The Daily 202: What are his generals telling Trump on North Korea?

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA today is by Robert Costa. James returns next week. 

Remember this scene?

“These are central casting. If I’m doing a movie, I’d pick you general,” a smiling President Trump said months ago (see the video above) during his inaugural luncheon at the Capitol, pointing at Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. “And General Kelly,” he added, gesturing toward John F. Kelly, his pick to run the Department of Homeland Security.

Those were simpler times. Now, it’s August and as he works from his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., President Trump is facing one of the biggest crises of his presidency: escalating hostility from North Korea, which intelligence reports show has miniaturized a nuclear warhead.

Lawmakers and world leaders are on edge as Trump navigates the challenge and ratchets up his rhetoric, warning Pyongyang of “fire and fury” if it keeps threatening the United States. And they all want to know how the men Trump has called “my generals” are guiding him behind the scenes.

North Korea presents a crucial test not only for the president but for this group of seasoned military figures in the administration. Many foreign-policy voices have hoped they would provide the president with steadiness and order as he deals with matters of war and peace. They have Trump’s reverence — he has been enamored of the military since he was a teenager at New York Military Academy. But will they spend that capital to deeply shape the administration’s response? Will they try to rein in Trump or just echo him?

So far, events this week have provided a murky answer. Trump has Kelly — his new chief of staff — at his side in New Jersey. Mattis is playing a leading role in figuring out a strategy, as is national security adviser H.R. McMaster, a three-star Army general. Yet when Trump made his initial comments on Tuesday, he did so extemporaneously. He had been briefed on the latest North Korean developments but the fiery words that inflamed the standoff were his own, according to White House officials who spoke with The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker. The generals remained largely out of sight.

According to CNN, Kelly spoke with Trump before bringing in the press, updating the president on “the Korea peninsula, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson piped in on the phone.” But as with Trump’s continued and confrontational use of Twitter, there were “few signs that his presence around Trump has tempered a mercurial and uncensored commander in chief.”

Meanwhile, Trump critics underscored that the generals were the key players to watch.

My sources inside the West Wing shrugged off the president’s improvising by saying that the statement was typical of how Trump works: he prefers to come up with a message that fits his style rather than read from talking points he finds staid. Still, Trump’s words were unsettling to even some Republicans, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who called them provocative.

“I don’t know what he’s saying and I’ve long ago given up trying to interpret what he says,” McCain told a radio station. “It’s not terrible but it’s kind of the classic Trump in that he overstates things.”

Tillerson played down Trump’s comments on Wednesday, saying he had “no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days. I think the president, again, as commander-in-chief, I think he felt it necessary to issue a very strong statement directly to North Korea.”

Mattis struck a similar tone to Trump, telling North Korea in a statement that it “should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”

In a Tuesday interview with Fox News, Kelly dismissed the suggestion that the generals and others around Trump were “yes men” or enablers of the president’s combative instincts. “Jim Mattis defines speaking truth to power in my view,” Kelly told Chris Wallace. “I like to think I do as well.”

Kelly also defended McMaster, who has been under siege from some Trump supporters for advocating a bolstered U.S. presence in Afghanistan — a position at odds with White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, a Navy veteran and the former chairman of Breitbart News.

“Every day I see him speak truth to power to me in my current position,” Kelly said of his fellow general.

Of course, the lingering question is what speaking truth to power looks like when Mattis, Kelly and McMaster are huddled around Trump in some back room at the golf club, plates of burgers and glasses of Coca-Cola nearby. What are the generals telling the president and is he listening?

