Trump Reportedly Growing Suspicious of UN Amb Nikki Haley’s Ambitions, Possibly For His Job

President Trump may have a bone to pick with yet another member of his administration: UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

A new report from The New York Times alleges that the president “grew angry” at Haley’s Sunday show appearances, specifically when she stated that the U.S. would be placing fresh new sanctions against Russia. However, he supposedly is questioning her “political ambition, jealousy, resentment and loyalty.”

Since the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Haley has become the face of foreign policy, especially since the chemical attack that took place in Syria. However, the White House has been keeping her out of the loop, which led to the public dustup between her and WH economic advisor Larry Kudlow.

But according to administration officials and insiders, he has “grown exasperated by her outspokenness” about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Who wrote that for her?” Mr. Trump reported yelled at his television during a Sunday show appearance. “Who wrote that for her?”

Per the NYT:

Mr. Trump has grown suspicious of her ambition, convinced that she had been angling for Mr. Tillerson’s position and increasingly wondering whether she wants his own job.

Republicans close to the White House whisper about the prospect of an alliance between Ms. Haley and Vice President Mike Pence, possibly to run as a ticket in 2020.

Aides to both scoff at such suggestions, but the slightest hint of such a pairing would be likely to enrage Mr. Trump, who has made it clear that he plans to run for re-election. The talk was exacerbated in recent days when Mr. Pence named Jon Lerner, Ms. Haley’s deputy, as his new national security adviser, while allowing him to keep his job at the United Nations.

[Mediaite]

Trump order targets wide swath of public assistance programs

The Trump administration is seeking to completely revamp the country’s social safety net, targeting recipients of Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance.

Trump is doing so through a sweeping executive order that was quietly issued earlier this week – and that largely flew under the radar.

It calls on the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and other agencies across the federal government to craft new rules requiring that beneficiaries of a host of programs work or lose their benefits.

Trump argued with the order, which has been in the works since last year, that the programs have grown too large while failing to move needy people out of government help.

“Since its inception, the welfare system has grown into a large bureaucracy that might be susceptible to measuring success by how many people are enrolled in a program rather than by how many have moved from poverty into financial independence,” it states.

The order is directed at “any program that provides means-tested assistance or other assistance that provides benefits to people, households or families that have low incomes.”

Democrats have blasted the effort, arguing the order blends the issues of welfare and broader public assistance programs in a deliberate way they say is intended to lower support for popular initiatives.

“Welfare” has historically been used to describe cash assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Democrats and liberal activists say the Trump administration is seeking to expand the definition of welfare to mean food stamps, Medicaid and other programs as a way to demonize them.

“This executive order perpetuates false and racist stereotypes about certain groups supposedly taking advantage of government assistance,” House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement reacting to the order.

President Trump “is trying to erect a smokescreen in the shape of Reagan’s ‘welfare queen’ so people don’t see he’s coming after the entire middle and working class,” said Rebecca Vallas, managing director of the Center for American Progress’s Poverty to Prosperity Program.

Welfare reform has long been a goal of GOP lawmakers, and there’s broad support in the Republican conference for changing the federal safety net to impose stricter work requirements and block grant state funding for programs like Medicaid and food stamps.

While noting that he hadn’t seen the specific text of the executive order, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said he supports the concept.

“For able-bodied, single adults, I certainly favor work requirements,” Cole said.

With Republicans in total control of the government, conservatives have been hoping for a major legislative push to overhaul federal assistance programs.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) late last year said he wanted Republicans to work on entitlement reform, with a focus on promoting work and career-based education.

“We want to smooth the path from welfare to work, pull people out of poverty, pull people out of welfare,” Ryan said in December.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Institute, said the executive order is meant to signal support to congressional Republicans.

“[Administration officials] have been talking to Congress, and the executive order is designed to set the table for them,” Rector said. “Do what they can in the executive branch, and give support to similar efforts on the Hill.”

