Trump Lands In Israel This Morning

Has Some Explaining To Do Before Talking Peace Deal

About sharing Israeli intelligence with Russia. About a newly announced arms deal with Saudi Arabia. About reneging (at least for now) on his campaign promise to “100%” move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump will spend most of today meeting with Israeli officials. He’ll certainly have to provide reassurance about his future handling of intelligence information, and the $110-billion dollar Saudi arms deal. (While the Obama administration had provided the Saudis with a lot of arms over the years, the U.S. was never willing to include precision guided missiles, which they will get now.)

The rest of the day will be spent visiting various holy and historic sites. Tomorrow Trump will meet with Palestinian Authority President Abbas.

Trump has stated that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is “something that I think is, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.”

Regional Summit?

The Times of Israel reporting this morning that Trump and Egypt’s President el-Sisi jointly agreed to host a “peace summit” very soon either in Egypt or Washington. The report, attributed to a Lebanese newspaper, says the meeting would include leaders from Israel and the Palestinian authority as well as a representative from Jordan, and perhaps, for the first time, Saudi Arabia. It’s not clear whether those other leaders know about the meeting yet, or would agree to participate.

Trump and el-Sisi seemed to get along quite well at their meeting yesterday in Saudi Arabia. The Egyptian leader creating perhaps the biggest ego boost of the visit for the U.S. President, telling Trump he is “a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible.” To which Trump replied, “I agree!” And then complimented el-Sisi’s shoes.

Saudi Speech Sends Mixed Messages, Suggests New Alliances

Even before President Trump brought up terrorism. Even before he brought up arms sales. Even before he brought up our now common enemy, Iran. He promised his Saudi hosts, and attendees from many Muslim majority countries “America will not seek to impose our way of life on others”. This can be seen two ways. Either as an indication of his embrace (and changing view) of the Muslim world and Saudi Arabia in particular, from a man who once told CNN “I think Islam hates us” and previously blamed the Saudis for 9/11. Or as a message that basic freedoms and human rights are now secondary to getting deals done. He later added: “We will make decisions based on real-world outcomes – not inflexible ideology. We will be guided by the lessons of experience, not the confines of rigid thinking.” Pragmatism? Or a major loosening of American commitment to human rights? Full text of the speech is here.

(Curious to us is Trump’s pledge to “be sure to help our Saudi friends to get a good deal from our great American defense companies.” Shouldn’t they at least pay retail?)

While softening his line on Islam, Trump did stick to one campaign theme: calling on Middle East countries to take a more active role in combating terrorism, saying “The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them.”

Mini-Editorial: A Lack Of Concern For Human Rights Is Something To Be Vigilant About At Home, Too

We have never been fans of the U.S. interfering in the affairs of sovereign nations. But human rights is different. It transcends borders. And a very clearly stated U.S. policy that ignores human rights violations as a condition to partnership with foreign governments puts a far more disquieting concept in the wind: if we don’t care about basic human rights overseas, maybe we’ll stop caring about them at home much as well.

Trump Joins An All-Male Dance Troupe

This isn’t a joke. He participated in a Saudi sword dance along with his Commerce Secretary and Secretary of State. Only Tillerson appears not excruciatingly uncomfortable:

Trump Could “Explode” Obamacare Today

Today the White House must decide if it will a pursue an appeal of a lawsuit over Obamacare cost-sharing payments to insurance companies. The White House has gone back and forth on the payments, leaving insurance companies tearing their hair out as they attempt to figure out how to price plans for next year. Politico reports that lately President Trump is leaning toward dropping the appeal, originally filed by the Obama administration, and stopping the payments. However, that would likely cause Obamacare to implode (or “explode” as the President likes to say.) Another option is asking the court for a 90-day delay.

Meanwhile, the Senate should get working this week on its health care bill. It’s been waiting for a report from the Congressional Budget Office detailing how the bill recently passed by the House would impact costs and coverage. That report is due out Wednesday.

Remember When Trump Said He Wouldn’t Touch Medicaid?

Along with Social Security and Medicare? According to the Washington Post, a more comprehensive version of the President’s first budget proposal to be released tomorrow apparently defines “not touching” to mean cutting by $800-billion dollars. The Congressional budget office estimates 10-million people will lose benefits as a result. The Trump proposal will also give states more leeway in determining who qualifies. Trump’s Medicare and Medicaid administrator, Seema Verma is a big proponent of requiring recipients to pay into the system in order to receive benefits.

Also part of Trump’s proposed budget cuts: nearly 25% of the food stamp program, which currently covers tens of millions of Americans.

Pink-Slipping The Blue-Slip?

A few weeks ago we told you about an exotic tradition in the Senate Judiciary Committee called the “blue-slip process.” And how it could be used by Democrats to block President Trump’s most controversial federal court nominees, even though they can’t filibuster anymore. Here’s a refresher: traditionally, if neither Senator from a nominee’s home state approves an appointment (by sending back a blue-colored slip, hence the name) it does not go through. Since both Michigan and Minnesota have two Democratic Senators, the appointments of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen, and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras seemed to be in jeopardy. (Both those nominees come off of Trump’s now-famous Heritage Foundation shortlist.)

But according to the Hill, some Republicans are wondering if the unwritten tradition dating back to 1917 is such a good thing after all. Ted Cruz saying if Democrats shut down “qualified” candidates, he’s willing to shut the practice down. You probably already guessed there’s a good deal of hypocrisy involved in that statement: 4 of the 10 open circuit court positions are vacant because Republicans used blue-slips to block Obama nominees.

Elsewhere In Global Despot News…

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un today authorized a new intermediate-range ballistic missile for combat use, after a test over the weekend. That’s North Korea’s second successful test in a row, after a series of failures.

And Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan, fresh from a Washington sit-down with President Trump (coupled with an ugly incident where several of his bodyguards sent peaceful protestors to the hospital), announced an indefinite extension of his country’s “state of emergency.” According to the New York Times, under the “state of emergency” Erdogan has so far jailed more than 40,000 people, fired or suspended more than 140,000 government workers, arrested more than 100 journalists and closed more than 150 news outlets.