The president retreated from recent threats to close the United States’ southern border, telling reporters he will grant the Mexican government another year to block migrant caravans and drug trafficking before deciding whether to levy a different punishment, which he described as 25 percent tariffs on Mexican cars coming into the United States (The Hill).
“The only thing, frankly, better and less drastic than closing the border is tariff the cars coming in, and I will do it,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t play games.”
The president said he believed Mexico, fearing he would follow through and close U.S. border entry, heeded his warnings in the last week and deported or expelled migrants from Central American countries moving across its own southern border.
“Mexico took a big chunk of our car business, which I don’t like,” the president added. “I don’t think we’ll ever have to close the border [because] tariffs would be massive.”
Analysts said auto tariffs with Mexico pose two challenges for U.S. policy, if Trump follows through early in 2020. First, tariffs would result in higher costs for U.S. consumers and for U.S. and European automakers. And second, 25 percent tariffs would likely breach the terms of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, which Trump embraces as a replacement for the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. The USMCA, as he calls it, already faces headwinds in Congress where ratification is the next step.
On trade with China, Trump said completion of a “comprehensive” deal with Beijing requires at least another month to six weeks of negotiations and that no summit meeting with President Xi Jinping of China will happen until a deal is reached. Previously, Trump indicated he wanted to close the deal with Xi himself, possibly at Mar-a-Lago this month or next.
Because China’s top trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, met with senior U.S. officials and the president on Thursday at the White House, expectations rose that Trump would announce a summit date with Xi as a signal that major progress was achieved after months of back-and-forth negotiations (The Los Angeles Times).
“This is an epic deal, historic, if it happens,” the president told reporters. “Some of the toughest things have been agreed to,” he said, but confirmed that enforcement provisions remain a sticking point with China. “We have some ways to go.”
By extending border brinksmanship with Mexico into 2020 and emphasizing a tough stance with China over trade and intellectual property this year, Trump continues to inject border and trade themes into his reelection messaging even in the absence of tangible results.
Indeed, he flies to Calexico, Calif., today to inspect a partially renovated section of border wall.
There is one complication, however, in publicly decrying a surge of migrants, asylum seekers and illegal drugs across the southern border against the backdrop of a national emergency declaration, while also granting Mexico a grace period of a year before taking other dramatic steps.
Trump’s emergency decision to carve out military appropriations to build a border wall has been challenged in court, and opponents dispute the legal underpinnings of the president’s end-run around Congress. Deciding against steps such as closing the border or levying tariffs for a year could be used by Trump’s opponents as evidence that a current national security emergency is merely a political prop.
On Thursday, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D’Alesandro PelosiOvernight Energy: Interior pick heads toward Senate confirmation | Dems want probe into nominee’s role on pesticide report | House climate panel holds first hearing Democrats seize on Mueller-Barr friction Pelosi announces lawsuit to block Trump’s emergency declaration MORE (D-Calif.) announced the House would file suit to challenge Trump’s determination, which he made under provisions of the National Emergencies Act.
“The president’s action clearly violates the Appropriations Clause by stealing from appropriated funds, an action that was not authorized by constitutional or statutory authority,” the Speaker said in a statement that Republicans likewise pointed to as political stagecraft.
LEADING THE DAY
CONGRESS: With House Democrats ratcheting up the pressure on Trump to release years of tax returns, the focus is turning to one Cabinet member who will have some say: Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump to nominate Treasury official as new head of Small Business Administration Bipartisan lawmakers call for sanctions against China over human rights concerns Retailers warn closing southern border would spark ‘serious damage’ MORE.
As Naomi Jagoda and Sylvan Lane report, Mnuchin, who has been one of the president’s most loyal Cabinet allies for more than two years, could play a key role in protecting the president from Democrats’ long-promised pursuit of the returns, which Trump declined to release during his 2016 campaign. In recent days, the president has used the same line of defense: The returns are under audit and he is still not “inclined” to release them.
Not only has Mnuchin defended the president in most policy disputes, but also over his personal conduct when others wouldn’t go that far. Now, he is faced with a big test after the tax return request from House Democrats, as he will have to balance his loyalty to the president against a legislative request pegged to a statute that provides little wiggle room.
Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealHouse Budget Republican says Dems request of Trump tax returns is attempt ‘to weaponize’ tax code White House spokesman: Dems using ‘tired tactics’ in calling for Trump’s tax returns Fox’s Napolitano: Trump’s ‘audit’ argument ‘would not be a defense’ for tax return request MORE (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, requested six years of returns through an avenue granted only to tax-writing committees in Congress that allows them to request tax information about any filer. He gave the IRS until April 10 to comply with the request.
Trump is almost certain to challenge the committee, and Republicans by and large have his back, with Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyDems formally ask for Trump’s tax returns Bipartisan IRS reform bill heads to House floor Congress may pass retirement reforms that are bipartisan. But they need to go further MORE (R-Texas), the top GOP tax-writer in the House, calling it a Democratic attempt to embarrass a political foe.
> According to reporting by Morgan Chalfant, Olivia Beavers and Mike Lillis, House Democrats have sensed an opening late this week after reading a pair of articles in which some on special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s team are said to be frustrated with the Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrGroups ask judge to halt border wall construction Note to Team Mueller: If you don’t indict, you can’t incite Overnight Defense: House votes to end US support for Yemen war | Vote expected to force Trump’s second veto of presidency | More Russian troops may head to Venezuela | First ‘Space Force’ hearing set for next week MORE’s summary of the investigation’s findings. After The New York Times and The Washington Post reported anonymously sourced criticisms, Democrats sharpened their calls for the release of the full report, which is not expected from Barr until mid-April at the earliest.
> On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Democrats are pushing back against demands from influential progressives that they respond in kind against Senate Republicans after they invoked the “nuclear option” to approve hundreds of Trump nominees with the help of reduced requirements for debate.
As Jordain Carney reports, Democrats are brushing off progressive demands that they play hardball after Republicans invoked the “nuclear option” for a second time in as many years. Democrats are under pressure to hit back at Republicans, including calls for them not to return their “blue slips” on lower-court district nominees. But senators warn the tactics would backfire because it would result in blocking judges that Democrats would otherwise support.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBiden hits back at Trump: ‘Presidential, as always’ Obama is quiet as Biden comes under attack Halperin apologizes in first public interview since losing job over harassment allegations MORE has encouraged many former colleagues and high-profile Democrats to come to his aid in recent days as he became embroiled in a nearly week-long slog of allegations and complaints from women describing inappropriate or uncomfortable physical contact he initiated, often in public. However, one prominent Democrat remained silent: Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama is quiet as Biden comes under attack Reparations bill wins new momentum in Congress Obama celebrates Lori Lightfoot’s victory: ‘Chicago’s best days are still ahead’ MORE.
As Amie Parnes and Max Greenwood report, people close to the former president believe he stands behind Biden amid the allegations from four women. Despite the private support for his longtime friend, Obama has not commented publicly.
Obama is not expected to endorse any candidate in the 2020 contest until the primary is over. Biden is not officially in the race but is expected to announce his candidacy this month. According to The New York Times, the former vice president’s allies are hoping Obama will “speak favorably” about Biden’s service and experience.
In the meantime, Obama has met with and counseled a number of candidates in the nascent 2020 race, including Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America’s wireless industry — Prosecutors used FISA warrant to get info on Huawei | Study finds discrimination in Facebook ads | Bezos retains voting control over ex-wife’s Amazon stocks More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Despite cries to scrap Electoral College, it may not be so bad for Dems MORE (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerMore than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Buttigieg calls for abolishing death penalty The Hill’s Morning Report – Can Joe Biden turn the page? MORE (D-N.J.), Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDespite cries to scrap Electoral College, it may not be so bad for Dems JPMorgan head says Trump tax law added .7B to its profit Buttigieg calls for abolishing death penalty MORE (D-Mass.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegDespite cries to scrap Electoral College, it may not be so bad for Dems Buttigieg says he’s stopped using phrase ‘all lives matter’ Buttigieg is the media’s ‘it’ candidate MORE (D).
Associated Press: Biden to make 1st appearance since complaints about behavior
“Biden allies insist the eruption has done little to slow down planning for a 2020 campaign. Barring the unforeseen, he is expected to announce his candidacy, perhaps online, after Easter and immediately embark on a trip to early voting caucus and primary states. Those stops would be followed by a ceremonial kickoff. Advisers say they are working to build out a robust campaign staff, including operatives in Iowa and South Carolina, states that are seen as key to his path to the nomination. Women are being considered for key roles, including senior strategist and deputy campaign manager, according to advisers, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the planning publicly.”
Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal : If Biden runs, they’ll tear him up
> The 2020 Democratic field is expected to grow again next week as Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellSwalwell shares voicemail of caller threatening to kill him After Mueller report, investigate FISA abuse Rep. Tim Ryan announces presidential run MORE (D-Calif.), a fourth-term congressman, is expected to announce his intentions on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. According to The Atlantic, Swalwell is not expected to center his candidacy around his work on the House Intelligence Committee and the findings or fallout from the various Russia probes, but rather on gun control. He plans a town hall gathering in Coral Springs, Fla., next week.
On Thursday, Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanThe Hill’s 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump spars with NY Times over Mueller reporting Rep. Tim Ryan announces presidential run The Hill’s Morning Report – Can Joe Biden turn the page? MORE (D-Ohio) announced his 2020 candidacy, which he will launch this week with trips to Ohio and New Hampshire.
> Deputies of the president are encouraging Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzTrump loyalist Gaetz eyes Senate bid in Alabama House ignores Trump veto threat, approves bill ending US support for Yemen war Overnight Energy: GOP lawmaker parodies Green New Deal in new bill | House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill | Park Service chief grilled over shutdown MORE (R-Fla.), who represents a large part of the Florida Panhandle, to pick up and move north to Alabama to take on Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) next year in what is considered a top GOP pick-up opportunity.
As reported by Scott Wong, Gaetz, one of the president’s top loyalists and preeminent defenders on Capitol Hill, has considered the move as recently as Thursday. Republicans roundly believe this is their best chance at picking off an incumbent Democrat, especially with Trump on top of the ticket in the deep-red state. Buoying Gaetz, 36, are campaign laws in the state, including a one-day residency requirement.
The top Republican in the race currently is Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneTrump loyalist Gaetz eyes Senate bid in Alabama GOP lawmaker suggests female colleague ‘misunderstands’ equal pay legislation Roy Moore says he’s ‘seriously considering’ 2020 Senate bid MORE (R-Ala.), a third-term lawmaker who raised $1.2 million in the first quarter. He has $2 million in cash on hand.
One Alabama Republican dismissed a possible Gaetz run across the state line, along with his chances. They noted that he has no connection to Alabama and has just $150,000 in his campaign coffers.
“I was debating a ‘who?’ or just sending the mugshot,” the Alabama Republican said of Gaetz, pointing to his 2008 DUI arrest, although he wasn’t charged. “There’s one person in Alabama that could lose to Doug Jones — Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreTrump loyalist Gaetz eyes Senate bid in Alabama Roy Moore says he’s ‘seriously considering’ 2020 Senate bid Doug Jones: Trump unintentionally giving ‘green light’ to hate crimes MORE. There’s a lot of people in Florida that could lose to him though, including Matt Gaetz.”
In other political news … Biden was spotted with a film crew in Scranton, Pa., outside his childhood home (WNEP) … New Hampshire is expected to take center stage this weekend with number of candidates slated to appear, including Booker, Buttigieg, Swalwell, Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandMore than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Buttigieg calls for abolishing death penalty Tim Ryan expected to announce bid for presidency this week: report MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetMore than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts The Hill’s Morning Report – Can Joe Biden turn the page? Michael Bennet says he intends to run for president if he is cancer free MORE (D-Colo.) (Paul Steinhauser).
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: [email protected] and [email protected]. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
America’s universities are finally waking up to the China threat, by Josh Rogin, The Washington Post. wapo.st/2VmeprX
Sure, let’s make the Senate less deliberative, by The New York Times editorial board. nyti.ms/2K9RrTK
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at noon on April 8.
The Senate meets at 4 p.m. on April 8.