But a short legislative calendar and a slim Republican majority in the Senate mean the administration may be largely on its own.

Agencies are limited in what changes they can make to their programs, so comprehensive welfare reform may be off the table without major legislation.

Republicans have already acknowledged they won’t be able to cut spending on entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

“I think it’s very tough to get this thing through the Senate when it requires 60 votes. I certainly don’t have any problem with the president taking initiative,” Cole said.

The executive order doesn’t set any new policy, but Center for American Progress’s Vallas said the order is important as a messaging document, and it shows that Trump is willing to act without Congress.

“This is more of President Trump not being content to wait for Congress to dismantle these programs. This is him wanting to take matters into his own hands,” Vallas said.

The order follows policy shifts already underway at various agencies.

Health and Human Services officials have encouraged states to pursue work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries. Arkansas, Indiana and Kentucky have already been granted such waivers, and several other states have waivers pending with the administration.

Earlier this year, the Agriculture Department sought input on “innovative ideas to promote work and self-sufficiency among able-bodied adults” participating in the food stamp program.

In Congress, House Republicans unveiled a provision in the 2018 farm bill to expand mandatory work requirements in the food stamp program. The broader legislation will be marked up later this month, but it faces a long uphill battle.

The administration’s effort could also face legal challenges. Medicaid advocates in Kentucky have already sued over the work requirements, and additional safety net changes could provoke even more lawsuits.

[The Hill]

Trump just blocked his own administration’s Russia sanctions

It appears that President Trump just blocked his own administration’s plan to sanction Russia.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, announced Sunday that the Trump administration was going to hit Russia with new sanctions on Monday over its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program in the wake of the April 7 chemical attack in Douma, Syria, that killed dozens of people. The sanctions were explicitly focused on Russian companies that deal in equipment linked to Assad’s chemical weapons program.

But just a day later, the White House backtracked, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that the administration was merely “considering additional sanctions on Russia” and that “a decision will be made in the near future.”

So why the awkward reversal? Apparently President Trump wasn’t on board with sanctioning Russia.

According to the Washington Post, after Haley announced the sanctions on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning, Trump told national security advisers he was “upset the sanctions were being officially rolled out because he was not yet comfortable executing them.”

It unclear whether Haley just mistakenly announced the sanctions prematurely before the president had officially signed off on them, or if something else entirely went wrong.

But two things are obvious: The administration is once again botching the rollout of a fairly straightforward policy, and Trump is personally taking steps to ensure that he doesn’t anger Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A Russian foreign ministry official said on Monday that the Trump administration contacted the Russian embassy on Sunday and told them that the sanctions that Haley had mentioned were not actually coming.

[VOX]

Officials Confirm That Trump Bombed Syria to Validate His Tweets

Last week, the United States launched an act of war against a sovereign government because failing to do so would have cast doubt on the credibility of the statements that Donald Trump makes while livetweeting Fox & Friends.

That may sound like hyperbolic snark, or the premise of an Andy Borowitz column, but it is a plain description of the rationale behind last Friday’s missile strikes in Syria, according to multiple military and administration officials.

Last Tuesday — amid reports that the U.S. was considering a strike against the Assad regime, in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack against civilians in Douma — Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin warned that “if there is a US missile attack, we … will shoot down U.S. rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles.”

The Fox & Friends morning crew took exception to this bluster, with one host arguing, “What we should be doing is telling the Russians, ‘Every Syrian military base is a target and if you’re there, it is your problem.’”

Minutes later, one of the program’s most dedicated viewers echoed that belligerent note.

The White House had reached no final decision about whether to strike Syria — let alone, whether to target Russian assets within it — when the president tweeted this pledge. Over the ensuing days, Defense Secretary James Mattis implored Trump to hold off on bombing the Assad regime until its responsibility for the Douma attack could be fully verified, and Congress could be given a chance to authorize the act of war.

