Trump’s North Korea Nobel buzz could die with John Bolton

Donald Trump wants a deal with North Korea. His national security adviser thinks the North Koreans can’t be dealt with. And North Korea thinks he’s “human scum.”

North Korea’s latest diatribe against the United States — and specifically a “repugnant” national security adviser, John Bolton — spotlights a core tension within the Trump administration as the president seeks a nuclear deal with North Korea that he hopes might earn him a Nobel Peace Prize.

Bolton is famously contemptuous of what he considers naïve U.S. diplomacy with foreign adversaries who can only be trusted to cheat and lie. Prominent on his list is North Korea itself, which he has written “will never give up nuclear weapons voluntarily,” calling past U.S. diplomatic forays with the country “embarrassments.”

Trump, too, believes America has struck “terrible deals” for decades. And he shared Bolton’s intense animus for the Iran nuclear deal, Continue reading “Trump’s North Korea Nobel buzz could die with John Bolton”

Senate GOP chides Trump over McCain treatment

Senate Republicans are openly seething over the White House’s treatment of John McCain, casting a pall over the party ahead of a rare lunch with President Donald Trump the caucus is hosting on Tuesday.

The White House’s refusal to apologize for an aide joking about the Arizona senator’s failing health is threatening to undermine what should be a feel-good moment for the caucus.

“Just out of common decency they should apologize. And the person who said it should apologize. It’s wrong,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

With a potential deal with North Korea in the works, the economy humming and Trump following through on his vow to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, Republicans were feeling more upbeat about the administration than they had in months. But the morbid joke by communications aide Kelly Sadler last week, delivered at a staff meeting and promptly leaked to the press, made Continue reading “Senate GOP chides Trump over McCain treatment”

Advisers bad-mouth Nielsen as a ‘never Trumper’

President Donald Trump’s frustration with Kirstjen Nielsen, which boiled over Wednesday in a Cabinet meeting tirade, has been growing for weeks — stoked by associates who have privately made the case that she’s a closeted “never Trumper” who still doesn’t fully back his agenda.

Trump’s advisers have been increasingly criticizing the Homeland Security chief in private conversations with the president, arguing that she isn’t doing enough to improve border security and noting that she wasn’t a vocal Trump supporter during the campaign, three people familiar with the internal discussions told POLITICO.

As a result, Trump has come to believe that Nielsen — who considered quitting this week after the president berated her over an uptick in migrant arrests — is not focused enough on carrying out his immigration agenda, one of the people said. The president has told friends that he believes chief of staff John Kelly, with whom he Continue reading “Advisers bad-mouth Nielsen as a ‘never Trumper’”

Nielsen pushed by Trump tirade to brink of resignation

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen drafted a resignation letter and nearly quit after President Donald Trump upbraided her during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, a senior administration official told POLITICO.

But by early evening, Nielsen, a protégé of White House chief of staff John Kelly who was confirmed by the Senate a mere five months ago, appeared to be backing down from that threat, saying in a written statement that "the president is rightly frustrated" by continuing illegal immigration and "I share his frustration."

When Vice President Mike Pence heard that Nielsen was close to resigning, he summoned her to the White House Wednesday afternoon to urge her to stay, the official said, adding that she appeared to be in better spirits Thursday.

This would be a particularly awkward time for Nielsen to resign, because her deputy, Elaine Duke, retired only last month. The Trump White House has not yet Continue reading “Nielsen pushed by Trump tirade to brink of resignation”

Pompeo in final stages of talks to release Americans held by North Korea

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the final stages of negotiations to secure the release of three American prisoners held by North Korea, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that Pompeo is on his way to North Korea and would be landing there shortly. Asked whether he would be bringing the Americans home, the president responded: “We will all soon be finding out. We will soon be finding out.”

The secretary of state told reporters traveling with him that he has not received any commitments concerning the release of the three Americans but said he hopes North Korea will “do the right thing.”

“We’ve been asking for the release of these detainees for 17 months,” he said. “We’ll talk about it again. It’d be a great gesture if they’d agree to do so.”

