What to Know in Washington: Peace on Trump-Kim Summit’s Agenda

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President Donald Trump departs later today for a two-day summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam, where denuclearatization and a formal end to the Korean War may be on the agenda.

The two leaders could reach an agreement on how to resolve the 1950-53 conflict as part of their meeting scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in Hanoi, South Korean presidential spokesman Kim Eui-keum told reporters today. A peace declaration would be the first step toward a treaty to replace the cease-fire among the U.S.-led United Nations forces, North Korea and China.

While North Korea has long sought a peace declaration, the U.S. has balked at the demand, which could undercut the rationale for keeping some 28,500 troops on the peninsula. Speculation that Trump might be warming to such a statement increased after he pledged to cease “endless wars” in his State of the Union speech this month and the U.S.’s top negotiator said the president was “ready to end this war. It is over. It is done.”

It remains to be seen what Trump could gain from making such a concession in his second meeting with Kim Jong Un. North Korea has made no concrete commitments to give up its nuclear weapons program since the two leaders agreed in June to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” without defining the term or agreeing to a timetable.

Kim was traveling by train through China and expected to get to Vietnam by tomorrow. Trump was slated to arrive later and hold meetings with local officials on Wednesday.

Trump said ahead of the meeting that he didn’t expect to lift sanctions on Kim’s regime. “I’m not pushing for speed, but we’re not removing the sanctions,” he told U.S. governors gathered at the White House yesterday. Read more from Youkyung Lee and Ariella Phillips.

As the world’s spotlight falls on the Vietnamese capital, Alex Millson, Brendon Scott and David Tweed take a look at what the two leaders can expect to see.

Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images

Newly designed and printed t-shirts with the portraits of Trump and Kim are up for sale in Vietnam

Talking Trade

Trump said he’ll extend a deadline to raise tariffs on Chinese goods beyond this week, citing “substantial progress” in the latest round of talks that wrapped up yesterday in Washington.

“The U.S. has made substantial progress in our trade talks with China on important structural issues including intellectual property protection, technology transfer, agriculture, services, currency, and many other issues,” Trump said in a tweet. “As a result of these very productive talks, I will be delaying the U.S. increase in tariffs now scheduled for March 1.”

China’s official Xinhua News Agency echoed Trump’s tweet, citing “substantial” progress. But a commentary published later cautioned that the talks may face “new uncertainties,” noting that bilateral trade frictions are “long-term, complicated and arduous.”

If the sides make further headway in negotiations, Trump said he and China’s President Xi Jinping planned to meet at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to conclude an agreement, though he didn’t offer any details on when the meeting might be or how long he expects the tariff extension to last. Read more from Jenny Leonard and Andrew Mayeda.

Cautious Optimism: American and Chinese business leaders remain wary after Trump’s decision, saying it’s too early to cheer an end to the trade war as both countries still have a long way to go in resolving their differences. Companies making plans about their China operations said the announcement does little to clear away uncertainty. “This president seems to always change his mind,” said Melissa Shu, an export manager of E.D. Opto Electrical Lighting, an auto-parts company in eastern China’s Jiangsu province. “ Who knows if he’ll take back his decision when he wakes up the next day?” Read more from Bruce Einhorn and Daniela Wei.

Trump’s Frustration: Meanwhile, Trump and his top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, have grown increasingly frustrated with each other amid the China trade talks, said people inside and close to the administration. The exasperation between the two erupted into the open during an unusual public exchange in front of China’s top negotiator, assembled U.S. officials and journalists on Friday, during which Trump took issue with Lighthizer’s explanation that any deal would take the form of a memorandum of understanding . “I don’t like MOUs because they don’t mean anything,’’ the president said, before shooting down Lighthizer when the career lawyer described such documents as legally binding.

After Friday’s exchange, said two people familiar with the events, the president complained that Lighthizer had embarrassed him by publicly correcting him in front of the Chinese delegation and the press. The president also expressed frustration that Lighthizer hadn’t yet stitched up a deal that Trump views as increasingly important. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs, Jenny Leonard, Saleha Mohsin and Shawn Donnan.

Canada & Mexico Trade: White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said he’s working to remove U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico, after a Canadian minister signaled that his government may not ratify a new North American trade agreement if the duties remain. Kudlow made the comments on a panel at the National Governors Association’s winter meeting yesterday. He spoke after Marc Garneau, Canada’s transport minister, said “I don’t know if we are going to get there” in approving the deal if the tariffs aren’t removed. The duties are no longer needed now that the two countries and Mexico have agreed on the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, Garneau said. Read more form Greg Quinn.

