POLITICO Playbook: Trump’s increasingly erratic presidency

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AMID A CASCADE OF ESPECIALLY PUNGENT TWEETSThursday, PresidentDONALD TRUMPtapped out one of his stock refrains — that he is a “Stable Genius.” But his leadership style has become more volatile than ever, with the commander in chief pinballing between opposing poles of major decisions, switching with little explanation, leaving allies inside and outside his administration unable to explain what just happened.

THURSDAYwas only the most recent example. The president suddenly abandoned his quest to add a citizenship question to the census, after talking up the idea for days. A.G.BILL BARRboasted in an interview earlier this week that he had found a legal way to do it. Then Trump pulled the plug, ordering the Commerce Department to count how many undocumented immigrants there are in America — an option Commerce had rejected months ago.

— BARRalso said it was “rank speculation” that the president would add the citizenship question on his own. In fact, it was accurate speculation, because the president himself acknowledged he was considering it.

And there’s more:

— THE PRESIDENTsaid he was going to make health care reform a priority this Congress, but we’ve heard next to nothing about it since he made that proclamation.

— IRAN … THE PRESIDENTauthorized air strikes to retaliate for Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone, only to call them off at the last minute. Possibly after speaking with Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

— HIS ADMINISTRATIONhas called Huawei a national security threat — as have members of his party on Capitol Hill — only to have the president say he’d be happy to have the tech company be a subject of negotiations in trade talks with China.

— SHANAHAN …White House aides confidently predicted that Patrick Shanahan was safe as Defense secretary, just before he quit — or was fired.

WHAT’S GOING ON?It’s doubtful the president has changed much, and you can no longer say the Mueller investigation is weighing on him. Here’s a theory: Past aides were skilled at reading his intentions, understanding what to ignore and knowing how to redirect his whims. But recently, the administration has been unable to keep up with a president whose unstructured decision-making process has him in different positions in a few hours. For White House reporters, just trying to pin down basic facts of what the administration is doing from day to day has become a funhouse of mirrors — adding to the confusion.

NEW …SpeakerNANCY PELOSIspoke with Treasury SecretarySTEVEN MNUCHINtwice Thursday — the second time was at 7 p.m. for 30 minutes. Pelosi said she believes Congress needs to lift the debt limit and get a spending cap deal this month — we told you in Playbook earlier this week this was where things were heading.

— THIS IS PROGRESS.But aides tell us there’s still a ways to go. That doesn’t mean they won’t get there; it just means that there are a lot of details to hammer out. There are justEIGHT DAYSin session until the August recess. Don’t be surprised if the House has to tack on an additional week to get this done.

Good Friday morning. SPOTTEDat the residence of new French Ambassador Philippe Etienne for Bastille Day: Wolf Blitzer, Andrea Mitchell, Kellyanne Conway, Reps. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Bill Keating (D-Mass.), TJ Cox (D-Calif.), Jim Costa (D-Calif), Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) and Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Molly Ball, Bob Costa, David Sanger, Danielle Pletka and Ed Royce.

SPOTTED — CNBC’S @kaylatausche:“Kellyanne Conway and former deputy AG Rod Rosenstein are having lunch at BLT Steak.”Pic from a tipster

THE NEWEST CAMPAIGN ISSUE IN ISRAEL: JOEL BENENSON! … PM BENJAMIN NETANYAHUtook a swipe at his political opponents — Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid — for hiring Joel Benenson, Obama’s former pollster.

— The script:“Meet the new strategist for Gantz and Lapid: Joel Benenson, of the most extreme left people in the United States. Let’s go over his resume. He told Hillary Clinton to avoid mentioning or commenting on Israel in public events. Worked to advance the dangerous deal with Iran. How does a person like this get work in Israel? Gantz and Lapid: fire him!”The video

LINE OF THE YEAR FROM ASHLEY PARKER …“Trump’s entire presidency has been something of a social media summit.” WaPo

— N.Y. POST: “Trump’s Social Media Summit nearly descends into brawl in Rose Garden,”by Nikki Schwab and Ben Feuerherd: “[Sebastian] Gorka, a former adviser to Trump, was sitting near the front row with several social media provocateurs during Trump’s announcement about the census.

“When Trump finished his remarks in the Rose Garden,Gorka walked past the White House press pool where he got into a brief shouting match with Playboy correspondent Brian Karem. Gorka called Karem a ‘punk’ during the dust-up.” N.Y. Post …Video of the incident

— @BrianKarem:“Well it is never a dull moment here.”

