White House Watch: Trump Unplugged on Haiti and Africa—and with the WSJ

If there were any doubt about the numerous reports that President Trump referred to Haiti and nations in Africa as “shithole countries” in a Thursday meeting about immigration with lawmakers, it melted away with a statement from the White House that did nothing to deny it.

“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah told the Washington Post. “Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.”

What can be said? Here’s Utah congresswoman Mia Love, a Republican and daughter of Haitian immigrants, demanding an apology from Trump:

The President'[s] comments are unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values. This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation. My parents came from one of those countries, took an oath of allegiance to it, and took on the responsibilities of everything that being a citizen comes with. They never took a thing from our federal government. They worked hard, paid taxes, and rose from nothing to take care of and provide opportunities for their children. They taught their children to do the same. That’s the American Dream. The President must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned.

Must-Read of the Day—From my colleague Eric Felten: “Donald Trump and the OJ Defense”

NAFTA Watch—The North American Free Trade Agreement has been on life support for months, as White House negotiators have demanded major concessions in talks with Canada and Mexico to bring the deal in line with President Trump’s “America First” principles. But with Senate Republicans imploring him not to axe the agreement, Trump appears to have hit on a new branding strategy for keeping NAFTA: treating its renegotiation as the fulfillment of his campaign promise to make Mexico pay for the border wall.

“They can pay for it indirectly through NAFTA,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday. “We make a good deal on NAFTA, and say, I’m going to take a small percentage of that money and it’s going toward the wall. Guess what? Mexico’s paying.”

Trump did not pull back from his steep expectations for NAFTA concessions, reiterating that he would terminate the agreement if the sides failed to agree on “a Trump deal.” But Trump has apparently grown more optimistic in recent days about the negotiations’ chances. On Tuesday, he told farmers that he was “working very hard to get a better deal for our country.”

More Journal Highlights—His comments on NAFTA were far from the only noteworthy moments from Trump’s interview with the Journal. Among them:

Trump says he “probably” has a “very good relationship with Kim Jong Un.” What about all the insults? “You’ll see that a lot with me, and then all of the sudden somebody’s my best friend. I could give you 20 examples. You could give me 30. I’m a very flexible person.”

Trump claims that his firing of FBI director James Comey should have elicited applause throughout D.C.

Trump accuses FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who exchanged text messages critical of the president in 2016, of committing treason.

Trump reiterates his claim that the United States should tighten its libel laws, but says Republicans in Congress don’t have the “guts” to make it happen.

And, finally, Trump insists that an infrastructure bill is at the top of the White House’s to-do list this year.

On Wednesday evening, the White House issued a statement urging Congress to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the government to conduct surveillance of foreign entities on U.S. soil, without an amendment designed to weaken it,. The statement, I’m told, came as the White House and Republican leadership in the House of Representatives felt they were on the path to securing enough votes to reject the amendment and pass reauthorization.

But Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the West Wing awoke to a surprise Thursday morning, after President Trump appeared to reverse himself from his administration’s own position in a tweet expressing disapproval with the law.

After a few hours’ mad scramble on Capitol Hill, including a phone call between Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan and a visit to the White House by CIA director Mike Pompeo, the president walked back his comment with another tweet:

The House eventually passed the bill by a comfortable margin Thursday afternoon, but many were left unsteady by the whiplash of Trump’s changing opinions on the program—even as the White House insisted no change had happened at all.

“We don’t think that there was a conflict,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said. “The president doesn’t feel that we should have to choose between protecting American citizens and protecting their civil liberties, he wants to do both, and that’s exactly what he’s gonna do. We don’t see any contradiction or confusion in that.”

Davos Watch—The White House on Thursday announced the U.S. delegation joining President Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this month. Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin will lead the delegation, which includes cabinet members Rex Tillerson, Wilbur Ross, Alex Acosta, Elaine Chao, Rick Perry, Kirstjen Nielsen, and Robert Lighthizer.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior adviser to the president, will also attend along with: Tom Bossert, the Homeland Security adviser; Mark Green, the head of the International Development Agency; and Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

Mueller Watch—From the Daily Beast: “Steve Bannon Lawyers Up . . . as Russia Investigators Get Ready to Pounce”

Here’s some news you can use: A British shopkeeper gets locked in his walk-in freezer and breaks open the door—with a 3-pound frozen sausage.

Song of the Day— “Can’t Stop” by Red Hot Chili Peppers

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This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard


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