But the president couldn’t abide a delay. In his view, it was better to bomb Syria without a strategy or legal authorization than to invite doubts about the credibility of the threats he makes on social media. As the New York Times reports:

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged President Trump to get congressional approval before the United States launched airstrikes against Syria last week, but was overruled by Mr. Trump, who wanted a rapid and dramatic response, military and administration officials said.

Mr. Trump, the officials said, wanted to be seen as backing up a series of bellicose tweets with action, but was warned that an overly aggressive response risked igniting a wider war with Russia.

… Mr. Trump’s drumbeat of threats last week of a sharp response to the suspected gas attacks all but guaranteed that the United States military would strike Syria, according to two Defense Department officials who spoke on condition of anonymity … Mr. Trump did not necessarily want to hit Syria hard enough to bring Russia into the war, administration officials said. But he did want to appear aggressive in his response.

Just days before the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Trump had called for an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria. At that point, Assad was already (allegedly) using chemical weapons on a routine basis. No significant facts on the ground changed between when the president wanted to remove every last American soldier from Syria, and when he wanted to escalate U.S. intervention against Assad. What did change were Fox News’ programming decisions.

Unlike Assad’s typical war crimes, the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma produced dead bodies that weren’t too mutilated to be aired extensively on American cable news channels. Trump reportedly saw those images and felt moved to assert American power. He then, ostensibly, saw a Fox & Friends segment in which Russia was portrayed as challenging his authority to assert that power. He tweeted a rebuke. And thus, America went to war.

Thanks to James Mattis, the bombings proved to be quite limited — mere “show strikes” designed to “send a message” without sparking a wider war. Had Trump picked a slightly less risk-averse hawk as his Defense secretary, however, it’s quite possible that his tweet would have been the trigger for a direct confrontation with Russia and Iran: As the Times reports, “neoconservative members of the Republican foreign policy establishment have started to air concerns that Mr. Mattis is ceding strategic territory to Iran and Russia in Syria.”

As it happened, Trump’s strikes proved sufficiently innocuous for “liberal” foreign policy wonks to feel comfortable endorsing them — even as they acknowledged the campaign’s illegality and strategic incoherence.

And yet, the fact that such Establishment figures blessed Trump’s decision to wage an illegal war in defense of his tweets only makes the development more unnerving.

Trump’s conduct as president is often terrifying for the ways in which it breaks radically with precedent. But a nearly-as-unsettling aspect of his presidency is the way it rubs one’s face in the insanity of American “politics-as-usual.” Which is to say: Like a caricature, Trump makes the more unsightly features of the American presidency more visible, by blowing them up to garish extremes.

It was, of course, absurd for the man who had campaigned in support of torture, banning Syrian refugees — and deliberately targeting the families of enemy combatants for execution — to justify air strikes in Syria on humanitarian grounds. But it was also (less gratuitously) absurd for Barack Obama to issue similarly moralistic condemnations of chemical warfare as such, while his administration allowed U.S. troops to deploy white phosphorus in Afghanistan — and helped its Saudi allies to commit war crimes in Yemen. It is insane that Trump launched a strategically incoherent military intervention for the sole purpose of projecting an image of strength to a domestic audience — but it was also insane for Lyndon Johnson to escalate American involvement in Vietnam for much the same reason.

None of this is to deny that our current president is more comprehensively detached from reality than his predecessors were. When other presidents made plainly hypocritical foreign policy statements — or took strategically dubious foreign policy actions — they generally did so in service of some sincere policy goal. By most accounts, George W. Bush genuinely believed in the power of the United States to spread democracy through mass murder. Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam policy was conceived, at least in part, as a means of preserving political capital for advancing liberal domestic goals.

By contrast, projecting a desirable image is Trump’s highest ambition. He does not use propaganda as means for advancing his preferred policies; he uses policy as a tool for advancing his preferred propaganda. The mogul did not run for president because he had deeply held convictions about how he wanted to change the world, but because he had a deeply felt desire to change how the world saw him. This is why he prefers to get his information about foreign affairs from a morning talk show, instead of from the most powerful intelligence apparatus ever assembled by humankind: Trump cares more about how geopolitical realities look to Fox News viewers, than about what those realities actually are.

From this perspective, the president’s missile strikes in Syria were strategically sound. If the goal was not to enforce the laws of war, but merely to replace one set of cable news images (the bodies of poisoned children in Syria, talking heads debating whether the president would follow through on his tweets) with another more triumphant one (the president sternly asserting America’s moral responsibilities, missiles streaking across a night sky), then it isn’t hard to see why Trump declared “Mission Accomplished.”

But it is difficult to understand how so many members of our nation’s foreign policy Establishment could see this solipsistic performance as a justifiable exercise of American power. And that difficulty leaves one to wonder whether the distinction between waging a war because Fox & Friends told you to and doing so because prestigious Beltway think tanks did is as significant as we might hope.

[New York Magazine]

Trump orders Postal Service review after blasting Amazon deal

After accusing Amazon for months of not paying its fair share of postage, President Trump has ordered a review of the US Postal Service’s finances via an executive order issued late Thursday night. The order calls for a task force to evaluate the operations and finances of the USPS. The order does not mention Amazon by name, but it seems clear that Trump is trying to back his claim that the USPS is losing “many billions of dollars a year” due to the financial arrangement with its biggest shipper of packages, or about $1.50 for every Amazon package it delivers.

Trump may very well be correct regarding the numbers, although his rage seems misplaced. Experts, and even Trump’s own advisers, have said that the enormous volume of packages shipped by Amazon have helped keep the Postal Service afloat. Rather, the long, slow decline in junk and first-class mail are the reasons for the USPS’s mounting financial losses. Trump’s executive order acknowledges this.

“A number of factors, including the steep decline in First-Class Mail volume, coupled with legal mandates that compel the USPS to incur substantial and inflexible costs, have resulted in a structural deficit,” the president says in the order. “The U.S.P.S. is on an unsustainable financial path and must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout.”

It’s unclear how quickly the task force will begin its review, but it has 120 days to respond to the president with a summary of its findings and recommendations. Trump created a similar commission last year to support his claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election — a claim thoroughly debunked by election experts from both parties. The commission was dissolved in January.

Trump often screams “FAKE NEWS!” on Twitter after The Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, publishes incriminating stories about Trump or his administration. Last week Trump calledThe Post “Amazon’s ‘chief lobbyist,’” a claim he’s fond of repeating. And during his presidential campaign, Trump saidthat Amazon had a “huge anti-trust problem” and “is getting away with murder, tax-wise.” It all makes you wonder what Trump’s real angle is.

[The Verge]

 

Trump’s push to redo $1.3T spending bill he signed sparks GOP revolt

A regretful President Donald Trump wants to roll back spending in a massive omnibus bill he signed into law, but Republicans who helped craft the legislation are in open revolt.

“My attitude is, your word is your bond,” House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen said, in his first public comments on the Trump plan.

Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) is among more than a half-dozen appropriators who have voiced skepticism about the Trump administration’s proposal to cancel billions in spending. Nearly all said they feared that it could erode the GOP’s bargaining power in future budget talks. Their objections represented another low point in an often-tense relationship between the cost-cutting White House and GOP members of Congress who write spending bills.

The skeptics included the newly appointed Senate Appropriations chief, Richard Shelby, who met with Trump on Wednesday.

“We need to look at what we agreed on with the other side and keep our word, keep our agreements,” the Alabama Republican told POLITICO just before his one-on-one with Trump.

He added that the Senate has had little appetite for the idea in the past: “Rescissions has never been a big thing over here.”

The White House is seeking to essentially take a scalpel to last month’s $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, scratching out any funding that Trump doesn’t personally back.

Budget experts have said a rescissions package of that scale would likely be unprecedented: One party’s leaders in Congress and the White House have never before unilaterally agreed to unravel a spending deal that has already been sealed.

“I think the whole rescission effort is unrealistic and dangerous,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a longtime appropriator, told reporters. “It’s hard enough to make a bargain around here. But you can’t break your word when you do. … You’d never have another deal ever.”

Multiple lawmakers, including Cole, said they don’t believe House GOP leaders are taking the idea seriously — despite Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s own involvement in the budget scheme. They think it’s really being pushed by Trump’s belt-tightening budget director, Mick Mulvaney, a former member of the House Freedom Caucus.

Most are doubtful that the cutbacks could even land a floor vote.

“It seems like this is just an exercise in appeasing the president and the Republican ‘no’ votes on the omnibus,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) told reporters.

“We could have made the original budget framework smaller. I would have been fine with that,” Dent said. But he cautioned that going back on the agreement now, months later, would have a “chilling effect” on future deals.

Republicans, particularly in the House, have little desire to revisit the unpopular spending deal, H.R. 1625 (115), in an increasingly dire midterm campaign cycle. The package included huge boosts to domestic funding, which GOP leaders worked hard to sell to their own members in the name of securing more Pentagon funding.

Ultimately, 90 House Republicans backed the spending bill, in part because they were promised cover by the White House.

But Trump’s 180-degree reversal on that deal left the Republican lawmakers who backed the omnibus feeling spurned. Trump further infuriated members of his own party after he threatened to veto the bill and accused GOP leaders of choosing to “waste money” in the bill.

Those same Republican leaders have sharply disputed Trump’s claim that there was no close scrutiny of spending. “When you put together a $1.3 trillion bill, you look into all these accounts,” Frelinghuysen said in defense of the bill.

“You don’t throw your friends under the bus who did exactly what you wanted them to do,” Cole said, calling it a “hare-brained scheme.”

Just one appropriator out of nine polled by POLITICO this week expressed interest in a rescissions package.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who oversees Agriculture spending, said he was “absolutely” open to the idea.

“We’re all just getting back, we gotta sit around the table and talk about it, but I don’t dismiss the idea at all,” said Aderholt, who is in a tight race to take over as House Appropriations chairman next year.

No lawmaker has seen any details out of the White House or GOP leadership about which programs would be cut. The Trump administration would have until mid-June to submit its request, after which it would be up to the House Appropriations Committee to turn the package into legislative language.

That work would need to be done at the same time the Appropriations panels are knee-deep in drafting bills for fiscal 2019, which begins Sept. 30.

And with an already abbreviated House calendar this year, lawmakers say there’s hardly time or interest to jump back into the previous fiscal year.

“We’ll see how that comes together. I’m not quite sure how that’s going to happen, but we’ll see if it does,” Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) said.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have accused the GOP of “buyer’s remorse” after the most recent spending deal. And Democrats are already cautioning that Republican efforts to walk back this year’s spending deal would be seen as an attempt to void the entire two-year budget agreement.

Without that agreement, which also delivered huge increases in defense spending, the Pentagon’s budget would actually shrink next year.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) said he won’t decide whether to support a rescissions package until he sees the details. But he added that Congress’ spending panels tend to take the blame for the nation’s mounting debt — even though nondefense discretionary spending accounts for just 15 cents out of every dollar spent by the government.

“At Appropriations, we’re the most visible and easy target,” he said.

[Politico]

Trump Blasts Washington Post Over ‘Phony’ Headline on China Trade War Story: ‘Amazon’s Chief Lobbyist’

Earlier this week, Vanity Fair‘s Gabriel Sherman reported, through a source, that President Donald Trump has been consumed of late by the following question:

“[H]ow can I fuck with [Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos]?”

Trump’s answer, apparently, is to go after Amazon — and the Bezos-owned Washington Post for good measure — on Twitter.

In a Thursday morning Tweet, Trump blasted the paper for its headline on a story about the escalating trade conflict with China.

