What to Know in Washington: Trump Strikes Conciliatory Iran Tone

Bloomberg Government subscribers get the stories like this first. Act now and gain unlimited access to everything you need to know. Learn more.

President Donald Trump said he knew that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was heading to Biarritz, site of the Group of Seven summit, and supported French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to invite him amid growing signs of active diplomacy at work.

The U.S. leader pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal in 2018, leaving Macron and his European allies fighting to salvage it. Yet he appears to be backing a French-led initiative to the Iranians to try and keep the agreement alive.

Officials from the U.K. and Germany, the other European signatories on the accord, also met with Zarif, who touched down in Biarritz for six hours yesterday.

“I knew that he was coming in and I respected the fact that he was coming in,” Trump said at a morning meeting with Egypt’s Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. “I gave my approval to President Macron and Iran has got a very difficult situation.”

Trump also held up the prospect of an upturn for the Iranian economy, which has been squeezed by renewed pressure from the U.S

“Their position is not a very strong position from the standpoint of economics but that’s something — we can clear that very quickly,” he said. “I’m looking to have a really good Iran, really strong.”

And he also hinted there could be news soon, saying, “We’ll see what happens. It’s all very new.”

French officials said they are proposing that Iran be allowed to sell some oil for a limited period of time, in exchange for returning to full compliance with the terms of the nuclear deal and restarting talks. Some leaders, like Germany’s Angela Merkel, said it was worthwhile for Zarif to come, suggesting the Europeans had hope of breaking the deadlock.

Time is of the essence. Iran said recently it has begun enriching uranium at higher levels than allowed under the deal, breaching the terms of the nuclear accord. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Photo: CARLOS BARRIA/AFP/Getty Images
Trump at a G7 working sessions on Monday.

Trump’s Soft Tone Masks Hard-Line Stance: On the surface, Trump was on his best behavior: flattering fellow leaders in Biarritz at the Group of Seven summit and tweeting his delight at being there. But beneath the surface, Trump was still Trump — just as hard-line as ever, just as resistant to compromise, and just as sure he’s right as the allies are sure he’s wrong. Josh Wingrove and Jennifer Jacobs check the temperature on Trump’s trip to France so far.

Next G7 in Miami? Trump is already thinking that next year’s G-7 summit in the United States should be in Miami — and perhaps more specifically centered around his own property at Trump Doral golf resort. “We haven’t found anything that could even come close to competing” with Doral, Trump said, stressing no final decisions have been made. Follow live updates throughout the day from today’s G7 meetings with Josh Wingrove, Helene Fouquet and Jennifer Jacobs.

More Highlights from the G7

Trump Says U.S., China Getting Close to Deal: Trump said trade talks with China are back on after Beijing requested negotiations, easing immediate tensions after a weekend of tit-for-tat tariffs rocked financial markets and fueled fears that the standoff would drag the global economy into recession. Trump said U.S. officials received two “very productive” calls from Chinese counterparts and he also lauded President Xi Jinping as a “great leader.” A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry wasn’t able to confirm the details of the phone calls today, while a leading editor at a state-run newspaper said Trump exaggerated the significance of the trade contacts.

“You can say we’re having very meaningful talks, much more meaningful than I would say at any time frankly,” Trump said while meeting with Merkel today. “Maybe I’m wrong but we’re in a stronger position now to do a deal, a fair deal for everyone,” he added. Read more.

Read more: Trump Risks Big Fight With U.S. Business Over Quit China Order

Japan Deal Helps U.S. Farmers, Avoids Auto Tariffs: The U.S. and Japan agreed in principle on a trade deal that would slash Tokyo’s tariffs on American beef, pork and other agricultural products, while delaying for now the threat of additional levies on Japanese auto exports to the U.S. Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the agreement yesterday on the sidelines of the G7, following a bilateral meeting earlier in the day. In announcing the deal, Trump also said Japan would purchase large quantities of U.S. wheat and corn. Read more from Isabel Reynolds, Jennifer Jacobs and Josh Wingrove.

