In an interview with Reuters published tonight, President Trump said "There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely," in regards to the standoff over the country's nuclear and missile programs. He emphasized that he would still like to resolve the conflict diplomatically however. "We'd love to solve things diplomatically but it's very difficult," Trump said. The president also praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for the country's assistance in attempting to rein in North Korea. "I believe he is trying very hard. He certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death. He doesn’t want to see it. He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well," Trump said. "With that being said, he loves China and he loves the people of China. I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it's possible that he can’t."
The Trump administration today has moved to impose a 20 percent tariff on softwood lumber arriving from Canada, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said. The tariff will be applied retroactively, Ross told The Wall Street Journal in an interview, and will affect some $5 billion in Canadian imports per year. “We tried to negotiate a settlement, but we were unable,” Ross said of conversations with Canadian officials. The Canadian government responded swiftly to the news, calling the reasons for the tariff “baseless and unfounded” and saying it “disagrees strongly” with the decision. Two more rounds of approvals are needed before full implementation—one from the Commerce Department and another from the U.S. International Trade Commission. Trump employed protectionist rhetoric on the campaign trail, and at the beginning of his presidency he pulled the U.S. out of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.
South Carolina Representative Mark Sanford said today that President Donald Trump threatened to back a Republican primary challenger against him if he voted against the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s Obamacare replacement bill that failed last month. During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, Sanford said Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and Sanford’s former colleague in the House of Representatives, told him that Trump “hopes you vote against this because he wants to run somebody against you if you do.” According to Sanford, Trump has made similar threats to other members of Congress. “I think that those kinds of threats are counter-productive,” Sanford added. “It all, I guess, fits in love, war and politics. But I don’t think it’s particularly productive to his own legislative agenda, and we’ll see what comes.”
Bill O’Reilly’s payout as he leaves Fox News will be in the tens of millions of dollars, CNN’s Brian Stelter reports. The Financial Times reports that the payout will be $25 million. O’Reilly was let go yesterday amid mounting pressure on the cable news channel over sexual-harassment allegations against the talk-show host. While 21st Century Fox and O’Reilly are unable to comment on a payout, two sources told CNN that O’Reilly recently signed a new contract—reportedly worth $25 million per year—and will therefore receive a payout. O’Reilly reportedly will not be paid the full amount of his contract, which is said to extend through the 2020 presidential election.
Violence and arrests punctuated another Richard Spencer event, this time in Auburn, Alabama, where the white-nationalist speaker appeared tonight. Auburn University had attempted to cancel the speech on Friday, but Spencer obtained a federal court order that allowed him to go ahead with the event. Three people were arrested while protesting the appearance, police said. “We won a major victory for the alt-right,” Spencer said of the order. His speech, according to local outlets, was repeatedly interrupted by protests and shouts from the young crowd. “The alt-right is about being a white person, being a European in the 21st century,” Spencer said. “There’d be no history without us.”
Vice President Mike Pence warned that the “era of strategic patience” with North Korea is over as he kicked off his 10-day Asia tour. Speaking from a joint U.S.-South Korean base near the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea, Pence said the White House is counting on China to help ease tensions with an increasingly belligerent North Korea. The vice president’s comments came hours after North Korea’s latest missile test failed, exploding only a few seconds after launch on Sunday. Calling the North’s latest test a “provocation,” Pence said it serves as a “reminder” of the dangers facing the region. The U.S. plans to resolve the conflict with North Korea by “peaceable means or ultimately by whatever means are necessary,” he told reporters. Pence also praised the “ironclad” alliance the U.S. has with South Korea, saying “all options are on the table” to get North Korea to halt its missile program.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said earlier this week that “Hitler didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” in justifying the Trump administration’s response to a sarin gas attack carried out by the Syrian regime last week. Spicer was likely referring to the tactics used on the World War II battlefield, as Zyklon B pesticides were used by the Nazi regime in its concentration camps. Though he did himself no favors when asked about the remark later in the same briefing, clarifying that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing... the way Assad dropped the bombs into the middle of towns—so the use of it. I appreciate the clarification. That was not the intent.” The press secretary also referred to Nazi concentration camps as “Holocaust centers.” Following the press briefing, Spicer released an additional statement: “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust, however, I was trying to draw a contrast of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on innocent people.”
North Korea has warned it will defend itself “by powerful force of arms” against the U.S. Navy, which has angered Pyongyang by deploying a strike group to the Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s foreign ministry yesterday railed against what it described as “reckless moves for invading,” saying the deployment of U.S. forces proves Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons program is vital to the country. The USS Carl Vinson Strike Group, led by a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, was diverted from Singapore to the Pacific over the weekend in a move the U.S. Pacific Command says is meant to maintain readiness in the region amid escalating North Korean provocations. North Korea sees the deployment as preparations for an invasion, however. “We will hold the U.S. wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions,” the foreign ministry said in a statement quoted by state-run news agency KCNA. The statement also said North Korean forces are “ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”
Russia confirmed late last week that it received advanced warning from the U.S. about its strike on Syria, in which the United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles in the first American assault on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Moscow condemned the strike and gave notice that Russia is pulling out of all agreements to minimize risk of in-flight incidents between Russian and U.S. aircraft operating over the country, which is now in its seventh year of civil war. Russia’s foreign ministry said the strike broke international law and has called for a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the alleged violation. A spokesman for the Pentagon, Capt. Jeff Davis, issued a statement claiming that “U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.” Both of the airport’s major runways and many of its fortified bunkers were struck by the missiles.
Steve Bannon, former executive chairman of Breitbart News and current chief strategist at the White House, threatened to quit over a clash with President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Politico reports. Bannon believes that Kushner, who has taken on an increasingly important position within the administration over the last few weeks, is trying to undermine his populist approach, according to the report. On Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough reported that Bannon told his colleagues: “If my talents aren’t needed here, I can take them somewhere else.” Mega-donor Rebekah Mercer allegedly had to convince Bannon to stay in his position. “Rebekah Mercer prevailed upon him to stay,” said one unnamed source.
Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner was in Iraq with Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford, a senior administration official told The New York Times Sunday. The source said only that Kushner was invited by Dunford and was traveling with him. Kushner, who has no previous diplomatic or military experience, has previously been touted by President Trump as “a natural” to solve the Israeli-Palestine conflict in the Middle East. Kushner’s visit to Iraq comes before either National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have visited the country. The visit was confirmed Monday by Dunford spokesman Capt. Greg Hicks, who added that Trump’s assistant for Homeland Security and counterterrorism, Thomas P. Bossert, also made the trip. “Gen. Dunford invited Mr. Kushner and Mr. Bossert to meet with Iraqi leaders, senior U.S. advisers, and visit with U.S. forces in the field to receive an update on the status of the counter-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria,” Hicks said in a statement.
Rex Tillerson has been so cut off from his own diplomats during his tenure that employees have been told not to speak directly to him or even make eye contact, according to a new report in The Washington Post. The former ExxonMobil chief executive reportedly takes a private elevator to his office, and he is rarely seen by State Department workers, including higher level career diplomats. Many have told the Post that they haven’t even met him, and Tillerson has on foreign trips broken with tradition in skipping over embassy stops that have for decades been morale-boosters under other administrations. According to the Post, Tillerson’s isolationist approach has created discord within his agency. Even still, one unnamed official said: “We’re rooting for our secretary of State to come around.” Others denied that characterization. “We are having absolutely no problem, I promise you, with access or accessibility” at the State Department or White House, said British Ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch.