Congress as it seeks to investigate him. His administration is systematically stonewalling subpoenas, including for the whistleblower’s report about the president’s conduct toward Ukraine.
— The Post’s Editorial Board reported on Sept. 5 that it had been “reliably told” that Trump was holding back military assistance for Ukraine (to defend itself against the revanchist Russia) in an attempt to force Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of Biden: “The strong-arming of Mr. Zelensky was openly reported to the New York Times last month by … Giuliani, who said he had met in Madrid with a close associate of the Ukrainian leader and urged that the new government restart an investigation of Mr. Biden and his son. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, while Joe Biden, as vice president, urged the dismissal of Ukraine’s top prosecutor, who investigated the firm.” (The Post’s Fact Checker team scrutinized claims by Trump and Giuliani about Biden’s son and Ukraine in May.)
— What’s the status of the whistleblower complaint? “On Thursday, the inspector general testified behind closed doors to members of the House Intelligence Committee,” per Ellen, Shane, Greg and Carol. “Over the course of three hours, Michael Atkinson repeatedly declined to discuss with members the content of the complaint, saying he was not authorized to do so. Atkinson made clear that he disagreed with a lawyer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, who had contradicted the inspector general and found that the whistleblower complaint did not meet the statutory definition of an urgent concern because it involved a matter not under the DNI’s jurisdiction. Atkinson told lawmakers that he disagreed with that analysis — meaning he felt the matter was under the DNI’s purview — and also that it was urgent ‘in the common understanding of the word’ … Atkinson told the committee that the complaint did not stem from just one conversation…”
— Coming attractions: Following the meeting, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) warned of legal action if the whistleblower complaint is withheld. “We’re determined to do everything we can to determine what this urgent concern is to make sure that the national security is protected,” he said at a news conference. Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire is scheduled to testify next Thursday before the Intelligence Committee in a public session.
— The Times confirmed last night that the whistleblower’s complaint involves “at least one instance of Trump making an unspecified commitment to a foreign leader” and “at least part of the allegation” deals with Ukraine. “According to government officials who handle foreign policy in the United States and Ukraine, Mr. Giuliani’s efforts created the impression that the Trump administration’s willingness to back Mr. Zelensky was linked to his government’s readiness to in turn pursue the investigations sought by Mr. Trump’s allies,” Julian Barnes, Nicholas Fandos, Michael Schmidt and Matthew Rosenberg report.
“Around the same time, a separate issue was brewing. Congressional aides and administration officials who work on Ukraine issues had become concerned that the White House was slow-walking a military assistance package for Kiev,” per the Times. “Last week, the two issues merged when Mr. Schiff and two other Democratic House committee chairmen requested the transcript of Mr. Trump’s call with Mr. Zelensky from the State Department … The next day, Mr. Schiff wrote to Mr. Maguire seeking information about the whistle-blower complaint. And the following day, the White House released the military assistance to Ukraine, with little explanation.”
— Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) met with Zelensky a few weeks ago in Ukraine, he tweeted, “and we discussed the surprise cut off of aid and the inappropriate demands the Trump campaign was making of him. The obvious question everyone in Kiev was asking was – were the two things connected?” Murphy, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, added:
I don’t know what is in the whistleblower complaint, but it was clear to me that Ukraine officials were worried about the consequences of ignoring Giuliani’s demands. And of course they were. That’s why presidents shouldn’t have their campaigns talking to foreign leaders.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) September 20, 2019
— Even the Ukrainian government’s official readout of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky said the president told him that that Ukraine could improve its reputation and “interaction” with the United States by investigating corruption.