Politics & Elections

Iowans Fired Up: The deep desire among Democrats to beat Trump in 2020 is filling the chairs in Iowa homes and meeting halls as candidates parade through the state. Even though the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses won’t be held for another 11 months, large and energetic crowds more typical of much later in the campaign are turning out to take the measure of what probably will be the biggest field of Democratic presidential candidates in a generation. But among Iowans, there’s still no agreement on who would be best to take on the incumbent president.

Three of the Democrats have gotten approving mentions from voters and are consistently drawing voters out into the cold and snow: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who spent the entire weekend in the state and weathered the most recent winter storm, as well as Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Read more on the enthusiasm from John McCormick, Sahil Kapur and Emma Kinery.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio acted very much like a White House candidate during his weekend visit to Iowa, meeting with Democrats and pitching a populist message, McCormick and Kinery report. “I’ve been clear I’m certainly not ruling out a run for the presidency,” de Blasio said Sunday afternoon at a union hall in Des Moines. Read more.

And Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said yesterday his decision about whether to join the growing field of Democrats come “as soon as” this week, Ben Brody and Dina Bass report. “I’ve been pleased by what I’ve been hearing across the country,” Inslee, a proponent of dramatic action to address climate change, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” He said he’s been hearing “that people do want a president that will act on a real emergency, which is climate change.” Read more.

Warren to Reject Fundraising: Warren said she’ll reject big fundraising events and special access for big donors, seeking to bolster her populist credentials. Warren told supporters in an email today she’s swearing off “fancy receptions or big money fundraisers only with people who can write the big checks” and insisted all donors, whether they give $1 or $1,000, will get equal treatment. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Trump Plans July 4th Celebration: Fireworks and big displays of patriotism aren’t exactly unheard of in Washington on the Fourth of July. But Trump has promised to ratchet up the festivities to a new level this year — and effectively suggested turning a national holiday into a political rally. “HOLD THE DATE!” Trump tweeted yesterday, touting a “Salute to America” event to be held at the Lincoln Memorial.

Washington has for decades staged a non-partisan event each Independence Day that’s nationally broadcast on PBS. “A Capitol Fourth” is staged on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, two miles from Trump’s proposed gathering at the Lincoln Memorial. In 2018 it featured stars including Stevie Wonder, Reba McEntire and Gloria Estefan as well as the National Symphony Orchestra. A massive fireworks display, one of the nation’s largest, caps off the evening.

Happening on the Hill

Mueller Report: House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) promised to subpoena Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation report, and sue Trump’s administration for the underlying evidence if necessary to make it public. “Absolutely, we are going to get to the bottom of this,’’ Schiff said on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday when asked whether he’s prepared to take the administration to court. “We are going to share this information with the public.”

Schiff said it’s critical to get access not only to Mueller’s report, but to the evidence that was collected during the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion by Trump’s campaign. He said he’ll subpoena the report, call Mueller to testify before Congress, and sue if details were withheld.

William Barr, confirmed by the Senate as attorney general this month, has signaled he may only provide a summary to Congress and the public of the report. While Mueller is close to completing his 21-month probe, he won’t submit his final report to Barr until sometime after this week, according to a Justice Department official. Read more from Mark Niquette.

Drug Price Hearing: Executives from some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies will face combative lawmakers tomorrow looking to question how their companies raked in $195 billion last year in profits but needed to raise the price of their medicines. The leaders of seven major drug companies, AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, and Sanofi, will be the first panel of executives from their industry to go before Congress in years when they testify in front of the Sen ate Finance Committee. Lawmakers from both parties will be looking to make the case for legislation to rein in drug prices and to hold drugmakers responsible for the rising cost of popular medicines. Alex Ruoff and Jacquie Lee preview the hearing.

The committee is also opening a bipartisan probe into the high cost of insulin. Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced the formal investigation Friday as part of their broader work to look at how and why drug prices are increasing. Read more from Shira Stein.

The hearings come after drug manufacturers in the U.S., for decades, virtually set prices for their product at will. Cynthia Koons and Anna Edney look at what’s changed for the industry.

Interior Pick Scrutiny: Top Democratic appropriators say acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s decision to fund national parks during the government shutdown without consulting Congress may intensify questioning during hearings on his confirmation and the department’s 2020 budget.

“I’m more than convinced, sadly, that the administration has ignored the law and policies that the agencies had in place for years to protect our citizens and public lands,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), chair of the House Appropriations Committee’s Interior-Environment Subcommittee. Democrats will likely grill Bernhardt on his use of fees during the shutdown when he’s up for Senate confirmation for his nomination to be Interior secretary. Read more from Rebecca Kern.