Pompeo’s visit comes ahead of a Continue reading “Pompeo in final stages of talks to release Americans held by North Korea”

Ronny Jackson won’t return to old job as Trump’s physician

White House physician Ronny Jackson will not return to his role as the president’s personal physician, according to two senior administration officials, after a string of allegations caused the Navy rear admiral to withdraw his nomination last week to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sean Conley, a Navy officer who took over Jackson’s role as the president’s personal doctor last month, will continue in the role, the officials said.

Jackson bowed out last week after Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, released a document summarizing allegations by current and former colleagues that Jackson overprescribed pills, drank on the job and created a hostile work environment. Jackson has denied the allegations and has returned to work in the White House Medical Unit.

President Donald Trump has continued defending Jackson, with whom he formed a tight personal bond.

On Saturday, Trump wrote on Twitter that Continue reading “Ronny Jackson won’t return to old job as Trump’s physician”

Ronny Jackson won’t return to old job as Trump’s physician

White House physician Ronny Jackson will not return to his role as the president’s personal physician, according to two senior administration officials, after a string of allegations caused the Navy rear admiral to withdraw his nomination last week to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sean Conley, a Navy officer who took over Jackson’s role as the president’s personal doctor last month, will continue in the role, the officials said.

Jackson bowed out last week after Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, released a document summarizing allegations by current and former colleagues that Jackson overprescribed pills, drank on the job and created a hostile work environment. Jackson has denied the allegations and has returned to work in the White House Medical Unit.

President Donald Trump has continued defending Jackson, with whom he formed a tight personal bond.

On Saturday, Trump wrote on Twitter that Continue reading “Ronny Jackson won’t return to old job as Trump’s physician”

Trump’s lovefest with Dershowitz blossoms

Alan Dershowitz, the retired Harvard Law professor, had an adorable six-foot-tall stuffed bear in his daughter’s bedroom and a potential legal problem on his hands.

It was the early 1990s, and his client, hotel magnate Leona Helmsley, had gifted him the stuffed animal upon the birth of his baby girl. But Helmsley later admitted that she had stolen the bear from Donald Trump, keeping it when she sold him Rumplemayer’s, a now shuttered New York ice cream parlor famous for its stuffed bear collection – which was part of the deal.

Viewing himself as a paragon of ethical conduct, Dershowitz told her he no longer felt comfortable keeping the gift. Helmsley said she didn’t want the bear back and waved him off, telling him to take his problem to Trump.

“I called him and I said, ‘Mr. Trump, I have a bear that belongs to you,’” Dershowitz said in an Continue reading “Trump’s lovefest with Dershowitz blossoms”

Trump’s lovefest with Dershowitz blossoms

Alan Dershowitz, the retired Harvard Law professor, had an adorable six-foot-tall stuffed bear in his daughter’s bedroom and a potential legal problem on his hands.

It was the early 1990s, and his client, hotel magnate Leona Helmsley, had gifted him the stuffed animal upon the birth of his baby girl. But Helmsley later admitted that she had stolen the bear from Donald Trump, keeping it when she sold him Rumplemayer’s, a now shuttered New York ice cream parlor famous for its stuffed bear collection – which was part of the deal.

Viewing himself as a paragon of ethical conduct, Dershowitz told her he no longer felt comfortable keeping the gift. Helmsley said she didn’t want the bear back and waved him off, telling him to take his problem to Trump.

“I called him and I said, ‘Mr. Trump, I have a bear that belongs to you,’” Dershowitz said in an Continue reading “Trump’s lovefest with Dershowitz blossoms”

Trump’s top national security spokesman to leave White House

National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said Sunday that he plans to leave the White House — a move that will leave President Donald Trump without one of the earliest and sharpest defenders of his “America First" foreign policy.

Though Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, brought Anton into the administration, he spent the majority of his tenure serving as spokesman for Flynn’s replacement, H.R. McMaster.

Anton said he plans join Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center, the conservative school’s Washington, D.C. outpost, as a writer and lecturer. "I will be forever grateful to President Trump for the opportunity to serve my country and implement his agenda,” he said.

Before joining the Trump administration, Anton had become a controversial figure during the 2016 campaign for his attempt to make the case for Trump’s candidacy. In a pseudonymous essay, “The Flight 93 Election,” he made a highbrow version of Trump’s Continue reading “Trump’s top national security spokesman to leave White House”

Trump’s chaotic Cabinet shuffle tries GOP patience

President Donald Trump may be relishing the chance to shake up his administration. But the Senate is threatening to upend his plans.

After using Twitter to abruptly oust his secretaries of state and veterans affairs and promote his CIA chief, the president is counting on the Senate GOP’s slim majority to confirm three new Cabinet members in the coming months — and potentially more, should his EPA administrator succumb to a torrent of withering headlines. Republicans aren’t pleased.

“It’s unusual. But it’s the president’s prerogative,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said of the cascading nominations. “I think a lot of us would appreciate the stability of being able to continue to work with individuals [in the Cabinet] who have been here awhile.”

The White House expects a series of tough confirmation battles, according to senators, aides and White House officials who are tracking the nominations of Mike Pompeo Continue reading “Trump’s chaotic Cabinet shuffle tries GOP patience”

John Bolton’s knife-fighting skills alarm his critics

John Bolton’s critics have called him a warmonger, an Islamophobe, and a quasher of dissent. But one label alarms them most about President Donald Trump’s incoming national security adviser: Savvy bureaucrat.

While policy knife fights don’t provoke the same gut fear as talk of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, foreign policy insiders who consider Bolton’s views dangerously hawkish say his long track record in government will make him all too effective.

“If you disagree with Bolton’s policy preferences, he is dangerous for three reasons: He is unafraid to start a policy fight in public, he knows how to pull bureaucratic levers when convenient, and he knows how to work around bureaucratic barriers when not,” said Loren DeJong Schulman, a top aide to former Obama White House national security adviser Susan Rice.

Conservatives who share Bolton’s views say those qualities are an asset, arguing that he will empower a president Continue reading “John Bolton’s knife-fighting skills alarm his critics”

Why Trump Hasn’t Fired Mattis

Last July, James Mattis and Rex Tillerson arranged a tutoring session at the Pentagon for President Donald Trump in the secure, windowless meeting room known as “The Tank.” The plan was to lay out why American troops are deployed in far-flung places across the globe, like Japan and South Korea. Mattis spoke first.

“The postwar, rules-based international order is the greatest gift of the greatest generation,” Mattis told the president, according to two meeting attendees. The secretary of defense walked the president through the complex fabric of trade deals, military agreements and international alliances that make up the global system the victors established after World War II, touching off what one attendee described as a “food fight” and a “free for all” with the president and the rest of the group. Trump punctuated the session by loudly telling his secretaries of state and defense, at several points during the Continue reading “Why Trump Hasn’t Fired Mattis”

Why Trump Hasn’t Fired Mattis

Last July, James Mattis and Rex Tillerson arranged a tutoring session at the Pentagon for President Donald Trump in the secure, windowless meeting room known as “The Tank.” The plan was to lay out why American troops are deployed in far-flung places across the globe, like Japan and South Korea. Mattis spoke first.

“The postwar, rules-based international order is the greatest gift of the greatest generation,” Mattis told the president, according to two meeting attendees. The secretary of defense walked the president through the complex fabric of trade deals, military agreements and international alliances that make up the global system the victors established after World War II, touching off what one attendee described as a “food fight” and a “free for all” with the president and the rest of the group. Trump punctuated the session by loudly telling his secretaries of state and defense, at several points during the Continue reading “Why Trump Hasn’t Fired Mattis”

Kelly taps Kushner ally Chris Liddell as deputy chief for policy

White House chief of staff John Kelly has tapped Chris Liddell, a senior White House aide and former executive at Microsoft and General Motors, as his deputy.

Liddell, who currently serves as the White House’s director of strategic initiatives, will be named deputy chief of staff for policy coordination, filling out Kelly’s bare-bones team.

“Chris is widely respected across the administration and is highly qualified to oversee and coordinate our policy process,” Kelly said. “We look forward to having him in this new role.”

As of Monday, Kelly was down to just one deputy: Joe Hagin, who focuses on the day-to-day operations of the West Wing. Rick Dearborn, the deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs, departed the White House on Friday.

Kelly’s office has been short-staffed since Kirstjen Nielsen, who was Kelly’s deputy at the Department of Homeland Security, returned to DHS as secretary in December.

