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August 02, 2017

1 big thing: Trump's red alerts

President Trump is spoiling for a fight. Aides say he's excited about plans, revealed last night by Axios' Jonathan Swan, to move aggressively against China over its theft of U.S. intellectual property.

Against what some aides call his better judgment, Trump moderated his campaign rhetoric about China. Now, irritated about how little Beijing has done to help pressure North Korea, Trump plans to let loose.

That announcement, which aides expect soon, reflects a coming hot period for the Trump administration:

Suddenly, Trump is facing a bunch of high-stakes confrontations, any one of which could define his presidency.

Richard Nixon wrote a book called "Six Crises" after losing the 1960 presidential race to JFK. Here are six of Trump's coming trials:

  1. North Korea's nuclear capability went from a long-range worry to a clear and present danger, with Denver and Chicago now thought to be in range of weapons the regime is testing. The U.S. has few levers for directly inflicting pain on Kim Jong-un, and the military options are all horrific.
  2. The administration has been sending mixed signals about trade. But the new plan to confront China is a sign that Trump may touch off a trade war, with unpredictable consequences — from the disruption of the flow of commerce, to possible retaliation by the world's other economic superpower.
  3. Anyone in government with access to intelligence and data will tell you the most likely source of a crippling attack on the U.S. is cyber — and the most likely genesis is Moscow. Although this is a known risk, with Putin interfering in elections around the world, Trump has done little to mitigate the danger.
  4. Trump is at real risk of losing his party. His base voters are remaining steadfast, but Republican senators are getting increasingly impatient and resistant. Sen. John McCain's surprise thumbs-down on health care is likely the beginning of a wave of defections from establishment Republicans.
  5. It's rarely discussed publicly, but people in government say that a domestic attack — although unlikely to be on the scale of 9/11 because of all the countermeasures that have been added — is a constant possibility. And critics and skeptics worry about ways Trump could consolidate power in the wake of such an event.
  6. We put Bob Mueller last just because the special counsel gets so much attention. But make no mistake: The special counsel's investigation remains the existential threat to this presidency. Reuters reported that Mueller just added a 16th lawyer to his team — Greg Andres, who has experience prosecuting illegal foreign bribery.

Be smart: Trump, who had a pretty good life before, has never seemed to love this job as much as friends thought he might. And he's about to find out just how hard a job it is.

2. West Wing tightens up

The door to the Oval Office used to be wide open, with favored officials drifting in and out — even in the middle of meetings — to kibitz with Trump.

Now, the door is closed. Gen. John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff, has taken control in dramatic fashion, and is already imposing unmistakable signs of order after just a few days on the job:

  • Axios' Jonathan Swan is told that even POTUS appears to be trying to impress his four-star handler, picking up his game by acting sharper in meetings and even rattling off stats.
  • Meetings, which under Reince Priebus were meandering, are shorter and stick to their scheduled topic. Reince was a wallflower; Kelly moderates and is clearly in charge.
  • Everyone — even uber-aides Jared and Ivanka, and economic adviser Gary Cohn — is being deferential to Kelly.

Be smart: The most consequential workplace in America has been one of the most dysfunctional. General Kelly took an instantly assertive tack, and some of the overt shenanigans stopped overnight.

But the ultimate boss has no plans to really change. (Yesterday he tweeted: "Only the Fake News Media and Trump enemies want me to stop using Social Media (110 million people). Only way for me to get the truth out!") And the new internal order will remain only as long as he plays along.

3. The vote Trump needed

President Trump needed the vote of just one more Republican senator to keep the repeal-and-replace process alive — and he could easily have had it.

Party sources tell us that during the transition, Senate Republicans heavily lobbied Trump to nominate red- state Senate Democrats to Cabinet positions, with the hope that the successors would be Republicans.

But Trump went with an all-GOP Cabinet — a fateful decision that fostered this scorched-earth atmosphere, in which no Democrat is willing to help him with his legislative priorities.

  • The #1 prospect was Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), perhaps for Secretary of Agriculture. North Dakota Gov Doug Burgum is a Republican, so he could have engineered a successor who would have been the vote Trump needed.
  • Another possibility that was kicked around was Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for a job like Secretary of Energy. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is a Democrat but has a close relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and might have played ball on a conservative replacement.
  • Another Cabinet prospect: Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

Why it matters ... A Republican strategist, closely familiar with the transition conversations, say in an email: "That vote would have repealed Obamacare last month [the stronger version that was considered before the Fourth of July break]. A strong Chief [of staff] would have understood and executed on that wisdom instead of waiting and watching the President's agenda lose by narrow margin.

"In short, if [Gen. John] Kelly — or someone of equal strength — was the Chief of Staff in January, Obamacare would be repealed today. And who knows what else may already be accomplished."

