Trump’s Big Move To Reduce The U.S. Trade Deficit Centers Around Loosening Controls On U.S. Arms, And Increasing Involvement By Diplomats In Selling Them
This is all according to a major story from Reuters this morning. And if you think about it, what’s the one really, really expensive line of products that right now is largely still “made in the U.S.A.” (other than commercial jets)? Military equipment. So what’s the easiest way to make a big impact in reducing the trade deficit? Selling more arms to more people overseas.
Reuters says Trump will announce the new initiative in less than a month, which will put fighter jets, drones, warships and artillery on offer.
His plan involves two major components:
- Authorizing “looser restrictions on weapons exports and more favorable treatment of sales to non-NATO allies.” That presumably would need to include some assent from Congress, and a reworking of an international agreement on arms trade that’s been in effect for nearly 40 years.
- The 2nd part involves the State Department and Defense Department playing a much more active part in the business of selling arms. Says an unnamed Trump Administration official quoted by Reuters “We want to see those guys, the commercial and military attaches, unfettered to be salesmen for this stuff…”
The State Department says the initiative fits with two of Trump’s major stated objectives: Getting U.S. allies to take on more responsibility and expense for their own defense, and creating new jobs in the U.S.
It would also involve cajoling overseas governments into seeing the advantages of “buying American”, with China and Russia invariably offering similar items at lower prices.
The U.S. recently installed an expensive new missile defense system in South Korea, but it’s not completely clear how it’s being paid for yet.
While Everyone Else Was Busy Arguing About A Book, The Koch Brothers Expand Their Influence In Trump’s White House
Trump dispatched his minions to attack “the book” and he spent the weekend at Camp David, surrounded by supportive Republicans, there to discuss his 2018 legislative agenda. Roll Call has a pretty good summary of everything that was on the table.
We’ve all heard just about enough about Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” by now, so just a few new things that bubbled up:
- Trump Tweeted that “Sloppy” Steve Bannon “cried when he got fired and begged for his job.” This was a nice touch. (We also tend to believe it’s true, since the other guy Trump once accused of crying, Chuck Schumer, did cry).
- We also liked when Trump said “That is what I do, is I do things proper“. That was in response to the New York Times story we told you about Friday in which Trump was said to have ordered Chief White House Counsel Donald McGahn to talk Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of recusing himself from the Russia investigation. The President didn’t exactly deny the Times article, just saying “it’s way off, or at least off”. When asked what he meant by that he replied “You’ll find out.” Which means we won’t.
- Bannon issued an apology he’d originally considered before Trump ripped him apart, saying when he referred to participants in the Trump Tower meeting with Russians as “unpatriotic” and “treasonous” he meant Paul Manafort, not Trump, Jr. Which is nonsense, since he also said “They’re going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national TV”, and he certainly isn’t talking about Manafort there…
- Trump adviser Stephen Miller appeared on CNN, where he derided Bannon, once one of his closest allies, then pretended to be aghast and offended when accused of “playing to an audience of 1”, for which Trump, moments later on Twitter gave him a “great review”.
Looking ahead, what is clear is that infrastructure is at the top of Trump’s mind for 2018. A year in which Republicans can’t do too many things people hate, since every single member of the House of Representatives is up for reelection. Infrastructure spending is usually popular. Certainly more popular than the deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare Paul Ryan wants to do. But the White House’s plan is more than a bit muddy, with the President’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, saying it will be done through public-private partnerships, but Trump saying it probably will not.
Public-private partnerships generally involve the government putting up a little bit of money for a construction project, thereby reducing risk, making it more likely private companies might also get involved. Once completed, the private company then shares in the profits (either through tolls, or rent, or fees depending on whether it’s for a road or tunnel, convention center or arena, or airport or train station).
What is clear is a top Koch Lieutenant will be spearheading Trump’s Infrastructure push. He’s D.J. Gribbin, special assistant to the President, and former executive in the Koch organization, where he worked for them on expanding (guess what?) public-private partnerships. (As we’ve told you before, Trump’s lead negotiator with Congress on all legislative affairs, Marc Short, is another high ranking White House staffer plucked from Koch.)