Continue reading “Kelly taps Kushner ally Chris Liddell as deputy chief for policy”

Tillerson ouster caps a year of explosions and misunderstandings

Fourteen months of simmering behind-the-scenes tension between President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson boiled over on Tuesday, with the president announcing the dismissal of his top diplomat on Twitter.

The move was fraught with the miscommunications and contradictions that have characterized the relationship between Trump and Tillerson from the outset. While a White House aide said Kelly told Tillerson on Friday that the president planned to dismiss him, Tillerson’s aides moved quickly to make clear that the former ExxonMobil chief executive, who returned Monday from a multi-country diplomatic trip to Africa, had been caught off guard.

The resulting news coverage, which focused on disarray and disagreement in the Trump administration, left White House chief of staff John Kelly yelling at a television screen aboard Air Force One as he took off for California with the president, according to a source with knowledge of the events.

High-level White Continue reading “Tillerson ouster caps a year of explosions and misunderstandings”

Trump threatens veto over Gateway tunnel funding

President Donald Trump has threatened to veto a massive omnibus spending package if it includes money for the Gateway tunnel project in New York City, according to multiple sources.

Trump’s threat has complicated the outlook for the $1 trillion-plus spending measure, which Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) want to pass before government funding runs out on March 23.

While it is highly unusual for a Republican president to threaten a veto on a funding bill coming from a GOP-run Congress — and risking a potential government shutdown — Trump is adamant in his opposition to the federal government underwriting the project, the sources said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) has been leading the effort to insert Gateway funding in the omnibus. Frelinghuysen, who is retiring this year, wants to include $900 million or more in the bill.

But Continue reading “Trump threatens veto over Gateway tunnel funding”

Republicans’ last hope to flip Trump on tariffs: Pence

In public, Vice President Mike Pence is loudly praising his boss’ proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum — while gently urging him to scale back the policy behind the scenes.

Pence was in Council Bluffs, Iowa, this week, where he gave Trump a shout-out for a policy decision that alarmed legions of White House aides, including the vice president, a lifelong advocate of free markets and free trade.

“Whether it’s in renegotiating NAFTA, or protecting our steel and aluminum industries, President Trump is always going to put American workers, American companies and American farmers first,” Pence said in a speech touting the administration’s tax reform.

But back in Washington, the vice president has been among the legions of top administration officials pushing President Donald Trump to back off the sweeping protectionist plan he put forward during a March 1 meeting with industry executives.

Pence, according to more than a half-dozen Continue reading “Republicans’ last hope to flip Trump on tariffs: Pence”

Trump ignored ‘bright line’ on discussing Russia with Hicks

President Donald Trump’s lawyers have urged him not to discuss details of the unfolding Russia investigation with anyone outside his legal team, warning of a conversational “bright line” that could put aides and associates in legal jeopardy, according to current and former Trump aides.

But Trump often ignores that legal advice in the presence of senior aides — including his departing confidante and White House communications director, Hope Hicks.

“I think the president has put her in a very precarious position,” a senior Trump administration official said in a recent interview.

Hicks is not alone. Current and former Trump aides describe a president who often fails to observe boundaries about the Russia probe and who calls staffers into his office and raises the subject without warning.

Hicks in particular, Trump told her, could be “on both sides of the [bright] line.” As one of his longest-serving and most trusted Continue reading “Trump ignored ‘bright line’ on discussing Russia with Hicks”

Trump directs Pentagon to schedule military parade for Veterans Day

President Donald Trump’s plans for a White House-backed military parade are beginning to take shape.

The president has directed the Department of Defense to organize a parade that would take place on Nov. 11 – Veterans Day – according to an unclassified Feb. 20 memo written by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

The memo, which was summarized to POLITICO by a senior administration official, was sent from McMaster to Secretary of Defense James Mattis. It says that Trump wants Mattis to brief him on “concepts of operation for this event.”

The memo also said that the parade route should begin at the White House and end at the Capitol.

Trump, who revels in pageantry, first floated the idea of putting on a military parade after he witnessed France’s Bastille Day parade last summer as a guest of French president Emmanuel Macron.

“It was a tremendous day, and to Continue reading “Trump directs Pentagon to schedule military parade for Veterans Day”