Trump 101: What he means by “America first” - Axios
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Trump 101: What he means by “America first”

Photo Illustration Greg Ruben / Axios

You hear "populism" all the time, but that's the wrong label for President Trump's vague ideology. A better one: America-first, Trump-style nationalism.

When you parse his Inaugural address — and watch the unmistakable prominence and power of deeper-thinking nationalists like chief strategist Steve Bannon, policy guru Stephen Miller and Attorney General-in-waiting Jeff Sessions — you see a Trump form of nationalism emerging.

What Trump believes: According to advisers, Trump's core beliefs boil down to pro-America, pro-U.S. jobs, pro-strong-borders. One of those advisers told us that while Trump might not think much about philosophy or specifics, he's the perfect vehicle to carry their ideas because he has an intuitive sense of how to sell them, especially to the white working class.

Its origin: Trump has bounced all over the place on most issues. But he has been a fairly consistent critic of trade deals, outsourcing and China. Starting several years back, Bannon, Miller and others searched for a vessel for their more fully formed version of nationalism, just as a similar wave swept across Europe. Trump embraced the notion, if not the specifics, and the inauguration speech was the advisers' victory lap. It was also Trump's fullest public embrace of it.

Its clout in Trump White House: The true believers share views that run counter to the Paul Ryan-wing of the GOP on everything from immigration and infrastructure spending, to bullying corporations. They are anti-"corporatists" who want to methodically destroy conventional conservatism. The group includes Bannon, Miller, son-in-law Jared Kushner, Sessions and his top adviser, Jeff Dearborn, Peter Navarro (the head of the National Trade Council), Wilbur Ross, the longtime Trump friend and Commerce Secretary-nominee, and others. They have planted true believers throughout the White House, so the roots run deep and will soon run deeper.

The policy ideas that will define it:

  • Trade: The White House is intent on slapping tariffs (or the equivalent) on imports from Mexico and other nations. Trump genuinely feels the United States gets shafted in trade deals such as NAFTA, and his team plans to use tax reform and other openings to impose penalties on imports. This is also about gaining leverage over China for all upcoming talks about currency and trade practices.
    • Interesting subplot: We hear the House Speaker is privately referring to his tariff-like border adjustment policy — crucial to raising revenue via taxing imports — as "responsible nationalism." He's speaking Bannon's language.
  • Infrastructure: On trade and infrastructure in particular, many Trump aides proudly say they are closer to Bernie Sanders than Paul Ryan. Watch for a very high-profile push for huge spending on U.S. infrastructure executed by U.S. workers, using U.S. products. The Bannon wing believes minorities who benefit from this spending will open their eyes and minds to Trump's politics. This also see it as a way to jam Republican leaders into rethinking their pro-business-at-all-cost mentality.
  • The wall: Trump told us in our interview last week he will use existing law to force a fast start to building a big stretch of wall on the Mexican border. At the same time, he said he can't imagine deporting fewer illegal immigrants than President Obama did in 2016. That said, he seemed to soften his tone on deportation to put the emphasis on a wall built by U.S. workers.
  • NATO: Trump and his base love attacking NATO member nations for relying on U.S. security without kicking in their fair share of troops or money. He's not likely to change NATO itself much but he will escalate the fight Obama and others started to force others to contribute more to the cause.
  • China: This is a core obsession of nationalists internally. All other topics overseas are small ball to them. They talk of dismantling the bipartisan, Henry Kissinger-esque strategy of cautious harmony. Instead, they want to force U.S. interests to the forefront on trade, currency and security. They are true believers in the arguments made by defense experts such as Michael Pillsbury, author of "The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower," that this is an existential fight for the nation's future. Bannon, a Navy veteran, is a student of China's provocative and expansive activities in the South China Sea, a source close to him emphasized.
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Report: Sessions talked Trump campaign matters with Russian ambassador

Susan Walsh / AP

Jeff Sessions discussed campaign-related matters with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, including policy issues important to the Russian government and the potential relationship between the Russian government and a Trump administration, according to current and former U.S. officials, The Washington Post reports.

