donald trump

Trump gives Democrats ultimatum over probes as he walks out of meeting  

US President Donald Trump has quit a meeting with congressional Democrats, saying he would no longer work with them unless they drop their investigations into him.

US officials seek to tamp down Trump rhetoric on Iran   20%

U.S. officials who briefed Congress about Iran on May 21 sought to convince lawmakers that President Donald Trump's administration wants to deter Tehran's aggression, not attack the Islamic republic, members of Congress said.

Biden warns that Trump could be the end of NATO in speech at Coral Gables fundraiser  

So far ahead of the pack that he can only see Donald Trump, former vice president Joe Biden kept his sights on the president Monday night and warned during a … Click to Continue »

White House changes course, backs push for $200M in Everglades funding  

After receiving letters and prodding by Florida’s state and federal lawmakers, President Donald Trump changed course Monday, announcing his support of a $200 million push to fund projects aimed at … Click to Continue »

Former Top White House Lawyer Skips Congressional Hearing on Russia Probe   6%

The former top lawyer for the White House has refused to appear before a congressional panel investigating President Donald Trump, deepening the legal standoff between Democratic lawmakers and the Trump administration.

Trumps Fury at Don McGahn Is Misplaced   17%

Loyalty is something President Donald Trump demands, but doesn’t necessarily return. Just ask ex–White House Counsel Don McGahn.

In recent weeks, the president has turned on his former lawyer for making some of the most explosive claims about Trump’s conduct in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. “Never a big fan!” Trump tweeted earlier in May, suggesting he had been tempted to fire McGahn. Just this week, he barred McGahn from testifying to the House Judiciary Committee about what he saw and heard inside the White House.

But McGahn’s service may have been more valuable to Trump than he realizes—it could even wind up prolonging his presidency.

Because Trump never saw McGahn as a confidant—because he didn’t look to him much for legal advice—McGahn had more time and space to pursue a pet project: stocking the courts with conservative judges, former White House aides told me. And with multiple lawsuits threatening Trump’s interests wending their way through the courts, federal judges hold enormous sway over the president’s fate.

Judges are now deciding whether Trump has violated constitutional provisions against accepting gifts from foreign countries through visits to his Washington, D.C., hotel. They will determine whether banks and accounting firms must turn over Trump’s financial records. They will rule on whether the Treasury Department must fork over Trump’s tax returns. And there’s bound to be more litigation flowing through the courts as congressional Democrats and Trump grapple over the release of additional personal, business, and official-administration records. Unfavorable decisions could be disastrous for Trump, meaning that McGahn’s work seeding the federal courts, in particular with judges sympathetic to executive power, could prove crucial to Trump’s political survival.

“Trump is pissed off. I understand that,” said a person close to McGahn, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “But it blinds him to the reality that Don was instrumental in what everyone thinks was Trump’s biggest accomplishment: judges.”

In the view of the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, nothing else that’s come out of Washington in the past two years is as enduring. “I’m a huge admirer of what he did and the contribution he made to what I think is the most important thing that we’ve done,” McConnell told me.

In some measure, all this seems fortuitous. It would have been difficult to foresee early in Trump’s presidency that the courts would end up refereeing so many existential fights over Trump, making it that much more important to install judges who are leery of other branches intruding on a president’s power. It’s also never certain how a judge with lifetime tenure will rule. A president can try to appoint jurists who reflect his or her overarching ideology, but judges themselves may not feel beholden to the president at all. Indeed, Trump-appointed judges haven’t always seen things his way. Last year, a federal district-court judge nominated by Trump, Timothy Kelly, scolded the White House for yanking the CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass and ordered that it be returned. (So much for Trump’s claim that CNN is “fake news.”)

[Read: Trump’s most lasting legacy?]

But Trump’s nearly two and a half years in office have afforded him the time and opportunity to leave a distinct imprint on the courts—and potentially shape the consequential rulings that will come down. To date, with the help of McGahn and McConnell, Trump has appointed 107 judges to the federal courts. That includes 40 of the nation’s 179 appeals-court judgeships—a higher total than any president at a comparable point in his tenure since John F. Kennedy, according to Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert on the judicial system.

When Trump took office in January 2017, 41 percent of active judges had been appointed by Republican presidents, and 50 percent by Democrats, Wheeler’s research shows. As of this month, the majorities had flipped: 51 percent had been appointed by Republican presidents, and 46 percent by Democrats. Even in cases where Trump replaced an outgoing Republican-appointed judge with a new one, he has been able to nudge the courts rightward. “You replace a slightly-to-the-right, middle-of-the-road judge with a firebrand, and that’s a different story,” Wheeler says.

A common thread through some of Trump’s high-profile judicial appointments is an expansive vision of executive power—a position that jibes with his interests. In the fall of 2017, for example, the Senate confirmed the Trump nominee Joan Larsen for a seat on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati. Larsen wrote an op-ed for The Detroit News in 2006 in which she defended then-President George W. Bush’s use of signing statements, through which he asserted the right to bypass a legal ban on torturing detainees, among other laws.

Larsen wrote that “the president’s independent vision of what the Constitution requires is critical” and that “denying the president a constitutional voice is the real threat to our system of separated powers.” She could be moving up if another Supreme Court vacancy arises: When Trump considered nominees to replace Anthony Kennedy last year, Larsen made the short list, losing out to Brett Kavanaugh.

In Trump’s “selection of appellate judges, he is leaning toward those who have a strong view of executive power—and even an unrestrained view of executive power,” says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, which handles judicial nominations. “And it seems likely that they will have an effect on court decisions.”

McGahn took over the president’s judicial portfolio after Trump’s inauguration, and managed it until he left the White House last fall. He had worked as a lawyer on the president’s 2016 campaign and, earlier, as a private attorney and a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission. He also has ties to the Federalist Society, a network of conservative and libertarian lawyers whose executive vice president, Leonard Leo, has served as an outside adviser to the White House, recommending candidates for judgeships. In 2017, while talking about speculation that Trump had outsourced his judicial selections to the group, McGahn noted that he’d been part of the Federalist Society since his law-school days. “So, frankly, it seems like it’s been in-sourced,” he said.

It’s not unusual for the White House counsel to run the vetting and recruitment of judicial nominees. But McGahn was able to devote an unusual amount of energy to the task, because his rapport with Trump soured over time, said the former White House aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk more freely about internal dynamics. They’d go weeks, even months, without speaking with one another. Privately, Trump would complain that he didn’t value McGahn’s advice and ask aides for names of potential replacements. McGahn’s nickname for Trump: “King Kong.”

But McGahn found a more fruitful partnership with McConnell, who wanted to capitalize on his GOP majority and give the courts a makeover. McConnell told me in an interview that they began talking even before Trump’s 2016 election victory, devising a list of potential Supreme Court nominees. A week after the election, McConnell said that he and McGahn spoke again, embarking on a nearly two-year collaboration. McGahn would develop a pipeline of candidates, including members of the Federalist Society, which McConnell called a “farm team” for administration picks. McConnell would then quickly get them confirmed.

Cases involving Trump are being heard at the district- and appeals-court levels. A Trump appointee, A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr., is considering at least one suit—as part of a three-judge appeals-court panel based in Richmond, Virginia—that contends that Trump violated the emoluments clause through the money coming into his Washington hotel down the street from the White House.

Overall, Trump’s strategy to combat congressional oversight is to lean heavily on the courts. He is rebuffing subpoenas from Democratic-led congressional committees and refusing to make witnesses, such as McGahn, available to testify on Capitol Hill. Some of Trump’s critics have argued that any reasonable judge would repudiate his attempts to fend off lawmakers’ oversight, because his legal team’s positions are, at their root, indefensible. Just this week, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, a Barack Obama appointee, rejected an argument from Trump’s lawyers that Congress doesn’t have the power to subpoena Trump’s financial records. Noting the long history of congressional investigations into presidential misconduct, the judge wrote: “This court is not prepared to roll back the tide of history.”

Laurence Tribe, a constitutional-law professor at Harvard Law School, told me that Trump’s position on congressional oversight would be “rejected by anyone but the most abject puppet for the president.

“His position, essentially, is: ‘I’m an emperor. No one can investigate me—not the Justice Department, because they’re answerable to me, and not the Congress, because they have no business investigating me,’” Tribe added. Trump’s lawyers on Tuesday appealed Mehta’s ruling to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit—the court where another Trump appointee, Neomi Rao, currently serves.

[Read: Trump’s new Kavanaugh for the U.S. Court of Appeals]

In the end, legal fights involving Trump could all wash up in the same place: the Supreme Court, which, due in no small part to McGahn, now has two Trump appointees. McGahn helped shepherd Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice in 2017. And he was a constant presence during Kavanaugh’s confirmation, accompanying the judge as he visited senators on Capitol Hill and helping to steady him amid accusations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were teenagers.