Politics & Policy

Mystery Group Puts $13 Million Into Ads on Surprise Health Bills: A shadowy group has spent more than $13 million since July advertising in states with vulnerable senators to oppose legislation that would rein in medical bills that take patients by surprise. The campaign by a group calling itself Doctor Patient Unity, playing out on television, radio, and on social media in more than 20 states, is helping muddy the congressional debate over how to combat surprise medical bills and could make it harder to pass legislation this year, congressional aides familiar with the issue said in interviews, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The ad buys represent the most-expensive campaign on any health-related topic Congress has taken on this year, according to data from Advertising Analytics and Federal Communications Commission filings. That they’re targeting lawmakers up for re-election in 2020 sends the message that deep-pocketed interests are paying attention to how lawmakers vote on the issue. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Some Fear DNR Repeat of 2016: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) railed against a “rigged” Democratic primary during the 2016 election, but as he campaigns this year, his team has no complaints. That’s because the Democratic National Committee has taken pains to fix the problems that some said plagued the last nominating process. There have been broad changes to the party’s rules on debates and superdelegates, reforms to make its operations more transparent and responsive to the grassroots and continuing efforts by DNC Chairman Tom Perez and his staff to be neutral.

Still, there are concerns from some that the party overcorrected and has become so devoted to transparency and rigid about rules that it’s unable to adapt to new concerns from candidates, voters and party insiders. One worry is that with a field of more than 20 candidates, the DNC has been too inclusive of unconventional contenders such as Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang, while some current and former Democratic officials, including John Hickenlooper and Jay Inslee, were stymied by the debate rules and forced to abandon their campaigns. Read more from Jennifer Epstein, Sahil Kapur and Tyler Pager.

Poll Shows Americans Sharply Divided on Values: Americans aren’t just split by party affiliation, they’re also divided along generational lines, according to an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released yesterday. The survey showed a big difference in values between millennial and Generation Z Americans, those 18 to 38, and Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation, those 55 and up. Younger voters are far less likely than their parents and grandparents to deem patriotism, religion/belief in God, and having children as “very important.” Americans of all ages are closely aligned on the value of hard work and financial security. Read more from Ros Krasny.

Read more: Majority of Americans ‘Angry’ at Political System, Poll Shows

Warren Draws Record Crowd in Seattle: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) drew the largest crowd of her presidential campaign yesterday in Seattle, as an estimated 15,000 people turned out to support what she calls a movement for change. When touting her wealth tax of 2 cents on every dollar of assets above $50 million, Warren drew chants of “2 cents! 2 cents!” The loudest applause came when she called for overturning the Supreme Court’s ruling that lifted campaign finance restrictions. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Sanders Defends Medicare for All: Sanders rejected criticism that his signature “Medicare for All” proposal would favor union members over other workers. He was asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday why non-union workers shouldn’t also receive the benefits that union members would get under his proposal for giving up their private insurance if their employer saves money by switching to Medicare For All. “I’ll tell you why not, because union workers gave up wage benefits over the years in order to pay for health care, an d non-union workers did not,” Sanders said. “That’s the difference.” Read more from Hailey Waller.

Walsh Will Make Long-Shot Challenge to Trump: Former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) announced yesterday he’ll challenge Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020, saying the president is unfit and must be opposed. “He’s nuts, he’s erratic, he’s cruel, he stokes bigotry, he’s incompetent, he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Walsh said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The bet that my campaign is making — and I’m going to pound Trump every single day — he’s a bully, and he’s a coward, and somebody has to call him out.”

Walsh, a nationally syndicated talk-radio host with a lively Twitter account, joins former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who’s been running against Trump since April. Others in the wings at least considering a challenge include former Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.); former Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), also a former governor; and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Read more from Mark Niquette.

Virtual Caucus at Risk After DNC Hacked: The Democratic National Committee has raised substantial cybersecurity concerns over virtual caucusing, potentially dooming the effort just five months before Iowa begins its process of choosing a presidential nominee. At a closed-door session of the Rules and By-Laws Committee on Thursday, the DNC told the panel that experts convened by the party were able to hack into a conference call among the committee, the Iowa Democratic Party and Nevada Democratic Party, raising concerns about teleconferencing for virtual caucuses, according to three people who were at the meeting.

For the first time the DNC is requiring states that hold caucuses instead of primary elections to offer voters a way to participate without showing up at sites across the state. Iowa and Nevada are building a teleconference system for 2020, and Alaska plans a phone and web-based operation. Read more from Tyler Pager.

Around the Administration

Trump Seeking ‘Correct’ Interpretation of Birthright Citizenship: Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller yesterday echoed what the president told reporters outside the White House on Wednesday: the administration is looking at trying to end the practice of granting citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. Miller, the architect of some of Trump’s hard-line immigration ideas, told Fox News, “we’re looking at all legal options” regarding the practice known as birthright citizenship.

Many legal scholars exclude people in the U.S. on a temporary basis or in the country illegally from a key provision in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Miller said. It reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” “That’s something that we have to look at,” Miller said. Read more from Hailey Waller and Josh Wingrove.