— Critics were aghast, and many argued that Trump might have committed an impeachable offense in his conduct toward Ukraine. From a former acting solicitor general under Barack Obama:
This is going to be huge. DOJ& Admin are contorting themselves backwards to try to hide this. Truth will come out. There are probably tapes and transcripts documenting a gross abuse of power by Trump. Gonna be ugly.And enablers should all face consequences https://t.co/0HaeWkd6aI
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) September 19, 2019
From a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who teaches at Stanford:
The real tragedy in this new “Ukraine “ story is that the US should be supporting Ukrainian democracy and sovereignty at this absolutely critical moment in Ukrainian history. Instead, we are just dragging Ukraine into OUR swamp.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) September 20, 2019
From a Harvard Law professor:
If it’s Ukraine, then this looks very much like a promise of US arms or other aid in return for dirt on a political opponent’s family (Biden’s son Hunter) — both a violation of federal campaign law and bribery, an explicitly impeachable offense. Smoking howitzer, anyone? https://t.co/sx4IHrBJaB
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) September 20, 2019
— Stat of the day: The latest public report by the intelligence community’s inspector general revealed that the confidential hotline set up to allow the reporting of waste, fraud and abuse in the intelligence community received 563 calls last year, up from 369 in 2017 and 251 in 2016. (NBC News)
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
— Bill de Blasio announced on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he’s dropping out of the presidential race. “It’s clearly not my time,” he said. The New York mayor didn’t quality for last week’s debate and likely wouldn’t make the cut for the next one. Trump weighed in quickly with a facetious tweet:
Oh no, really big political news, perhaps the biggest story in years! Part time Mayor of New York City, @BilldeBlasio, who was polling at a solid ZERO but had tremendous room for growth, has shocking dropped out of the Presidential race. NYC is devastated, he’s coming home!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2019
— Tropical Storm Imelda has left at least two dead in Texas. Brittney Martin, Brittany Shammas and Hannah Knowles report: “Heavy rainfall shut down major roadways, triggered hundreds of calls for help and invited comparisons to Hurricane Harvey of 2017 as Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared a state of emergency for portions of the state. … In Houston, a man between the ages of 40 and 50 died after being transported from a submerged van to a hospital in critical condition … Officials extracted several people from the vehicle, according to Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. Earlier in the day, a 19-year-old man suffered an electric shock and drowned…”
THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:
— Senior Trump administration officials are considering a plan to again divert billions of dollars in military funding to pay for border barrier construction next year, according to three administration officials. Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey scoop: “The president has pledged to complete nearly 500 miles of new barrier by the 2020 election … But that construction goal will require a total of $18.4 billion in funding through 2020, far more than the administration has publicly disclosed, the administration’s latest internal projections show. Planning documents obtained by The Washington Post show the cost of building 509 miles of barriers averages out to more than $36 million per mile. The documents also show that the government would need to obtain — either by eminent-domain claims or purchases — land that lies under nearly 200 miles of proposed barrier. …
“The White House also has requested $5 billion for barrier funding in 2020 through the Department of Homeland Security budget, but if that money is not approved, the administration plans to dip into the Pentagon’s construction budget for the second consecutive year to get another $3.6 billion … The planning document distributed at the meeting led by [Jared] Kushner last week indicates that 187 of the 509 miles of proposed border barrier are on private land — more than one-third of the total. On Wednesday, the Interior Department announced the transfer of 560 acres of federal land to the Army to facilitate barrier construction along a 70-mile stretch of the border. Trump also has taken an increasingly keen interest in aesthetic elements of the barrier, insisting it should be painted black and topped with spikes, despite the cost increases associated with those elements.”
— Border Patrol agents are now conducting asylum seekers’ “credible fear” interviews under a new controversial pilot program. From CBS News: The move “means that some migrants will not be initially interviewed by highly-trained asylum officers well-versed in U.S. and international refugee law, but by law enforcement agents from the agency that apprehended them. The Trump administration has advocated for this new role for Border Patrol, arguing that its agents would not approve as many ‘credible fear’ interviews.”
— A Honduran mother and her toddler drowned in the Rio Grande after trying to enter the U.S. Idalia Yamileth Herrera Hernandez and her 21-month-old, Iker Gael Cordova Herrera, had recently entered the U.S. and made an asylum request but were sent to Mexico to wait for an immigration court hearing under Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, informally known as “Remain in Mexico.” Growing desperate after sleeping on the street and in shelters, Herrera Hernandez attempted to cross the river with her son. Their bodies were recovered last week after an “intensive search,” according to a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson. (CNN)
— Their deaths highlight a cruel effect of Trump’s policy: More children are dying at the border. From BuzzFeed News: “Advocates said MPP forces asylum-seekers to live in dangerous Mexican cities with few resources and little protection. Some grow desperate enough that they can no longer wait, and are driven to cross the US border illegally. … So far in 2019, 15 children have died at the US–Mexico border, according to data from the International Organization for Migration. That is the highest number of dead children since 2014, which is when the organization started tracking deaths along migratory routes … Previously, the highest number of children who died at the US–Mexico border was nine, in 2018, and before that it was eight in 2016.”
— Bowing to pressure, the Department of Homeland Security is formally backing off its plans to deport sick immigrant children. In a letter sent to the House Oversight Committee, DHS said it is “resuming its consideration of non-military deferred action requests on a discretionary, case-by-case basis,” per NBC News.
— Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson made dismissive comments about transgender people, angering his staff. Tracy Jan and Jeff Stein report: “Carson expressed concern about ‘big, hairy men’ trying to infiltrate women’s homeless shelters during an internal meeting, according to three people present who interpreted the remarks as an attack on transgender women. While visiting HUD’s San Francisco office this week, Carson also lamented that society no longer seemed to know the difference between men and women, two of the agency staffers said. Carson’s remarks visibly shocked and upset many of the roughly 50 HUD staffers who attended Tuesday’s meeting, and prompted at least one woman to walk out in protest, the staffers said. …
“As HUD Secretary, he weakened Obama-era protections for transgender people … In May, the agency introduced a proposal that would allow federally funded shelters to deny people admission on religious grounds or force transgender women to share bathrooms and sleeping quarters with men. … Transgender advocates called HUD’s defense of Carson a common, damaging and insulting trope that had long been debunked.”
— Trump picked Eugene Scalia, a son of late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia and a former lobbyist, as his next labor secretary. Democrats quickly found anti-gay op-eds he wrote in college. Eli Rosenberg reports: “Eugene Scalia … faced harsh questioning during his confirmation hearing Thursday as Democrats criticized the former lobbyist’s record defending corporations in legal matters against workers and regulators. But he was also put on the spot about his past claim that gay parents should be treated differently than a ‘traditional family’ under law. Scalia worked to parry back many of the more pointed questions by Democrats during the hearing, but he declined to give specific answers about whether some of his past views have changed. … Scalia remains very popular among Republicans, though, and is expected to be confirmed by the Senate because the GOP holds a 53-47 majority. If confirmed, Scalia would be the seventh former lobbyist to hold a Cabinet post in the Trump administration’s first three years, far out pacing the numbers presidents Obama and Bush had in their eight years each in office.”
— The Education Department ordered Duke University and the University of North Carolina to revamp their joint Middle Eastern studies program, claiming the curriculum puts “considerable emphasis” on the positive aspects of Islam and reflects anti-Israel bias. Laura Meckler and Valerie Strauss report: “The agency ordered the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies to revise its offerings or risk losing its $235,000 federal grant. … The letter, sent in August, was published this week in the Federal Register, and was seen as a move to put other universities on notice. It was not clear whether other programs have been asked to revise their offerings. The action represents a rare case of the federal government weighing into the administration of an academic program, but is consistent with how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and some of her senior aides have tried to reshape U.S. universities they say are ideologically skewed.”
— Last year’s college graduates averaged about $29,200 in student loan debt, a record in the country. (USA Today)
— Trump continues holding up decisions on gun control, partly because he’s concerned about the political repercussions of any choice he makes. He has few trusted advisers to assist him, and he’s found himself even more isolated now that his longtime assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, is gone, reports the Times: Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney fired Westerhout last month for indiscreetly sharing details of the first family, but she “had been one of the president’s few organizing influences … In the weeks since she left, Mr. Trump has gone back and forth on his feelings about Mr. Mulvaney, praising him one day and denouncing him the next, people familiar with the discussions said. For longtime Republican analysts, Mr. Trump has a single track he should be traveling on, and any distractions that cause him to take his eyes off could be disastrous politically.”
— Colt, the U.S. firearms company, will suspend the production of rifles for the civilian market – including the AR-15, a weapon infamous for its popularity among mass shooters. Bit it’s not for the reason you might think: The company said there are so many of these weapons already in the hands of American consumers that it makes no sense to produce more. Reis Thebault reports: “‘Given this level of manufacturing capacity, we believe there is adequate supply for modern sporting rifles for the foreseeable future,’ Dennis Veilleux said, adding that the pivot was not permanent. … Veilleux said his company remains a fierce advocate for gun rights and for the consumer gun market. … The company will concentrate on its military and law enforcement contracts, which Veilleux said are ‘absorbing all of Colt’s manufacturing capacity for rifles.’”
— Federal officials said at least 530 people in 38 states have become sickened by a mysterious vaping-related lung illness. Lena H. Sun reports: “In a sign of the seriousness of the e-cigarette investigation, officials disclosed that the enforcement arm of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been conducting a probe in parallel with the public health investigation led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials said they still do not know the cause of the lung injuries that are making people so sick. There have been seven confirmed deaths.”
— More than 3.3 million American women’s first sexual experience was rape, according to a new study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study found that the average age women had this experience was around 15, Kayla Epstein reports.
— The attorney general once celebrated as “masterful” a book that criticized campus sexual assault investigations. “Your blood will boil as the authors meticulously examine scores of cases where, in the name of political correctness, male students are sacrificed to the mob, with academic leaders happily serving as the hangmen,” Barr wrote in a blurb for the Kindle edition of “The Campus Rage Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities,” reports Marisa Iati.
— The Senate Foreign Relations Committee postponed the confirmation hearing for former Republican congressman Darrell Issa to lead the Trade and Development Agency over an undisclosed issue in his FBI background check. The abrupt delay came after Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said the background check might be “problematic and potentially disqualifying for Senate confirmation,” report Mike DeBonis and Karoun Demirjian. Issa, who has been flirting with challenging Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) in a primary if he cannot get confirmed, suggested the issue relates to behavior when he was a young man.
— A sting operation led to the arrest of a New York Police Department officer who moonlighted as a bodyguard for El Chapo’s wife. Ishmael Bailey, who had been an NYPD officer for 12 years, was arrested in Queens for allegedly transporting cocaine, per the Wall Street Journal.
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
— North America has lost 3 billion birds representing hundreds of species in the past 50 years, an “overlooked biodiversity crisis,” according to a major study from top ornithologists and government agencies. Karin Brulliard reports: “Slowly, steadily and almost imperceptibly, North America’s bird population is dwindling. The sparrows and finches that visit backyard feeders number fewer each year. The flutelike song of the western meadowlark — the official bird of six U.S. states — is growing more rare. … This is not an extinction crisis — yet. It is a more insidious decline in abundance as humans dramatically alter the landscape: There are 29 percent fewer birds in the United States and Canada today than in 1970, the study concludes. Grassland species have been hardest hit, probably because of agricultural intensification that has engulfed habitats and spread pesticides that kill the insects many birds eat. But the victims include warblers, thrushes, swallows and other familiar birds. …
“The study’s authors, who include scientists from Canada’s environment agency and the U.S. Geological Survey, were able to put a number on the decline because birds are probably the best-monitored animals on Earth. … Birds, because they are so well-monitored, should be viewed as canaries in coal mines, the authors argue — harbingers of a wider environmental malaise at a time when other creatures, including insects, are also thought to be fading but are more challenging to count. … A recent United Nations report warned that 1 million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction as people log, farm and mine the natural world and as the climate warms. But in the case of most dwindling bird species, the problem is not that they are in immediate danger of vanishing. Instead, the authors say, bird populations are shrinking at rates we do not see, and so do not act upon. Conservationists refer to this as ‘shrinking baseline syndrome,’ and it can have devastating effects: Passenger pigeons were once so abundant that their massive flocks darkened U.S. skies. They were driven to extinction in just a few decades.”
— A group of more than 200 investment funds managing $16 trillion urged companies in Brazil to fight deforestation in the Amazon. Marina Lopes reports from Sao Paulo: “‘Considering increasing deforestation rates and recent fires in the Amazon, we are concerned that companies exposed to potential deforestation in their Brazilian operations and supply chains will face increasing difficulty accessing international markets,’ the investors wrote. They called on companies to establish a no-deforestation policy and to report on their suppliers’ compliance. They did not advise funds against considering investments in Brazil. Still, the letter is the harshest rebuke from the international financial community since the country came under scrutiny this summer for spikes in deforestation and fires in the world’s largest rainforest.”
— In Maracaibo, Venezuela’s oil capital, life is a struggle, but so is death. Anthony Faoila and Rachelle Krygier report: “An economic free fall more severe than the Great Depression has crippled this onetime oil boomtown, and those who have stayed are bracing for worse under increasingly tough U.S. sanctions. Venezuela’s second-largest city — and its industrial engine — is now the epicenter of the socialist nation’s societal meltdown. The collapse of civilization here is perhaps most evident at death. On the afternoon of [security guard Neiro] Vargas’s passing, Maracaibo University Hospital, suffering the same major power outages plaguing the rest of the city, was stiflingly hot. His destitute family was unable to immediately pay for a funeral. So doctors dispatched his body to ‘the basement.’ The un-air-conditioned morgue. Even when the power flickers on, none of the morgue’s eight freezers work. On a recent morning, insects swarmed the seven decomposing bodies left on slabs and on the floor. A dead baby lay rotting in a cardboard box.”
