The Improvisational Presidency

Behind the Decision Not To Kill NAFTA

A late-night story in the Washington Post gives remarkable insight into President Trump’s improvisational approach to his Presidency. The President admits he was all set and in fact “looked forward to” ripping up the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump had repeatedly called the Clinton-era pact with Canada and Mexico the worst trade deal ever. Terminating NAFTA was supposed to happen as a big splashy news event marking his 100th day in office.

But then Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue made a last-ditch effort to get the President to change his mind. According to the Post article, what really hit home was a map of the U.S. drawn up by Secretary Perdue, showing the hardest hit areas from a NAFTA withdrawal would be those that voted most heavily for Trump. Now Trump says instead of abandoning NAFTA, he’ll “renegotiate.” And in doing so, he abandons yet another core campaign promise. But hey, what’s one more? (And he did kinda end up doing the right thing.)

Phone calls with leaders of Canada and Mexico also reportedly helped convince “America First” Trump to back down.

Trump Returns To Persistent Theme: This Job Is Hard!

But in his Reuters interview, took it one step further, saying: “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.” Reuters also reports Trump handed out maps to its reporters with electoral vote totals from his win last November.

Attempt To Revive Health Care Bill May Be Short Lived

While Congress hasn’t completely abandoned the idea of passing a new health care bill, it’s not gonna happen by the President’s 100th day. The votes are still not there. At issue: moderate Republicans feel it’s too damaging (to patients? to their political careers? both? doesn’t matter?) to give up coverage for pre-existing conditions, even if that decision is passed on to individual states.

We say: insurance companies are where your focus should be. And their focus is squarely on whether the Trump Administration will continue paying Obamacare subsidies to health insurers. They are tearing their hair out about this, because they should already be set up for 2018. Now, you might think it’s a slam dunk for the White House to let Obamacare “explode” (as Trump likes to say), in order to force moderate Republicans and Democrats to the table. On the other hand, the President has been startlingly consistent in ultimately supporting business (in this case insurance companies,) even if it means major reversals.

A quick follow-up on the story we reported about how Republicans slipped in an amendment to exempt themselves and their staff from having to give up Obamacare benefits and subject themselves to their own new rules. After Vox caught them and called them out, they say they will close the loophole and be subject to the same rules as the rest of us.

Stopgap Spending Needs To Pass By 12:01 A.M. Saturday

The bill that’s set to be debated and voted on today, would only keep the government running for one more week, likely requiring a repeat performance on a longer funding bill next week. Says President Trump: “If there’s a shutdown, there’s a shutdown.”

Michael Flynn Under Investigation Also By The Pentagon

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was told three years ago he needed approval from the Pentagon and State Departments if he accepted payments from a foreign government. The next year, a Russian-backed news organization paid him $45,000, which he apparently failed to disclose. That triggered an investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general.

This was a big story on cable news last night. And was accompanied by a Trump tweet storm blaming democrats for lots of problems and instructing people to watch Fox News. NPR suspects Trump was watching the coverage of Democrats talking about the trouble Flynn could be in, and was trying to refocus his audience.

A Frenzy Of Rhetoric, Threats, Offers On North Korea

As that country appears close to another nuke test. The President telling Reuters a “major, major” conflict is possible, and while he prefers diplomacy, it’s “very difficult.” Trump also took the opportunity to warn South Korea it better take a long hard look at its free trade deal with the U.S. When asked when he’d start renegotiating that, he said: “Very soon. I’m announcing it now.” And South Korean news organizations are leading today with Trump’s demand the South foot the 1-billion dollar bill for a missile defense system currently being installed.

Meantime, Secretary of State Tillertson, in an NPR interview set to run today, says the U.S. is now willing to negotiate directly with North Korea. And in comments that could perhaps be construed as an overture or ice breaker, he told Fox News he does not consider Kim Jong Un to be “insane.”

An interesting Fox News poll: while less than half approve of President Trump’s handling of North Korea, more than half would back U.S. military action there.

Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work Every Day

The President took some time to greet kids as part of yesterday’s Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

Best line: When the White House put out a press release saying it was participating in the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, political reporter Olivia Nuzzi pithily tweeted: “Isn’t this everyday?”