The Week on Planet Trump: Dealmaker-in-Chief Starts World Trade War and U-Turns on North Korea Summit

Monday: Sanctions Frozen Ahead of Summit

The U.S. will hold off on applying major new sanctions against North Korea while it tries to put back on track a June meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

A U.S. official told the Journal that the White House had been set to announce the sanctions as soon as Tuesday but will now delay them indefinitely as negotiations with North Korea continue.

American officials are currently in North Korea to meet with their counterparts in the village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone near the South Korean border. The officials are meeting through Tuesday attempting to get the June 12 summit in Singapore back in motion.   

Two administration officials told the Journal that the Treasury Department had readied a sanctions package aimed at more than 30 targets, including Russian and Chinese entities.

Ellen Mitchell, The Hill

Tuesday: Five Thousand Dead in Puerto Rico

More than 4,600 Puerto Ricans may have died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in large part due to delayed medical care, according to a new survey of people on the island collected and analyzed by researchers at Harvard and other institutions.

The study, published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that Hurricane Maria may be the deadliest natural disaster to hit US soil in 100 years, with a mortality rate twice as high as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. The only other US disaster on record with a higher death toll is the Galveston, Texas, hurricane of 1900, when somewhere between 6,000 and 12,000 people died.

And, they wrote, the estimate of total deaths “is likely to be conservative since subsequent adjustments for survivor bias and household-size distributions increase this estimate to more than 5,000.”

When President Donald Trump visited Puerto Rico on October 3, nearly two weeks after the storm hit, the official death count was just 16, prompting Trump to insist that Puerto Rico wasn’t a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina. “Everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico,” he said.

Alexia Fernández Campbell and Eliza Barclay, Vox

Wednesday: China Trade Deal at Risk

Even if Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross still goes to China this weekend as planned, his boss, President Donald Trump, is undermining his negotiations to defuse the trade war with Beijing.

Trump on Tuesday announced plans to slap penalties on $50 billion in Chinese imports, and a Chinese government spokeswoman quickly complained that Trump was doing an “about face” and was in danger of “squandering” an opportunity, according to the South China Morning Post.

Ross was supposed to follow a path laid out by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other White House moderates when they announced this month that a simmering trade war was “on hold.” China and the U.S. had suspended plans to slap tariffs on each other’s goods and Beijing had agreed to buy more U.S. farm and energy products to help close a $375 billion trade deficit.

White House insiders may be calling Trump’s tariff announcement this week “negotiating leverage,” but Chinese officials on Wednesday made it clear it’s not putting them in the mood to agree to buy more U.S. goods.

Doug Palmer, Politico

Thursday: Pardons Signal Threat to Justice System

For more than a year, President Trump has struggled to control the United States’ law enforcement apparatus, frustrated that it remains at least partly out of his grasp. But he is increasingly turning to a tool that allows him to push back against a justice system he calls unfair.

In a burst of action and words, Mr. Trump demonstrated Thursday that, in some instances, he still has the last word. He pardoned Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative commentator convicted of campaign finance violations, and he said he may extend clemency to former Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois and Martha Stewart, the lifestyle mogul.

The president’s intervention in those cases came as he rails against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department and the F.B.I. over various investigations into his campaign, his personal lawyer and his own actions that may have been aimed at obstructing the inquiry of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. Last week, he effectively ordered the Justice Department to investigate his investigators and reveal confidential information about the case to Republican allies in Congress.

Peter Baker, The New York Times

Friday: Tariffs Will Hit Average Incomes

President Donald Trump has embarked on an unorthodox follow-up to cutting the taxes American families pay: raising the prices of goods they buy.

Higher prices will result directly from tariffs the White House plans to impose on steel and aluminum imports from allies such as Canada, Mexico and the European Union as well as other countries. The White House acknowledges that effect, while arguing the price increases will be tiny.

But combined with additional tariffs against other imports from China and retaliatory steps by our trading partners, the measures Trump announced promise to make an impact. And mainstream economists across the political spectrum agree it will be negative.

Trump concedes his trade policies will cause "a little pain." But he insists that 25 percent steel and 10 percent aluminum tariffs will benefit the country by boosting the domestic manufacturing of building-block products crucial to economic vitality and national security.

John Harwood, CNBC

Saturday: POTUS Lawyers Defy the Law

A confidential letter obtained by The New York Times shows President Trump's personal lawyers making the case to special counsel Robert Mueller that the president cannot obstruct justice. The memo further went on to state that Mueller cannot force him to testify.

The White House declined to comment, referring to outside counsel. Mr. Trump's legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Shortly before The New York Times published its story, however, Mr. Trump accused Mueller's team or Justice Department officials of leaking information to the media. He did not question the veracity of the letter.

"There was No Collusion with Russia (except by the Democrats)," the president tweeted Saturday. "When will this very expensive Witch Hunt Hoax ever end? So bad for our Country. Is the Special Counsel/Justice Department leaking my lawyers letters to the Fake News Media? Should be looking at Dems corruption instead?"

Kathryn Watson, CBS News

Sunday: Mattis Sets Terms for Kim

North Korea will not get any sanctions relief until it has demonstrated "verifiable and irreversible" steps to denuclearization, US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Sunday.

The comments come less than 10 days before a planned summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a high-stakes meeting that the US hopes will lead to North Korean nuclear disarmament.

"We can anticipate, at best, a bumpy road to the negotiation," said Mattis, who was speaking alongside South Korean and Japanese defense ministers at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security summit in Singapore that draws government officials and academics from around the world.

On Friday, Trump confirmed that his on-again off-again summit with Kim would go ahead on June 12, in a remarkable about-turn following a previous decision by the US President to cancel the meeting.

Steve George, CNN

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