Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington
While Donald Trump turned up at his new Washington hotel Friday to disingenuously renounce the birther conspiracy he’s stoked for years, President Obama was a few blocks up the street and a world away trying to revive the supersized Pacific Rim trade pact he still hopes will seal his legacy. Obama’s push isn’t generating anywhere near the fireworks of the rolling circus Trump calls a presidential campaign. But it might yet, and hints about how that could happen began to emerge this week.
For one, there was the wattage the White House assembled for the Friday strategy session, which included an impressive lineup of Republicans and business leaders. Among those in attendance: Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the onetime Trump rival for the Republican nod; billionaire former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg; Hank Paulson, George W. Bush’s last Treasury Secretary; and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty. The administration will tap them and others to make the case to lawmakers wary of free trade’s toxic status among their bases.
Then again, marshaling elite opinion behind the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership has never been a struggle. And Team Obama appears to believe that to sell the pact successfully in what little time is left, it needs to transform the wider public debate. That means replacing a pitch so far centered on the deal’s domestic economic upsides with a darker vision of the national security downsides if the U.S. fails to act. To that end, the administration this week quietly deployed Max Baucus, its ambassador to China, to Capitol Hill. He pressed the case that if the deal collapses, China, which isn’t party to it, will be able to operate unchecked in the region, according to a Congressional leadership source. Look for the White House to draw a narrower focus on that argument in the weeks ahead.
Just how jingoistic will a president famous for embracing nuance to a fault really go to secure a capstone victory? We’ll find out soon. Both Trump and Hillary Clinton oppose the pact and Congressional leaders in both parties are voicing skepticism it will even get a vote by the end of the year. But Obama badly wants the win. Facing stiff headwinds from on and off the Hill, he’ll need to scrap to get it.
• Trump’s trillion-dollar tax deception
Trump premiered the latest version of his retooled tax plan Thursday. But small business advocates were left scratching their heads: His campaign assured them that under the plan, small outfits paying taxes on the individual side of the code would owe a top rate of 15 percent, just like large corporations. But the campaign told tax experts scoring the plan those businesses would continue to pay an individual rate as high as 33 percent — a difference that would make Trump’s proposal $1 trillion cheaper. Which version accurately reflects Trump’s intentions remains unclear.
New York Times
• Trump calls for disarming Clinton’s security detail
After a day that Trump dominated by revoking his years-long argument that Obama was born abroad — and claiming falsely that Hillary Clinton started the rumor — the Republican nominee fired up yet another controversy by calling for his Democratic opponent’s security detail to disarm. “She doesn’t want guns. Let’s see what happens to her,” Trump said at a Miami rally. Last month, the Secret Service followed up with Trump’s campaign after the candidate told a rally that only “Second Amendment people” could stop Clinton from appointing federal judges if she wins the election.
• Third party candidates miss first debate
The nominees of the Libertarian and Green parties will miss the first presidential debate after failing to surmount the 15 percent threshold in polls to qualify. Neither Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson nor Green nominee Jill Stein got close. Indeed, their combined average adds up to 11.6 percent. But the two are drawing enough support from Clinton that the Democrat’s campaign is actively working to blunt their appeal to younger voters in some key swing states.
Around the Water Cooler
• Trump’s birther stunt could backfire
Trump won himself outsize cable news attention for his Friday stunt nominally aimed at disowning his long-held contention President Obama isn’t a natural-born U.S. citizen. But it’s doubtful the move actually yields political dividends for the Republican frontrunner. The Clinton campaign is already signaling it plans to invest campaign funds in highlighting the Trump camp’s flip-flopping on the charged issue, one that Democrats hope reinforces his negative marks with African American voters.
• Warren launches new attacks in war on big banks
Elizabeth Warren launched a two-front assault against big banks this week in a preview of the pressure she’d bring to bear on a President Hillary Clinton to follow suit. The liberal Massachusetts senator went after Wells Fargo following the revelation that employees in its branch network created 1.5 million checking accounts for customers who didn’t want them. The bank is paying $185 million in fines, but Warren wants executive heads to roll. And she slammed the Justice Department for its failure to prosecute those responsible for the financial crisis. Even if Clinton wins, Warren will likely see little new ability to move her preferred legislation. But she’ll have a powerful platform to keep the heat on the White House.
• Why is Clinton running for president?
In returning to the campaign trail late this week after her bout with pneumonia, Clinton said the break had given her the opportunity to reflect on why she’s in the race — fighting, she said, for children and families. But the rumination pointed to a fundamental weakness in her candidacy: The lack of an underlying theme, besides that Clinton wants to be president. Her official slogan, “Stronger Together,” doesn’t exactly say much.