4. Trouble on the Hill

WashPost lead story ... "Action on Trump's tax cut plan could be delayed until next year," by Damian Paletta and Kelsey Snell: "Republican leaders in Congress ... face a pair of deadlines that are delaying any action on taxes. The current budget is set to expire at the end of September, and unless Congress approves new funding, there will be a partial government shutdown."

  • "Congress's most immediate concern, however, is the debt ceiling, which the Treasury Department says must be raised by Sept. 29 to ensure that the government can pay its bills."
  • Why it matters: "The Senate and House are scheduled to be in session together for a total of just 12 days from now until the debt ceiling deadline, giving them little time to focus on tax cuts."

Also on the WashPost front page ... "Senate GOP's frustrations with Trump bubbling up," by Sean Sullivan: "Some are describing the dynamic in cold, transactional terms, speaking of Trump as more of a supporting actor than the marquee leader of the Republican Party."

5. The new Comey

6. Trump's Civil Rights Division may help whites

"The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department's civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants," Charlie Savage writes in the lead story of the N.Y. Times:

  • "The document, an internal announcement to the civil rights division, seeks current lawyers interested in working for a new project on 'investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.'"
  • Why it matters: "Supporters and critics of the project said it was clearly targeting admissions programs that can give members of generally disadvantaged groups, like black and Latino students, an edge over other applicants with comparable or higher test scores."

7. Obama, Bush saw greater stock gains

"Stocks are at records, but it's no longer the 'Trump trade,'" by AP Business Writers Stan Choe and Marley Jay:

  • "Stocks did surge after Trump's electoral win in November [on hopes] that Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress would cut regulations, revamp the tax system, launch a big program for infrastructure."
  • Now, investors are "pushing back their expectations for when a tax plan and other policy changes could happen ... So the Trump trade has not only faded but reversed course."
  • "Producers of raw materials, which were early winners on expectations that they would benefit from a big infrastructure program, are no longer leading the market."
  • "Even the Mexican peso, which was so battered by Trump's call to 'build the wall' through the campaign, has recovered all its losses since the election."
  • So what's keeping stocks at record heights? "A return to strong profit growth for U.S. companies ... And some of the strongest growth is coming from companies [like tech giants] that do business all over the world ... ones initially thought to be the biggest losers of Trump's 'America-first' policy goals."

8. Washington Inc.: Pioneering "adviser" model

Top of N.Y. Times front page ..."Trump Loyalist Quits Lobbying To Be 'Adviser': Lewandowski Mixing Business and Access," by Nick Confessore and Ken Vogel:

  • "Three months ago, Corey Lewandowski, President Trump's first campaign manager, quit a new Washington lobbying firm he had helped start after the election, amid scrutiny over his firm's clients and his extraordinary access to Mr. Trump. But Mr. Lewandowski's departure from the influence business did not last long."
  • "About a week after leaving his old firm, ... Lewandowski started a new consulting business ... [A]s he takes on an increasingly broad role as an unofficial White House adviser, he is building a roster of clients with major interests before the Trump administration, including an Ohio-based payday lender."
  • "Though he was fired by Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign, ... Lewandowski remains close to Mr. Trump. The two talk regularly ... and Mr. Lewandowski enjoys frequent access to the White House and his former boss."

9. Changing lingo

The forthcoming N.Y. Times Magazine cover story ... "Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age: The agonies of being overweight — or running a diet company — in a culture that likes to pretend it only cares about health, not size," by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

If you had been watching closely, you could see that the change had come slowly. ''Dieting'' was now considered tacky. It was anti-feminist. It was arcane. In the new millennium, all bodies should be accepted, and any inclination to change a body was proof of a lack of acceptance of it. ''Weight loss'' was a pursuit that had, somehow, landed on the wrong side of political correctness.

People wanted nothing to do with it. Except that many of them did: They wanted to be thinner. They wanted to be not quite so fat. Not that there was anything wrong with being fat! They just wanted to call dieting something else entirely. ...

The change had been spurred not just by dieting fatigue but also by real questions about dieting's long-term efficacy.

Eat the whole thing.

10. 1 movie thing

"Inside Kathryn Bigelow's Journey to Tell 'Detroit's' Harrowing Story," by Variety's Brent Lang:

The Oscar winner's ripped-from-the-headlines drama, which opens nationwide [Friday], burrows into one of the most painful chapters in American history. It centers on the Detroit riots of 1967, a response to decades of racial oppression and economic marginalization that exploded during a scorching hot summer and enflamed the Motor City.

How could Bigelow — a white woman raised just ouside San Franicsco by middle-class parents and educated at Columbia University — understand and illuminate that kind of raw experience? ... Bigelow opted to put her clout as the most famous female filmmaker in the world on the line ...

"Detroit" ... is set against the backdrop of the race riots — or rebellion, as it has been rechristened by some academics and activists — but it is specifically focused on the killings of three black men that took place during that time in a nearby run-down motel.

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