‘Green New Deal’ Alternative: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) unveiled a less ambitious alternative to the “Green New Deal” after she was caught on tape rejecting a push by children for her to support the sweeping climate change plan backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez(D-N.Y.). Feinstein’s proposed draft plan seeks to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — 20 years later than the Green New Deal — and also explicitly calls for achieving those reductions through a price on carbon, among other ways. During a meeting with youth activists from the Sunrise Movement, some of whom the group said were as young as age 7, Feinstein suggested the ambitious climate plan was not achievable. Read more from Ari Natter.

Movers & Shakeups

United Nations Ambassador: Trump said he intends to nominate Kelly Craftto be his ambassador to the United Nations, filling a marquee diplomatic post that’s been vacant since the end of 2018. Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, is Trump’s second pick to replace Nikki Haley, who served in the role during the first two years of the administration and often showed flashes of independence from the president on issues including Russia and allegations of sexual harassment.

A longtime donor to Republicans, Craft was an active supporter of President George W. Bush, who in 2007 appointed her a delegate to the UN General Assembly. She and her husband, billionaire coal mining magnate Joe Craft, backed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the 2016 Republican primaries before ultimately supporting Trump and giving $750,000 to Future 45, a super-PAC led by Joe Ricketts and Sheldon Adelson. Read more from Jennifer Epstein and Jennifer Jacobs.

Saudi Ambassador: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman solidified his immediate family’s sway by promoting his full brother and tried to turn the page on relations with the U.S. by appointing the kingdom’s first female ambassador to America. Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan will replace Prince Khalid bin Salman, who was named vice defense minister. The decision to pick the daughter of a longtime Saudi envoy in Washington suggests the government is trying to soften its image at a time of tense relations with Congress over the murder of Saudi insider-turned-critic Jamal Khashoggi as well as outrage over the arrest of women activists and Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. Read more from Abbas Al Lawati and Donna Abu-Nasr.

What Else to Know Today

Venezuela Sanctions: With Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro clinging to power, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence plans to announce new actions against the country in a speech today in Bogota, according to an administration official. The steps outlined by Pence may include forms of economic or diplomatic pressure by the U.S., a second official said. The officials declined to provide specifics. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that more sanctions are possible on Venezuela without offering details on what measures the U.S. may be planning, as regional leaders prepare to meet in Colombia.

The visit comes after a weekend of violence in Venezuela that left the country in a dangerous stalemate. Read more from Alyza Sebenius, Hailey Waller and Ben Brody.

Social Media and Free Speech: A Supreme Court case over harassing content aired on public-access TV could lead to greater liability for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media for content on their sites. The high court today is set to hear arguments centering on the extent to which private operators of public-access channels should be considered state actors — bound to respect free speech — under the First Amendment. Alexis Kramer previews the arguments.

AT&T-Time Warner Decision: AT&T could learn as soon as tomorrow whether it can finally move forward with its acquisition of Time Warner and put behind it a lengthy legal battle with U.S. antitrust enforcers over the $85 billion deal. The company and the Justice Department are awaiting a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington about the government’s effort to reverse a lower-court decision allowing the merger. Oral arguments were held in December. Because the appeals court issues its opinions on Tuesday and Friday mornings, it would have to rule tomorrow on the Justice Department’s appeal before AT&T can end the separation agreement and proceed with the integration. Read more from David McLaughlin.

Pentagon Spending: The Pentagon lacks solid data to determine whether its increasing use of a fast-track method to fund research and prototypes through non-traditional defense firms is effective, according to a new congressional analysis. Along with potential benefits such as cutting the time and red tape for small contracts, there are “potential risks, including that of diminished oversight and exemptions from laws and regulations” that are “designed to protect government and taxpayer interests,” the Congressional Research Service found in its assessment. Read more from Tony Capaccio.

Microsoft Employees Protest Military Contract: A group of Microsoft employees are demanding that the company abandon a $480 million contract with the U.S. Army to build versions of its HoloLens augmented reality headsets for the battlefield, the latest in a series of protests from workers at technology companies objecting to certain uses of the products they’re building.

“We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the U.S. Military, helping one country’s government ‘increase lethality’ using tools we built,” said the workers in a letter that began circulating throughout the company on Friday. “We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.” The authors did not identify themselves. By late Friday, more than 100 employees had signed the letter. Read more from Joshua Brustein and Dina Bass.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Brandon Lee at blee@bgov.com

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