Mnuchin Says Trump’s Powell Tweet Not ‘Literal’: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Trump’s characterization of the U.S. Federal Reserve chief as an “enemy” on par with China’s leader was not meant to be taken literally. “I don’t think it was a literal comment that he’s an enemy,” said Mnuchin, speaking on “Fox News Sunday” from the G7. He had been asked about the president’s tweet musing on whether Fed Chairman Jerome Powell or Chinese President Xi Jinping was the bigger enemy. While Mnuchin brushed off Trump’s comment, the tweet was just the latest — and perhaps the most personal — complaint by the president about the Fed and its chairman. Read more from Reade Pickert, Hailey Waller and Daniel Flatley.

Bernhardt, Democrats at Odds on BLM Move: Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he’s got a green light to move the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction, Colo., but two key Democratic lawmakers are telling him to tap the brakes. Bernhardt told Bloomberg Environment on Friday the department submitted its plan for the move to Congress in July, and House and Senate appropriations committees had 30 days to register their disapproval. Neither did so within that time frame, so the move to Grand Junction is essentially approved, he said. “That means this is happening,” he said. “I could not be more clear about my intention to move forward in an expeditious and appropriate manner, and I think I have the authority to clearly do so.”

That isn’t the case, according to a letter Thursday from Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.). McCollum chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Interior Department, while Udall is top Democrat on the committee’s Senate counterpart. Read more from Tripp Baltz.

Trump Offers Help on N.Y. Subway, Baffling Governor’s Office: Trump said he is ready to help New York extend the Second Avenue subway in New York City, an announcement that left even state Governor Andrew Cuomo baffled. “Looking forward to helping New York City and Governor @andrewcuomo complete the long anticipated, and partially built, Second Avenue Subway,” Trump said in a tweet.

Cuomo’s office on Saturday said that while the governor is involved in discussions with the president and the Department of Transportation about several infrastructure projects in the city, including the Gateway Tunnel project, the subway and updates at LaGuardia Airport, there have been no concrete steps taken to move forward. “The president’s tweet suggests good news but we have no specific funding or approval and that is all that is relevant,” Communications Director Dani Lever said in a statement. “If an agreement actually materializes, we will provide an update.” Read more from Jim Silver and Daniel Flatley.

Trump Denies Report on Bombing Hurricanes: Trump this morning denied a report from Axios that he proposed bombing hurricanes, potentially with nuclear weapons, off the coast of the U.S. before they made landfall. “The story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous. I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!”

Foreign Affairs

China Ramps Up Talk of Army Intervention in Hong Kong: Chinese state media gave one of its strongest warnings yet of a possible military intervention in Hong Kong, even though analysts said such a move remained a last resort. The unsigned commentary from the official Xinhua News Agency yesterday came after the 12th straight weekend of unrest in Asia’s main financial hub, with violent clashes that saw demonstrators hurl petrol bombs and police deploy water cannons and tear gas. The piece didn’t say whether Chinese authorities had reached any decision to act or when, only that they had the legal mechanisms needed to deploy forces in the special administrative region. Read more from Iain Marlow and Jacob Gu.

U.S. Says South Korea’s Exit From Intel Pact Endangers Troops: The U.S. said that South Korea’s decision to pull out of an intelligence-sharing deal with Japan endangers American troops — an unusually blunt criticism of one of Washington’s closest allies. The Trump administration is disappointed in South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s announcement Thursday that his government would stop participating in the 2016 General Security of Military Information Agreement with Japan, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said yesterday. The pact allowed t he two neighbors to directly share intelligence about joint security concerns including North Korea and China, without going through the Americans. Read more from Iain Marlow.

Turkey Sees U.S. Deal as Start of Wider Purge of Kurdish Militia: Turkey sees its deal with the U.S. to carve out a narrow security zone in northern Syria as just the beginning, two Turkish officials said, with Ankara determined to purge Kurdish fighters from a much larger section of the border region. After weeks of difficult negotiations, the NATO allies agreed this month to jointly patrol an area stretching 125 kilometers between the Syrian towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, and up to 15 kilometers deep, according to the officials, who have direct knowledge of the talks but asked not to be identified in line with regulations barring them from talking to the media. Read more from Selcan Hacaoglu.

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; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

Coming up at BGOV

Webinars Live Events
An Insider’s View of DOD Digital Transformation
August 27, 2019
Register Now
FY20 Air Force Budget Priorities Briefing
September 17, 2019
Register Now

Stay informed with more news like this – from the largest team of reporters on Capitol Hill – subscribe to Bloomberg Government today. Learn more.

Top