May 22, 2018

Taking a page from National Security Adviser John Bolton's playbook, Vice President Mike Pence threatened North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with regime change and a violent death if he does not cooperate with U.S. demands in his upcoming talks with President Trump.

If Kim does not make a deal, Pence said, U.S.-North Korea conflict will "end like the Libya model ended." In Pence's telling, this is not a "threat" so much as a "fact," but it is unlikely Kim will hear it that way. His regime views Libya as a negative object lesson for cooperation with Washington, as after voluntarily relinquishing his nuclear weapons program, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was deposed with U.S. help and brutally killed. Bonnie Kristian

May 8, 2018

President Trump, as he is fond of reminding us, won the Electoral College with 306 votes to Hillary Clinton's 232, but Clinton amassed about 2.8 million more popular votes at the national scale. Eager to avoid a repeat of that mismatch in elections to come, 10 blue states plus Washington, D.C., have made a compact that would eventually see them allotting their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner, functionally bypassing the Electoral College without passing a constitutional amendment.

The most recent state to sign on is Connecticut, where the governor said Saturday he supports a bill to join the compact, which was passed by the state legislature in late April. The agreement doesn't kick in until states with Electoral College votes totaling 270 — the minimum needed for victory — have joined. With the addition of Connecticut, the involved states' electoral vote total comes to 172.

While a majority of Americans want to move to a popular vote system to choose the president, support for keeping the Electoral College has actually increased in recent years. In 1987, 33 percent wanted to maintain the current system and 61 percent wanted to switch; by 2016, that had shifted to 41 and 54 percent, respectively. Democrats overwhelmingly want to switch, but 3 in 4 Republicans are happy the way things are.

The bypass compact would likely face legal challenge were it to reach the 270-vote trigger. The Constitution does not say electors have to follow their state's popular vote, but most states have some penalty in place for those who don't.

Read The Week's Edward Morrissey and Paul Waldman for dueling accounts of the Electoral College's value — or lack thereof. Bonnie Kristian

May 5, 2018

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has figured out "you can't get in trouble for what you don't say," her predecessor, Sean Spicer, muses in a new profile of Sanders from The Washington Post. While Sanders says she always does her "best to give the right information" to the press and public, the Post's sources suggest that involves strategic silence:

Sanders' defenders say she spends considerable time crafting talking points that convey the president's wishes but also are technically truthful. If she is guilty of anything, they say, it is providing incomplete information. [...]

Sanders routinely dodges questions on hot topics by telling reporters she has not asked the president about it — a deliberate strategy to avoid having to wade into delicate issues, according to a Sanders confidant.

She deflects nearly every question about the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the election unless she has a prepared statement from the president to read — a protective move against creating legal exposure for herself with extemporaneous answers. [The Washington Post]

Despite this habit of omission, Sanders is friendly and collegial to journalists one-on-one, the Post reports, in contrast to the more adversarial role she takes during press briefings. "Sarah has always been coolheaded and professional and always gives our arguments for greater transparency and openness a respectful hearing," Olivier Knox, incoming president of the White House Correspondents' Association, told the Post. Read the full profile here. Bonnie Kristian

October 23, 2017
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Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has revealed a secret letter her office received from North Korea asking for help to divert the Trump administration from nuclear war. The letter is believed to be one of several covert communications Pyongyang has sent to multiple Western governments, an unprecedented move by the isolated regime.

"If Trump thinks that he would bring the DPRK, a nuclear power, to its knees through nuclear war threat, it will be a big miscalculation and an expression of ignorance," the document warns. "The DPRK has emerged a fully-fledged nuclear power which has a strong nuclear arsenal and various kinds of nuclear delivery means made by dint of self-reliance and self-development. The real foe of nuclear force is a nuclear war itself."

Thus, the letter continues, North Korea's foreign ministry has taken "this opportunity to express belief that the parliaments of different countries loving independence, peace, and justice will fully discharge their due mission and duty in realizing the desire of mankind for international justice and peace with sharp vigilance against the heinous and reckless moves of the Trump administration trying to drive the world into a horrible nuclear disaster."

Bishop said she views the communication as a sign that a firm stance toward Pyongyang is working, while Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dismissed it as "ranting and complaining about Donald Trump." The Independent has inquired whether the United Kingdom received a similar letter. Bonnie Kristian

October 1, 2017
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President Trump in March signed a directive to guide U.S. strategy toward North Korea,The Washington Post reported Saturday evening, a document that called for "actions across a broad spectrum of government agencies and led to the use of military cyber-capabilities" to discourage Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. The directive was not made public at the time as it could make U.S.-North Korea talks less likely.

