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President Donald Trump says imports of autos and auto parts do not pose a threat to national security, but the U.S. balance sheet with the rest of the world does.
"Well, no," Trump told Fox Business News' Maria Bartiromo in an interview aired Friday when asked if the automotive imports pose a national security threat. "What poses a national security risk is our balance sheet. We have to have — we need a strong balance sheet. Otherwise you don’t have national security."
Last year, the Commerce Department launched an investigation into whether imports of autos and auto parts pose a national security threat to the United States. A positive finding would allow Trump to impose restrictions on the imports, similar to the tariffs and quotas he imposed last year on steel and aluminum imports.
Still, Trump's answer seemed to suggest the still-confidential Commerce Department report, delivered to the White House last month, did not find a specific threat from automotive imports, but a more general threat from the trade imbalance that the United States runs with the rest of the world.
Whatever the actual finding, Trump indicated he still remained interested in imposing tariffs on cars from Europe and possibly other destinations — unless those companies invest more in the U.S.
"I’ll tell you what the end game is. They’ll build their plants in the United States, and they have no tariffs," Trump said.
The tariffs that Trump has imposed on steel and aluminum have boosted prices of those key materials and made the U.S. a less attractive place to build cars.
The United States and the European Union are currently in the process of preparing for negotiations on a trade agreement, although the effort remains stalled over the EU's refusal to include agriculture.
Still, in those proposed talks, the EU is offering to reduce its 10 percent tariff on autos to zero in exchange for the U.S. cutting its tariffs to 2.5 percent tariff on autos and 25 percent tariff on trucks to zero as well.
Trump, though, says he wasn't interested in that deal.
"The problem is that the Chevrolet will never be accepted in Europe like the Mercedes is accepted here, so it’s not a good deal," Trump said. "I wouldn’t do that deal. They’ve offered me that deal,"
"So you wouldn’t do zero tariffs?," Bartiromo asked.
"I would do it for certain products, but I wouldn’t do it for cars — because they have BMW, they have Mercedes, they have a lot of very good cars that come in, and they make them here," Trump said. "I want them to make them here. Instead of making them over there, make them here. If you’re going to sell them to the Americans, make them here."
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The Poor People's Campaign is launching a national bus tour of poverty-stricken areas to bring attention to what they call the "real crises" or "interlocking injustices" afflicting the country including systematic racism, poverty, voter suppression and ecological devastation.
"The war on poverty is not over. It ...
President Trump said Friday the "people will not stand for" an unfavorable report from special counsel Robert Mueller, Fox Business reported.
In an interview with "Mornings with Maria," the president touted his election win in 2016 before he chastised former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein....
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Catalonia's regional government has removed eye-catching pro-independence banners from its headquarters in Barcelona, hours before police were due to take them down on orders from the country's electoral board.
Workers removed Friday a large banner from a balcony on the front of the centuries-old palace, which ...
President Trump said Friday the Federal Reserve prevented the country's 2018 gross domestic product from hitting 4 percent, Fox Business reported.
"If we didn't have somebody raising interest rates and do quantitative tightening, we would have been over 4 [percent] instead of at 3.1 [percent]" in terms of growth, Mr. ...
President Donald Trump said Friday he hopes Attorney General William Barr will “do what’s fair” with regards to opening investigations to perceived crimes by his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton, former FBI Director James Comey, former intelligence chief James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan.
Trump, who offered Clinton something of an olive branch after his election victory and pledged to move forward instead of demanding another investigation into her use of a personal email server as secretary of State, asserted in an interview on Fox Business News’ “Mornings with Maria” he’d been treated “very unfairly” by investigators probing his ties to Russia.
“So when I won, I made my opening speech, everyone's shouting, ‘Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!’ I said, ‘No, no, no, let's forget her. Let's get on to the future,’” the president recalled Friday. “But they have treated me so viciously, and they have treated me so badly and we did nothing wrong — you look at the others — and all of these people you hear about, that had nothing to do with Russia, Russia collusion, nothing.”
While Trump maintained that no one on his presidential campaign conspired with Russian agents to influence the 2016 election, one subject of special counsel Robert Muller’s probe, he complained that “nobody does anything” in the face of alleged evidence of “stone cold crimes” by former Obama officials.
He accused Comey, Clapper and Brennan of telling “absolute lies” to Congress, declining to provide proof of his claim or elaborating further on their alleged lies.
Trump also revived the false claim that his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, was never actually accused of lying by the FBI itself.
Trashing his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the investigation, Trump bemoaned that the Russia investigation “destroy[ed] a man who is a general and a respected man for many years. ... All because Jeff Sessions didn't have a clue.”
Trump called it an “interesting question” whether he thought Barr should look into Trump’s accusations against Clinton and the other Obama officials, despite two Trump-appointed attorney generals so far declining to do so.