“The Fake News Washington Post, Amazon’s ‘chief lobbyist,’ has another (of many) phony headlines, “Trump Defiant As China Adds Trade Penalties.” WRONG!” Trump wrote. “Should read, “Trump Defiant as U.S. Adds Trade Penalties, Will End Barriers And Massive I.P. Theft.” Typically bad reporting!”

Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron has sought to dispel Trump’s notion that Bezos controls the paper’s reporting.

“It’s completely made up,” Baron said this week, in an appearance on CBS This Morning. “There isn’t anybody here who is paid by Amazon. Not one penny.”

[Mediaite]

Trump: Dems ‘stand in our way’ on stronger border

President Trump on Wednesday called on Congress to take immediate action to strengthen border laws while accusing Democrats of standing in the way of legislation.

In a morning tweet, the president said current border laws are “very weak” and that “strong action” would be taken Wednesday.

his comes a day after the president said he wants to deploy U.S. troops to guard the southern border with Mexico until his proposed border wall is completed.

“Until we can have a wall and proper security, we are going to be guarding our border with the military,” Trump said Tuesday during a meeting with Baltic state leaders.

Trump has received increased pressure from his base to score a policy win on immigration after lawmakers did not address his plea for $25 billion in wall money in recent spending legislation.

The president instead got just $1.6 billion for border fortifications in a recent government funding bill, and most of that money cannot be used to build new portions of the wall.

Trump on Tuesday also cited a “caravan” of Central American migrants heading for the U.S. border, later saying he heard reports the caravan was broken up, crediting his threat to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) if Mexico does not arrest more migrants.

“They did it because, frankly, I said you really have to do it,” the president said. “We’re going to have a relationship on NAFTA. We’re going to have to include security in NAFTA.”

The president has been attempting to renegotiate NAFTA terms with Mexico and Canada for months. He exempted the countries from his recent steel and aluminum tariffs and reportedly hopes to have an updated version of NAFTA to unveil during the Summit of the Americas later this month.

[The Hill]

Trump continues Amazon attacks, says it costs USPS ‘massive amounts’

President Trump is not backing down on his argument that Amazon financially hurts the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), tweeting on Tuesday that the mega-retailer costs USPS “massive amounts of money.”

“I am right about Amazon costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy. Amazon should pay these costs (plus) and not have them bourne [sic] by the American Taxpayer. Many billions of dollars. P.O. leaders don’t have a clue (or do they?)!” Trump tweeted.

The president’s strike at Amazon on Tuesday follows a series of tweets in which he criticized the company’s shipping arrangements with USPS.

“Only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon,” the president tweeted Monday. “THEY LOSE A FORTUNE, and this will be changed. Also, our fully tax paying retailers are closing stores all over the country…not a level playing field!”

The USPS does give Amazon a shipping discount because of the volume of packages it ships and has a deal with the USPS to ship packages on Sundays, but details of the arrangement have not been made public.

The accusation that Amazon is hurting the USPS has been disputed, with some fact-checkers saying that while the Postal Service is having problems, it is not because of Amazon.

Amazon owner Jeff Bezos has long been a target of Trump.

Bezos also owns The Washington Post, and Trump on Saturday accused him of using the newspaper as a “lobbyist” for Amazon. He has also often accused the Post of being “fake news.”

The Post and Amazon are two separate businesses and operate independently of one another.

[The Hill]

Trump Slams His Own DOJ Over Response to Document Requests: ‘An Embarrassment To Our Country!’

President Donald Trump has his daggers out, getting this week off to a rollicking start.

Today’s targets: DACA, the Democrats, and yes, of course, the DOJ.

Trump is going after his own Justice Department once again in his crusade to turn the tides of public opinion in his favor.

The Commander in Chief this morning shot off a tweet slamming the DOJ and FBI for not giving Congress the “unredacted documents” they requested:

House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte recently subpoenaed the DOJ for documents regarding the Hillary Clinton investigation and potential FISA abuses.

[Mediaite]

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