The evidence: This report is based on U.S. intelligence intercepts of Kislyak's accounts of two conversations with Sessions, who was a foreign policy advisor to Trump at the time of the alleged conversations.

One big caveat: Russia is known to create false intelligence reports to sow confusion in the U.S., and Kislyak may have exaggerated his meetings.

One U.S. official said that when Sessions testified that he had no recollection of an April encounter with Kislyak, he was giving "misleading" statements "contradicted by other evidence."

  • Sessions in March when he recused himself from the Russia probe: "I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign."
Why it matters: Recent reports have shown that Trump is irritated with Sessions for recusing himself from the probe in the first place.
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Some parts of GOP health bill violate Senate rules

Andrew Harnik / AP

The Senate parliamentarian ruled Friday that some parts of the Senate health care bill do not comply with budget rules, meaning that if they're included in the bill, they'll need 60 votes to pass. (They won't get 60 votes.)

The biggest provisions that will have to come out if the Senate follows past precedent: Planned Parenthood defunding, abortion funding restrictions, and funding for insurer cost-sharing payments. However, one of the most controversial amendments of the bill, Sen. Ted Cruz's Consumer Freedom Act, wasn't included in her ruling, as it only addressed an earlier version of the bill that didn't include it.

The big things she said don't comply:

  • The provision barring Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funding for a year
  • The language preventing premium tax credits from being used for plans that cover abortion
  • Funding for insurer subsidies, known as cost-sharing reduction subsidies
  • The six-month waiting period for the individual market for people who haven't maintained continuous coverage
What's still under review:
  • Enhanced waivers for some Affordable Care Act regulations
  • A provision allowing small businesses to establish association health plans
  • The provision allowing insurers to charge older people more than younger people compared to the ACA
  • The option for states to receive a block grant instead of a per-person funding cap
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20 AGs call on Trump to defend DREAMers

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra held a press conference today on behalf of 20 attorneys general who have signed a letter to President Trump urging him to maintain and defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — a law protecting more than 750,000 undocumented young people, or "DREAMers." The attorneys general have said they will defend DACA if the president does not.

"Mr. President … you've said you want to see those DREAMers and those DACA recipients have a chance," Becerra said. "It makes no difference what the climate is in D.C., it's always a good thing to give a young person a chance."

Flashback: Trump has pledged to treat DACA recipients with "great heart" when looking at immigration reform. "To me, it's one of the most difficult subjects I have, because you have these incredible kids," he said.

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What to know about Anthony Scaramucci

AP

Today, Anthony Scaramucci was appointed as director of communications and Sean Spicer was kicked off the team. Here's some fast facts about "Mooch":
  • In June, he suggested that the White House broadcast their own daily newscast from a desk on the White House lawn, according to the Washington Post.

  • He graduated from Harvard Law School and got his undergrad in Economics at Tufts University.
  • He has worked at Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and Neuberger Berman.
  • He co-founded Oscar Capital Management, which sold to Neuberger Berman in 2001.
  • He founded the hedge fund SkyBridge Capital in 2005, which now has $11.4 billion in assets under management. He has hosted major financial industry conferences (SALT conferences). This past spring's speakers included Joe Biden.
  • He once hung an expensive Superman painting in his office, his former employees told the Post.
  • He was named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year in 2011.
  • He was a host of "Wall Street Week" and has been a contributor for Fox News.
  • He's written three books: "The Little Book of Hedge Funds," "Goodbye Gordon Gekko" and "Hopping Over the Rabbit Hole."
  • During the last campaign season, he worked first for Scott Walker and then Jeb Bush's campaigns before joining Trump. He even called Trump "another hack politician" in 2015 on Fox.
  • Last November, he joined Trump's Presidential Transition Team Executive Committee.
  • Last month, three CNN journalist resigned after publishing an unverified story connecting Scaramucci to a Russian investment fund.
  • This is the third job offered to Scaramucci in the Trump administration — director of the Office of Public Engagement, a senior role in the U.S. Export-Import Bank — which he accepted — and now director of communications.
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The 5 most popular stories from Trump's first 6 months as POTUS

