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Michael Warren is on vacation this week, and Andrew Egger is filling in for him on White House Watch. Michael will be back in the saddle on July 3.
Two months after President Donald Trump hosted Chinese president Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago hotel in Florida and declared their relationship to be “outstanding,” the White House seems to be changing its tune.
Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with China’s inaction on crucial issues like North Korea, and his administration has begun to take steps to pressure the country to increase its efforts. The State Department issued a report on Tuesday labelling China among the worst human traffickers in the world, and the administration is reportedly considering taking economic action against Beijing.
During Xi’s visit, the White House appeared to back away from its earlier promises to take a hard economic line against China, with both leaders emphasizing the importance of working toward mutually beneficial ends. The Trump administration particularly hoped that building a strong relationship with China would help to rein in North Korea, a Chinese ally.
But the president has seemingly soured on the partnership as North Korea continues to behave erratically, running missile tests as regularly as ever. This came to a head with the death of Otto Warmbier, an American student whom Pyongyang imprisoned for 17 months before returning him to the United States days before his death.
A senior administration official told >Reuters that Trump “feels like he gave China a chance to make a difference” but has not seen adequate results. “They did a little, not a lot.”
“While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out,” the president tweeted last Tuesday. “At least I know China tried!”
Trump Meets with Senate Republicans for Health Care Push
President Trump summoned the entire Republican Senate caucus to the White House Tuesday evening, hoping to cobble together enough support to pass the floundering Senate health care bill.
The meeting came hours after majority leader Mitch McConnell announced that Republicans would not seek to pass the bill by the end of the week, as previously intended, but would instead delay their vote on the Obamacare replacement until after the July 4 recess.
President Trump also met with Senator Rand Paul, who has been a vocal critic of the bill, earlier in the afternoon.
“Just came from WH,” Paul tweeted. “@RealDonaldTrump is open to making bill better. Is Senate leadership?”
Axios reports that the all-hands-on-deck meeting will kick off a 72-hour “full court press” to build a bill that can reach 50 votes. It’s an uphill battle for Republicans, but McConnell is a savvy politician, so it’s far too early to rule the bill out. For now, McConnell is emphasizing that this might be the Republicans’ best chance to pass health care legislation without having to make concessions to congressional Democrats.
“Either Republicans will agree and change the status quo, or the markets will continue to collapse and we’ll have to sit down with Senator Schumer,” McConnell said after the meeting.
“With ZERO Democrats to help, and a failed, expensive and dangerous ObamaCare as the Dems legacy, the Republican Senators are working hard!” the president tweeted after the meeting. “I just finished a great meeting with the Republican Senators concerning HealthCare. They really want to get it right, unlike OCare!”
Rick Perry Talks Energy Policy
Meanwhile, the White House continues to plug its Energy Week programming. Energy secretary Rick Perry spoke at the White House press briefing Tuesday afternoon to report on the Department of Energy’s plans to bring about an “energy-dominant America.”
Perry emphasized America’s rising exports of natural gas and oil, while also calling on the U.S. to “reaffirm our commitment to clean energy” and championing reinvestment in nuclear power.
“That binary choice between pro-economy and pro-environment that has been perpetuated by the Obama administration has set up a false argument,” Perry said. “The fact is, we can do good for both, and we will.”
Perry also defended President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement, arguing that states should be empowered to make their own decisions about climate change policy.
“I think governors and their citizens need to be given that right to make those decisions,” Perry said. “Jerry [Brown, California’s governor] has decided he wants his state to be involved with the Paris agreement, however that works, which is fine. Texas will still be there to take any businesses that would like to relocate.”
The Near-Boiling Press Briefing
The mood in the White House briefing room was relaxed and almost friendly when Perry was fielding questions. But that was a rare calm spot in a procession of increasingly confrontational meetings between the White House press office and the press.
Reporters have been unhappy that White House briefings are getting shorter and less informative and increasingly occur off-camera, which the White House has maintained prevents the press from grandstanding and keeps briefings policy-focused.
Both sides have grown increasingly frustrated, and the briefings have seen some flare-ups. During Monday’s briefing, CNN’s Jim Acosta repeatedly shouted questions about the cameras over the questions of other reporters as press secretary Sean Spicer pointedly ignored him. On Tuesday, an exchange between a reporter and deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders turned heated when the reporter accused her of “inflammatory” remarks about the media.
“We’re here to ask you questions, you’re here to provide the answers, and what you just did is inflammatory to people all over the country who look at it and say, see, once again, the President is right and everybody else out here is fake media. And everybody in this room is only trying to do their job.”
“Well, I disagree completely,” Sanders responded. “First of all, I think if anything has been inflamed it’s the dishonesty that often takes place by the news media. And I think it is outrageous for you to accuse me of inflaming a story when I was simply trying to respond to a question.”
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