WORTH YOUR TIME: Today, the Post published interviews in both Spanish and English with five of the 45 Hispanic members of Congress who are first-generation Americans, their families coming to the United States from countries like Cuba and Mexico. They tell their own stories of how they came to the United States and interacted with immigration authorities — often with parents who did not speak English — and how they’re grappling with Trump’s immigration crackdown. From Elise Viebeck, Bastien Inzaurralde and Matt McClain, see it in English here and Spanish here.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

— North Korea’s threat to fire missiles at Guam has become more specific. The New York Times’s Choe Sang-Hun reports: “North Korea said Thursday that it was drawing up plans to launch four intermediate-range ballistic missiles into waters near Guam in the Western Pacific to teach President Trump a lesson[.] … The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that, according to the plan, four of the country’s Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles would fly over the three southern Japanese prefectures of Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi before hitting the ocean about 19 to 25 miles from the coast of Guam. In addition to serving as a warning to the United States, the proposed missile firings would also be a challenge to Japan. … North Korea will fine tune its launching plans by the middle of this month and wait for a final order from its leader, Kim Jong-un, the North’s official news agency said[.]”

— North Korea has also responded to Trump’s warning of “fire and fury,” characterizing his threats as a “load of nonsense” and saying that “only absolute force” can work on someone as “bereft of reason” as Trump. The AP reports: “The North Korean statement also says the military action its army ‘is about to take’ will be effective for restraining America’s ‘frantic moves’ in and near the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. It says North Korea will complete a plan by mid-August for the ‘historic enveloping fire at Guam,’ convey it to the commander in chief of its nuclear force and then ‘wait for his order.’ North Korea says it will ‘keep closely watching the speech and behavior of the U.S.’”

— “The statement was clearly designed as a show of bravado, calling the Trump administration’s bluff,” writes the Guardian’s Julian Borger. “The response from Pyongyang was its most public and detailed threat to date, and evidently meant to goad the US president. … In the event of such a launch by North Korea, the US military faces the dilemma of trying to intercept the incoming missiles and risking humiliation if it fails. Trump would have to decide whether to try to a carry out a pre-emptive strike on the Hwasong launchpads or a retaliation strike if the launch went ahead.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Ousted communications director Anthony Scaramucci has agreed to give his first interview since his lightning-fast White House tenure with ABC’s George Stephanopoulus on Sunday. But “The Mooch” has also agree to a sit-down on Monday with Stephen Colbert. (Politico)
  2. Five active-duty service members have sued Trump over his intentions to ban transgender personnel from serving in the U.S. military, saying the directive — which the president announced last month in a series of tweets — violates both the Equal Protection and the Due Process Clauses of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. (Robert Barnes)
  3. State Department officials said that the U.S. government expelled two Cuban diplomats from the country earlier this year, after Americans working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana began suffering “unexplained physical ailments.” Officials said the symptoms, which were reported over a period of several months, were not life-threatening. The FBI is investigating. (Anne Gearan)
  4. The FBI raided the offices of GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter’s(Calif.) former campaign treasurer in February, seizing computers, documents, and a computer hard drive as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into accusations that he used tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money for personal expenses. (Politico)
  5. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has been accused of violating House rules by paying a staff member who no longer worked in his office. Conyers, the longest-serving member of Congress, denied through a lawyer the Office of Congressional Ethics’s findings. (Elise Viebeck)

  6. At least 17 states have moved to curb the number of powerful painkillers doctors can prescribe to patients, a move that comes as part of a broader push to thwart the nation’s growing opioid epidemic. (Katie Zezima)
  7. A Pennsylvania school district settled a discrimination suit with three transgender teens, moving to scrap a rule requiring students to use bathrooms that corresponded to their “biological sex.” The transgender teen Juliet Evancho, whose sister sang at Trump’s inauguration in January, was one of the plaintiffs. (Moriah Balingit)
  8. Fox News host Eric Bolling is suing the reporter who broke his sexual harassment story for $50 million. Bolling’s lawsuit accuses HuffPost contributor Yashar Ali of defamation. (Politico)

  9. Former Trump campaign staffers Jason Miller and A.J. Delgado confirmed the birth of their son. But Delgado offers a different account of the relationship than Miller, who is currently married. (Emily Heil)

  10. Need a vacation? One place you might want to stay (or avoid at all costs – up to you!) is Trump’s childhood home in Queens, now available for rent on Airbnb for $725 per night. Built by Fred Trump himself, the Tudor-style home boasts five bedrooms, space for 20 guests — and a giant cutout of Trump in the living room. (CNN)

MIXED MESSAGES ON NORTH KOREA:

— “As [Trump] amplified his bellicose warning to North Korea on Wednesday, senior administration officials rushed to reassure a suddenly jittery world that they stood behind his sentiments, if not necessarily his language,” Philip Rucker and Karen DeYoung report: “What many outside the White House — and some on the inside — interpreted as an undisciplined presidential eruption threatening nuclear conflict was just Trump’s way of expressing an agreed policy of pressure on Pyongyang, [spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders] told reporters. ‘The words were his own. The tone and strength of the message were discussed beforehand’ [she said]. … At the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert agreed, insisting that ‘we are all singing from the same hymn book.’

“But U.S. allies and a number of Trump aides and lawmakers instead saw a disturbing dissonance, and lack of coordination, as the administration confronted its most potentially consequential foreign policy crisis to date.”

Some data points:

— As Rex Tillerson said Americans “should sleep well at night,” White House adviser Sebastian Gorka took the opposite tack, saying on “Fox & Friends” (see video below) that the situation “is analogous to the Cuban missile crisis.” “We are not just a superpower. We were a superpower. We are now a hyperpower. Nobody in the world, especially not North Korea, comes close to challenging our military capabilities … So this message is very clear: Don’t test this White House, Pyongyang.”

— One senior White House official voiced frustration that Trump’s use of the phrase “fire and fury” had been interpreted as a depiction of nuclear strikes. “’Fire and fury’ doesn’t always mean nuclear,” that official told our colleagues. “It can mean any number of things. It is as if people see him [Trump] as an unhinged madman.” Asked whether he came up with the phrase “fire and fury” on his own, this official replied, “Absolutely.”

… Meanwhile, Trump continued his escalating war of words with Pyongyang, saying in a tweet Wednesday morning that one of his first moves as president was to “renovate and modernize” the nuclear arsenal, which he said was “now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.” (“In reality, while the U.S. maintains more nuclear weapons than any other nation, most of them are decades old and the Pentagon is only beginning to embark on a years-long process to upgrade them,” Dan Lamothe writes.)

— Adding to the administrative confusion, Trump has yet to name an ambassador to South Korea. Buzzfeed News’s John Hudson reports: “The utility of having a Senate-confirmed diplomat in Seoul is especially important given the penchant of Trump and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to respond in markedly different ways to international events, experts said. … For South Korea, which has thousands of artillery pieces pointed at it from across the North Korean border, the absence of an ambassador is unnerving, particularly given the appointments of envoys in other Asian capitals.”

— “The president’s aides are divided on North Korea, as on other issues, with national security veterans like [Jim Mattis and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster], on one side and [Steve Bannon] and his allies on the other,” the New York Times’s Peter Baker and Glenn Thrush report.  “While General McMaster and others consider North Korea a pre-eminent threat that requires a tough response, Mr. Bannon and others in the nationalist wing argue that it is really just a subset of the administration’s conflict with China and that Mr. Trump should not give more prominence to an unstable rogue operator like Kim Jong-un … But in the North Korea debate, like a similar one over Afghanistan, Mr. Bannon has been arguing against what his side considers the excessively militant approach of the ‘war party’ of General McMaster. [Still], neither camp advocated language like ‘fire and fury’ …” Among those taken by surprise, the Times reports, was newly-minted chief of staff John Kelly. 

— Trump, who spent at least part of the afternoon golfing, retweeted this message that blamed his predecessor for the current state of affairs:

— FOR PERSPECTIVE: “Obama warned Trump on North Korea. But Trump’s ‘fire and fury’ strategy wasn’t what Obama aides expected,” by David Nakamura and Anne Gearan: “In their first and only meeting, President Obama explicitly warned Donald Trump days after the election about the urgency of North Korea’s nuclear weapons threat. … To a degree that even Obama might not have anticipated, the early warning in the Oval Office last November motivated Trump to elevate North Korea to his chief foreign policy concern[.] … Yet it is the increasingly bellicose, often contradictory, rhetoric from Trump himself that has marked the sharpest shift in U.S. policy toward North Korea from previous administrations. Having declared an end to the Obama era of ‘strategic patience’ that focused on isolating Pyongyang, Trump has failed to articulate a clear alternative.”