The president flies to Calexico, Calif., to tour a section of border wall and talk to law enforcement and homeland security officials. He then travels to Los Angeles and headlines a roundtable and joint fundraising dinner hosted in Beverly Hills by health care executive Lee Samson (CBS News and TMZ). Trump then flies to Las Vegas, where he remains overnight and then speaks on Saturday at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting, joined by the vice president.
Vice President Pence flies from Indianapolis to Houston this morning with second lady Karen PenceKaren Sue PenceThe Hill’s 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump spars with NY Times over Mueller reporting The Hill’s Morning Report – Can Joe Biden turn the page? Pence hosts openly gay Irish prime minister and his partner for breakfast MORE to visit a Homeland Security Investigations facility and to be briefed on conditions at the U.S. southern border. Later, Pence speaks at Rice University’s Baker Institute of Public Policy to discuss conditions in Venezuela and to reinforce U.S. opposition to the government of Nicolas Maduro. From there, the vice president will travel to College Station, Texas, to participate in a program honoring the late President George H.W. Bush at the presidential library he founded. The Pences will spend the night in Las Vegas.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its employment report for March at 8:30 a.m., which analysts expect will clarify that February’s lower-than-expected jobs data was a fluke (Reuters).Jobless claims data released on Thursday were at a half-century low, which cheered markets and analysts. But a private-sector report said job layoffs spiked to the highest level seen at the start of a year in at least a decade (CNBC).
➔ Boeing: “Erroneous” data contributed to a pair of Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashes that resulted in the deaths of 346 people, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg conceded on Thursday in a video. “It’s apparent that in both flights the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, activated in response to erroneous angle of attack information,” he said, acknowledging that it was the company’s responsibility to resolve issues with the system (The Hill). The crashes have left the world’s largest planemaker in crisis (Reuters).
➔ Federal Reserve: President Trump on Thursday said Herman Cain, a former pizza executive and 2012 Republican presidential candidate known at that time for his “nine-nine-nine” tax plan, is in “good shape” for nomination to a Fed board seat (The Hill). In selecting Cain, Trump seeks to shake up the Fed (The Wall Street Journal). He recently tapped another unconventional Fed pick, economist and frequent cable television pundit Stephen Moore, whose personal financial clashes with the IRS and his ex-wife attracted recent headlines (CNBC). The Senate must confirm the nominees.
➔ Catholic Church: To address upheaval caused by clerical sexual abuse scandals, Pope Francis named Atlanta’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory as archbishop of Washington, D.C. Gregory, 71, the only living archbishop who is black, succeeds Cardinal Donald Wuerl, 78, who resigned in October but stayed on for a transition period (The Washington Post).
➔ In the Know: Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker joined lawmakers on Thursday to announce a new initiative to help rebuild communities ravaged by conflict in Africa. The Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative, which he founded, is partnering with the United States African Development Foundation to provide grants and support services to 40 small businesses run mostly by women and young people in South Sudan and Uganda. “The thing is, if we want lasting peace our efforts must go beyond the surfaces of security and violence,” Whitaker said, “by bringing communities to speak out on their own.” (The Hill).
And finally … Kudos to winners of this week’s Morning Report quiz. The puzzle this week was inspired by the 40th anniversary of the movie “Alien,” and these moviegoers aced the questions: Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill’s Morning Report – Can Joe Biden turn the page? Steve King defends Biden: He’s ‘just an affectionate guy’ GOP triggers ‘nuclear option’ to speed up Trump picks MORE (not Maine’s senator!), Grant Froelich, Joel Punausuia, Milt Mungo, Luther Berg, Rick Mito, Ian Jackson, Patrick S. Randall and Kane Martin.
They knew that Ridley Scott directed 1979’s “Alien,” which, by the way, he originally envisioned as a kind of space-based “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
The writers named the “Alien” spaceship Nostromo.
The extraterrestrial in “Alien” had acid for blood, a plot invention to help explain why the Nostromo crew did not shoot the creature in some camera shots.
“Alien” took place in 2122. (FYI, this was tricky for readers, many of whom thought the correct answer might be “unspecified future.”)
The memorably gory scene in which an astronaut’s chest explodes as an alien hatches from its host was inspired by the life cycles of certain wasps.