As Kavanaugh waited to testify in response to Ford’s allegations at a Senate hearing in September, McGahn ordered aides to leave the holding room and gave the judge a pep talk, urging him to show his real emotions. What followed was a scorching defense from Kavanaugh that alienated some senators, but appeared to placate Trump and dissuade him from possibly dumping the judge in favor of someone else.

With Kavanaugh replacing Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote, on the bench, the Court seems to be more Trump-friendly terrain. In past writings, Kavanaugh has shown he is protective of presidential power and prerogatives, a position that troubled Democratic senators during his confirmation proceedings. He wrote a law-review article in 2009, for example, that argued Congress should consider a law exempting sitting presidents from criminal prosecution and investigations.

“Having seen first-hand how complex and difficult that job is, I believe it vital that the president be able to focus on his never-ending tasks with as few distractions as possible,” wrote Kavanaugh, a former aide to President George W. Bush and a member of Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s team that investigated Bill Clinton in the 1990s. “The country wants the president to be ‘one of us’ who bears the same responsibilities of citizenship that all share. But I believe that the president should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office.”

That mind-set would suggest the president shouldn’t have to tolerate what Trump labels “presidential harassment”—and Democrats call “oversight.” And it could ultimately help rescue Trump’s presidency.

Trump tends to hang on to grudges. He personalizes disputes. It may be a while before he forgives McGahn. It may be never. But if Trump-appointed judges who want to safeguard presidential power wind up sparing Trump from turning over potentially damaging material, he may be glad he didn’t fire McGahn after all.

The Atlantic Politics Policy Daily: Annie, Are You Okay?   4%

What We’re Following Today

It’s Tuesday, May 21.

‣ The House Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas today to former White House staffers Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson, setting up a possible legal battle with Donald Trump’s administration, which has already claimed executive privilege to limit the scope of the committee’s investigation.

Here’s what else we’re watching:

To Impeach or ...?: In a closed-door meeting on Monday, Nancy Pelosi reportedly clashed with fellow Democrats over whether the House should move to impeach the president. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told reporters Tuesday that she supports impeachment, and on Saturday Republican Representative Justin Amash broke party ranks and also expressed his support. “Pelosi might be the biggest barrier between President Trump and an impeachment inquiry right now,” argues David A. Graham.

When Abuse Victims Commit Crimes: New York law once required judges to offer predetermined sentences for particular crimes, regardless of the role that abuse played in the defendant’s actions. But the state recently signed the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act into law, giving judges more options when sentencing people who committed crimes against abusers. Now judges can offer shorter prison terms—or rule out incarceration entirely.

A Plan for Educational Equality: The Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is shaping her campaign around lots and lots of policy proposals to fight inequality—and not just economic inequality. “We need to talk about the racial dimension of this head-on,” she told Adam Harris. “Race matters, and we need to face it.” Her latest plan to address inequality in higher education would set up a $50 billion fund for black colleges and make tuition at public colleges free.

Saudi Press Agency via AP

Two Years Ago Today: Trump touched the glowing orb with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi and King Salman of Saudi Arabia. James Parker takes you down memory lane.

Madeleine Carlisle and Olivia Paschal


A name placard and an empty chair for former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who did not appear for a House Judiciary Committee hearing at the White House’s request. (Patrick Semansky / AP)

Ideas From The Atlantic

End the Plague of Secret Parenting (Emily Oster)
“Women told me that they hid their pregnancies until well into the third trimester, wearing loose-fitting clothes to avoid telling their bosses or venture-capital funders that they were expecting. Once they had kids, some told me they simply never discussed them. If they had to deal with a child-related issue, they lied about why they were leaving work … These pressures aren’t just bad for parents; they’re bad for employers. Inflexibility around child care is, quite simply, going to cost firms valuable workers.” → Read on.

It’s Time to Hold American Elites Accountable for Their Abuses (Rahm Emanuel)
“Democrats have become increasingly cognizant of the anger, but too often they’ve drawn the wrong conclusions. The answer certainly isn’t socialism. Middle-class voters currently presume that elites already control the government—so why would they want to give the bureaucracy any more power? Rather, Democrats need to become the party of justice.” → Read on.

Even Democrats Keep Thinking Iran Is Worse Than Saudi Arabia (Peter Beinart)
“By calling out Iranian aggression while ruling out war, Democrats may believe they’re splitting the difference. But if they can’t describe Iran as a normal regional power jockeying with equally sharp-elbowed foes, they can’t effectively challenge the sanctions the Trump administration keeps piling on the Islamic Republic. Over time, permanent sanctions can become a formula for military conflict.” → Read on.

What Else We’re Reading

‣  Is Trump DOA in the Rust Belt? (Alex Shepard, The New Republic)
Trump Cannot Grok the Idea of ‘Honor’ (Jonathan V. Last, The Bulwark)
How Trump Is Outspending Every 2020 Democrat on Facebook (Thomas Kaplan and Sarah Almukhtar, The New York Times) (🔒 Paywall)
Joe Biden Is Also Trying to Win Old, White Facebook Voters (Eric Lutz, Vanity Fair (🔒 Paywall)

About us: This newsletter is a daily effort from The Atlantic’s politics writers: Elaine Godfrey, Madeleine Carlisle, and Olivia Paschal. It’s edited by Shan Wang.

Were you forwarded this email? Sign yourself up here. We have many other free email newsletters on a variety of other topics. Browse the full list.

The Atlantic Politics Policy Daily: McGahn Fishin  

What We’re Following Today

It’s Monday, May 20.

‣ President Donald Trump is reportedly preparing to instruct his former White House counsel, Don McGahn, to defy a House subpoena and skip a hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

Here’s what else we’re watching:

Before and After (2016): In a lot of ways, former Vice President Joe Biden is running the same campaign he would have run in a pre-Trump era, writes Edward-Isaac Dovere: “Biden’s campaign is a bet: that in the four years since Trump launched his campaign, the country hasn’t changed, the Democratic Party hasn’t changed, and politics hasn’t changed.”

The Limits of Philanthropy: On Sunday, the tech billionaire Robert Smith surprised the recent graduates of Morehouse College, in Atlanta, by pledging to create a grant to eliminate all their student debt. The gift—estimated at roughly $40 million—is generous and significant, but it is not a salve for systemic problems, writes Adam Harris.

Battle of the Bans: Trump and his administration have been escalating punitive measures against China—most recently by cutting off the tech giant Huawei from its American suppliers. But it’s only the starting point in a generational battle between the two superpowers.

What Women Choose: Amid the outcries over abortion restrictions, like the kind recently passed in Georgia and Alabama, anti-abortion activists usually offer one response: Rather than terminating their pregnancies, women should put their unwanted babies up for adoption. But for some women, adoption is a remarkably unpopular option. Here’s why.

New Secession: Residents of the majority-white southeast corner of Baton Rouge want to break away from the majority-black parts of town and create their own city, complete with its own schools. If the organizers are successful, some locals fear that “not only our schools, but our community, [will become] segregated, and isolated.”

— Elaine Godfrey


Senator Kamala Harris squeezes the cheeks of a young man after she had him shake her hand instead of doing a high-five while greeting supporters following her first organizing event in Los Angeles. (Mike Blake / Reuters)

Ideas From The Atlantic

Trump’s Immigration Proposal Is a Step in the Right Direction (Reihan Salam)
“If congressional Democrats took this proposal seriously, they could push the administration to follow through on the logic of this plan, adding provisions that would make it both more politically viable and more effective. And for congressional Republicans, the plan offers a chance to turn a divisive issue for their coalition into a unifying one.” → Read on.

What Congress Can Do When Trump Appointees Defy It (Kia Rahnama)
“To pressure such people, lawmakers have traditionally resorted to three different strategies: inherent contempt, criminal contempt, and civil contempt.” → Read on.

Does Trump Deserve Credit on China? (Kori Schake)
“Trump contends that his approach is working, tweeting that ‘they are, and will be, losing.’ Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross not only thinks that the U.S. will win the trade war, but that it may result in social unrest that challenges Communist Party control in China. So we are back to regime change, but this time by threatening penury rather than luring with prosperity.” → Read on.

(Jeenah Moon / Reuters)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Self-Limiting Revolution (Andrew Ferguson)
“Only Ocasio-Cortez made it past the primaries. Batting .250 is middling in baseball and even less impressive in politics. The survival rate suggests that the movement may not be quite as robust as the candidates and the activists who enlisted them hope.” → Read on.

The Unchecked Corruption of Trump’s Cabinet (David A. Graham)
“Ongoing violations like this remain one of the most important, and overlooked, scandals of this administration. The continued, unapologetic presence of Carson and his ilk in the Cabinet can seem like a sideshow to other, bigger issues—not least the ramifications of the Mueller report. In fact, they are connected.” → Read on.

A Republican Congressman’s Case for Impeaching Trump (Conor Friedersdorf)
“On Saturday, Representative Justin Amash became the first Republican member of Congress to suggest that President Donald Trump should be impeached for his misdeeds, a stand that puts him at odds with the GOP and risks his future in the party.” → Read on.

What Pleases Trump Has the Force of Law (Garrett Epps)
“The ongoing battle between this administration and the House committees is not, at heart, a legal dispute at all; it is an assertion by a president that the law and the Constitution are simply irrelevant when they conflict with his will.” → Read on.

What Else We’re Reading

‣  After Impeachment Remarks, Rep. Justin Amash Gets Republican Challenger (Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press)
The Koch Network Is Reorganizing Under a New Name and With New Priorities (James Hohmann, The Washington Post)  (🔒 Paywall)
Eric Swalwell Is a Financial Mess (Brent Scher, The Washington Free Beacon)
There’s No Boom in Youngstown, but Blue-Collar Workers Are Sticking With Trump (Trip Gabriel, The New York Times) (🔒 Paywall)
Is Andrew Yang for Real? (Nancy Scola, Politico Magazine)

About us: This newsletter is a daily effort from The Atlantic’s politics writers: Elaine Godfrey, Madeleine Carlisle, and Olivia Paschal. It’s edited by Shan Wang.

Were you forwarded this email? Sign yourself up here. We have many other free email newsletters on a variety of other topics. Browse the full list.

The Trade War Is Just the Beginning   25%

“I have been talking about China for many years. And you know what? Nobody listened,” Donald Trump told a crowd outside Pittsburgh in 2016. “But they are listening now.” If China’s leaders didn’t notice a campaign speech then, the president has their attention now.

In office, President Trump and his administration have taken a series of escalating measures against China in hopes they would coerce Beijing to change its trade practices. But, two years and numerous rounds of meetings later, the trade talks aren’t moving.

And now the Trump administration has dropped an economic bomb on China by taking steps to cut off the tech giant Huawei from its American suppliers. The escalation points to an ominous reading of the trade war: It’s only the starting point for what administration hard-liners see as a generational battle with America’s most powerful adversary since the Soviet Union.

As of mid-May, the United States has imposed 25 percent tariffs—import taxes that studies have found are paid by American firms—on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. Trump has also threatened to raise tariffs on the remaining $300 billion worth of imports. Other tariffs that raise the price of steel and aluminum imports on national-security grounds no longer apply to Canada and Mexico, as of last week, but still include China. Beijing, meanwhile, has retaliated with tariffs of its own.

[Read: China has more leverage than you think in the trade war]

The administration’s trade-focused plan for dealing with China has always seemed small-scale, given the amped-up rhetoric Trump’s advisers and allies use in public. China has committed “economic aggression.” It’s “the most predatory economic government,” and it has made war on American workers for 20 years. Even Trump’s trade negotiator thinks the idea that trade talks will fix these problems is a little far-fetched. “I am not foolish enough to think that there is going to be one negotiation that is going to change all of the practices of China or our relationship with them,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer testified to the House in February. (Lighthizer’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story; a White House official declined to comment on the record.)

What happens when tariffs don’t do the trick? It’s hard to say. If the administration has a Plan B for a new trade strategy—one in which the tariffs go away without Chinese action—it won’t say so. “There’s no time limit. There’s no timeline. The way this works is the tariffs are in place until the president decides the tariffs go out of place,” Lighthizer told NPR at the outset of the talks.

Lighthizer has maintained that the tariffs are entirely separate from national-security actions against Huawei, such as charges against the company’s CFO. But The Washington Post reports that White House officials decided to issue an executive order last week clearing the way for action against Huawei after China balked at what Lighthizer and his partner negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, were asking. Based on that order, the Commerce Department is developing rules that will require American companies to register with the government before doing business with Huawei. That could include companies like Google, which reportedly cut Huawei off from some Android services on Sunday. Huawei spent $11 billion with American suppliers last year, a not-insignificant chunk of the overall $737 billion in annual bilateral trade.

The further the administration goes, the less the dispute falls into the neat policy toolbox and the more it seems like a wholesale push to contain China. “There are many reasons why the United States is not off the mark in terms of going after Huawei,” Elizabeth Economy, a China watcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, said on a call with reporters Thursday. “But I think this last step does speak very directly to the Chinese, sort of the U.S. is trying to contain our growth and our rise as an economic superpower. I think it takes it a little bit over the line.”

[Read: Tariffs drive farm income down and equipment prices up]

Ask economists what they fear, and the response will likely start with the dreaded D-word: decoupling. The U.S. and China could forcibly unravel their closely intertwined economies. “You’ve already seen an increasing amount of that, whether it’s various chips that people are trying to source elsewhere, [or] whether it’s Foxconn going to India,” says Christopher Balding, an associate economics professor at Fulbright University Vietnam. (Huawei claims it already has plans to build chips elsewhere. On the other end of the trade war, Apple supplier Foxconn is looking to India for new factories.)

The Trump administration’s mantra that “economic security is national security” has led it to call Canada a national-security threat, only to backtrack. Last week, the administration declared that the innovation that goes into building new cars and trucks is an essential part of the defense-industrial base—taking logic that past administrations have used and applying it in a radical new way. Part of the problem is that even if the U.S. and China are as deeply politically opposed as the administration claims, there’s no good model for moving forward. “I can’t think of a good case where the world’s two largest economies with a high degree of integration deliberately take steps to decouple themselves from one another in peacetime,” Douglas Irwin, an economic historian at Dartmouth University, told me in an email.

As national-security thinking metastasizes, otherwise healthy economic organs will suffer. It’s easy to get the impression that every Western company in China is getting ripped off, but that’s not quite right, Mary Lovely, an economist at Syracuse University who has studied the tariffs’ effects on supply chains, told me. “If you look at the boring companies like Procter & Gamble, who are selling tons of dish soap, clothes soap, and diapers—no one has accused the Chinese of stealing the special beads that keep your kids’ bottoms dry in the morning.” (I emailed Procter & Gamble to confirm that claim, which otherwise appears true, but I didn’t hear back.)

[Read: The U.S.-China trade talks have already changed the world]

The challenge with conflating economic and national-security concerns isn’t that one or the other is wrong. The difficulty is that the national-security directive is all-consuming, obscuring the profound economic asset China has become for Americans. China’s production marvels have saved consumers money, to be sure, but they’ve also changed Americans’ lives in more subtle ways. One is that products don’t fail nearly as often as they used to. “You go to Target and buy a TV for 50 bucks, and it works,” Lovely said. Companies manufacture in China because China is good at making their products cheaply. It has roads, electricity, and a healthy, educated workforce; others do too, but not on China’s scale. Those assets have allowed China to make ever more of the world’s goods—not just televisions. “Think about the life or death stuff,” Lovely said. “They’re making airport doors or wings. They’re making artificial knees. You can’t have an artificial knee that fails. The supply chain is actually certified by U.S. regulators from start to finish.”

The administration’s only move is to increase the pain until the deal that Trump’s negotiators have offered starts looking appealing to China. The point may not be to hurt Americans, but it’s the only means to achieve the ends that Trump says he wants. Sooner or later, the pain will leave a mark.

The Atlantic Politics Policy Daily: Subpoena-na-na-na   -20%

What We’re Following Today

It’s Friday, May 17.

‣ Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will not comply with a subpoena from the Democrat-led House Ways and Means Committee to turn over six years of President Trump’s federal tax returns.

(Ed Jones / Getty)

Changes to a broken system: This week, Donald Trump’s administration announced a plan to prioritize immigration for “skilled” workers, such as those on the H-1B visa. In past decades, people on H-1B visas filled a crucial gap in the labor market for high-skilled jobs, but critics say it depresses wages and keeps immigrants tied down to a certain employer for years while navigating the citizenship process.

Generation gap: Joe Biden’s centrist record over his 36-year Senate career could be a liability when it comes to attracting younger, more progressive voters in the party who are more closely aligned with new representatives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But among older voters, who still form a substantial voting bloc in the party—and who are more concerned with beating Trump than enacting specific progressive policies—he has a clear lead over his many rivals.

The push for progressive judges: In Philadelphia, racial-justice and anti-mass-incarceration activists helped elect one of the country’s most progressive district attorneys a few years ago, only to realize that the victory was incomplete without a similar push to elect progressive local judges. Is this the new frontier for criminal-justice reform?

A forgotten mass shooting in a small town: A year ago, the small Texas town of Santa Fe was rocked by a school shooting that left 10 students dead. By and large, the town has faded from the public consciousness—and that’s how most residents say they prefer it.

A bipartisan friendship: When Norman Mineta, now 87, was imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, he ended up befriending a local Boy Scout named Alan Simpson, also now 87. Decades later, the two of them worked across the political aisle—and across both houses of Congress—to pass the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which formally apologized for Japanese internment.

— Amal Ahmed

Cover Story

(Oliver Munday)

James Carroll has a stunning proposition for the future of the Catholic Church: Abolish the priesthood.

My five years in the priesthood, even in its most liberal wing, gave me a fetid taste of this caste system. Clericalism, with its cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny, its sexual repressiveness, and its hierarchical power based on threats of a doom-laden afterlife, is at the root of Roman Catholic dysfunction. The clerical system’s obsession with status thwarts even the merits of otherwise good priests and distorts the Gospels’ message of selfless love, which the Church was established to proclaim. Clericalism is both the underlying cause and the ongoing enabler of the present Catholic catastrophe. I left the priesthood 45 years ago, before knowing fully what had soured me, but clericalism was the reason.

→ Read the rest


(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

A security guard walks the atrium of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., designed by the renowned architect I. M. Pei, who died Thursday at age 102.

Ideas From The Atlantic

Can Trump Call In the Troops to Deport Immigrants? (Stephen I. Vladeck)
“Lawsuits will certainly challenge Trump’s invocation of the Insurrection Act to assist in immigration enforcement … But the text of the statute would seem to be on the president’s side—underscoring just how broad the power is that Congress has delegated to the president.” → Read on.

The Legacy of ‘Broken Windows’ Lives on in Infamy (Annika Neklason)
“‘Consider a building with a few broken windows,’ wrote James Q. Wilson, a government professor at Harvard University, and George L. Kelling, a criminal-justice professor at Rutgers University, in a 1982 article for The Atlantic … Kelling died this week; Wilson, in 2012.” → Read on.

The Case for a Permanent Anti-war Movement (Conor Friedersdorf)
“The best insurance against a catastrophic war of choice, now and going forward, is a permanent anti-war movement that opposes all illegal or imprudent wars, insisting on public debates and congressional votes, no matter how small the conflict.” → Read on.

About us: Today’s newsletter was written by Amal Ahmed. This newsletter is a daily effort from The Atlantic’s politics writers: Elaine Godfrey, Madeleine Carlisle, and Olivia Paschal. It’s edited by Shan Wang.

Were you forwarded this email? Sign yourself up here. We have many other free email newsletters on a variety of other topics. Browse the full list.

The Atlantic Politics Policy Daily: Caution Ahead   13%

What We’re Following Today

It’s Thursday, May 16.

‣ Donald Trump’s administration is pitching a new plan to overhaul the U.S.’s legal immigration system, focused on prioritizing “high-skilled workers.” (The plan has no real path to passage in Congress.)

Here’s what else we’re watching:

(Drew Angerer / Getty)

Is Kamala Harris too cautious?: The presidential hopeful tends to swerve when asked about complicated policy proposals. Is it too much to ask that a presidential candidate have a comprehensive plan on the spot about voting rights for felons? “This is not a game show where you’ve got a buzzer, and you should hit the buzzer, and you can win some money,” Harris told Edward-Isaac Dovere. The problem is, her competitors are much more willing to play the game than she is, and they are leapfrogging her in the polls.

+ He’s running. We’re referring to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced his candidacy this morning. Why, you ask? This one’s a head-scratcher.

Moderate Democrats want the spotlight, too: Five female veterans who are now in Congress launched a joint fundraising initiative to highlight their military experiences ahead of reelection campaigns. Four out of the five women helped flip Republican districts in last year’s midterms, and they want to shift the Democrats’ talking points away from the Green New Deal and toward bipartisan projects such as prescription-drug pricing and infrastructure. Meet these freshmen pragmatists.

Bring out your grievances: The White House wants to know whether you’ve been banned on social media for your political views. At best, this could be an attempt to gather social-media accounts for an ad campaign, or at worst it could be an unprecedented overstep into the inner workings of an industry, sans formal regulations or policies. Eighty-three percent of self-identified Republicans think tech companies are biased against conservatives—even though platforms like Facebook are dominated by Fox News clips.

From my family to yours: The 2020 candidates’ families look more and more like that of the average American. Whereas the first family of yesteryear looked like a nuclear family (mom, dad, two kids, and a dog) the slew of 2020 presidential candidates are much more representative of the blended families that most Americans have. Less than half of the field matches up to the traditional ideal.

— Amal Ahmed


(AP / Cliff Owen)

The former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning speaks with reporters, after arriving at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. Manning spoke about the federal court’s continued attempts to compel her to testify in front of a grand jury.

Ideas From The Atlantic

Elizabeth Warren Courts Big Business (Stacy Mitchell)
“While other Democratic presidential hopefuls have questioned the power of the tech giants, Warren’s rhetorical embrace of small business has been emphatic … She’s also reviving what once was a core tenet of her party: In a democracy, a primary purpose for government is to disperse economic power.” → Read on.

We Led the Iran Nuclear Deal, and Trump’s Tactics Aren’t Going to Work (William J. Burns and Jake Sullivan)
“Coercive diplomacy—when both elements of the approach are carefully synchronized—can deliver. On the other hand, coercion without diplomacy can lead to huge blunders in the Middle East. We’ve seen that before.”  → Read on.

Don’t Underestimate Joe Biden (Conor Friedersdorf)
“The median Democratic voter is most interested in what a candidate is likely to do. Can Biden beat President Trump? If so, what will he accomplish in office?”  → Read on.

About us: Today’s newsletter was written by Amal Ahmed. This newsletter is a daily effort from The Atlantic’s politics writers: Elaine Godfrey, Madeleine Carlisle, and Olivia Paschal. It’s edited by Shan Wang.

Were you forwarded this email? Sign yourself up here. We have many other free email newsletters on a variety of other topics. Browse the full list.

Kamala Harris Is the Jan Brady of the 2020 Race   -25%

Donald Trump’s favorite word for Kamala Harris is “nasty,” but in the scramble to stick out in the crowded Democratic-primary field, the California senator is battling what she calls “this ‘cautious’ stuff.”

That’s become her caricature on the trail over the past few months, and it crystallized three weeks ago during a CNN town hall in New Hampshire. She kept responding to questions in the same way: ducking direct answers and saying, over and over, that she wanted to have “a conversation” about what to do. “[Harris] wants to study stuff. [Elizabeth Warren’s] college debt plan is ‘a discussion we should have.’ Reparations is “something we should study,” tweeted the former Barack Obama strategist David Axelrod, annoying but rattling members of the Harris team I spoke with.

“Is Kamala Harris Too Cautious? Let’s Have That Conversation,” was the mocking headline a few days later on a column in the San Francisco Chronicle, her hometown paper.

Harris has had enough, and so have a number of aides who have spoken with me directly and others about the current state of the campaign. She thinks cable and Twitter have been trying to dumb down the primary process, and that too many of her fellow candidates are playing along.

“This is not a game show where you’ve got a buzzer, and you should hit the buzzer, and you can win some money,” Harris told me over the phone last week. “I think we need to really agree that shouldn’t be the kind of incentives we’re having”—that “the pundits will be clapping and happy if, within 30 seconds, you answer the question that’s on the board.”

The problem for Harris, though, is that other people are winning the game. Pete Buttigieg has leapfrogged her in the polls, with both voters and the press drawn to his accessibility and constant off-the-cuff answers; Warren has been getting attention for her nonstop release of policy proposals; and other candidates have gotten noticed by making their own impromptu news.

Harris’s resistance to jumping into the news has meant that she can disappear for days, and sometimes weeks, from the headlines about the 2020 race. She’s been focusing on smaller meetings with advocates and activists—and, most of all, on fundraising, with lots of time spent flying back to her base of donors in California. When she sent Attorney General William Barr into a state earlier this month by asking him pointed questions at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, it was a reminder for even those paying close attention to the race: Oh, right, Kamala Harris is running too.

Some of her answers to questions she gets on the trail are short and easy. She would get rid of the entire tax bill Trump signed at the end of 2017, and she doesn’t approve of any of the tariffs he’s imposed. But when she hesitates, Harris argues, she’s not holding herself back—she’s showing where she really is.

“People shouldn’t confuse: Being quick with an opinion [doesn’t mean] that opinion isn’t necessarily a smart or well-thought-out one,” she said. “I prefer to have a smart, well-thought-out opinion on an issue than give a quick response to a question that’s presented, when I’ve not actually done the due diligence from hearing from whoever might be impacted from that position.”

Her team feels she’s stuck in a no-win situation: She’s characterized as boring if she doesn’t breathe fire at every policy question. But when she, for example, seemed to say that Medicare for All would lead to the end of private insurance companies, she’s tagged as a radical leftist.

On Wednesday morning in New Hampshire, she made clear that, while she’s heard the criticism, she doesn’t plan to change her approach. Asked at a town hall about imposing term limits on Supreme Court justices, along with other moves that would mean massive changes to judicial appointments, she told a voter, “I am open to that conversation.” She added, by way of explanation, “The bottom line is: We need a new president.”

Harris told me that her approach has been shaped by her years as the San Francisco district attorney and as the attorney general of California; lives were on the line, and financial markets could move based on her decisions. But it has also been shaped, she said, by her confidence that she’s going to be the president and her worry about following through on whatever positions she takes now. People who know Harris well say the roots of her approach, though, are in how careful and prepared she had to be to bust through the barriers she did—including becoming the first woman of color to serve as California attorney general, and the second black woman ever elected to the Senate.

Her campaign aides proudly tweeted that a video of her exchange with Barr had ticked past 5 million views. But they recognized that the moment had exposed both a problem and a challenge: How could Harris get people to see a connection between what they liked about her performance at the hearing and her campaign’s larger argument that she can make an effective case against Trump?

[Read: Kamala Harris takes her shot]

“It’s about prosecuting the case against his policies,” she told me, explaining how she plans to build this connection for voters when talking about the president. “There’s a lot of evidence ... about how he has misled and really not done well by the American people. You can look at everything from his trade policy by tweet, to passing a tax bill that benefits the biggest corporations and the top 1 percent. You can look at a policy that’s been about separating children from their parents. You can look at it in terms of the case of what’s clearly an obstruction of justice. You can look at creating a ban on who can enter the country based on the god they worship. Just across the board, there are so many issues that are ripe for prosecution, frankly.”

But it’s also about making more voters relate to her on a personal level, in the same way that she’s done with Democratic insiders, who say they’ve seen her warmth and punchiness. On Wednesday, she shot back at the hot political chatter of the moment—that she should be Biden’s running mate—by saying, “I think Joe Biden would be a great running mate. As vice president, he’s shown he can do the job.”

“Kamala is a smart, strategic, charismatic candidate,” says Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, who’s neutral in the primary race, adding that Harris “will be able to incredibly effectively prosecute the case against Trump.”

Harris’s campaign, according to those involved, thinks the real race for the Democratic nomination starts now; the candidates are all announced (with the exception of Bill de Blasio), and the dynamics are clear. With Biden and Bernie Sanders likely to dominate into the summer—and perhaps all the way through to the Iowa caucuses early next year—it could be a race for third place.

Harris wants to establish herself as the alternative to the big two. She’s not baked into Washington, but she also doesn’t want to burn it down. She doesn’t have to defend 40 years of decisions, but she’s also not touting 40 years of throwing rocks from the sidelines. And, as has been part of her campaign’s calculus from the start, she’s the only candidate who checks all the key demographic boxes: She’s not old, she’s not white, and she’s not a man.

She’s also been trying to frame Trump in a way that’s very different from Biden. His concept of Trump is, as he put it in his campaign launch video, that “I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time.” On Tuesday, during a swing through New Hampshire, he predicted that, if and when Trump loses the election, “you will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.”

Asked by a reporter in Detroit last week what she thought of Biden’s aberration comment, she said, “I don’t know what that means.” The reporter tried again, explaining the context of the quote a little more. Harris didn’t budge; “I don’t know what he means by that,” she replied. What she seems to mean, though, is that maybe, given who Biden is and how long he’s been around, he can’t see what she sees in Trump: not an aberration, but a problem that can’t be fixed unless it’s called out directly and confronted head-on. To her mind, pretending he’s a one-off, or that an epiphany is coming to the Republican Party, won’t actually fix anything.

“The campaign for me is so much bigger than [Trump],” Harris told me. “It’s a given that he should be replaced.”

Making people interested in Harris doesn’t seem terribly hard. The campaign’s internal polling shows that she’s the candidate voters want to know more about. But so far, Harris has been the Jan Brady of the 2020 race. She hasn’t been strong enough to qualify as a front-runner, especially now with Biden in the race, sucking up more oxygen than her aides say they anticipated. But she’s still strong enough that her victories don’t register as big news. She hasn’t gotten a boost from beating expectations when she’s consistently placed in the second tier after the two most famous names, or when she raised more money in the first quarter than every candidate except Bernie Sanders (and nearly double what most of the other top candidates brought in). She hasn’t had a fall to inspire any schadenfreude; she hasn’t had a sudden burst of underdog momentum.

To her critics, Harris is a consultants’ confection. She avoids taking a position because she’s looking for the right thing to say that fits into a specific formula. Take voting rights for felons, which was one of the topics she punted on at the CNN town hall. She was a district attorney for seven years, an attorney general for six. Is it really possible that she doesn’t have a position on felons voting?

“I’ve been in the process of talking to people about it,” Harris told me. “I hadn’t thought it through—there are a lot of nuances to a question like that. Everybody who’s incarcerated? Terrorists? But do I care about how we have almost 6 million people in our country who are formally incarcerated, who have been refused and prevented from having the right to vote? I care deeply about that.”

But to her supporters, Harris’s campaign is less about a specific policy agenda (though she has a few proposals: raising teacher pay, tax credits that would give many families $6,000 a year, an executive order mandating gun background checks and banning AR-15s). Rather, her candidacy is the answer to a set of interlocking questions. To start, they see her as the complete opposite of a president who is the uncorked essence of white male privilege, and who has rarely met a question of race he hasn’t come down on the paler side of. She’s a prosecutor who says she can take on a criminal presidency, and an intense cross-examiner who can take apart Trump’s deceits. And she’s a woman of color looking to lead a party propelled by women and people of color.

But even in the friendliest of environments, she seems hesitant to let loose. Harris delivered the keynote address last Sunday at the NAACP’s annual Freedom Fund dinner in Detroit, in front of thousands of the black elite from in and around the city. Reverend Wendell Anthony, the president of the Detroit chapter, introduced Harris as a “bad sister,” and highlighted how she, the daughter of an Indian-born cancer researcher and a Jamaican-born economics professor, went to the historically black Howard University.

Aides had told reporters to expect some news. Harris inserted a section into her speech about “this guy in the White House.” She said the president has enabled a culture of hate that has produced “domestic terrorism,” with white supremacists attacking mosques and synagogues and burning down black churches. In another section of the speech, she swung hard at the conventional wisdom around “electability,” calling it “simplistic politics” that prioritizes the traditional worries of certain white people over the struggles of everybody else.

Both comments drove headlines for a few days—especially the electability bit—inspiring a wave of secondary columns and cable-news segments. In the room, though, neither seemed to get many people going. Some of the quiet could be chalked up to bad acoustics and the room’s odd setup—there were multiple daises for dignitaries, arranged in a circle around the tables where food was being served, which diverted attention and ramped up the noise. But her delivery didn’t help. She didn’t raise her voice, she didn’t seem to try to whip up the crowd, and there were no cheers or chants. When she finished, there wasn’t much applause, and no standing ovation.

[Read: Being a former prosecutor can come in handy when questioning the attorney general]

What Harris didn’t do in Detroit, and almost always avoids doing, is talk about her identity or her life story, even though both are an essential part of her political calculation in the race. She has only a few anecdotes she regularly shares: about what an imposing figure she says her mother was; how anytime Harris and her sister, Maya, saw something unfair going on, her mom would ask them what they were going to do about it; how Harris had such a good relationship with her first-grade teacher, Mrs. Wilson, that she came to her law-school graduation. A recent exception to this pattern: In the last week, Harris has spotlighted an aspect of her life that she hasn’t spoken about much publicly: her relationship with her two stepchildren, which she wrote about in a deeply personal column for Elle and discussed in a TV interview.

I asked her why she didn’t talk about her background that night. It was the NAACP, the perfect place to lean in. She diverted. “People are going to want to know that their next leader is going to be an improvement over the last one, but also have the ability to take us to the next place,” Harris said. “I don’t expect people to vote for me because I’m a woman. I don’t expect people to vote for me because I’m a person of color. I believe that people are going to elect me because they believe I am the best one for the job at this point in time.”

But why not be more explicit, both about her historic candidacy and what it could mean to have a black woman follow Trump? She said she feels she doesn’t have to be. “There are certain self-evident truths,” she replied.

Harris’s aides say the campaign’s strategy is shifting to put her out there at news-making events. They want to push her to make more news, to take on Trump, Biden, and everyone else.

What Harris doesn’t want to do, though, is stray far from her stump speech. She told me she wants to say the same thing no matter the crowd, to drill the same message into voters’ minds. It doesn’t matter to her that the beat reporters covering her campaign can recite the lines from memory—which has fed her cautious image—and she doesn’t think it’s fair that of a whole field of candidates who stick to their stump, she’s the one derided for it.

“The audiences that I am speaking to are new audiences that have not heard it,” Harris said, “and these are messages that are resonating because they are actually thoughtful about where we are and what they need.”  

Joining Harris on the trail, Randi Weingarten, the president of the national teachers’ union, acknowledged that she’s heard about Harris’s reputation for being cautious. But Weingarten said she saw the opposite in Harris last week while the two toured schools in Michigan, with Harris “melting” as she spoke with children.

“There are exceptional people in life, people whose caring and compassion is as deep as a summer day. And people who are smart as a whip and who could actually, just by her steely eyes … take apart a prospective Supreme Court justice, as she did, or an AG,” Weingarten said, introducing Harris to a group of 200 educators at a teachers’ union town hall, referring to Harris’s questioning of Barr and of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in September. (The teachers’ union hasn’t endorsed a candidate for 2020.)

If there were a Senate hearing every week, Harris would have a clearer shot at being top of people’s minds—she got more positive press coverage out of those eight minutes with Barr than she has since her launch rally in Oakland, California, at the end of January. For now, she’ll have to settle for the primary debates, at the end of June and July, though standing onstage taking questions won’t have the same effect.  

Harris aides hope the debates make voters think about what she’d look like standing onstage next to Trump. Grilling is her natural state. Even in a library full of fourth graders in Dearborn, Michigan, last week, Harris was pulling out the Socratic method for the juice-box crowd. Harris read Each Kindness, a book about a poor girl made fun of for her raggedy clothes who suddenly stopped coming to school one day. In the story, her classmates realize how mean they were to her, but it’s too late to do anything. There’s no resolution or happy ending, just a bunch of children who feel terrible and are never able to make it better. Harris seemed surprised by how it ended—she’d never read the book before; the teachers’ union had picked it—but immediately started asking for the moral of the story.

“Speak up, I can’t hear you. Make sure everyone can hear you,” she told one girl. When she asked a boy to say his name before he shared the story’s lesson and he replied, “Be kind to everyone,” she ribbed him: “Your name is ‘Be kind to everyone’?” (Once she’d drawn it out of him, Harris said how much she loved the sound of his name, Farouk.)

The next day, Harris was back in Washington for a few days of official business. She spent the afternoon locked in a secure room for an Intelligence Committee briefing, and in the elevator on the way back, she was giving the person walking with her tips on how to poach an egg. She likes to cook, and this somehow became part of the passing conversation. I asked her later what the secret was. “Create a vortex,” she told me. Add a quarter cup of vinegar to the boiling water. Stir really quickly, so the egg “doesn’t get all fragmented” when it goes in the pot, then decide how long to let it cook. (She likes a four-minute egg.) But make sure to create that vortex so it comes out right.

That’s the Harris approach: Have the right ingredients, but follow the method—even when spinning things up.

How Trump Thinks He Can Outsmart Putin  

Listening to President Donald Trump, he sounds like a heretic inside his own government: the lone official prepared to accept that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trustworthy and sincere.

Nikki Haley, the president’s former ambassador to the United Nations, last week called Putin an enemy. National Security Adviser John Bolton has labeled Putin a liar. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is meeting with Putin today in Sochi, Russia, recently accused Putin’s government of undermining Venezuela’s sovereignty.

Then there’s Trump, who seems hell-bent on turning the former KGB operative into a personal friend. In a phone call earlier this month, the pair amiably chewed over the finding from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report that the Trump campaign didn’t conspire with Russia during the 2016 election. In Trump’s telling, Putin “smiled” while confiding that the inquiry “started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse”—just a couple of intimates savoring Trump’s vindication.

It’s a mystery that has mushroomed since the 2016 campaign: What is the root of Trump’s deference toward Putin? Does the Russian leader have some sort of unseen hold over the 45th president? “I don’t know the answer to that,” former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump in 2017, said last week at a CNN town hall.

[Read: What does being Trump’s friend get you?]

But Trump might be motivated by something else, his allies and administration officials suggest. They see Trump following a “good-cop, bad-cop” playbook that is meant to sustain a necessary dialogue with the leader of a nuclear-armed adversary. Leave it to Bolton, Pompeo, and others to deliver the harsh message, the argument goes. They will, and they have. Trump, meanwhile, will see to it that relations at the top stay cordial.

However, this interpretation assumes that Trump is operating not only with the best intentions, but also with a coherent strategy that belies his often improvisational, erratic style. And even if that were the case, such an approach has serious downsides: Trump winds up undercutting senior officials who are warning of dire threats that Russia poses to U.S. interests. Foreign leaders are never sure who speaks for the U.S. government. And there’s a real chance that Trump’s overtures will boomerang. Some experts predict that Putin, hardly a naif on the world stage, will use Trump’s evident desire for better relations to wrest concessions from the White House. All of which means that Pompeo is walking straight into one of the central contradictions of the Trump presidency: the gap between Trump’s words and the government’s deeds.

“The notion that you’re going to say nice things about [Putin] and he is going to change his ways, I don’t see any evidence that’s ever worked,” says Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia during Barack Obama’s administration.

Administration officials say that perhaps, through personal diplomacy, Trump can coax Putin to meet U.S. goals, including dropping support for Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela and helping persuade North Korea to give up nuclear weapons. Still, some who’ve worked at the top levels of the administration concede that they’ve been baffled by Trump’s moves in the foreign-policy arena. How he gets his information isn’t always clear. Some have noted that Trump comes to briefings with ideas that seem to have sprung from private phone conversations with “people who want him to adopt a viewpoint that is sympathetic to Russia,” said one person familiar with the matter.

Trump has avoided one-on-one clashes with Putin, most recently when he failed to tell the Russian leader during their phone call that he must not interfere in the 2020 election. That wasn’t out of character. Trump’s habit has been to refuse to condemn Putin for election interference, most famously at a joint press conference in Helsinki over the summer. “The president keeps coming back to the point that if he’s not engaging, you can be sure there’s going to be estrangement [with leaders] at the very upper level,” said an administration official, who like others we spoke with requested anonymity to talk more freely about internal deliberations. “So he is constantly of the opinion that you have to have a good relationship at the top.”

“He is a salesman,” said former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Trump-campaign supporter, last week at a conference in Las Vegas. “He is, at the core, a salesman who uses hyperbole to try to convince people of his position.”

Friendly overtures toward Putin aren’t new for an American president, a reality that Trump’s defenders periodically bring up. Yet Trump clearly hasn’t learned a key lesson from his predecessors: Others who courted the Russian leadership had little to show for it. Five months after taking office, former President George W. Bush met Putin at a summit in Slovenia and said later that he had gotten “a sense of his soul.”

“I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy,” Bush said. Yet relations began to sour following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, over Russian objections, and deteriorated further after Russia’s 2008 incursion into Georgia.

Hillary Clinton, Obama’s secretary of state, presented her Russian counterpart with a red “reset” button in 2009 in hopes of forging better ties. (Her aides got the translation wrong—the button actually said “overcharged” in Russian, an omen for the ill-fated “reset.”) When Clinton left the job in 2013, she sent Obama a letter warning that relations with Russia were poised to get worse.

[Read: Was Obama too soft on Russia?]

Trump entered office in a political environment that made direct dealings with Putin risky. In the shadow of Mueller’s investigation, any contact between Trump and Putin was bound to be viewed with suspicion. Now that Mueller has finished his report and established no conspiracy between Russia and Trump-campaign officials, Trump has a freer hand to engage Putin, Trump administration officials say. Trump announced on Monday that he will meet with Putin next month at the G20 summit meeting in Japan. In the meantime, Pompeo is set to meet Putin in his first visit to Russia. Asked on Monday what he wants Pompeo to tell Putin, the president said, “The message is that there has never been anybody so tough on Russia. But at the same time, we’re going to end up getting along with Russia.”

In practice, Trump’s government has been tougher on the country than his rhetoric would suggest. How the United States treats Russia more closely tracks the messages coming from Trump’s hawkish advisers. The administration, for example, has levied repeated rounds of sanctions against Russian entities or individuals, sometimes after being pushed by Congress. Those sanctions have covered cyberattacks, weapons proliferation, human-rights abuses, and aggression in Ukraine. And in some respects, the Trump administration has gone further to confront Russia than the Obama administration did.

For instance, the Trump administration approved the largest-ever sale of lethal weaponry to Ukraine since Russia’s 2014 incursion there, a step the Obama White House was reluctant to take. Somewhat incongruously for a president who has frequently questioned the value of NATO, his administration has overseen the deployment of thousands more U.S. troops to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank, expanding a policy Obama first laid out. And the administration expelled some 60 Russian diplomats from the United States last March in a coordinated action with European partners, after accusing the Russians of poisoning a former Russian intelligence agent with a nerve agent in the United Kingdom. (Trump himself, however, was reportedly unhappy about the number.) In February, Trump withdrew from an arms-control treaty with Russia, citing repeated Russian violations.

“I think people misunderstand how strong this administration has been against Russia,” Haley said last week, at the same conference where Christie spoke. “I’ve seen it. They put sanctions on Russia. They expelled diplomats that were spies. [Trump] gave arms to Ukraine, which infuriated Russia. We also saw the fact that we increased our energy production, which hurts Russia. We are strengthening our military, which Russia hates. I think the reason people think that he’s not hard on Russia is maybe because of his tone.”

Haley was defending the administration, but she hit on an important problem. Trump’s tone is inescapable, and it continues to feed doubts about his commitment to hold Russia to account. McFaul noted to us the fact that the Trump administration has continued or even intensified some of Obama’s Russia policies in the areas of sanctions, strengthening NATO, and aiding Ukraine. “The problem,” McFaul said, “is that in all three of those dimensions, it’s not clear to me that President Trump supports any of them.” In yet another example of Trump undercutting his administration’s overall strategy, Trump has built up forces in eastern Europe and sanctioned Russia over its annexation of Crimea, but he’s also declined to answer whether he would recognize the annexation, and reportedly pointed out that the Ukrainian peninsula’s residents speak Russian.

Another consideration: Flattering Putin is likely to backfire, McFaul said. “With a guy like Putin, there’s going to be a price for good relationships,” he said. “He’s going to say to Trump, ‘You know what? I want to be your friend. I want a closer relationship between the U.S. and Russia. And you know what we need to do to get that? You need to lift sanctions.’ By defining good relations as the objective, it can lead to these detrimental outcomes.”

[Read: Trump, Putin, and the art of appeasement]

The risk of diminishing advisers and confusing foreign officials was clear from the Trump-Putin phone call on May 3. Trump would later tell reporters that Putin had assured him that Russia “is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela”—an assertion that contradicted Pompeo’s insistence that Russia has indeed intervened and is dictating Maduro’s moves.

“To have it happen so consistently where the secretary of state, or secretary of defense, or the national security adviser go out and take a principled position and try to drive that home and is undercut by the president, that makes the government ineffective,” says Nicholas Burns, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a former undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Bush administration. “And if you’re the president, it makes him ineffective because it confuses the rest of the world about your true intentions.”

As Pompeo sits down with Putin in Sochi, he has vowed to raise issues including election interference, even as he declared in remarks with his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Tuesday, “I’m here today because President Trump is committed to furthering this relationship.” Looming over the meeting, though, is Trump, whose conciliatory rhetoric could complicate Pompeo’s chances for a breakthrough. “People wonder, Is the president feckless; is he undisciplined; does he mean what he says? If he’s soft with Putin, is that actually American policy?” Burns asked. “Because Pompeo and Bolton have been appropriately tough. So it really hurts the president in the final analysis.”

The Huawei Drama Is a Gift to U.S. Tech Companies   45%

The two biggest geopolitical rivals in the world have begun to land blows in the battle to control the world’s most important consumer technologies: the next-generation wireless internet and the mobile devices that will use it.

Last week, Donald Trump’s administration placed Huawei on a blacklist, which makes it difficult for American companies to do business with the Chinese smartphone and network-equipment maker. American intelligence officials have openly worried that Huawei’s equipment could and would be compromised by Chinese intelligence officials. How the ban might actually intersect with the world’s deeply interwoven technological systems is still unclear, especially after the announcement of a temporary reprieve. But in the most recent major development, Google will cut off some of Huawei’s access to its mobile operating system, Android, according to reports.

Step back from the details of the back-and-forth—of intelligence-official whisper campaigns, delicate negotiations and smoke signaling between Western allies, Canadian officials detaining Huawei’s CFO (who is also the founder’s daughter), and complex corporate-espionage schemes—and look at the bigger contours of the fight. Huawei calls what’s happening a “well-coordinated geopolitical campaign,” and it may well be right.

Huawei’s connections to the Chinese military and state-security apparatus have raised the hackles of American intelligence officers and politicians since 2005, when a congressional report noted that “industrial espionage is an active tool of China’s strategy for technological development.” So why is this story blowing up now?

The easy answer is to look at Huawei itself. The company has shown tremendous growth and innovation capability, becoming the market leader in some types of wireless-infrastructure equipment. Wireless infrastructure is more important than it used to be, too.

But there is an American side to this battle over control of the global internet infrastructure—and it’s not purely based in security concerns. Beginning six years ago, when Edward Snowden revealed the extent of American internet surveillance, and then through the downward spiral of trust in Facebook, accelerating in the aftermath of the 2016 election, and expressed most purely in recent antipathy toward Uber, the tech industry is no longer America’s darling. There was a tech mythology centered on the salutary power of innovation, and it collapsed.

Already, tech appears to be exacerbating inequality. Long term, artificial intelligence could multiply that impact.

Now, no matter what your politics, it’s good politics to punch the tech industry. Some Democratic presidential candidates are pushing to break up big tech companies, and President Trump is collecting social-media grievances.

So what’s a highly profitable industry to do?

American tech needs a new narrative about its importance to the nation, and there is no better position for the companies than as the stalwart defenders against our greatest geopolitical rival, China. The greater the frenzy about Huawei and the Chinese tech challenge, the better for a challenged industry.

The Chinese threat helps the tech industry answer tough questions that have been raised about its impact on Western democracies.

Worried about tech’s surveillance of your everyday activities? Well, the Chinese have an even more invasive surveillance system.

Don’t like the (near-)monopolistic position that tech companies have in their core markets? If you hurt American Big Tech, you’re only opening up the field for Chinese entrants.

Want to break up Facebook? Its toughest challenger since Snapchat, the beloved new social-media app TikTok, is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance.

Want to ratchet up the congressional pressure on tech companies to give far-right viewpoints stronger oversight? Tech can point to the Chinese government, which is known to censor and shape political discourse online, as a kind of anti-pattern, the bottom at the end of the interventionist slippery slope.

Worried about the breakneck developments in AI and their deployment across the national-security apparatus? But the Chinese. But the Chinese! But the Chinese!?

American power players love nothing more than a hegemonic challenge to catalyze and justify their actions.

For most of the post–World War II era, much of scientific and technological development has been routed through the lens of the Cold War. Historians have shown how it warped priorities in fields as disparate as biomedicine and oceanography, and, of course, in the DARPA-backed development of the networking technologies that turned into the internet.

There is certainly some truth to the threat the United States faces from Chinese competitors backed by their country’s resources. But the reason this story will dominate headlines for the foreseeable future is not the underlying reality of the Chinese position in technology, but its political utility for politicians and CEOs alike.

UPDATE 3-Trump critic Avenatti indicted for ripping off Stormy Daniels, extorting Nike   10%

Michael Avenatti's legal troubles escalated on Wednesday as federal prosecutors announced new criminal charges accusing the lawyer and prominent critic of U.S. President Donald Trump of stealing from porn star Stormy Daniels and extorting Nike Inc.

U.S. charges Trump foe Michael Avenatti with fraud, extortion   -10%

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday announced new criminal charges against Michael Avenatti, escalating the legal troubles for the combative lawyer who once represented porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against U.S. President Donald Trump.

Trump cuts short infrastructure meeting, blasts Pelosi's 'cover-up' accusation   -12%

President Donald Trump on Wednesday abruptly cut off a meeting with U.S. congressional Democrats on infrastructure spending, then ripped into them over intensifying investigations by lawmakers and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's accusation that he is engaged in a cover-up.

Trump critic Michael Avenatti charged with ripping off Stormy Daniels, extorting Nike   10%

Michael Avenatti's legal troubles escalated on Wednesday as federal prosecutors announced new criminal charges against the combative lawyer and prominent critic of U.S. President Donald Trump, accusing Avenatti of stealing from porn star Stormy Daniels and blackmailing Nike Inc.