— The U.S. moved to expel a pair of Cuban diplomats from their posts at the country’s U.N. mission, the Wall Street Journal reports. The administration is alleging that the diplomats attempted to conduct influence “operations” against the U.S. ahead of next week’s U.N. gathering.
— Hong Kong protesters claim that police officers on the island are beating and torturing them. Shibani Mahtani reports: “When lawyer Hermes Chan visited a 19-year-old client in the hospital last month, he found her lying limp in bed under police watch. Bruises covered her arms, knees and shins like patchwork. The young woman had been fleeing from riot police, Chan said … An officer grabbed her by the collar, yanking her upward so that her back was exposed, before pushing her to the floor and pummeling her … A report from Amnesty International, released Friday local time, suggests that the woman’s experience is part of an ‘alarming pattern’ of ‘reckless and indiscriminate’ tactics employed by Hong Kong’s police, who have stepped up their use of force since June as unrest in the semiautonomous Chinese territory has snowballed.”
— The White House is temporarily exempting more than 400 Chinese products from tariffs activated last year as part of the U.S.’s ongoing economic sparring with Beijing. Rachel Siegel reports: “The exclusions cover a wide range of goods, including plastic straws, coffee filters, dog leashes and car radiators, according to documents published Friday by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and stem from more than 1,100 exclusion requests made by companies and other U.S. entities. The decision comes as the U.S. and China are expected to meet for high-level trade talks next month and as both sides have toned down the rhetoric that has defined the year-long conflict.”
— A top official in the political network led by Charles Koch said their strategy to challenge Trump’s trade war with China has been a failure. From CNBC: “Koch network leaders said Thursday that their digital and TV ad blitz that emphasized how Americans could experience financial pain from the tariff fight wasn’t panning out the way they had hoped. ‘The argument that, you know, the tariffs are adding a couple thousand dollars to the pickup truck that you’re buying is not persuasive,’ a senior Koch official … said during a briefing in New York. ‘It doesn’t penetrate with the people that are willing to go along with the argument that you have to punish China.’ …
“[T]he network came to this conclusion after conducting weekly focus groups on trade policies. … Koch network officials said the organization will put out ads with a new message, although, according to one network leader it is unclear what that message will be. … ‘I think that we were wrong about how to change this one. We made a bet that the kind of retail, running ads and rallies, that sort of thing, to talk about the coming harm of tariffs, which we know is coming, would be persuasive,’ the same official said. ‘And we were wrong about that.’”
— China detained an American pilot who works for FedEx as tensions with the U.S. rise. The pilot is U.S. Air Force veteran Todd Hohn, who lives in Hong Kong. FedEx said authorities had found an object in the pilot’s luggage, but didn’t specify what it was. (New York Times)
— Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized again after a video emerged showing him wearing blackface a day after two photos were published showing him wearing similar racist makeup. From Amanda Coletta: “The emergence of images from years or decades ago in which Trudeau wore blackface or brownface have dealt the Liberal leader’s assiduously crafted image and already shaky bid for reelection a potentially crippling blow. ‘This thing is a wildfire,’ said Darrell Bricker, chief executive of the polling firm Ipsos Public Affairs in Toronto. ‘All of a sudden there’s just a picture, and you don’t have to explain it. Everyone knows what it is.’ … The Conservatives have been running election ads warning that Trudeau was ‘not as advertised.’ Now the images … appeared to validate the message. Trudeau, 47, apologized again Thursday for the incidents … ‘Darkening your face, regardless of the context or the circumstances, is always unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface,’ Trudeau said.”
— The attack on Saudi Arabia is testing the U.S. promise to defend the Persian Gulf. From the Times: “Experts had predicted for months that the Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign of sanctions against Iran’s oil sales would drive it to lash out against the oil production of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf States. The rulers of those Arab states had previously accused President Obama of trying to pull back from the American commitment to the region. They faulted him for negotiating a 2015 deal with Iran to limit its nuclear program … And the Gulf leaders were outraged when Mr. Obama called off a planned strike against Syria, an Iranian ally, for using chemical weapons against civilians. Now some prominent voices in the Arab Gulf States accuse Mr. Trump of an even greater betrayal. ‘Trump, in his response to Iran, is even worse than Obama,’ said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent political scientist in the United Arab Emirates.”
— Saudi Arabia is bullying wealthy families to buy in to the initial public offering of its state oil company, which has been billed as the world’s biggest ever IPO. From the Financial Times: “Many of the families targeted had members previously imprisoned in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in 2017 and 2018, in what the government billed as a crackdown on corruption. Some of the detainees said they were tortured, according to people aware of the matter. Most were later freed after they reached financial settlements with the state.”
— Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson said most of the thorniest challenges he faced during his stint as the country’s main diplomat had to do with his relationship with his boss. From the Harvard Gazette: “His plans [on the Middle East] were hampered by a frosty relationship with [Trump], who solicited foreign policy advice from an array of outside sources and delegated several key portions of the portfolio, like drafting an Israeli/Palestinian peace accord, to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. So, in the end, Tillerson took a back seat on most issues involving the Middle East and served as an informal counselor, offering his input ‘to help them identify obstacles or gaps to the [peace] plan to give it the highest chance of success,’ he said.”
— Twitter said it’s removed 10,112 accounts across six countries that were found to be actively spreading misinformation. (TechCruch)
— Former Massachusetts Republican governor Bill Weld, challening Trump for the GOP nomination, said he backs Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy III in his primary bid against Sen. Edward Markey. “I’m for Kennedy,” Weld told Post reporters. “I’ve known him since the day he was born.” “He doesn’t want my endorsement,” Weld added quickly, per Annie Linskey.
— Quite the turnaround here: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed support for providing states with an additional $250 million in election security funding. “Democrats hailed the news but said more needs to be done,” Felicia Sonmez and Erica Werner report.
— An internal National Republican Senatorial Committee poll, leaked to the Wall Street Journal, shows that former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, who blew a winnable governor’s race last year and who co-chaired Trump’s failed election “fraud” commission, trails Democrat Barry Grissom by 10 points in a head-to-head matchup for the seat opening up next year with Sen. Pat Roberts’s retirement. (WSJ)
— America has two economies, and they’re diverging fast. The Brookings Institute and the Wall Street Journal have a report with profound implications: “For one thing, the two parties have in just 10 years gone from near-parity on prosperity and income measures to stark, fast-moving divergence. … With their output surging as a result of the big-city tilt of the decade’s ‘winner-take-most’ economy, Democratic districts have seen their median household income soar in a decade—from $54,000 in 2008 to $61,000 in 2018. By contrast, the income level in Republican districts began slightly higher in 2008, but then declined from $55,000 to $53,000. … Relatedly, and equally striking, Democratic districts are rapidly increasing their dominance of the nation’s urban-tilting professional and digital services employment while ceding their historical, more rural shares of manufacturing and agriculture-mining activity. … Conversely, Republican districts—failing as a group to gain traction in the new sectors—have reverted to more ‘traditional’ ones.”
— A California judge temporarily blocked a state law requiring Trump to release his tax returns in order to appear on the ballot in the state’s primary election. U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. said the law, signed earlier this year by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, would’ve caused “irreparable harm without temporary relief” for Trump and other candidates. (Fox News)
— Pete Buttigieg accused Elizabeth Warren of being “extremely evasive” when it comes to explaining how she’d finance her Medicare-for-all plan. From ABC News: “Buttigieg was responding to a question about Warren’s appearance Wednesday on ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ in which she said health care costs would decrease but stopped short of saying whether middle-class taxes would increase. … ‘I think it’s puzzling …Why you wouldn’t just say so and then explain why you think that’s the better way forward?’ Buttigieg asked, noting that [Bernie Sanders] has said his plan to provide ‘Medicare for All’ would raise taxes across the board. ‘Look, people are used to Washington politicians not giving straight answers to simple questions.’”
— Staffers at the Working Families Party have faced harassment after the progressive group endorsed Warren over Sanders. From Time: “Maurice Mitchell, the National Director of the Working Families Party (WFP) and an organizer with the Movement for Black Lives, received messages calling him a ‘half man’ and ‘Uncle Tom,’ and telling him to ‘go back to his slave masters’ … The endorsement, one of the first from a progressive group, was seen a triumph for Warren and a setback for Sanders, who has praised the Working Families Party as an example of ‘my vision of Democratic socialism.’ In the days since, WFP staffers were inundated with messages calling them ‘liberal sellouts,’ ‘corporate frauds,’ and ‘just as corrupt as the DNC,’ often accompanied with the hashtag #BernieorBust.”
— The Sanders campaign said it has now received contributions from over 1 million individual donors. (CBS News)
— Joe Biden won endorsements from African American lawmakers and a former governor of Florida. From the AP: “The backing from Reps. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri and Charlie Crist of Florida reflects Biden’s play both for the party establishment and for minority voters who are critical in the early stages of the primary. Butterfield and Cleaver are former chairmen of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Crist was the governor of Florida before he entered Congress.”
— Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) was once on DeVos’s side on school choice. What changed? Michael Karnish reports: “Booker served with her on the boards of pro-voucher groups, attended numerous meetings with her across the country, and supported key parts of her agenda. Like a number of elected officials representing cities with poor education records, Booker sought alternatives to a failing system. He decided to back vouchers and charter schools. Booker’s political career took off as a parade of wealthy philanthropists, hedge fund managers and others who supported DeVos’s ‘school choice’ viewpoint poured money into his campaigns and pet projects. But as Booker runs for president, his relationship with DeVos, his previous support of vouchers and his continuing praise for charter schools present potential roadblocks. … Booker said Newark’s public schools were in crisis when he became a City Council member and then mayor. With the state having seized control of the city’s failed school system, he said he was ‘desperate’ for anything and anyone who could help the city’s children.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Politico’s elections editor flags an interesting stat in the new Fox poll:
I’m not sure these are the only two options, but this @foxnewspoll Q speaks to a point that I’ve seen @amyewalter make: The question in 2020 might not be, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
Next year, it might be, “Do you want another four years of *this*?” pic.twitter.com/cEcTHHFm4k
— Steven Shepard (@POLITICO_Steve) September 19, 2019
Remember that time Mitch McConnell lashed out against Nike for dropping sneakers featuring the Betsy Ross flag? A Maine Republican senator who has been trying to make inroads with conservatives, most notably by voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, brought him a different pair:
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) September 19, 2019
The Speaker came to a birthday party for a new Texas congresswoman:
omg have you ever seen a better picture? pic.twitter.com/GOwRCLyZcZ
— courtney “text JOE to 30330” corbisiero (@ccorbisiero) September 18, 2019
Kamala Harris is counting on people’s wokeness to get a Democrat elected in 2020:
Kamala Harris responds to a woman who says she’s scared Democrats will lose to Trump again. “2020 will not be 2016, she said. “People are woke.”
— Reid J. Epstein (@reidepstein) September 19, 2019
Elizabeth Warren keeps running into voters to take selfies with:
CHICAGO — An @ewarren selfie line has formed at O’Hare International as she awaits a flight to Cedar Rapids. She was on the phone and when she hung up a crowd started to form. pic.twitter.com/eC48ZFB9qo
— Ed O’Keefe (@edokeefe) September 19, 2019
And a California congresswoman, who studied under Warren at Harvard Law School, received a visit from the Monopoly Man:
My office has an open-door policy, but I expect everyone who comes in to bring data, not demands. I have no problem speaking truth to power, and the truth is this: forced arbitration is bad for consumers, the free market, and the principle of justice itself. https://t.co/PtW7eMIcFC
— Rep. Katie Porter (@RepKatiePorter) September 18, 2019
One of the president’s favorite insults is now a … Halloween costume:
Spotted at Walmart: Fake News costume pic.twitter.com/ndfXmbGOYT
— Tommy X-TrumpIsARacist-opher (@tommyxtopher) September 19, 2019
The Economist takes a stand against climate change in its next issue:
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“The founders never believed that this kind of thing would happen, so there’s no way to deal with it,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said of Corey Lewandowski’s hearing and how it exposed Congress’s inability to overcome presidential stonewalling. (Rachael Bade)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
In the Army’s new museum, the soldiers look alive and the battle scenes are all too real. The service’s $400 million flagship museum at Fort Belvoir is set to open next spring. Michael Ruane has a preview. And here’s the video accompanying his story:
Stephen Colbert made the case that America’s greatest security hazard is its president:
Meanwhile, Trevor Noah took a look at the latest Canadian scandal: