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Wake Up To Politics - March 9, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, March 9, 2018. 242 days until Election Day 2018. 970 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inboxes at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Trump agrees to meet Kim Jong Un

President Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to discuss denuclearization, a South Korean diplomat announced on Thursday.

Speaking from outside the White House, South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong told reporters that Kim "expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible," and that Trump "said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization." The South Korean also reported that Kim "said he is committed to denuclearization" and had pledged to "refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests" while talks are ongoing.

The White House later confirmed that Trump had accepted the offer. “President Trump greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and President Moon. He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. "We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain.”

A meeting between Trump and Kim would be historic: no U.S. president has ever met a North Korean leader. Previous offers from Kim Jong Un and his father Kim Jong-il have been rebuffed, with Trump's predecessors insisting on extracting concessions before agreeing to a sit-down meeting.

"President Trump was elected in part because he is willing to...take approaches very, very different from past approaches and past Presidents," a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call after the announcement. "That couldn't be better exemplified than in his North Korea policy." Explaining why Trump had accepted the invitation to personally negotiate with Kim, the official later added: "President Trump made his reputationon making deals."

Indeed, Trump has largely abandoned the U.S. foreign policy playbook in dealing with Kim, engaging in a war of insults with the North Korean leader. Trump has repeatedly labeled Kim as "little Rocket Man," while the dictator has responded by calling the U.S. president a "dotard." Now, the two leaders are set to put that rhetoric aside and meet personally in the next two months to discuss averting a much more costly war.

Why did a South Korean official announce the upcoming meeting, instead of the U.S.? The announcement came together "haphazardly" after Trump met with Chungin the Oval Office on Thursday, the New York Times reported. Trump and Chung weren't even supposed to meet until Friday, but when the president heard that Chung was in the building, he insisted on sitting down with him.

According to the Times, Trump asked Chung about his meeting with Kim earlier this week. "When Mr. Chung said that the North Korean leader had expressed a desire to meet Mr. Trump, the president immediately said he would do it, and directed Mr. Chung to announce it to the White House press corps," the report said.

Thus, Trump previewed the announcement by popping his head into the White House press briefing room and telling reporters that Chung would be addressing them. Hours later, the South Korean diplomat stood in a driveway outside the West Wing of the White House and announced that the U.S. president had accepted an offer of a face-to-face meeting from the leader of North Korea.

Trump's spontaneous decision to accept Kim's offer "sent White house staff scrambling," according to the Associated Press. Just hours earlier, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had told reporters that the U.S. was "a long ways from [direct] negotiations" with North Korea. Both inside the Trump administration and around the world, officials reacted with surprise. "This is an almost miraculous event," South Korean president Moon Jae-in declared.

Trump himself took to Twitter, a medium where he has frequently lambasted Kim in the past (and dismissed attempts at direct negotiations with North Korea), to comment on the meeting Thursday night. "Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze," he wrote. "Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!"

The North Korean announcement was the second time on Thursday that Trump caused a scramble in official Washington and capitals across the globe...

Trump formally imposes tariffs despite GOP opposition

Ignoring Republican opposition, President Trump imposed tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum Thursday, formally launching what many inside his own party believe will cause a "trade war."

The tariffs will take effect in two weeks, on March 23. In a reversal, Trump did offer relief to some U.S. allies: the proclamation he signed on Thursday temporarily exempts Canada and Mexico from the tariffs as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) continues to be renegotiated. The proclamation also invites other allies to request an exemption, with Trump hoping to leverage the tariff threat to renegotiate many of the U.S.' trade agreements. "We're going to be very flexible," Trump said at a Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

"The actions we are taking today are not a matter of choice; they are a matter of necessity for our security," Trump said, flanked by steel and aluminum workers and Vice President Mike Pence, a longtime free-trade advocate who had privately urged the president to scale back the tariffs. No Republican members of Congress attended the ceremony; in fact, many responded to the tariffs with scathing statements:

  • House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI): "I disagree with this action and fear its unintended consequences."
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): "Members of the Senate, myself included, are concerned about the scope of the proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum and their impact on American citizens and businesses, including many I represent in Kentucky."
  • Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT): "Simply put: This is a tax hike on American manufacturers, workers, and consumers. Slapping aluminum and steel imports with tariffs of this magnitude is misguided."
  • Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): “President Trump’s decision to impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports will not protect America. Reminiscent of failed protectionist trade policies of the past, this decision will harm the American economy, hurt American workers, and damage relations with America’s allies and partners."
  • Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE): "We’re on the verge of a painful and stupid trade war, and that’s bad."

Many GOP lawmakers cheered the exemptions for Mexico and Canada, while calling on Trump to offer them to other U.S. allies as well. "We will continue to urge the administration to narrow this policy so that it is focused only on those countries and practices that violate trade law," Ryan said, citing China as an example.

Republicans are now discussing whether to take legislative action to defy their party's leader. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) announced Thursday that he planned to "immediately draft and introduce legislation to nullify these tariffs," declaring that "Congress cannot be complicit as the administration courts economic disaster."

The Rundown

Economy: The U.S. economy added 313,000 jobs in February, the Labor Department announced this morning, far exceeding analysts' expectations. The unemployment rate remained at 4.1%, the lowest in 17 years.

The Administration: Outgoing National Economic Council director Gary Cohn is pushing his deputy director of domestic policy, Shahira Knight, as his replacement, per Politico... The Interior Department is spending nearly $139,000 to fix the doors in Secretary Ryan Zinke's office, the Associated Press reports... a senior adviser at the Department of Homeland Security spread a conspiracy theories online, including that Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman took part in a Satanic ritual, CNN finds...

Russia probe: George Nader, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates who attended the 2017 Seychelles meeting under scrutiny, has told special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators that the Emiratis didn't introduce Trump associate Erik Prince and Putin ally Kirill Dmitriev, the Wall Street Journal reports, contradicting Prince's testimony to the House Intelligence Committee. Mueller is investigating whether the meeting was an attempt to set up a back channel between the Trump administration and the Kremlin...

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to additional criminal charges on Thursday. His trial is set to begin on July 10... Former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg says that special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed him to appear before a grand jury today. Nunberg previously said he would ignore the order, but he is now planning to testify...

Congress: Government funding is set to run out on March 23, and President Trump has threatened to veto the omnibus spending package being prepared if it funds the Gateway tunnel project in New York City, Politico reports... House Republicans will break President Trump's infrastructure plan into multiple pieces of legislation, Speaker Paul Ryan announced Thursday...

2018 Central: Democrats are defending 10 Senate seats in Trump states this year, and five of them would lose to a Republican challenger if the elections were held today, a new Axios/SurveyMonkey poll found. Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (MT), Joe Manchin (WV), and Claire McCaskill (MO) were the most vulnerable of the group; each were found to be losing to a generic GOP challenger and to have approval ratings below or barely above 50%...

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans, thinks Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will retire in "early summer," which he says will motivate the GOP base and help him keep his seat, according to audio obtained by Politico...

44: Former President Barack Obama is in "advanced negotiations with Netflix to produce a series of high-profile shows," the New York Times reports...


Trump: The president has no events on his public schedule, besides his 11:30 AM intelligence briefing.

Pence: Vice President Mike Pence is in Cleveland, Ohio today. At 4:15 PM, he delivers keynote remarks at an American First Policies "Tax Cuts to Put America FIrst" event. At 6:00 PM, he participates in a campaign event for Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) before returning to Washington, D.C.

Briefing: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders holds the daily press briefing at 2:00 PM.

Congress: Both chambers are already done for the weekend.

*All times Eastern