Budget talks not affected by Trump refusal to negotiate with Congress: CNBC  

President Donald Trump's refusal to negotiate with Congress does not extend to his administration's effort to reach a deal on must-pass debt ceiling and funding bills, CNBC reported on Wednesday, citing an unidentified senior administration official.

Pelosi says she prays for Trump after accusing him of cover-up  

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday she prays for President Donald Trump after a meeting on infrastructure between Democratic congressional leaders and the president collapsed.

Pelosi says Trump obstruction, cover-up could be impeachable offense  

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday President Donald Trump was engaged in obstruction of justice and a cover-up which could be an impeachable offense.

Trump accuses Democratic leaders of 'tearing the United States apart'  

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused the top Democrats in Congress of "tearing the United States apart" by pursuing investigations stemming from the now-concluded Russia probe.

U.S. Treasury's Mnuchin: No discussion with White House on Trump's taxes  

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday said he had not discussed releasing President Donald Trump's tax returns with the White House, and disagreed with an IRS memo that reportedly concluded he should release them to Congress.

Congress presses Trump administration for Mueller's counterintelligence files   35%

U.S. lawmakers are pressuring the Justice Department for access to counterintelligence reports generated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller during his investigation of President Donald Trump and his associates, two congressional sources said on Tuesday.

U.S. Democrats to press Trump on paying for infrastructure boost  

Democrats in Congress will press U.S. President Donald Trump at a White House meeting on Wednesday for details on how to pay for a massive boost in U.S. infrastructure spending after agreeing in April to try to win approval of a $2 trillion package.

U.S. House Democrats subpoena more Trump ex-aides, including Hicks  

A U.S. House committee chairman on Tuesday subpoenaed two more former White House aides, including Hope Hicks, just hours after former White House Counsel Donald McGahn was a no-show for testimony before the panel at President Donald Trump's request.

Trump tells ex-White House counsel McGahn not to appear before Congress  

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday told former White House counsel Don McGahn to defy a subpoena to testify before Congress about the Russia investigation, deepening his fight with Democratic lawmakers.

Japan's sumo fans welcome Trump Trophy but wish he'd sit cross-legged   63%

U.S. President Donald Trump can expect a warm welcome from the sumo wrestling community when he presents a custom-made "Trump Award" to the winner of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo on May 26.

Trump, House Democrats square off in U.S. court over Deutsche Bank documents  

Lawyers for U.S. President Donald Trump, three of his children and the Trump Organization will demand in court on Wednesday that a judge stop Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp from providing financial records to Democratic lawmakers investigating Trump's businesses.

Trump's Japan trip not expected to focus on trade: official   35%

U.S. President Donald Trump's upcoming trip to Japan is not expected to focus greatly on trade, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

Trump turns on Fox News over 2020 coverage: 'What's going on there?'   -25%

President criticized Fox News at a rally on Monday for giving Democrats airtime after candidate Pete Buttigieg appeared on the channel

Anyone watching Donald Trump’s rally in Pennsylvania on Monday would have been introduced to an unlikely new attack figure for the president: Fox News.

The rightwing cable network is a well-known Trump cheerleader. Literally: in November, Fox News host Sean Hannity appeared with Trump at a campaign rally. But on Monday night, under an azure Keystone state sky, Trump was not happy.

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Is John Bolton trying to drive Trump to war with Iran? podcast  

Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, was a key architect of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Now he is stoking tensions with Iran. Julian Borger describes how the standoff could get out of control. Also today: Katharine Viner on how the Guardian is updating its language when reporting on the climate crisis

John Bolton, who has been called “the most dangerous man in the world”, was not Donald Trump’s first pick for his national security adviser. But after a series of resignations, he was plucked from a life of Fox News appearances to reprise his career as the foremost military hawk in the US. Now he has his sights set on Iran and has pushed for a buildup of US military assets in the Gulf.

The Guardian’s world affairs editor, Julian Borger, tells Anushka Asthana that as tensions rise, so do the chances of an accidental – or deliberate – escalation towards war. The echoes of the drumbeat to war in Iraq in 2003 are all too apparent, and it was Bolton’s role in that crisis that prompted a Guardian columnist to attempt to make a citizen’s arrest of him in the tranquil surroundings of the Hay literary festival in 2008. George Monbiot describes how he came out second best from that encounter.

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Stephen Colbert on Ben Carson: Not a rocket scientist, only a brain surgeon   6%

Late-night hosts poked fun at the housing secretary’s Oreo error and the possibility of Trump’s case being seen by Merrick Garland

Late-night hosts focused on Donald Trump’s latest failure in court and the prospect of one of his cases being seen by the former supreme court nominee Merrick Garland.

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Israel plans to name settlement on occupied land after Trump  

Move in Golan Heights follows naming of Jerusalem roundabout in US president’s honour last year

Israel plans to name a new settlement after Donald Trump on land it captured from Syria, as a token of gratitude to the US president for recognising its contested claim to the occupied territory.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he would press his next government, which he is still in the process of forming, to approve the naming of the new community in Golan Heights.

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Kirsten Gillibrand can't break through is sexism to blame?   4%

Gillibrand has struggled to get off the ground as white male candidates have dominated media coverage, with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders as early frontrunners

Kirsten Gillibrand launched her 2020 presidential campaign on Donald Trump’s doorstep.

Related: The Democratic 2020 frontrunners are too old. And I say that as an old man myself | Art Cullen

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Joe Biden says most important thing is to beat Donald Trump video   -11%

Formally launching his third presidential campaign, Joe Biden appealed for party and national unity while accusing Donald Trump of leading the US with ‘a clenched fist, a closed hand and a hard heart’. But, he said, ‘we are the United States of America and there is not a single thing we cannot do if we are together’. Biden was a senator representing Delaware for 36 years and vice-president to Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017. He was a relatively late entrant to the sprawling field seeking the Democratic nomination in 2020, with 23 candidates now in the running

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Michael Avenatti charged with stealing $300,000 from Stormy Daniels   -10%

  • Lawyer allegedly diverted money to fund lavish lifestyle
  • Avenatti denies stealing book advance on Twitter

Michael Avenatti, the attorney who rocketed to fame through his representation of the pornographic film actor and producer Stormy Daniels in her battles with Donald Trump, was charged on Wednesday with stealing from her to fund his lavish lifestyle.

Related: Michael Avenatti charged in 36-count federal indictment

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Trump's lawyers: does serving the president mean undermining justice?   20%

Senior attorneys in the executive branch were once seen as guard rails on the president but now seem to be enabling his most constitutionally dubious actions

Not everyone thinks Donald Trump poses a direct and obvious threat to the rule of law. When he accuses FBI investigators of “treason”, declares his campaign was “conclusively spied on” and suggests “long jail sentences”, there is often an assumption that cooler legal heads in the justice department and White House will prevail against the impulsive president.

But as Trump’s test of constitutional boundaries intensifies, critics say, the supposedly cooler heads seem to be simmering.

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If Roe v Wade is overturned, we should worry about the rule of law | Shira A Scheindlin   15%

Affirming precedence is an important legal principle. If it’s ignored, which other supreme court decisions could be overturned next?

Donald Trump was staunchly pro-choice until he sought to become President Donald Trump. From that moment on, a centerpiece of his campaign was a promise to do whatever he could to ensure that the 1973 supreme court’s landmark decision in Roe v Wade that guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion would be overturned. He has kept his promise and his base loves him for it. He undoubtedly believes that his strong and now unwavering anti-abortion stance will go a long way to ensuring his re-election in 2020.

How did he keep his promise? The answer is not complicated. He did it by consistently appointing judges to the federal courts that he believes are committed to the goal of overturning Roe. He has succeeded in reshaping the supreme court through his appointments of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and has now appointed more than 100 judges to the courts of appeals and the district courts, many of whom have been openly hostile to abortion rights in their academic writings, public speeches or judicial decisions. He now expects these judges to achieve the big prize – the overturning of Roe v Wade.

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Guess who doesn't want war with Iran? Trump supporters | Ted Galen Carpenter   -22%

During his presidential campaign in 2016, Trump repeatedly condemned Washington’s regime-change wars. Now he’s backtracking

Supporters of Donald Trump who hoped that he would adopt a new, less interventionist foreign policy for the United States have ample reasons to feel disappointed. The administration’s increasingly belligerent policy toward Iran, which may lead to war, is just the most recent case in which the president has betrayed those supporters.

During his presidential campaign in 2016, Trump repeatedly condemned Washington’s regime-change wars and nation-building crusades. Much to the shock and fury of the other Republican candidates, he did not confine his criticism to policies that Barack Obama’s administration pursued; instead he excoriated George W Bush for the Iraq war and the seemingly endless military mission in Afghanistan.

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