USMCA SIREN … IS TRUMP’S TRADE DEAL IN BIG, BIG TROUBLE? — “Trump’s big deal gets battered by 2020 Democrats and Pelosi,”by Burgess Everett, Sabrina Rodríguez and Marianne LeVine: “The Democratic presidential primary is becoming a big problem for what would be President Donald Trump’s premier bipartisan achievement.

“The leading White House contenders are amping uptheir opposition to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, which has been stalled for months. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is showing no signs of bending without major changes to tilt the agreement to the left. …

“‘A Democratic president’s going to have different valuesthan this president about trade. Very different values,’ said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in an interview. ‘I can tell you that in a Harris administration, there would be no trade deal that would be signed unless it protected American workers and it protected our environment.’

“Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said the trade deal appears‘to help the pharmaceutical industry enormously and have very weak labor enforcement’ and that no president should pass it. Faiz Shakir, the campaign manager for Sen. Bernie Sanders, said the Vermont independent would seek to ‘scrap this and fight for one that favors working-class Americans.’

“Former Vice President Joe Biden has also soughtchanges to the trade deal, and Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota each said they oppose the agreement as written, with Klobuchar calling for alterations and Booker saying Trump’s ‘all bluster on these deals.’” POLITICO

HEATHER CAYGLE, SARAH FERRISandJOHN BRESNAHAN: “Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez clash drags on, threatening Democratic unity”:“An internal battle among House Democrats took on new life Thursday as lawmakers turned against each other over questions of race, with the latest flare-up ignited by controversial comments from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her chief of staff.

“Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her lieutenants tried to move onbut Democrats from several different factions within the party dug in, refusing to set aside lingering tensions that first broke into the open two weeks ago during a massive blowup over a border funding package. …

“New fault lines developed Thursdayfrom what was initially a generational spat between Pelosi and a group of younger progressive upstarts that flared up over the weekend. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus criticized Ocasio-Cortez and one even accused her of ‘using the race card’ for suggesting this week that Pelosi was ‘singling out’ 5women of color to criticize.

“‘What a weak argument,’ said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.),who is facing a primary backed by a group closely aligned with Ocasio-Cortez. ‘Because you can’t get your way, and because you are you getting pushed back, you resort to using the race card. Unbelievable.’” POLITICO

ELIANA JOHNSON: “Why Pence spiked a Trump judge”

KNOWING SAIKAT CHAKRABARTI … MAKING FRIENDS … “AOC’s Chief of Change,”by David Montgomery for WaPo Magazine: “[Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez’s priorities and approach offer the purest expression of the progressive movement in Congress. And as her gatekeeper and chief of staff — the COS to AOC — Chakrabarti is a new type on Capitol Hill: the movement chief of staff. It’s what you become when your boss is invested with the hopes of millions of Twitter followers and painted with the prejudices of countless haters. Your job involves both scheduling for the next week and planning for the ages.”

NORTH KOREA FROM 30,000 FEET … NYT’S EDWARD WONG: “Trump’s Asia Gamble: Shatter Enduring Strategies on China and North Korea”:“As he tries to tackle the greatest challenges to American power in Asia, President Trump is overturning policy toward China and North Korea that for decades was as canonical as Confucian ritual.

“With North Korea, he is engaging with the enemyin hopes that negotiations will yield a surrender of nuclear weapons. With China, Mr. Trump says the United States must take a big step back from an economic relationship that has strengthened a formidable rival.

“The shifts were prompted by internal changesin each country, combined with Mr. Trump’s unorthodox instincts and the views of his senior Asia advisers. The administration now has growing bipartisan support in Washington to widen an emerging global conflict with China and build diplomacy with North Korea.” NYT

— BIG IF TRUE: “U.S. mulling 12- to 18-month sanctions relief in exchange for Yongbyon, nuclear freeze,”by Yonhap’s Lee Haye-ah in Washington: “The United States is considering offering a 12- to 18-month suspension of certain sanctions on North Korea in exchange for the dismantlement of its main nuclear facility and a freeze of the entire nuclear program, a source close to White House deliberations on North Korea said Thursday.

“The potential offer would see the suspension of U.N. Security Council sanctionsrestricting North Korea’s exports of coal and textiles — a major source of income for the regime — and mark a compromise between the two countries after the collapse of their second summit in Vietnam in February.” Yonhap

2020 WATCH … WAPO’S MATT VISER:“Joe Biden’s Senate records could answer questions about his past actions — but they’re being kept secret”:“The collection of documents that Biden donated to his alma mater [the University of Delaware] fills 1,875 boxes and also includes 415 gigabytes of electronic records. It includes committee reports, drafts of legislation and correspondence.

“[O]n the day before Biden announced his presidential campaign,the university changed the way that it described those terms. Instead of citing his departure from ‘public office,’ the university said the documents would not be made public until two years after Biden ‘retires from public life’ or after Dec. 31, 2019, whichever is later.” WaPo

NBC/WSJ NATIONAL POLL:Biden 26%, Warren 19, Harris 13, Sanders 13, Buttigieg 7, Yang 2, O’Rourke 2, Klobuchar 1, Castro 1, Booker 1, Inslee 1, Williamson 1, Delaney 1, Hickenlooper 1, Bennet 1, everyone elseThe poll

FOX NEWS POLLof South Carolina Democratic primary voters: Biden 35%, Sanders 14, Harris 12, Warren 5, Booker 3, Buttigieg 2, Delaney 1, Williamson 1, Yang 1, Everyone else

THE MAN CAN HOLD A GRUDGE — “Alabama senator says Trump opposed to Sessions Senate bid,”by The Hill’s Jordain Cairney: “Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) … told The Hill on Thursday that he has discussed a potential Sessions candidacy, and the Senate race more broadly, with Trump, but that the president was ‘not encouraging’ about the former Cabinet official and longtime senator making a bid for his old seat.

“‘How do I say it?’[Shelby said.] ‘He was not on board, OK?’” The Hill

THE WASHINGTON NATIONALSstart the second half of the season tonight.JESSE DOUGHERTYin theWaPo:“The Nationals saved their season in the first half. Now comes the real test.”

TRUMP’S FRIDAY —The presidentwill leave the White House today at 9:15 a.m. for Joint Base Andrews, where he’ll fly to Milwaukee. He’s scheduled in at 10:25 a.m. Central time, and will go to a residence in Fox Point for a fundraiser. He is scheduled to go to Derco Aerospace Inc. at 1:05 p.m. for a USMCA speech. At 2:15 p.m., he will head to the airport, where he’ll fly to Cleveland for a fundraiser. At 8 p.m. Eastern time, he’ll fly from Cleveland back to Andrews. He’s scheduled back into Andrews at 9:25 p.m. and to the White House at 9:35 p.m.

NATASHA BERTRAND: “Pompeo grilled CIA agents on Russia findings”:“Just after [Mike] Pompeo took over as CIA director in 2017, he conducted a personal review of the CIA’s findings, grilling analysts on their conclusions in a challenging and at times combative interview, these people said. He ultimately found no evidence of any wrongdoing, or that the analysts had been under political pressure to produce their findings.

“‘This wasn’t just a briefing,’ said one person familiar with the episode.‘This was a challenging back and forth, in which Pompeo asked the officers tough questions about their work and how they determined Putin’s specific objectives.’ Pompeo also asked about CIA’s work with the FBI on the Russia probe in 2016. Two U.S. officials further confirmed to POLITICO that the interview occurred and was robust.” POLITICO

WHAT RASHIDA TLAIB IS READING —“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson, per her interview with the Pod Save bros.

TOP-ED — DENIS MCDONOUGHandCECILIA MUÑOZin theNYT,“Cruelty Won’t Stop the Crisis at the Border:President Trump’s suggestion conveys a grave misunderstanding of what migrants are facing. Democrats need to show that they have a better plan.”

FOR YOUR RADAR,via POLITICO’s in-house weather expertSteve Shepard:“Likely to dominate the news this weekend: Tropical Storm Barry, which is likely to make landfall Saturday as a strong tropical storm or a low-end hurricane along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. But don’t focus on the winds: The main threat from the storm is water — both storm surge and flooding rains, which could total in excess of 25 inches in parts of Louisiana. (By comparison, we’ve received about 28 inches of rain in D.C. all year, including yesterday’s storms.)

— THE POLITICS:“President Trump, and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. Trump has been tested before — Hurricanes Harvey and Maria in 2017, and Florence and Michael last year — with mixed results. But, unlike with political figures in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, don’t expect Edwards to be critical of Trump. He’s a Democrat up for reelection in a red state this fall who needs Trump voters to win a second term in Baton Rouge. Already, Edwards is thanking Trump for approving his request for a disaster declaration — on Twitter, of course, tweeted from his official @LouisianaGov account (and retweeted by his political @JohnBelforLA account).”The tweet

RELIEF FOR ZARIF … REUTERS: “U.S. will not blacklist Iran’s foreign minister, for now”:“‘Cooler heads prevailed. We … saw it as not necessarily helpful,’ said one source familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had opposed designating [Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif ‘for the time being.’”