The Post report cites multiple unnamed administration officials who told the paper the directive requires diplomats to mention North Korea "in virtually every conversation with foreign interlocutors," persistently asking other nations to sever all ties to the isolated state. In one case, Vice President Mike Pence informed foreign officials, to their surprise, that their nation has $2 million in trade with North Korea. The directive also led to U.S. Cyber Command working to limit North Korean hackers' internet access.

This news comes just hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday said the U.S. is in the early stages of direct communication with North Korea and urged mutual "calm" in an "overheated" situation. Bonnie Kristian

May 28, 2017
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President Trump returned Saturday night from his trip abroad to a White House mulling serious changes to contain escalating federal investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Among the changes reportedly under consideration: a reduced role for Press Secretary Sean Spicer; the rehiring of fired Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski; advance legal vetting of Trump's tweets; and a heftier schedule of press conferences, live social media appearances, and campaign-style rallies permitting the president to speak directly to the media and public.

While Trump was traveling, credible allegations surfaced that his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, attempted to set up a secret communication channel with Russia in December. So far, there is no suggestion of Kushner stepping down. Bonnie Kristian

March 1, 2017
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President Trump wants to give Defense Secretary James Mattis greater control over launching anti-terrorist operations, multiple U.S. officials told The Daily Beast. Trump's decision to pass off some of his power as commander-in-chief would give Mattis more freedom to make quicker decisions over missions, a reversal from the lengthy and cautious approval process employed by former President Barack Obama. Though U.S. commanders already have the authority to make decisions about launching operations in declared war zones, making calls outside of those pre-determined spaces or "in ungoverned or unstable places" like Libya or Yemen can require approval from as far up the chain of command as the Oval Office:

Trump officials believe loosening the permissions process can help turn up the heat against ISIS — and counterterrorist-focused agencies like the military's Joint Special Operations Command are lining up new targets in anticipation of more numerous and more rapid approvals.

One model being considered is pre-delegating authority to Mattis on extremely sensitive operations like hostage rescues; for raids or drone strikes against pre-approved targets, that authority could be pushed much further down the chain of command — all the way down to the three-star general who runs JSOC. If his teams spot a target that's already on the White House approved high value target list, the elite force will be able to move into action, informing the national security apparatus of the operation but not having to wait for permission. [The Daily Beast]

The Daily Beast's report reflects the Trump administration's pledge to intensify the fight against the Islamic State, as well as the president's expressed interest in operating "more like the CEO he was in the private sector in such matters." However, The Daily Beast pointed out the change might give Mattis and others "pause," after Trump's first authorized raid in January, which targeted al Qaeda militants in Yemen, resulted in the death of Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens in addition to possibly dozens of others.

Though Trump has repeatedly defended the Yemen mission as a success, he was quick to pass responsibility for its occurrence on military leaders. Rather than own the operation as the nation's commander-in-chief, Trump in an interview Tuesday said the mission "was started before I got here" and put the burden on military officials. "My generals are the most respected that we've had in many decades," Trump said, "and they lost Ryan." For more on Trump's potential changes to military protocol, head to The Daily Beast. Becca Stanek

January 27, 2017
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President Trump has nominated the former chief executive of ExxonMobil for secretary of state, dismissed climate change as a hoax, and created pervasive concerns in the clean energy industry about the future of federal subsidies. Yet, shares of electric automaker Tesla, which recently merged with solar energy panel manufacturer SolarCity, have soared since Trump took office. This week, The New York Times reported, Tesla closed "within striking distance of a record high."

That may all be thanks to Tesla and SolarCity founder Elon Musk's strategic relationship with Trump. Musk hasn't always been a fan of Trump — he once said Trump was "not the right guy" to be president — but Musk now seems set on making a bromance bloom, and Trump isn't disinterested:

The president-elect invited Mr. Musk to Trump Tower in December as part of a group of technology executives and named him to his strategic and policy forum of business leaders.

And Mr. Musk was with a group of manufacturing executives at a White House meeting this week at which, according to a participant, he broached the subject of a carbon tax. Surprisingly, Mr. Trump didn't reject it out of hand.

For his part, Mr. Musk this week endorsed Rex W. Tillerson, a pillar of the fossil fuel establishment as chief executive of ExxonMobil, for secretary of state. [The New York Times]

The relationship isn't totally out of left field, said Adam Jonas, an automotive analyst at Morgan Stanley who recently upgraded Tesla stock to "overweight." "When you look at the businesses Tesla is in, you see many areas of overlapping interest," Jonas told The New York Times. "To the extent the new administration prioritizes the creation of valuable, innovative high tech, and manufacturing jobs, Tesla stands at the epicenter of that." Trump's interest in jobs creation might be the leverage Musk needs to save federal subsidies.

Already, solar investors' concerns are starting to abate. But can a bromance really save the day? "I want to believe that Trump won't kill solar," said alternative energy analyst Andrew Hughes. "But there's still a lot of uncertainty."

For more on the story, head over to The New York Times. Becca Stanek

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