Steven Senne, Carolyn Kaster, Susan Walsh, Evan Vucci, Alex Brandon / AP

A story written on Sally Yates firing has received the most social engagements of any other Trump story since he took office, according to SocialFlow. It used an algorithm to calculate which published stories had the most total engagement seconds based on whether someone clicked, reacted to, commented on or shared the article. Here are the top 5 most engaged stories from Trump's first 6 months in office:

  1. Sally Yates fired, Jan.31
  2. Trump calls for investigation into alleged voter fraud, Jan 26
  3. House forced to postpone first ACA repeal vote, March 24
  4. Developments in the Trump-Russia dossier story, March 23
  5. Mar a Lago kitchen cited for health violations, April 13
(The publishers of the stories could not be disclosed.)
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Top coal lobbyist expected to be No. 2 at EPA

Top coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler is likely to be tapped as the No. 2. official at the Environmental Protection Agency, according to two people familiar with the decision-making process.

The expected appointment for deputy EPA administrator is a turnaround from last month when the White House was poised to tap Jeff Holmstead, a former top EPA official under President George W. Bush. Holmstead is considered to be a more moderate conservative compared to Wheeler and other officials inside the Trump administration.

Why it matters: Wheeler's likely nomination shows the influence of conservatives, both inside and outside the administration, over environmental and energy policy. Wheeler has been more outspoken in questioning the science behind climate change than Holmstead.

Wheeler's bio: Wheeler, now a principal at firm Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, is a top lobbyist for Murray Energy, the coal mining company whose CEO, Bob Murray, is close with President Trump. Wheeler has steadily lobbied on behalf of the private coal producer since at least 2009, according to lobbying disclosure data. His most recent filing for the company was posted July 20, according to the federal disclosure website.

Wheeler has worked on Capitol Hill, including for Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), when he was a leader on the environment committee. Many top officials at EPA and the White House have worked for Inhofe, who in turn has a long-standing relationship with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt was attorney general of Oklahoma before getting the EPA job.

For the record: Reached by email, Wheeler had no comment. Spokespeople for the EPA and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

What's next: No final decision has been made on the nomination, which would require Senate confirmation and is certain to face intense pushback from Democrats.


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Sarah Sanders replaces Sean Spicer as press secretary

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders briefed reporters on-camera (for the first time in 22 days) following Sean Spicer's resignation from the White House. Sanders then brought Anthony Scaramucci, the newly appointed WH Communications Director, up to the podium, where he announced that Sanders will replace Spicer moving forward. "The president loves Sarah. He think she's doing a phenomenal job," said Scaramucci.

Highlights from Friday's on-camera briefing:

Anthony Scaramucci

  • Spicer's resignation: "Sean is a true American Patriot...I love the guy, and I wish him well. I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money."
  • On rumored tension with Reince Priebus: "I don't have any friction with Reince... we are a little bit like brothers... we rough each other up once in a while... I have no problem reporting to him."
  • On friction with Bannon: "I have a huge enormous amount of respect for him... He's got a strong personality. I have a strong personality...I want to keep my ego low and work with Steve Bannon as much as I can."
  • WH infighting: "If we have a little bit of friction inside the WH... it's OK, we can deal with that, I'm a business person, I'm used to that."
  • Trump's performance as POTUS: "I think he's got some of the best political insights in the world, probably in history." He later added, "He's a winner. We're going to do a lot of winning."
  • On Trump's claim of 2-3 million fraudulent votes: "If the president said it, there's probably some level of truth to it."
  • Most repeated line: "I love the president."
Sarah Sanders
  • How is Spicer feeling? "He understood that the president wanted to bring in new people... and he thought it would be best for the team to start with a totally clean slate... he's served the president loyally and admirably."
  • Trump pardons: "The president retains pardon authority as any other president would, but has no plans."
  • Does Trump have confidence in Mueller? "I don't have any reason to see otherwise."
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Google, Apple, Amazon hit record lobbying highs