Of course many Conservatives have ties to Koch, but it’s interesting to watch their influence increasing since the brothers initially did not support Trump. Charles Koch famously said of the 2016 election: “If I had to vote for cancer or a heart attack, why would I vote for either?”
Perhaps now that they’ve seen Trump will sign any piece of legislation the Republican Congress puts in front of him–he’s just in it for the “wins”–their thinking has shifted a bit. Which actually might be good for immigration reform (particularly the continuation of DACA) which the Koch’s have supported. They need reliable low-wage workers for their many expanding business ventures.
It’s The Economy, Stupid
That’s what James Carville famously said when mapping out how Bill Clinton would win the Presidency, and it remains true today. So when Trump accuses the mainstream media of not paying enough attention to the soaring stock market, he’s kind of right. While numbers themselves may not be that interesting, where the market is and what impact it has on the economy will certainly play a major role in determining Trump’s longevity in office.
And forget about whether the economic boom right now is due to Trump-related stimulus, or stuff Obama put in place. Doesn’t matter. We always feel it’s perfectly O.K. for a President to take credit for things he has nothing to do with, since he’s also going to be blamed for things he had nothing to do with.
The Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson has a great piece in which he boils it down to two factors:
- The economy right now is fabulous.
- The stock market is in a bubble.
Even if you don’t buy the argument Trump’s been good for the economy, he’s at least on a lucky streak.
Trump Shows Signs Of Being A Heartless, But Savvy Strategist
Who says Trump is a moron? The way he’s pursuing a renewal of DACA, (a program that allowed children of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country) is clever, if it works. Trump says he’ll give Democrats DACA in exchange for his “wall”.
If that’s the deal he pulls off, he’ll be making Democrats trade him something he wants for something else he wants.
Of course, in order to do this he has to risk screwing over hundreds of thousands of people he’s said he wants to help. But he’s betting Democrats won’t have the guts to force a government shutdown over it. Barring any further extension, the next government shutdown date would be January 19th.
Then Again, Trump May Have Made A Major Miscalculation With His “Fake News Awards”
Trump Tweeted he’s delaying the awards from today until a week from Wednesday.
What Trump may not have anticipated is that the prospective “losers” will wear the award as a badge of honor, and it’ll mean tons of free publicity for whomever does win. Late Night with Stephen Colbert is lobbying on Twitter:
And the Daily Show took out a mock “for your consideration” ad in the New York Times.
Except really, they’re dead serious. They want one of these awards. Even though Jimmy Kimmel’s calling it “The Stupid People’s Choice Awards”, we bet he wants one.
We Did Not Watch The Golden Globes, But We Hear Oprah’s Running For President
Not really. Not yet, at least. But we just caught up on her speech and it’s inarguably a powerful political message. A vision of transformation and of not leaving anyone behind. Without offering many specifics. But that wasn’t the point. (And it won’t be if she does run.)
If you didn’t catch it last night, you can watch it here:
As we’ve mentioned many times, we believe Americans do not look for experience, qualification (or even competence) in a Presidential candidate, we look for transformation. Nobody really knew if President Obama was going to be competent when he was elected: he barely had a track record as Senator from Illinois. We all knew Trump wouldn’t be competent, but a large part of why he won was his extreme vision of transformation, which truly resonated with a lot of people. And his realization that he could easily turn the experience of his opponent into a liability.
So as far-fetched as it may be, we’d be all for Oprah running.
We feel the Democratic Party–on the verge of a giant opportunity to win back seats and influence–is in danger of falling into self-destructive infighting over old blood vs. new blood. Young radical Dem is not the answer. Nor is Old centrist Dem. It’s just somebody with 1) a backbone and 2) the ability to express a transformative message that resonates. By that definition, there’s nobody better.