MEANWHILE, WORLD LEADERS URGE CAUTION…

— U.S. allies and foreign partners on Wednesday called for greater efforts to open talks with North Korea, expressing concern amid escalating military rhetoric. Rick Noack reports: “Some U.S. allies appeared to blame Trump’s remarks for the escalation. Germany’s foreign office called ‘on all parties for moderation,’ on Wednesday. ‘Sabre-rattling won’t help,’ the foreign ministry said in the tweet. … The spokeswoman for the European Union’s foreign policy chief agreed that ‘a lasting peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula must be achieved through peaceful means.’ ‘That excludes military action,’ the spokeswoman said.”

“Amid such sobering warnings echoing the lessons of history, some nations worried that Trump’s threats could endanger the prospects of recent concerted international efforts to prevent more nuclear weapons attacks[:] A statement released by China’s foreign ministry warned all parties to avoid actions and rhetoric that could contribute to an escalation.”

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned that responding to Pyongyang’s threats with “fire and fury” would have “catastrophic consequences” worldwide – advocating instead using economic pressure and sanctions against the regime. “The global community … including China and Russia, are all united in seeking to bring the maximum economic pressure on North Korea to bring them to their senses without conflict,” he said, adding: “A conflict would be shattering …”

Representatives for Britain and NATO refrained from criticizing Trump, however, with Britain’s U.N. ambassador telling reporters that the United Kingdom was standing “shoulder to shoulder with the United States.” He also declined to weigh in on Trump’s rhetoric the day before, saying only, “[What’s] hurting the six-party talks is the inability so far of the North Korean regime to do what it has to do, which is to halt its nuclear program and to halt its intercontinental ballistic missile program.” NATO spokesman Dylan White said the organization was “concerned by North Korea’s pattern of inflammatory and threatening rhetoric.”

— BUT, BUT BUT:  “Even before the latest escalation of nuclear threats … senior diplomats and officials from the US’s European allies have been warning that [Trump’s] approach to world affairs is extremely dangerous – pointing to his apparent ignorance of other countries’ history, his unfiltered use of social media, and the lack of a strong, experienced team around him,” Buzzfeed News’s Alberto Nardelli reports. “In interviews … six top European government officials who’ve had firsthand dealings on the international stage with Trump and his administration describe a president regarded even by allies as erratic and limited, and whose perceived shortcomings are compounded by the ongoing chaos beneath him in the White House. On one level, the officials said, he is something of a laughing stock among Europeans at international gatherings. One revealed that a small group of diplomats play a version of word bingo whenever the president speaks because they consider his vocabulary to be so limited. ‘Everything is ‘great’, ‘very, very great’, ‘amazing’ the diplomat said.”

  • One key quote: “[Officials] also believe Trump’s foreign policy is chiefly driven by an obsession with unravelling Barack Obama’s policies. ‘It’s his only real position,’ one European diplomat said. ‘He will ask: “Did Obama approve this?” And if the answer is affirmative, he will say: “We don’t.” He won’t even want to listen to the arguments or have a debate. He is obsessed with Obama.’”

— “Still, some in the region said the danger of war had not seemed as clear and present in decades,” the New York Times’s Steven Lee Myers and Choe Sang-Hun report. “What was unthinkable just years ago no longer seems so, they said. ‘We’re going to see a confrontation between the United States and North Korea that will be ferocious and strong and bloody,’ said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing who called Mr. Trump’s language ‘explosive.’  Across the region on Wednesday, analysts reacted with concern and even foreboding about the tone of Mr. Trump’s comments … [which] they said raised questions … about whether Mr. Trump recognized the price that some staunch allies, especially Japan and South Korea, could pay for carrying out his threat. “Trump doesn’t seem to understand what an alliance is, and doesn’t seem to consider his ally when he says those things,” said Lee Byong-chul, a senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation in Seoul … ‘No American president has mentioned a military option so easily, so offhandedly as he has. He unnerves people in South Korea, few of whom want war in Korea.’”

