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September 14, 2018
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On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had asked Chinese officials for a new round of trade talks in September, giving Beijing a chance to avert new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese exports. Some Trump administration officials believe the U.S. has China over a barrel, the Journal says, but there's also "a steady rise in political pressure on President Trump to ease up on trade fights" from farm and business groups, and "Chinese officials said they have grown wary of the Trump administration's unpredictable decision-making process and may be hesitant to accept without a clear sign U.S. negotiators have authority to speak for the president."

Trump validated those concerns with a tweet on Thursday: "The Wall Street Journal has it wrong, we are under no pressure to make a deal with China, they are under pressure to make a deal with us. Our markets are surging, theirs are collapsing."

"The president's expectation that financial hardship will prompt Chinese President Xi Jinping to cave in a fresh round of diplomatic talks is misplaced," The Washington Post reports, citing analysts. Chinese markets have fallen significantly this year while U.S. markets are rising, "but unlike in the United States, the ups and downs of the Chinese stock market affect relatively few people, meaning sell-offs are unlikely to translate into pressure on Chinese leaders," the Post notes. And China's slowing economy — its economy is growing at about 6.5 percent — is due to a lot of factors that have nothing to do with the U.S. trade war.

"There's a lot of overly wishful thinking on the American side," Jeff Moon, a former U.S. trade negotiator, tells the Post. "Every economy has problems. We have ­trillion-dollar deficits. That doesn't mean either economy is in fundamental danger. It's a massive miscalculation." You can read more about the complexities of the trade war at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

12:43 p.m. ET
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Russian President Vladimir Putin has always known how to get on President Trump's good side.

From the moment Trump took office, and even before then, Putin has used his intelligence training to stroke Trump's ego, the forthcoming book The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy by The Washington Post's Greg Miller reveals. Putin urged Trump to create Russia-friendly policies, had him scrambling to plan a summit between the two leaders, and reportedly even convinced him the "deep state" was "fighting against our friendship," Miller writes.

The president's "friendship" with Putin pushed him away from American intelligence officials and other world leaders, an excerpt from The Apprentice published in the Post says. The book also alleges that Trump's problems with the CIA stemmed mostly from the agency's evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump's Russian deference was on fully display after the ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned in England. British Prime Minister Theresa May told Trump the U.K. was "95 percent sure" the Kremlin was behind the nerve agent attack. "Maybe we should get to 98 percent," Trump replied, per The Apprentice. He later came close to backing out of a plan to throw 60 suspected Russian spies out of the U.S. in partnership with European leaders. Chief of Staff John Kelly persuaded Trump to follow through on the commitment, but the decision still drew "a lot of curse words" from the president, an official later said.

Read more from The Apprentice at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:30 p.m. ET

Hurricane Florence continued to dump rain on North Carolina for days after it made landfall last week, leading to devastating flooding across much of the state. Wilmington, a coastal city that was transformed into an island due to surrounding floodwaters, has become increasingly isolated as flooding fills the I-40 highway. Aerial footage captured by USA Today shows the highway looking more like a river, completely unrecognizable beneath record-breaking floodwaters.

At least 37 people have died as a result of the hurricane, reports The Associated Press. Emergency responders are working to enter the hard-hit areas to offer relief, but it's challenging when roads are completely blocked off. Watch the video below to see just how severe the flooding remains, via USA Today. Summer Meza

11:51 a.m. ET
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The most-watched Senate races across the country are still up in the air, four Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics polls unveiled Wednesday reveal.

Even if in the upcoming midterms, Democrats manage to hold on to the 10 seats that are at risk in states President Trump won in 2016, they will still need to win two additional seats in order to take back the Senate. The new polls suggest Texas and Arizona are the states where Democrats have the best chances. Florida and Nevada's competitions are leaning toward Republican wins, but are notably tight.

In Texas, Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D) leads Sen. Ted Cruz (R) by two percent in a poll of Texas voters. It's a tiny margin, but more than was originally expected from a long-shot Democrat in the deep-red state. Still, a Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday showed Cruz ahead by nine points.

The race to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is looking positive for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D), the Arizona poll shows. She's ahead of the President Trump-backed Rep. Martha McSally (R) by three points. Senate races in Florida and Nevada lean toward Republicans, with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) just one point above incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D), and incumbent Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R) leading Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) by three.