“I think — look, I have a lot of respect for him. I've never known him. He's a very, very smart, respected man,” he said of Barr. “Hopefully he'll do what's fair. ... All I can ask is what's fair.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
President Donald Trump outlined the 2020 Democrats he’d most like to run against next year, saying he’d “love” to run against former Vice President Joe Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders but that “we could dream about” running against former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
In an interview that aired Friday on Fox Business Network’s “Mornings with Maria,” the president told host Maria Bartiromo it seemed like the press has already “chosen” the former congressman who shook up the race last week when he jumped into the field of more than a dozen candidates.
“My attitude is, I wouldn't mind,” Trump said when asked whether he wanted to run against O’Rourke, whose narrow loss in the Texas Senate race against Ted Cruz last year propelled him into the national spotlight.
“I mean, I'd love to have Biden. I'd love to have Bernie, I'd love to have Beto. I mean, Beto seems to be the one the press has chosen. The press seems to have chosen Beto,” he said.
Trump ripped O’Rourke for his declaration earlier this year amid a fight over funding for Trump’s proposed border wall that he would “absolutely” tear down existing border wall in his hometown of El Paso.
“You have Beto, so you have Beto. And Beto comes out and he says, ‘Let's take down the wall.’ If you ever took down the wall, this country would be overrun,” Trump said, calling the border wall opposition of border state Democrats like O’Rourke and California Gov. Gavin Newsom purely political in nature.
When asked whether the dynamic of the 2020 race would come down to “socialism versus capitalism,” Trump offered another suggestion.
“When I watch Beto, I say we could dream about that,” he said. “But whatever it is — no, I think it's competence. I think it's somebody — look. When I first ran, I was never a politician — I ran, I ran on a certain platform. I've done far more than I said I was going to do.”
While Beto has certainly captured a significant amount of media attention since announcing his presidential bid and brought in a record fundraising haul in the first 24 hours since announcing, polls have shown him near the middle of the pack of the Democratic field that’s more than a dozen strong.
Sanders has consistently polled at the top of the field along with Biden, who has yet to actually announce a run for president but is widely considered to throw his hat in the ring.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
BANGKOK (AP) - The political movement that has won every Thai election in nearly two decades is facing its biggest test yet: Squaring off against the allies of the military junta that removed it from power and rewrote the electoral rules with the goal of ending those victories.
The latest ...
Top Democratic lawmakers are preparing to request President Donald Trump’s personal tax returns, but some liberal lawmakers say they should also demand his business tax filings.
The business returns are much more likely to indicate conflicts of interest and other possible malfeasance Democrats hope to uncover, such as suspicious ties to Russian interests and whether he took aggressive steps to avoid paying taxes.
Trump’s financial disclosures show he has more than 500 partnerships and other types of businesses, and each of those would generally have its own tax return.
There are other types of returns Democrats could seek as well. They could demand returns from his trusts -- a check from Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen released earlier this month, that he said reimbursed him for hush payments to Stormy Daniels, was written out of the account of a revocable trust. Democrats might want First Lady Melania Trump’s returns, because if she and her husband file separately yet own a business together they could allocate income from it to her and not him.
Trump’s recently dissolved foundation, which New York’s attorney general said had engaged in a “shocking pattern of illegality,” would have its own filings too, though much, if not all, of those are already publicly available.
On top of all that, there is the tricky question of how many years back Democrats want to investigate.
Some liberals want House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, who has the power to seize Trump’s returns under an arcane statute, to investigate everything with the president’s name on it, hoping to find criminal bombshells. They will likely jump on the Massachusetts Democrat if they believe he’s not giving them an adequate scrubbing.
But that threatens to bury lawmakers in thousands of returns, and Democrats are working under time constraints; they want to have something to show the public before next year’s elections. It will take time to digest Trump’s returns and there will likely be a big court fight before the administration hands anything over. The tax panel also has other priorities in addition to investigating Trump’s taxes.
Some say Democrats ought to take a more incremental approach by requesting a sample of Trump’s returns, with a promise to follow up on any leads they present. That would be more manageable and also help Democrats fend off complaints they are on a “fishing expedition,” said John Buckley, a former longtime Democratic tax aide on the Ways and Means Committee.
“Strategically, you’re better off with a narrow, well-targeted first request,” he said. “The first request doesn’t mean that’s all you’re ever going to ask for.”
"'We’re going to get there, we’re just not going to get there in one step’ — that’s what Neal needs to say,” Buckley said.
But Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, said Democrats should pursue a broader investigation, and downplayed the amount of time that will be needed to parse the president’s returns.
“Five thousand pages is nothing,” he said. “Even 20,000 pieces of paper” is a “minor cost.”
“This is a pretty significant issue for the country,” he added.
The debate over the seemingly simple question of what to ask for is an indication of how Trump’s surely complicated taxes, thanks to his wealth and his career in business, pose a unique challenge to lawmakers trying to vet his finances.
Democrats are preparing to employ a little-used law to try to seize Trump’s tax returns, which he’s steadfastly refused to disclose. A nearly century-old statute allows the heads of Congress’ tax committees to examine anyone’s private tax information. Experts say lawmakers can vote to make that information public. The administration has signaled it will fight the request.
Neal has said little about what he plans to demand, while his colleagues on the panel have given conflicting accounts of their intentions. Last week, Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) said he expects Neal to request both Trump’s personal and business returns. The week before that, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), another tax writer, said Neal would request ten years' worth of personal returns, but not his business ones.
Trump’s personal returns would include basic information like how much he earns, how much he pays in taxes and what, if anything, he gives to charity. It would also include summary information about his businesses, such as how much he earned from them.
But the details of those businesses — like whom he is working with, whom he owes money to and whether he is taking aggressive steps to avoid paying taxes on them — would show up in separate returns.
“If you start with the personal returns, what you’ll run into pretty quickly is a lot of references to investments that don’t tell you very much about what it is,” said former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “It’s going to drive you to the business return.”
But those filings could not only be voluminous, they could also be quite complicated.
There could also potentially be collateral damage if Democrats make his partnership filings public because they would likely reveal private information about not just Trump but other people in business with him. That could be important if they showed Trump is in business with prominent Russians, for example, but it could also violate the privacy of other people who are of little interest to Congress unless lawmakers take special steps to protect them.
How many years to look at is another potentially difficult issue.
House Democrats passed legislation earlier this month demanding a decade’s worth of returns from Trump, but that wouldn’t answer questions raised, for example, by a 1995 return leaked to The New York Times showing Trump took a $916 million loss that year.
But it’s not clear how many of Trump’s old returns the government still has on file.
The IRS has a policy of disposing of filings after a certain number of years, though the standard depends on the type of return and it doesn’t apply in cases where someone is under audit or owes the agency money. The agency generally dumps individual returns after six years, while it keeps corporate returns for 50 years and hangs onto estate tax filings for 75 years.
Lawmakers are unlikely to get Trump’s 2018 returns anytime soon. He probably won’t file those until later this year — wealthy people often wait until October to do their taxes because it takes a while to collect tax information from business partnerships. So Democrats likely won’t be able to determine if Trump benefited from the GOP tax rewrite that took effect in 2018 or if he made any moves in response to the law.
Many expect lawmakers to turn over Trump’s returns, should they get them, to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation to analyze. The agency is comprised of tax lawyers, accountants and economists who serve as nonpartisan technical advisers to lawmakers — and it has done this sort of thing before.
President Richard Nixon faced questions over whether he had cheated on his taxes and, in a bid to clear the air, he asked JCT in December 1973 to audit his returns from 1969 through 1972. Though his finances were less complicated than Trump’s likely are — the main issues for Nixon had to do with charitable deductions he had claimed as well as whether he paid enough in capital gains taxes on an apartment and land sale — it still took JCT four months to analyze the filings.
In April 1974, the agency produced a 1,000-page report finding that Nixon owed $475,431 in unpaid taxes and penalties.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Rep. Ilhan Omar stood alone near the back of the House chamber earlier this month, glancing at her phone and seemingly oblivious to the remarkable rebuke being leveled at her.
Lawmakers had gathered to vote on a resolution condemning hate speech — legislation sparked by the freshman Democrat’s latest controversial remarks about Israel. After several minutes, she spotted Rep. Pramila Jayapal a few rows ahead and darted toward the Washington Democrat. They embraced and soon doubled over in laughter.
“She came up to me on the floor, and she gave me a big hug, and I told her that some of my gray hair was [from her] over the last week,” Jayapal said, recounting the scene in an interview.
For Jayapal, the moment on the floor was intended to offer a sense of solidarity that she rarely felt herself when she was sworn into Congress within days of Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Just two years later, Jayapal has vaulted from liberal backbencher to co-leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — carving out a crucial role within the newly emboldened Democratic Caucus and earning a seat at Nancy Pelosi’s leadership table each week.
Jayapal’s colleagues describe her as a mentor with a maternal touch, helping to shepherd a raucous faction that includes a pack of freshman superstars under immense scrutiny on the national stage and even within their own caucus.
Her restraint on issues like impeachment and her signature “Medicare for All” bill has made her a trusted ally of Democratic leaders, even as she has also deployed her caucus’ 90-plus roster to occasionally force leadership’s hand.
Amid debate on House Democrats’ sweeping anti-corruption bill, for instance, Jayapal and her progressive colleagues demanded a provision that would require Trump to disclose 10 years of tax returns. Pelosi agreed.
“The fascinating thing about Jayapal is that she was elected two years ago and so she’s gone through this process,” Omar said in a recent interview. “When people are giving you advice, it’s from decades ago as a freshman. And so her advice is very fresh.”
Like Omar, Jayapal has faced death threats. She’s been vilified by her political opponents. She’s been the only woman of color in a room. Now, in Congress, Jayapal has helped guide the largest-ever group of freshman women of color — particularly the squad of progressives that is frequently under attack.
“I’ve been through that myself, so I know the fear of it, and I also know what it takes to steel yourself and get yourself through that,” Jayapal said.
For Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Jayapal was a familiar and friendly face after the Michigan freshman ignited a firestorm of controversy just hours after being sworn into Congress with her call to “impeach the motherf---er” when speaking about Trump.
More recently, Tlaib said her longtime friend — the two met as immigration activists 15 years ago, and Jayapal was the first member of Congress to endorse her— pulled her aside before giving a speech on the floor about universal health care with some helpful advice. Personalize your speech, Jayapal counseled, tell the world what the real-world implications of access to health care would mean for your district.
Tlaib went on to describe in detail how growing up she thought it was normal her neighbors suffered from asthma, cancer and other serious health problems because of the poor air quality around her Detroit district and how having access to basic health care could have significantly improved their quality of life.
“It’s these little touches,” Tlaib told POLITICO afterwards. “She’s one of these incredible mentors that, at the forefront, is always about serving your district and doing it in a very authentic way.”
It’s not just Omar and Tlaib who seek her advice: Weeks after the election, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) came over to Jayapal’s house for a meal of boxed tomato soup — which was broadcast to thousands on Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram account.
After a particularly grueling day at the Capitol, Jayapal will offer a spontaneous dinner invite to her fellow Democrats at her place near the Capitol, where Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.) said Jayapal will whip up stew with homemade pita bread. Jayapal has plans to have freshman Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.), her mentee within the CPC mentorship program launched this Congress, over for dinner in the coming weeks.
“It’s almost comical, it’ll be at the last minute, and she’ll say, come over to my house for dinner,” Hayes said with a laugh. “I don’t know how she does it, I don't even have time to go to the grocery store.”
The private gatherings are partly intended to help the new members navigate Congress, like when she counseled Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) on how to deflect attacks from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) in the Judiciary Committee. But they’re also intensely personal, discussing how to survive a deluge of daily attacks as women of color.
“What I tell them if they ask is, ‘It’s really important not to let the outside world define you, and to be strong in standing up for what you believe in, but also be strategic,” Jayapal said. “If you took on every single thing that drove you crazy, or was racist or sexist or unfair, you would be exhausted and you wouldn't be able to get the work done that you need to get done.”
As she’s dispatching advice, Jayapal said, she thinks back to the years of discrimination she faced as an immigrant rights activist in the post-Sept. 11 era, and then as the first Indian-American woman elected to the House.
The snubs even followed her to the House floor.
In her first term, she was once interrupted mid-debate by senior Republican Don Young of Alaska, who called her “young lady” and asserted that she “doesn’t know a damn thing what she’s talking about.”
Jayapal later wrote on Twitter: “A message to women of color out there: stand strong. Refuse to be patronized or minimized.” Young ultimately apologized.
How Jayapal will leverage her newfound influence and if she’ll use it as a launching pad for a more prominent leadership post in the future is unclear. For now, her relatively cautious approach on controversial issues, even as some fellow liberals demand more radical action, is welcome within the broader caucus.
“I’ve seen a lot of people promise things, and they don’t necessarily care whether they can get there or not,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who serves on the Judiciary Committee with Jayapal. “Pramila is very concerned that she can deliver ... And I think it’s very smart of her to do that.”
Jayapal says for now that her focus is on working with her fellow CPC co-chair, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), to elect more progressives to Congress.
Jayapal stumped for California freshman Democratic Reps. Katie Hill and Katie Porter and was instrumental in getting the progressive caucus to back Omar during her crowded primary race.
Now the campaign arm of the CPC is hiring its first-ever political director, part of a larger effort overseen by Pocan and Jayapal to ensure the caucus plays an even more influential role in 2020, when Democrats will be defending the House majority and trying to win both the Senate and the White House.
Jayapal has been endorsed by Justice Democrats, an outside group trying to encourage liberal primary challenges to incumbents, but she has said that’s not where she’s spending her energy.
In the early months of Democratic control of the House, the progressive caucus leaders have taken what they describe as a sensible approach to pushing priorities from the campaign trail.
Jayapal and Pocan haven’t demanded floor votes on Medicare for All, which they acknowledge still lacks widespread buy-in within the party. Instead, they got Democratic leaders to agree to hold hearings on the proposal for the first time.
“We do know that in order to get where we need to get, we’ve got some convincing to do,” Pocan said. “It’s wise to make sure we’re having hearings to make sure we’re moving it forward, rather than try to force something that’s not ready.”
Her conciliatory approach may surprise those who recall her decision to get arrested at a protest last year condemning Trump’s family separation policies.
But Jayapal hasn’t strayed too far from her activist roots, Pocan insists.
“My guess is she would gladly still get arrested for something she believes in,” he said.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Top donors who helped power President Barack Obama’s campaigns are getting ready to boost Joe Biden for 2020.
The former vice president, whose fundraising lagged during his previous bids for the White House, would this time enter the race with a base of support from many of his party’s major givers, according to interviews with 20 top Obama fundraisers, who each raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect the former president.
Many of Obama’s backers say deciding which candidate or candidates to support in 2020 is difficult. But Biden, who a number of Obama’s funders count as a friend and former coworker in the administration, comes out of the gate with a crop of top-tier fundraisers ready to back his bid and other donors willing to cut personal checks to jump-start Biden’s campaign, though they might wait to throw the full power of their networks behind him.
Biden’s ability to put together a network of donors is a major test for the vice president — possibly moreso than for any other 2020 candidate. The small-donor digital network now so critical to the Democratic Party did not exist the last time Biden ran for office on his own, and he does not have a pre-built base of support from grassroots donors, like potential rivals such as Beto O’Rourke have — though Biden did build an online presence last year for his PAC.
That would put a premium on Biden’s ability to attract high-dollar donors to sustain his campaign early — and give him time to try to build a broader fundraising program that could rival those of his competitors.
“If [Biden] got in, I would be leaning in that direction because, simply put, he’s best qualified, he has the stature and the experience to win the race,” said Steve Westly, the former state controller in California who raised more than half a million dollars for Obama during each of the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. “I think a lot of people will be coalescing around him.”
Those offering their help to Biden include former colleagues like Denise Bauer, former United States Ambassador to Belgium and longtime Obama fundraiser who raised more than $4 million for his presidential campaigns.
“I have been encouraging Vice President Biden to run. I think the country needs him and if he gets in, I will be with him!” Bauer said in an email. “I have seen him interact with foreign leaders, colleagues, and everyday Americans. His depth of knowledge, skill, and compassion are extraordinary.”
As Biden, the front-runner in recent polls, moves closer to a campaign for president, the question of how he would fund that campaign has loomed over his decision. It has not been a strength of Biden’s past campaigns: As Obama and Hillary Clinton topped $100 million raised in 2007 in preparation for the 2008 primaries, Biden raised a total of $14.3 million before dropping out in January 2008.
This time, Biden would enter the race as a respected party elder and an heir to the Obama legacy, but he would need to compete with candidates who have excelled in a new fundraising world focused on small-dollar donors. Bernie Sanders and O’Rourke each raised roughly $6 million in 24 hours after announcing their presidential campaigns, well ahead of any other rivals and largely from online donors.
“His great strength is, he’s regarded as [a] very strong candidate to defeat Donald Trump and unite the party and the country,” said Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committee member and fundraiser. “The test of his candidacy will be engaging the diverse base of the Democratic Party and engaging [the] grassroots, which is the new small-dollar donor leadership.”
Like the majority of other Democrats, Biden has also indicated he would not rely on the help of a single-candidate super PAC to boost his name in the 2020 race, saying in February that he would “not be part of a super PAC” if he were to run for president.
“An awful lot of people have offered to help, and the people who are usually the biggest donors in the Democratic Party and I might add some major Republican folks,” Biden added during the appearance at the University of Delaware.
Supporters are not blind to the possible pitfalls of a Biden run. In particular, many wish he were younger and better positioned to connect with young voters.
But members of the Obama network have kept up with Biden in the years since Obama’s presidency. More recently, they have spoken with consiglieres like strategist Steve Ricchetti about the possibility of a campaign. And they believe he would be the candidate best-positioned to take on Trump in a general election.
“He compares and contrasts with the current president in a positive way for Democrats,” said Joseph Falk, a Miami lawyer who raised more than $1 million for Obama’s reelection and now describes himself as a “Biden loyalist” for 2020. “His fealty to the law, his honor, his ability to speak truth to power, his ability to not be an extremist on either side I think bodes well.”
Other Obama donors interviewed by POLITICO described a conundrum that echoes their initial decision to throw in with Obama over his rivals in 2008: They feel loyal to Biden and hopeful about the potential of his campaign — but they are simultaneously drawn to the idea of backing a charismatic newcomer for president, like the relatively untested O’Rourke or Pete Buttigieg, who has recently sparked intrigue among several Obama fundraisers.
Some of the fundraisers are dealing with these conflicting feelings by planning to support multiple candidates throughout the Democratic primary, including Biden, while others are putting off the decision or planning to back a different candidate.
In text messages and conversations, supporters of Obama — some of whom were not significant party donors before becoming involved with the former president’s 2008 campaign — have also nudged each other to attend fundraisers and watch CNN town halls for up-and-comers.
“I like Joe Biden of course, I think he’s a great guy. He’s on the old side, but he’s not too old to do the job,” said Bill Eacho, an Obama fundraiser and former ambassador to Austria. Eacho said he’s “waiting to learn more about the candidates” before making a decision on who to support.
Bill Stetson — who raised more than half a million dollars for each of Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and aided the 2008 campaign on environmental issues— said he discusses the race and who to support every night after watching the news with his wife, Jane, a former national finance chair of the Democratic National Committee. For now, he’s giving to multiple candidates, starting with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
“We’re very close to Joe Biden and we don’t know what he’s doing, and I like Beto, and I think a woman should be in the mix,” Stetson said. “We have to think about the very big picture, and we need to heal this country right now.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
“Well,” the newswoman said to Donald Trump, “you’re under a tremendous amount of pressure lately.”
“Why do you say that?” he asked.
It was April 6, 1990, and Paula Zahn on CBS actually had plenty of reasons to think Trump might be feeling anxious. It hadn’t been two months since the hyper-public, tabloid-tawdry revelation that his philandering had shattered his marriage to the mother of his first three children. He and his executives were grappling with the flawed, frantic opening of the newest, gaudiest, most expensive and most debt-bloated of his three casinos in Atlantic City. And reporters who covered money instead of celebrity had started to suss out the unsteadiness of Trump’s overall financial state.
“Both in your professional life and your personal life,” Zahn offered.
She asked how he was doing.
“I feel great,” Trump replied. “I’m doing well.”
Nearly three decades have passed. Even in Trump’s perma-perilous presidency, this is a juncture that pulses with risk. Newly empowered Democrats in Congress are ramping up multiple investigations, and talk of impeachment is impossible to avoid. Looming largest over this tumultuous battlefield, though, is the report special counsel Robert Mueller appears poised to submit to Attorney General William Barr—the culmination of nearly two years of labor and the subject of immeasurable speculation. While Trump often awards himself and his administration “A-plus” grades, many others question whether he will be able to sustain his rosy self-assessment once the details of Mueller’s findings become public.
Every flurry of tweets from the president—and last weekend’s two-day grievance bender against late-night comedy and cable news shows was a particularly strong example—begets new pronouncements that Trump is coming unglued from the strain. George Conway, husband of close Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, hauled out the clinical definition of narcissistic personality disorder to make the case that Trump is not only unfit for office but becoming catastrophically worse. And psychiatrists are speaking with dire predictions about the potential for a deranged person with extraordinary powers to create global mayhem and destruction.
“He has very poor coping mechanisms when he is criticized or when he feels humiliated,” Bandy Lee, a forensic psychiatrist from Yale and the editor of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, the second edition of which is out this month, told me, “and at these points he generally goes into attack mode and he threatens others or tries to get revenge. The Mueller report is of a scale that is probably unlike what we have seen him undergo before.”
Worst-case scenario? “Obliterate observing eyes of his humiliation,” Lee said. Meaning? “Destroying the world. That, very quickly, becomes an avenue, a perceived solution … for individuals with his personality structure.”
Make what you will of such medical predictions, but the historical record tells a different story. The back-and-forth with Zahn is an instructive (and comforting?) reminder about overstating Trump’s fragility. The Trump campaign in 2015 and ’16 careened from kill shot to kill shot, of course, and just kept going, right to the White House—and that was not the first time he flashed his ability to mitigate calamity and deftly skirt what might have seemed like an inevitable comeuppance. Whether or not Trump could remain not only financially solvent but reputationally intact was an open question for the entirety of the first half of the 1990s. So many times, he could have been snuffed, stopped, rendered a relative footnote, his place in the history of this country limited to status as a gauche totem of a regrettable epoch of greed. That, needless to say, is not how the tale played out. Trump is many things. A developer. A promoter. A master media manipulator. A grown-old rich kid. The president of the United States. Above all else, though, he is a survivor.
“The ultimate survivor,” former Trump casino executive Jack O’Donnell told me recently.
But it’s not just that Trump has survived that’s important to consider at this moment—it’s how he has done it. Armed with extraordinary audacity, constitutional sangfroid, a stomach for tumult, an acumen for recasting obvious losses into strange sorts of wins, and the prodigious safety net bequeathed by his wealthy, wily father, he has plowed past myriad hazards. And he did it by tying himself tightly to his bankers and lenders in New York and to gaming industry regulators in New Jersey—who let him live large until they couldn’t let him die without fatally wounding themselves. He effectively inhabited hosts, using them to get bigger and bigger in the ’80s until he was practically perversely invincible by the ’90s—not only “too big to fail,” as the late Wayne Barrett once told Susan Glasser and me, but “too big to jail.”
Perhaps his past escapes are the reason he appears oddly calm as most of the country leans forward, awaiting word of bombshells from Mueller. Over the weekend, when outsiders perceived mounting anxiety in Trump’s Twitter barrage, people who spoke to Trump by phone told reporters that “he seemed to be in good spirits.” The volume of tweets, they surmised, was just a product of too much time on his hands in the White House.
His bravado and bluster can’t mask, his critics say, the true jeopardy he faces. The stakes now are too high, the arena too large, the political currents too strong, for Trump to expect the same results. But if he does fail, pinned to account by the weight of evidence uncovered by Mueller, one thing is certain: It will be the first time.
Those who believe in the power of Trump’s survival skills to protect him from even this unprecedented threat draw an analogy between the Republican Party—its members of Congress and especially the Senate—and the institutions that have enabled him in the past.
“The banks were heavily invested in Trump, and they couldn’t have him go down,” former Trump campaign staffer Sam Nunberg told me, “and the Republican Party can’t have him go down.”
“I think he believes that the presidency is too big to fail, too powerful to be taken down,” O’Donnell added. “And I think that this is kind of something that he learned in the ‘90s, where the banks basically said to him, ‘You’re too big to fail, we have to back you.’ And they did it, time and time again, in Atlantic City.”
To be determined in the coming weeks and months: how well those lessons will hold up.
“This is a man who has lived dangerously for decades by flirting with the boundaries of propriety, legality and civility,” Trump biographer Tim O’Brien told me. “And he is now faced, after years and years of getting away with it, with consequences that are far beyond anything he’s encountered before. … The things that I think have allowed him to survive in the past will be of practical, personal use here in terms of him maintaining a stiff upper lip, if he’s able to.” But the more material applicability of the Machiavellian takeaways from his ‘90s scrapes? “I think they’re going to be absolutely of no use if the legal consequences are realized at their full magnitude.”
Others who know Trump well aren’t so sure.
“No matter what they do, he survives. No matter what they try, he survives,” longtime New York Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf told me. “Can Trump survive this? He absolutely can.”
In the middle of 1990, after all, he was more than $3 billion in the red. He had for years spent too much to buy too much, all with mostly borrowed money. The yacht, the airline, Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel. “Trophies,” he called them. And his casinos, first two, now three with the lurching launch of the Trump Taj Mahal, cannibalized each other. Even record rakes of cash weren’t enough to simply service all of Trump’s debt. On the horizon was the first of his six corporate bankruptcies.
“Trump is on his way down—and probably out,” business journalist Allan Sloan wrote that June in Newsday.
People didn’t stop at mere predictions. They also poked fun.
“I envision Donald Trump a year from now doing the ads for stomach-flatteners or ginsu knives on late-night TV. Or as a Worldwide Wrestling Federation commentator,” Gail Collins, then a columnist for the New York Daily News, told David Von Drehle, then a reporter for the Miami Herald.
Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown likened Trump to late-in-life Elvis. “He probably will wind up in that sort of Graceland, you know, wearing a diaper,” she told Steve Kroft of CBS News.
Spy, the puckish satirical magazine and inveterate needler of Trump, in its August 1990 issue took a tongue-in-cheek look at what they foresaw as a sad, middling future for a balding, paunchy Trump. Their crystal ball, though, was not all wrong. They anticipated a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, and a rough version of reality television, too—and a public offering that would permit Trump to use money from shareholders to make money of his own (“Now YOU can own a piece of the Trump!”).
But beyond the smart set’s schadenfreude were Trump’s real-life results.
After weeks of negotiations, the cluster of 70-some-odd banks that had loaned him billions of dollars gave him an additional $65 million loan. It was the first in a yearslong sequence of bailouts and extensions and breathing-room reprieves. They had loaned him so much money, it was no longer only his problem—it was theirs. He all but dared them to take him down. “He has a good bit of leverage over the institutions,” a Harvard Business School finance professor told the Boston Globe at the time. “His adjusted net worth is minus several hundred million dollars, by my estimate, and he is alive only because his bankers are too red-faced to pull the plug on his life-support system,” the chairman of a money management firm wrote in the New York Post. “The most important thing,” an official in the office of one of his lenders said in The American Banker, “is to make Trump survive.”
The banks over time clawed back a passel of Trump’s possessions (the yacht, the planes, the Plaza), but they didn’t take his casinos—because they didn’t want them. “The last thing they want to do is manage casinos,” an analyst from Moody’s Investors explained to the Associated Press. And the last thing the gaming officials and city leaders in New Jersey wanted was to have them close. The relationship was the same as with the banks back in New York. Desperate to prop up the flagging gaming industry, looking continually to the casinos to inject into the struggling seaside town at least the appearance of vitality and prosperity, they needed Trump as much as Trump needed them. A prerequisite to owning a casino in Atlantic City, understandably, was financial stability, and regulators could have stripped Trump of his—repeatedly—but of course didn’t. Trump’s casinos amounted to roughly a third of the market. “The whole economic development of the town,” said O’Donnell, “it was dependent on this. And so they just—they caved.”
Trump had managed to turn an apparent weakness into a significant advantage. The banks put him on an allowance … of $450,000 a month. The Trump Tower triplex was safe.
“The man is a Sherman tank in a Brioni suit,” New York Post gossip columnist and Trump pal Cindy Adams told USA Today.
“Hey, look, I had a cold spell from 1990 to ’91,” he said in 1994 in New York. “I was beat up in business and in my personal life. … But you learn that you’re either the toughest, meanest piece of shit in the world, or you just crawl into a corner, put your finger in your mouth, and say, ‘I want to go home.’” And Trump didn’t want to go home.
He wasn’t entirely in the clear, though, until 1995 and ’96, when his need for money finally superseded his desire for absolute control and he took his casinos public. He sat in his office and looked at O’Brien, then a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. He was “back,” he said. People bought stock in Trump and lost money in droves. Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts proved to be a good investment for just one person—Trump. “It was to get other people to get him out of that debt,” a former member of the Trump Organization told me. In addition to his selling of his stake in his foundation-laying Grand Hyatt and tens of millions of dollars of wrangled, well-timed loans from family trusts, it’s what saved Trump—along with a partnership with Hong Kong investors that turned his long-held plot of land on the Upper West Side that always cost him money into one that began to actually make him money. Construction on what would have been Trump City and now would be called Trump Place (and then wouldn’t) started in 1997. And two years later, in front of some of the buildings, Trump let the magician David Blaine get “buried alive” for a week in a plexiglass coffin. It was, said Blaine, a stunt famed illusionist Harry Houdini always wanted to do. For Trump, the publicity ploy made for an apt ode to the art of escape.
Trumpologists and culture critics frequently cite showman P.T. Barnum as Trump’s preeminent antecedent, but another, less noted inspiration was Houdini, the author of a forthcoming Houdini biography told me. “He always found—especially when it just seemed like it was over for him—he found some new chapter, and some new way to sort of get his success going again,” Joe Posnanski said. “He created this handcuff act, and the handcuff act becomes huge, and then that sort of runs its course. And then he comes up with the milk can, and the milk can sort of runs its course. And he comes up with the Chinese water torture cell, and that runs his course. And he starts hanging upside down and escaping from straitjackets.”
It makes Posnanski think of Trump.
“With Trump, you just think, ‘OK, this is it. This is totally it, you know?’” he said. “He’s bankrupt, people are laughing at him, he’s this, he’s that—but it’s never over for him.”
“Trump,” said Sheinkopf, the Democratic strategist, “is incessantly pulling Houdini acts.”
Recall all the “gaffes” that were to have torpedoed his indelicate, unorthodox 2016 presidential bid—peaking, of course, with the “Access Hollywood” tape revealed in early October in which he swaggered about sexual assault.
Those who predict Trump will ultimately fall don’t disagree that he has benefited from well-placed safety nets before. This time is different, they insist, because his high-wire act is being performed at unprecedented heights.
“Significantly higher,” O’Brien said. “He’s been on a financial tightrope, and a familial tightrope, but he’s never been on a legal tightrope like this one. Not even close. This is fundamentally new because of the legal consequences, and those legal consequences don’t end with the filing of the Mueller report. He still has issues that are still very serious in the Southern District of New York; in some ways, they may be more serious than the Mueller investigation in terms of potential consequences and how far they dig into his world.”
Bandy Lee is worried. The forensic psychiatrist from Yale has studied thousands of people with the mental disorders she perceives Trump has. Their behavior, untreated, had predictable and unpleasant results. She foresees a similar unraveling for Trump, albeit with a wild card she has never encountered in any of her patients: the awesome power of the commander in chief.
“Under stress, we can see the limits of one’s ability to cope, and we can see that the president has reached his limits fairly rapidly, in terms of not being able to sit with the advancing special counsel’s investigation. You can see there is a heightening of activity and creation of crises, distractions, if you will, in order to distract both themselves as well as the public away from the bad news he is continuing to receive,” Lee said.
“He has very poor coping mechanisms when he is criticized or when he feels humiliated,” she continued, “and at these points, he generally goes into attack mode, and he threatens others or tries to get revenge.”
Our conversation took place before Trump resurrected his feud with the late John McCain, but I couldn’t help thinking of Lee’s warning as I listened to the president on Wednesday belabor his grudge before a crowd of workers who were expecting some good news on the economy, not a hit job on a war hero. Maybe this, just like the days of name-calling with George Conway, really are the signs of a mind in turmoil.
And yet—and this is just the reality of the record—Trump shrewdly, bullheadedly, even blithely pushed past crises in the ‘90s that would have felled almost anybody else. And then, perhaps convinced of his own invincibility, he blew through a litany of accepted social and political checkpoints on his way to the Oval Office and his high-backed chair behind the Resolute desk.
“Pressure,” Trump said in an extended interview in Playboy in 1990, “doesn’t upset my sleep. … I like throwing balls into the air—and I dream like a baby.”
That same year, on June 14, he turned 44. The next day, he missed about $45 million in debt payments for his casino called Trump Castle. “He is absolutely on knife’s edge,” James Grant, the editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, told Newsday. The day after that, Trump had a party. More than a thousand employees in Atlantic City showed up at the bash on the boardwalk, according to news reports. “We love you, Donald!” they cried. He was presented with a chocolate cupcake, a 12-page birthday card and an 8-foot-by-10-foot portrait of himself.
“Nobody wants to write the positives,” Trump told the cheering crowd. “Over the years, I’ve surprised a lot of people. The largest surprise is yet to come.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
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