HOW IT’S PLAYING:

— Guam’s news outlet reported that North Korean missiles can reach the island territory in 14 minutes. Pacific Daily News’s Shawn Raymundo writes: “[Guam Homeland Security spokeswoman Jenna Gaminde] said residents would be immediately notified [if North Korea fired missiles] by the 15 All-Hazards Alert Warning System sirens, located in low-lying areas throughout the island.”

— “As with most things Trump, the furor over the ‘fire and fury’ has divided the nation in two — those who believe the president is a loose cannon, impulsively blurting whatever flits through his mind, and those who believe his inflammatory talk is a wily combination of politically savvy instincts and a gut-driven populism that simply aims to please,” Marc Fisher and Jenna Johnson report. “Now, facing a reality test of that theory, Americans are coming to conclusions both predictable and surprising. Trump’s critics tend to view his ‘fire and fury’ threat as evidence of a president gone over the edge. ‘Trump is fulfilling expectations of someone who lashes out dangerously at real and perceived challengers,’ said [former nuclear missile launch officer Bruce Blair] …

“But the president’s defenders see him working from the gut, with admirable instincts to protect the nation and take pride in American power. Fred Doucette, a longtime Trump supporter who is assistant majority leader in New Hampshire’s House of Representatives, watched Trump’s appearance Tuesday [and] was pleased to hear the president deliver a strong message to North Korea. ‘The president spoke in a language that Kim Jong Un understands — and, personally, I think they should follow up on that and show them that we mean business,’ said Doucette, 52, a Navy veteran and retired firefighter and paramedic. ‘I assume the president spoke with his generals and his Cabinet first.’”

— “It is humiliating for the world’s greatest superpower to disregard its president as a weird old man who wanders in front of microphones spouting off unpredictably and without consequence,” New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes.But at this point, respect for Trump’s capabilities is a horse that’s already fled the barn. New chief of staff John Kelly has supposedly instilled military-style order and message discipline into the administration, but Trump is unteachable. Minimizing the havoc means getting everybody to pretend Trump isn’t really president.”

— “Uncle John Taught Trump About Fire and Fury,” by Trump biographer Timothy L. O’Brien in Bloomberg: “It’s unlikely that you’ll hear the president refer to nuclear philosophers such as George Kennan or J. Robert Oppenheimer in the coming weeks, or cite policies like ‘containment’ and ‘mutual assured destruction.’ But you can expect to hear more about Uncle John. He’s the relative who gave the president a vision of Armageddon alongside an awareness, as Trump stated in one of his books, ‘The America We Deserve,’ that you had to get ‘tough with people who would wipe us out in a second.’”

— “[Trump’s severe threat] also broke with a long tradition of American presidents using strongly worded warnings, carefully calibrated threats and urgent — sometimes secret — diplomacy to quell brewing crises with North Korea.” (The New York Times’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis)

— Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice wrote a New York Times op-ed entitled, “It’s Not Too Late on North Korea”: “[W]ar is not necessary to achieve prevention, despite what some in the Trump administration seem to have concluded. History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea — the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War. It will require being pragmatic.”

— Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy offered this explanation as to how the situation has advanced so rapidly:

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

— The FBI conducted a predawn raid of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s home in Alexandria, Va., last month, using a search warrant to seize documents and other materials from his residence. The Post’s Carol D. Leonnig, Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman scooped: “Federal agents appeared at Paul Manafort’s home without advance warning in the predawn hours of July 26, the day after he met voluntarily with the staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee. The search warrant was wide-ranging and FBI agents working with [special counsel Robert Mueller] departed the home with various records. The search warrant indicates investigators may have argued to a federal judge they had reason to believe Manafort could not be trusted to turn over all records in response to a grand jury subpoena. It could also have been intended to send a message … that he should not expect gentle treatment or legal courtesies from Mueller’s team.”

— Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who was on the receiving end of an angry tweetstorm by Trump this week, called the Manafort search a “significant, and even stunning development.” “This kind of raid — in the early morning hours with no advance notice — shows an astonishing and alarming distrust for the president’s former campaign chairman,” he said. “It seems to decimate his claim that he is cooperating with law enforcement …”

— “It is a big deal,” former DOJ prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said of the raid. “Prosecutors do not take aggressive steps like this with subjects who the government feels are being open and cooperative. And they also do not do this to ‘send a message.’ They do it because they think there is evidence to be found and that if they do not act aggressively, it could be destroyed.” (Politico)

— ANOTHER SIGNIFICANT MOVE –> Federal investigators  sought cooperation from Manafort’s son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, in a bid to increase the pressure on him in the ongoing probe. Politico’s Josh Dawsey and Darren Samuelsohn report: “Investigators approached [Yohai], who has partnered in business deals with Manafort, earlier this summer, setting off ‘real waves’ in Manafort’s orbit, one of these people said. Another of these people said investigators are trying to get ‘into Manafort’s head.’ It is unclear if investigators have secured cooperation from Yohai, who also hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing. A lawyer for Yohai didn’t respond to a request for comment. Manafort’s team has repeatedly pushed back on suggestions he’s cooperating with federal investigators. ‘Paul’s been forthcoming, but he’s not a cooperating witness and any suggestion to that effect is silly,’ Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said in a July interview when asked about concerns from former colleagues that Manafort had turned against the Trump team. People close to Manafort reiterated Wednesday that he has no plans to become a cooperating witness.”

— Meanwhile, an unarmed Russian air force jet on Wednesday overflew the U.S.s Capitol, Pentagon, CIA and Joint Base Andrews at “low altitude.” The move comes as part of the Treaty on Open Skies, a longstanding agreement that allows U.S. and Russian militaries, among others, to conduct aerial observations. CNN’s Jon Ostrower, Peter Morris and Noah Gray report. “The jet is authorized to enter P-56, the highly secure airspace surrounding the White House. A second flight by the same jet [was] planned for between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday, when the Russian jet will overfly Bedminster, New Jersey, where [Trump is vacationing].  A law enforcement source told CNN that the plane also overflew Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains, the Trump National Golf Course in Virginia, and Mount Weather, one of the US government’s secret relocation bunkers. United States Air Force personnel were on the flight and the aircraft is capable of a variety of intelligence gathering, one of the people said.”

“But Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has argued that Russia may be taking advantage of the treaty,” Dan Lamothe  reports. “He told the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities last year that he would ‘love’ to deny future Russian flights over the United States through Open Skies. ‘The things that you can see, the amount of data you can collect, the things you can do with post-processing, allows Russia, in my opinion, to get incredible foundational intelligence on critical infrastructure, bases, ports, all of our facilities,’ Stewart said in March 2016. ‘So from my perspective, it gives them a significant advantage.’”

GOP FAMILY FEUD:

— TRUMP V. FLAKE: Top Trump donor Robert Mercer is throwing $300,000 behind a super PAC backing Kelli Ward, the Republican candidate running to unseat Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in a 2018 primary, whose recent book denounced Trumpism even as the senator is up for reelection. 

Politico’s Alex Isenstadt scoops: “It’s the latest sign that Trump’s political machine is preparing to take on Flake, whose persistent attacks have angered the president. The White House has met with Ward and two other Republicans who are mulling primary challenges to the Arizona senator, former state Treasurer Jeff DeWit and former state GOP Chairman Robert Graham. A longtime Trump critic … [Flake’s] jabs rankled candidate Trump, who at one point said that he would be willing to spend $10 million of his own money to defeat Flake in a 2018 primary.” Last week, Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to rule out the possibility that Trump would help finance an effort to unseat Flake.”

From the personal account of Trump’s social media adviser:

Sean Hannity:

— HE WENT THERE: Republican Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.) sparked outrage after suggesting in a radio interview that  Sen/ John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) brain tumor might have been a factor in his “no” vote on the failed Obamacare overhaul legislation that went down in flames in the Senate. “[I’m] not gonna speak for John McCain — he has a brain tumor right now — that vote occurred at 1:30 in the morning, some of that might have factored in,” Johnson said Tuesday. He later issued a statement apologizing for his comments that read, “I’m disappointed I didn’t more eloquently express my sympathy for what Sen. McCain is going through. I have nothing but respect for him and the vote came at the end of a long day for everyone.” (CNN)

McCain’s response via spokeswoman Julie Tarullo: “It is bizarre and deeply unfortunate that Senator Johnson would question the judgment of a colleague and friend. Senator McCain has been very open and clear about the reasons for his vote.”

TRUMP’S AGENDA:

— “The White House is pushing a deal on Capitol Hill to head off a government shutdown that would lift strict spending caps long opposed by Democrats in exchange for money for [Trump’s] border wall with Mexico,” Politico’s Seung Min Kim, Rachel Bade, and John Bresnahan report: “Marc Short, the White House’s director of legislative affairs, met with top staffers from both parties on the Senate Appropriations Committee last week to make a hard sell for the proposal … Short — who said the border funding would be used for a ‘double fence’ — stressed that the White House is insisting on a down payment for construction this fall. The White House is offering Democrats more funding for their own pet projects in return for allowing construction to move ahead on a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border … Trump and [Mick Mulvaney] have since said they won’t cave this time — even if it means shutting down the government …”

— Foxconn’s planned move to Wisconsin, hailed by Gov. Scott Walker and Trump, is getting pushback after a new analysis showed that the deal wouldn’t generate state profits until 2042. Danielle Paquette reports: “The state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau, a nonpartisan agency that analyzes proposed economic investments, looked at Walker’s bid last month to bring a new flat-screen-display factory to the state in exchange for a roughly $3 billion-incentives package. Foxconn said it would break ground in southeastern Wisconsin and hire 3,000 workers there over the next four years, with the ‘potential’ to create 13,000 jobs. If the company hits that growth target, Wisconsin would break even after 25 years, said Rob Reinhardt, a program manager who worked on the report. If 13,000 jobs never materialize, it could take decades longer. … State officials, however, maintain the deal would bring more prosperity.”

— Just days after becoming a Republican, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is asking Trump for $4.5 billion in federal funding for the coal industry. The Wall Street Journal’s Dan Molinski reports: “[Justice] said Appalachian region coal mines specifically—and the thousands of jobs they provide—remain at risk because of rising competition from natural gas and less-labor-intensive coal mines in Western states such as Wyoming, the nation’s leading coal producer. … [Justice’s proposal] calls for federal funding to pay Eastern power plants $15 for each ton of thermal coal they buy from the Central or Northern Appalachian region[.] … At 300 million tons a year, that could cost the U.S. $4.5 billion annually, he added.” But Western coal companies are criticizing the plan as counter to free-market principles. 

— Tom Barrack, a billionaire real-estate investor and a close friend of Donald Trump, is reportedly in talks to become U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Politico’s Josh Dawsey reports: “Barrack, a gregarious billionaire, is the front-runner for the position but has expressed some concerns about taking it, one of the White House officials said. It is unclear whether he will end up accepting, ‘but it is his if he wants it,’ one of these people said. One White House official said it would be complicated for Barrack to sell all of his assets, while another person familiar with the talks said he would like to have more sway over South America and ‘really try to set some wider policy.’ Barrack is known for encouraging Trump to think more globally, several White House aides said, and to avoid governing in a manner that appeals only to his base …”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

A typo made a joke out of Trump’s threat to North Korea:

From a Politico reporter regarding the McConnell-Trump showdown:

 From a Washington Examiner correspondent:

But the president appears to still be enjoying his vacation:

From a Bloomberg White House reporter:

Post reporter Greg Miller retweeted the image of Trump golfing and received this response:

A House Democrat noted the significance of the raid on Paul Manafort’s house:

Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz (Hawaii) criticized the administration’s rate of nominations:

HuffPost’s editor in chief chimed in on Eric Bolling’s lawsuit against their reporter who broke a story about alleged sexual harassment:

Anthony Scaramucci made this serious allegation about his conservation with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza:

The anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation prompted this cheeky comment from a former congressman:

And right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones discovered fidget spinners:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

— New York Times, “The Alt-Right Finds a New Enemy in Silicon Valley,” by Kevin Roose: “For the last several months, far-right activists have mounted an aggressive political campaign against some of Silicon Valley’s biggest players. Extending their attacks beyond social networks like Facebook and Twitter, tech’s typical free-speech battlegrounds, they have accused a long list of companies, including Airbnb, PayPal and Patreon, of censoring right-wing views, and have pledged to expose Silicon Valley for what they say is a pervasive, industrywide liberal bias.”

— New York Times Magazine, “How Rebecca Solnit Became the Voice of the Resistance,” by Alice Gregory: “In March, 2016, Haymarket Books, [Rebecca Solnit’s] small, nonprofit publisher, reissued ‘Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities,’ which had originally been published in 2004 … Part history of progressive success stories, part extended argument for hope as a catalyst for action, the slim book became a kind of bible for people heartbroken by last year’s election outcome. Strange as it is to say, Solnit’s newfound popularity reveals more about her readers than it does her. That the book, and her other suddenly timely work, was not written in the last several months, but rather years prior, makes its ideas seem even truer, giving it the veneer of sacred text. She has become a Cassandra figure of the left, her writing, which seems magically to have long ago said the things that many Americans now most want to hear, consumed as both balm and rallying cry.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Price booed as he throws out first pitch at Nationals game,” from the Hill: “Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was booed as he threw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals Game on Wednesday. Price was reportedly met with boos and only a few cheers when he took the mound at Nationals Park to toss the ceremonial first pitch, according to multiple people at the ball park. Price was one of the administration’s public faces in trying to push through the ObamaCare repeal and replace bill, lobbying with lawmakers to get them to agree to the legislation and defending the measure on Sunday morning shows. Attendees of the baseball game reported the negative reaction to Price’s appearance on social media.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

 “Atlanta gym owner makes no apologies for ‘No Cops’ sign,” from NBC News 11: “A shocking and vulgar sign about police officers has been posted in front of a local business in Atlanta. The sign could be seen from the street … [and] the message is clear: It says no cops allowed. [A viewer] emailed us the photo of the sign. He says he’s a military veteran and was offended when he saw it outside the East Atlanta Village gym. Despite the backlash, [the owner] says he still stands by the message it conveyed. … [The owner] says groups who work out there are generally minorities who are uncomfortable with the presence of law enforcement agents.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump and Pence are having lunch together today. There are no other public events on their schedules. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Sen. John McCain told NBC News of the response to his cancer diagnosis: “Even those that want me to die don’t want me to die right away, so that’s good.”

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

— D.C. should see more nice weather today, with a bit more humidity. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunshine and almost cool temperatures start the day. A few clouds pop up as the day progresses but shower chances are nil. A very light breeze from the southeast should keep things comfortable as humidity is only moderate and highs settle in the low-to-mid 80s.”

— The Nationals beat the Marlins 10-1, thanks in part to Ryan Zimmerman’s two home runs. (Chelsea Janes)

— Michelle Obama’s former policy director entered Maryland’s gubernatorial race. Ovetta Wiggins and Josh Hicks report: “Krishanti Vignarajah … announced Wednesday that she plans to enter the race for Maryland governor, becoming the first woman to join the crowded field for the 2018 Democratic nomination. Vignarajah plans an official campaign announcement next month. 

— A new Quinnipiac poll gives Democrat Ralph Northam a six-point edge over Republican Ed Gillespie. Northam is preferred by 44 percent of Virginians to become the next governor, while 38 percent favor Gillespie. (Fenit Nirappil)

 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Meyers compared Trump’s presidency to a four-year-long improv show:

Jimmy Fallon explained what times of day Trump gets his folder filled with positive news about himself:

Post columnist David Ignatius dissects where Trump’s tough talk on North Korea could lead the U.S.:

North Korea held a massive protest against its new U.N. sanctions:

A protester floated a giant chicken with orange hair outside of the White House:

Tiger Woods is expected to enter a DUI program:

And Japan’s Pokemon Go festival attracted thousands of players:

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