Jun. 13

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Takeaways from the North Korea Summit

Tuesday was primarily a day for everyone to process exactly what happened between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un on Monday. That said, a couple of important new pieces of information came out that weren't available Monday night. The first is that the amount of actual negotiating between Trump and Kim was even shorter than anyone thought. They talked to each other for less than 45 minutes which, when the time needed for translation is factored in, equates to about 20 minutes of actual interaction. So, certainly not enough time for anything truly substantive to get done.

The second piece of information is that while 20 minutes of negotiating may not be much, Kim did manage to extract one major concession from Trump: An end to joint military exercises with South Korea. The President says that this concession was no big deal, and that it will save money. The South Koreans were not advised of this news before it became public, and were not too happy. The Pentagon was taken by surprise as well.

In any event, it's now been long enough that everyone's got a list of takeaways, most of them reflecting an awareness of Tuesday's new information. Here is a selection:

The Hill PBS WaPo CNN The New York Times

Again, it would be good to include a list from, say, Fox News, in order to get a view from that end of the spectrum. However, the major right-leaning outlets don't seem to approach things in this way. It is clear that they approve of what Trump did, and that there is much irritation at any media outlet that dares say anything other than "this was a great triumph." That's a bit of a change in course from 10 years ago, when Fox led the charge in declaring that meeting with dictators like Kim, particularly without securing concessions beforehand, was tantamount to treason.

Anyhow, Trump was ready to join Fox, Breitbart, et al., in celebrating this as one of the great accomplishments in memory. His twitter feed was full of chest-thumping on Tuesday. For example:

The World has taken a big step back from potential Nuclear catastrophe! No more rocket launches, nuclear testing or research! The hostages are back home with their families. Thank you to Chairman Kim, our day together was historic!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018

Trump even found time to respond to Robert De Niro's "Fu** Trump" from the Tonys, right in the midst of celebrating:

Robert De Niro, a very Low IQ individual, has received too many shots to the head by real boxers in movies. I watched him last night and truly believe he may be “punch-drunk.” I guess he doesn’t...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018

...Got along great with Kim Jong-un who wants to see wonderful things for his country. As I said earlier today: Anyone can make war, but only the most courageous can make peace! #SingaporeSummit

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2018

So we are officially at the point where the POTUS has higher regard for a brutal dictator who imprisons and/or executes his citizens without trial or remorse than he does for a prominent U.S. citizen who has killed/imprisoned nobody (though he does have a potty mouth).

Trump's own Republican Party was more restrained in its celebration. On one hand, they recognize that the delicate peace on the Korean peninsula just got a little less shaky, and that war became a little less likely. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), among others, released carefully-worded statements expressing their cautious approval for Trump's diplomacy. On the other hand, veteran Republican officeholders realize that it is necessary not to trust Kim too much, based on both his track record, and the track record of dictators like him (Trump, who knows little of history, might want to arrange a briefing on the Munich Agreement, for example). GOP leadership was also generally unhappy with Trump's concession on the joint military exercises with South Korea, with Sen. Lindsey Graham going so far as to describe Trump's argument that it would save money as "ridiculous." Vice President Mike Pence was dispatched to the Hill to smooth things over, and eventually the White House "clarified" that when Trump said he was going to stop the exercises, he didn't mean he was going to stop all of them. One wonders what Kim thinks about that news.

Democrats (and the media, for that matter), were actually somewhat more restrained than the Republicans in expressing their views. There is near-universal consensus, regardless of politics, that Monday's meetings represent progress. For example, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has been more than happy to criticize Trump when warranted, declared the U.S. is now "in a much better place" vis-a-vis North Korea. However, Clapper expressed the same reservations that nearly everyone on both sides of the aisle has: (1) Trump gave up more than he got, (2) This is only a very small, first step, and (3) Kim might not follow through on his commitments, particularly if he is not carefully managed. "The bottom line for me," said the former DNI, "[is that] the devil is in the details."

Interestingly, Clapper got agreement—to an extent—from none other than one Donald J. Trump. Before boarding Air Force One, and obviously quite tired from the time change (which he never handles well), the President held a celebratory press conference. And during that exchange, after expressing hope that he'll be on the cover of Time for the second week in a row, he said, "I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, 'Hey, I was wrong.' I don't know that I'll ever admit that, but I'll find some kind of an excuse." Presumably, that was a little more honest than the exhausted Trump intended to be, particularly that latter part. In any case, with even the President acknowledging some hard truths, it's now fair to say that everyone (with the possible exception of Fox News) recognizes that wherever this process leads, it's only just beginning. (Z)

Five More States Vote

Five more states went to the polls on Tuesday; here are the major stories:

So, there you have it. Next week we have a fairly low-drama Tuesday, as D.C. holds round one of its primaries, while Arkansas has its runoff. Then, on June 26, voters in New York, Colorado, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Utah will head to the polls for round one, while Mississippians and South Carolinians will hold their runoff elections. (Z)

Sanders Defends Endorsement Record

Bernie Sanders and his group Our Revolution have not had a lot of success with their endorsements this election season. Although Tuesday night was not too bad for them, that was primarily because the progressive candidate was also the establishment candidate. When "the progressive" and "the establishment candidate" are not the same person, things generally don't go well for Team Bernie.

Sanders addressed the matter this week, and defended himself and his organization. His argument boiled down to two things: (1) His primary goal is to drive up engagement with the process, not necessarily to get people elected, and (2) He's playing the long game, and if a progressive can get 45% of the vote in 2018, maybe they can get 51% in 2020. To that, he might have added a third item: Some of his positions, like a much higher minimum wage, have become mainstream enough that they've been embraced by the establishment, which is why "the progressive" and "the establishment candidate" sometimes are the same person.

The Senator's argument is a little self-serving, since he certainly doesn't want to admit that he has no coattails in advance of a possible 2020 run. That said, much of it is pretty fair. Anyone who regularly hitches their wagon to outsider candidates is de facto going to have a low batting average. (Z)

Team Obama Announces Midterm Targets

Barack Obama's PAC, Organizing for Action (OFA), may not be quite as visible as Bernie Sanders', but it's likely more impactful when it comes to winning elections. On Tuesday, the group officially announced its list of targets for the midterms.

While OFA will take an interest in a number of ballot initiatives and contests for state legislatures, their biggest targets will be 27 House seats currently held by Republicans in nine different states (eight in California, three each in Pennsylvania and Texas, two each in Minnesota and North Carolina, and one each in Arizona, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Wisconsin). Significantly, the list is not simply "Republican seats in districts Hillary Clinton won," nor is it "the list of districts being targeted by the DNC or DCCC." Given that OFA is very skilled in the use of data and analytics, the GOP candidates running in those 27 races should be a fair bit more nervous than they were when they went to bed on Monday night. (Z)

House Republicans Possibly Avoid Ugly Fight over Immigration

Yesterday was the deadline that moderate Republicans set for an agreement to be reached on immigration policy, particularly as regards the Dreamers. In the absence of a deal, they were prepared to use a parliamentary maneuver (a discharge petition) to force a vote on a series of moderate immigration bills, bills that had a real chance of passing with joint Democratic and moderate Republican support. The problem, from the perspective of Paul Ryan, was that the vote would have badly split his coalition for all the world to see. Thanks to some last-minute wheeling and dealing, however, the GOP "crisis" appears to have been averted. Agreement has reportedly been reached on a general plan of action, wherein a pair of bills will be brought before the House for consideration next week.

So, problem solved, right? Maybe, or maybe not. The issue is still contentious enough within the GOP conference that they couldn't actually agree what would be in next week's bills, merely that two of them would be brought up for a vote. They are going to continue discussions today, in hopes that they can figure out that minor detail. Given that the House GOP has already announced "we've worked everything out" once before, only to have that not be true, there is still time for Tuesday's compromise to collapse. Meanwhile, the moderates' June 12 deadline was chosen somewhat arbitrarily; the parliamentary maneuver they planned to use is still available, and requires just two more GOP signatures to proceed. So, we shall see what happens. (Z)

Sessions Cracks Down on Refugees

Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, a man whose less-than-enlightened views on race cost him a judgeship in the 1980s, is not much a fan of immigrants. His feelings on this matter are strong enough that he's willing to accept just about any abuse from Donald Trump in order to stay in his post and put his ideas into action. He realizes that, when it comes to immigration policy, the attorney general is something of a law unto himself or, as some people put it, a one-man Supreme Court.

On that front, Sessions announced the latest decision on Tuesday: That claims of domestic abuse or of violence at the hands of gangs would no longer qualify an immigrant for refugee status. This was prompted, in particular, by the case of a Salvadoran woman who said she was sexually, emotionally, and physically abused by her husband, and was granted asylum by a federal court. Sessions single-handedly overturned the decision, and said that no other such claims would be considered. The impact of this new policy will be felt primarily among would-be refugees from Central America and Mexico. Coincidentally, folks who live in those countries are almost exclusively non-white.

From a political standpoint, Sessions' actions could backfire against the Republican Party. The more aggressive and outlandish his policy choices, the more likely it will be that the friends and relatives of immigrants—the ones who have citizenship—are likely to head to the polls. Only the AG knows what his thinking is here, but it's possible he believes that anti-immigrant enthusiasm will be even more substantial. Or that voter ID initiatives and other maneuvers will cancel out the increased enthusiasm. Or, he might not care about the effect at the ballot box; he won't be running for office again, and he doesn't particularly care about the fate of Trump and/or his acolytes. (Z)

AT&T-Time Warner Merger Goes Forward

There aren't too many issues where Bernie Sanders and the progressives are on the same page as the Trump administration, but one of those was the proposed merger of telecom behemoths AT&T and Time Warner. The merger was opposed by both factions; the progressives because they distrust consolidation of corporate power, and the Trump administration for...the same reason, actually. Trump also hates certain elements of the Time-Warner empire, namely CNN. Anyhow, Team Trump and Team Sanders were both disappointed on Tuesday, as federal judge Richard Leon (a George W. Bush appointee) ruled the merger may proceed without restrictions.

Needless to say, this is not going to do much for Trump's dislike of the court system. Meanwhile, this could set the stage for other mega-mergers to go forward, most obviously the $52.4 billion stock offer Disney made for Fox. If the major media conglomerates get consolidated into just two or three or four big players, at a time when the death of Net Neutrality upon us, it could make for an environment where folks have easy access to only one provider's set of content, and no cost-effective way to get the others. That could heighten the echo chamber effect that has already gripped American politics. Meanwhile, it is anyone's guess how voters will respond if they eventually discover that they can only be an "AT&T-Time" consumer or a "Fox-Disney" consumer, or maybe a "Netflix-Verizon" consumer, but not more than one of these. (Z)

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