All of these races are within the 4-point credibility intervals Reuters recorded, meaning the senatorial wannabes are essentially tied. Separate polls were conducted online for each state from Sept. 5-17, and each polled between 992 and 1,039 people. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:48 a.m. ET
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The Justice Department doesn't want to give in to President Trump's demands quite so easily.

Trump ordered the declassification of intelligence documents related to his former campaign adviser Carter Page earlier this week, but Bloomberg reported Wednesday that DOJ officials plan to redact some of the information to keep it secret.

People familiar with the matter said that the DOJ and FBI are currently deciding what will be redacted, but it will likely fly in the face of Trump's call for immediate declassification of materials "relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction." Trump wanted sensitive documents released that would show the FBI's warrant to surveil Page, interviews to obtain the warrant, and text messages between senior officials, believing they would demonstrate the "anti-Trump bias" he says has tainted the investigation.

Because the investigation into whether the Trump campaign was involved with Russian election interference in 2016 is ongoing, Trump's orders were viewed as crossing a "red line" by some lawmakers. Some Republicans cheered the move as a step toward increased transparency, but other experts said it showed an overstep of presidential involvement in the investigation.

The Justice Department is expected to submit proposed redactions soon, reports Bloomberg, knowing that withholding information will put DOJ officials in direct conflict with Trump. The president always could override the agencies and declassify material by himself. Read more at Bloomberg. Summer Meza

10:46 a.m. ET

President Trump wasn't just cheering on his way to a 9/11 memorial service in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. He was also apparently scoping out ideas for his border wall.

While thanking America's "brave patriots" at a somber service earlier this month, Trump also noticed the "gorgeous wall where the plane went down," he said in an interview with The Hill on Tuesday.

The "beautiful" wall, as Trump described it, is a memorial in honor of the 40 passengers and crew members who fought hijackers to down their plane before it hit Washington on 9/11. It's also a "perfect" example of what Trump wants to place on the U.S.-Mexico border, and he is "pushing very hard" to make it happen, he told The Hill.

Trump has long pressed for a wall between the two countries, though he hasn't been able to secure enough funding and has seemingly given up on asking Mexico to pay for it. Still, Trump remained "hopeful he can deliver" on his perennial campaign statement during the interview, The Hill notes.

We'll leave you with the whole absurd statement below. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:13 a.m. ET
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President Trump is renewing his attack on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and floating the idea of firing him, an idea he suggests is a popular one.

In an interview with The Hill on Tuesday, Trump reiterated his disapproval of Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, going as far as to say, "I don't have an attorney general. It's very sad." Trump even mocked Sessions, saying he was "mixed up and confused" during his nomination process. After this assessment, Trump was asked if he might fire the attorney general, to which he responded, "we'll see what happens," adding that "a lot of people have asked me to do that."

Politico reported last week that if the president were to fire Sessions right now, Senate Republicans have no idea who could be confirmed to replace him. After all, senators would need to feel confident that the nominee would not interfere with Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. A spokesperson for Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) told Politico that he "finds it difficult to envision a circumstance" where he'd vote to confirm a successor to Sessions assuming Sessions is fired "for faithfully executing his job."

CNN also reported in August that congressional Republicans are continuing to advise Trump not to fire Sessions, at least not until after the midterms. But it's unclear whether Trump will take their advice. He told The Hill that he believes so many people disapprove of Sessions that even his "worst enemies" think the attorney general shouldn't have recused himself. Read the full interview at The Hill. Brendan Morrow

9:53 a.m. ET
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The Trump administration is unable to locate 1,488 migrant children who were placed with sponsors this year, a Senate investigation found on Tuesday. The New York Times reports that the migrant children, who entered the country illegally, were unaccounted for after follow-up phone calls by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The department insisted that "these children are not 'lost,'" explaining that the sponsors of those particular children "simply did not respond or could not be reached when the voluntary call was made." About 11,250 migrant children have been placed with sponsors in 2018.

Senate investigators said that the administration's inability to keep track of migrant children is a "troubling" problem, since the children could end up with human traffickers or in otherwise dangerous situations. HHS says it is not responsible for the children after they are released from government custody.

The congressional report was released along with proposed legislation that would make sure HHS tracks children's safety after they leave custody, and would require background checks for sponsors. An HHS spokesperson said sponsors "have been vetted for criminality and ability to provide for [children.]"

The increasing number of migrant children in federal detention has brought increased scrutiny to the Trump administration's handling of their care and release. In April HHS acknowledged that it could not be sure of the location of an additional 1,475 migrant children who were placed with sponsors last year. Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

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