Alex Brandon / AP

The last three months brought record-high lobbying spending from four major tech companies:

More 💰: Facebook spent $2.38 million this quarter, up from the same period last year but far from a record. Microsoft's bill for the quarter was just over $2 million.

Key context: Tech has been pushing back on some of the Trump administration's high-profile actions. But there's also issues like taxes and trade where major companies could score wins from the Republican Congress and White House.

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Mueller to WH: preserve Trump Jr. meeting docs

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has sent a letter to the White House requesting it preserve all documents relating to Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer last June, CNN first reported.

What they're requesting: emails, text messages, notes, voicemails, and any other documents about that June 9 meeting, as well as any communications about it since then.

Why this matters: This notice further confirms Mueller and his team are investigating Trump Jr.'s meeting, which was first suggested when he requested an interview from Ike Kaveladze, the 8th person who was revealed to have been in the meeting. And Axios previously learned that Trump's legal counsel advised him to avoid any discussions of the Russia probes with Jared Kushner, ultimately as a way to protect Trump since Kushner is so wrapped up in them. This all suggests the Russia probes are getting closer to Trump by way of those who are rather close to him, ultimately making it harder for him to avoid addressing.

Part of the letter, per CNN:

"As you are aware the Special Counsel's office is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump. Information concerning the June 2016 meeting between Donald J Trump Jr and Natalia Veselnitskaya is relevant to the investigation."
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Inside the room at Sean Spicer's resignation announcement

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci told the White House comms team earlier today that they were old friends and have known each other forever. While the length of their relationship is a fact, Reince, with the support of Steve Bannon and Sean Spicer, tried to block Scaramucci from getting the job, telling people he was woefully unqualified for the position.

At a 10 a.m. meeting this morning, President Trump offered Scaramucci the job as White House Communications Director.

Spicer quit after that meeting, according to the NYT's Glenn Thrush.

  • "This was the last straw," said a source close to Spicer. The objection of the press secretary and his allies was that Scaramucci would hold the title, while Spicer would be expect to continue to carry out many of the duties related to strategy and planning.
  • "Sean was going to be expected to serve as press secretary while also being the quasi-comms director," the source said.

After the Oval Office meeting: Spicer, Priebus and Scaramucci stood in a row behind Sean's desk in the corner of the press secretary's office. A wall of TVs playing cable news was in the background. Some 40 staff gathered, according to a source in the room.

Spicer started off:

  • "A lot of you are hearing the news, and I want you to hear it directly from us."
  • He praised Scaramucci, said he's a fighter and can do a great job. Everyone applauded for Scaramucci.
  • Spicer added: "I want you all to be the first to hear that I told the president that I'm going to step down, but that I'm going to be very involved in the transition to make sure that Anthony can be very successful."
  • Sean framed the decision as wanting to give Mooch a clean slate.
  • A source in the room said he was very gracious about it, and everyone applauded for Sean.
Reince: "The president had decided to bring Anthony in, and it's going to be a great thing, he's a self-made man. He knows what it takes to run an organization... has built several businesses.... it was a great choice...."
Scaramucci's comments, after praising Spicer and the comms team:
  • He and Reince have a long relationship that started at a Koch brothers conference.
  • He'd actually tried to hire Reince to be COO with ownership stake of Skybridge, the firm he sold while waiting on a White House job.
  • They've worked closely together since the Romney campaign.

What's next: Scaramucci will spend the next week transitioning into the role and meeting his new staff.