— BRAZIL’S TRUMP … BBC: “Brazil’s President Bolsonaro offers U.S. ambassador job to son”:“Eduardo Bolsonaro, 35, who is currently serving as a congressman and advises his father on foreign affairs, told reporters he would accept the post if it were offered.” BBC

HMMM: “Trump’s Concern About Strengthening Dollar Shows Up in Fed Interviews,”by Bloomberg’s Saleha Mohsin and Jennifer Jacobs: “President Donald Trump has grown concerned that the strengthening U.S. dollar is a threat to his economic agenda and has asked aides to cast about for ways to weaken the greenback, according to people familiar with the matter.

“Trump asked about the dollar in job interviewswith both Judy Shelton and Christopher Waller last week, whom he’s selected for seats on the Federal Reserve’s board, the people said. He lamented that the currency’s strength could blunt an economic boom that he expects to carry him to a second term.” Bloomberg

CLICKER — SHOWTIME’S “CARTOON PRESIDENT” … “Cartoons Trump & Clinton React to Jeffrey Epstein Scandal”2:41 cold open

MEGATRENDS … CNN: “The world’s population is nearing 8 billion. That’s not great news.”

SUNDAY SO FAR…

  • FOX

    “Fox News Sunday”:Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.). Panel: Jason Chaffetz, Jane Harman, Josh Holmes and Juan Williams

  • CNN

    “State of the Union”:Panel: Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Scott Jennings, Andrew Gillum and Amanda Carpenter

  • CBS

    “Face the Nation”:Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein and Douglas Brinkley. Panel: Ben Domenech, Toluse Olorunnipa and Paula Reid

  • NBC

    “Meet the Press”:Panel: Bob Costa, Carlos Curbelo, Hallie Jackson and Claire McCaskill

  • ABC

    “This Week”:Tom Steyer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Panel: Chris Christie, Rahm Emanuel, Rachael Bade and Alexi McCammond

  • CNN

    “Inside Politics”(guest-hosted by Phil Mattingly): Jeff Zeleny, Lisa Lerer, Seung Min Kim and Michael Bender

SPOTTED:Bill and Hillary Clinton seeing Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden with Jen Palmieri and Adrienne Elrod. “Crowd went wild with applause when cameras panned to them several times throughout the show,” per our tipster.

REMEMBERING LUCETTE LAGNADO —WSJ’s Brenda Cronin: “Lucette Lagnado, a prizewinning author and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, brought a writer’s curiosity and a patient’s empathy to storytelling … died on Wednesday [at 62]. … Born in Egypt and raised in Brooklyn, Ms. Lagnado wrote a memoir about her father’s flight from Cairo as Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power, titled: ‘The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World.’ … Ms. Lagnado carried a dizzying quiver of story ideas and held each one—as she often wrote to her editors—‘so close to my heart.’” WSJ

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Ryan Lizza,longtime magazine writer and senior political analyst at CNN who is also working on a book about the presidential campaign.How he got his start in journalism:“My first real experience was an internship at The Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco during my last semester in college. I worked on a Frontline documentary called ‘Hot Guns’ and, among other things, helped create a website for the show. (Wow, I just checked and the site still exists. I’m pretty sure I wrote this quiz.)”Playbook Plus Q&A

BIRTHDAYS:Sean Cairncross, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation … Susan Axelrod … Adam Elias, director and head of gov’t affairs at Barclays … The Atlantic’s Isaac Dovere is 39 … Beth Lester Sidhu, COO of the Stagwell Group … Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is 43 … Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) is 37 (h/ts Anthony DeAngelo and Ben Chang) … Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) is 65 … Brendan Daly, senior director of comms at Save the Children Action Network … Josh King … Christie Vilsack … Jason Childress … Paul Shone … Thea McDonald … POLITICO’s Kayla Sharpe … CNN’s Eden Getachew (h/t Ariana Figueroa) … Ryan Bock … PhRMA’s Teresa Buckley Bill … WaPo photog Jabin Botsford is 29 … Alex Halpern Levy, president of A.H. Levy & Co. … Javier Folgar (h/t Jon Haber) … Jeremy O’Grady …

… Eric Ueland,assistant to the president and director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House, is 54 … Jordan Gehrke, partner at Precision Campaigns … John Gans Jr. … David Lerman is 56 … Nicole Narea … former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.) is 82 … former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) is 61 … Brandon Shaw, director of corporate comms at ICM Partners … Ginny Justice … Angela Belden Martinez … Edelman’s Kayla Spencer … CBS News’ Mary Walsh … Alexandra Betesh … Ella Riley-Adams … Gregorio Gomez … Basel Hamdan is 38 … Brian Schoeneman … Jessica Hanks, SVP at DKC … Debbee (Keller) Hancock … Rachel DiCarlo Currie … Seton Motley … Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai is 22

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