TrumpWatch, Day 488: Trump Backs Away from Summit with North Korea’s Kim

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Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-In in the White House, May 22, 2018 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump: “There’s a very substantial chance that it won’t work out, and that’s OK”


Developments on Day 488 of the Trump Administration:

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Trump Steps Back from Demand for Immediate End to North Korean Nukes

Facing North Korea’s shift from conciliation to a firm line over its nuclear weapons program, Donald Trump backs away from a June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un.

Sitting alongside visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump told reporters:

There’s a very substantial chance that it won’t work out, and that’s OK. That doesn’t mean it won’t work over a period of time. But it may not work out for June 12.

There are certain conditions we want to happen. I think we’ll get those conditions. And if we don’t, we won’t have the meeting.

Trump also indicated that he might not demand immediate “denuclearization”. While saying it “must take place”, he continued:

It would certainly be better if it were all in one [step]. Does it have to be? I don’t think I want to totally commit myself.

Trump’s wavering follows last week’s assertive move by North Korea, making clear that it will retain nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Pyongyang cancelled a meeting with South Korean officials and said the summit with Trump was in doubt.

The statement cited the latest round of regular US-South Korean joint air force exercises, Max Thunder. Even more importantly, it aimed at a declaration of a “Libyan model” by Trump’s hardline National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Bolton was pointing towards Libya’s abandonment of its nuclear weapons effort in 2003-2004, but North Korea connected this to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, after 42 years of rule, by a 2011 uprising supported by NATO intervention.

The difficulty for the White House was compounded two days later when a confused Trump — mixing up the 2004 and 2011 cases in Libya — initally offered Kim protection, then threatened him with “decimation”.

See also Podcast: “Worst. Clarification. Ever” — Trump, Bolton, and North Korea
TrumpWatch, Day 483: Confused Trump Offers Protection to North Korea’s Kim, Then Threatens Him

Contradiction in US Policy Comes Home

There has always been a contradiction at the heart of the Trump Administration’s policy: the US line of denuclearization v. Trump’s eagerness for a face-to-face meeting with Kim. The President caught his advisors off-guard when he suddenly proposed the summit, to a visiting South Korean official, in March.

That tension had been shrouded by Trump’s self-promotion of a historic meeting that would bring a deal. Earlier this week, the White House issued a commemorative coin showing Trump and “Supreme Leader” Kim facing each other.

But, as Trump wobbled on Tuesday, one official pointed to the effect of last week’s North Korean move, saying there is confusion about what will happen on June 12 — or whether a summit will ever happen.

Trump prepared an escape route by placing blame on China. He said yesterday that he detected a change after a meeting between Kim and Chinese leader Xi Jinping two weeks ago in China’s coastal of Dalian.

At the encounter, their second in six weeks, Kim said he was willing to denuclearize “as long as relevant parties eliminate the hostile policy and security threats” against Pyongyang.

He suggested Xi, a “world-class poker player,” encouraged Kim to harden his approach, in part to gain leverage in trade negotiations between China and the US: “There was a different attitude by the North Korean folks after that meeting. I can’t say that I’m happy about it.”

Trump foreshadowed his attempt to pin responsibility on Beijing with a garbled tweet on Monday:

At their press appearance, Trump asked Moon whether he believed that Xi was influencing Kim. The South Korean President deflected the question by flattering Trump: “The person who is in charge is President Trump. I have every confidence that he will be able to make a historic turnaround in this sense.”

Trump then returned to the promise of protection for Kim: “He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich.”


Congress Rolls Back Dodd-Frank Regulation of Financial Institutions

Congress rolls back the 2010 Dodd-Frank law on financial institutions, passed after the global financial crisis of a decade ago.

The House voted 258-159 to approve the watering down of the rules on the banking system. Fewer than 10 big banks in the US will now be subject to stricter federal oversight, with thousands of banks with less than $250 billion in assets freed from compliance.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said the measure is a step toward “freeing our economy from overregulation”: “Our smaller banks are engines of growth. By lending to small businesses and offering banking services for consumers, these institutions are and will remain vital for millions of Americans who participate in our economy.”

Democrats split over the rollback. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in the floor debate:

It’s a bad bill under the guise of helping community banks. The bill would take us back to the days when unchecked recklessness on Wall Street ignited an historic financial meltdown.

A report from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation on Tuesday saidthe combined net income of the nation’s commercial banks and savings institutions reached $56 billion in the first quarter of 2018, a 27.5% increase from a year ago.

Later this month, five regulators are expected to release a plan to water-down the Volcker Rule, which bans banks from making risky bets with depositors’ money. Regulators have already proposed easing limits on how much the largest banks can borrow. And the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which run by Donald Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney, has halted the agency’s continuing investigations into finance companies.


EPA Bars Journalists from Hearing on Toxic Water

The Environmental Protection Agency bars reporters from three news organizations from an event about the impact of toxic chemicals on drinking water.

The two-day gathering, at EPA headquarters, come as EPA head Scott Pruitt is the subject of at least 12 federal investigations.

Associated Press journalist Ellen Knickmeyer was ejected after she requested to speak to an EPA public affairs official. AP said she was “grabbed by the shoulders and shoved out of the building by a security guard”.

Also turned away were Corbin Hiar, a reporter for E&E News, and Rene Marsh of CNN, along with a camera operator and a producer from the cable network.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said there were restrictions because of the size of the room: “We were able to accommodate 10 news outlets and provided a live stream for those we could not accommodate.”

But soon after social media picked up the barring of the journalist, an advisor to Pruitt apologized to Knickmeyer, and the EPA announced that it would open the afternoon session to all reporters.

Pruitt, who fought numerous court cases against the EPA while he was Oklahoma Attorney General, has stripped back many regulations and overseen the cutting of staff and the purging of information, amid accusations of a lack of transparency. He is facing multiple allegations of unethical behavior, including the purchase of a $43,000 secure telephone booth for his office, the rental of a condominium from the wife of an energy lobbyist, and his regular first-class flights to destinations where the EPA has no official business.

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