Singapore-bound, but first, a fight with U.S. allies over trade

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Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s economic advisor, insisted to reporters earlier this week that the president was looking forward to the annual G-7 summit despite tensions over trade.

Reports of Trump’s enthusiasm were premature. Late Thursday, amid escalating tensions with France, Canada, Britain and other G-7 nations, the White House announced that Trump would leave the meeting in Quebec early, skipping most of Saturday’s session.

The quick departure will give Trump more time to plan for Tuesday’s scheduled summit in Singapore with Kim Jong Un, although the president insisted Thursday that he doesn’t need much advance time.


“I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s about attitude,” he told reporters at the White House.

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Trump has few fixed views on policy. On issues from abortion to taxes his views have flipped around over the years. Not long before deciding to run for president as a Republican, he hosted a fundraiser for Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader.

But on a few issues, Trump has long-held and deeply set ideas. None more so than trade.

In Trump’s mind, trade is a competition, not a mutually beneficial arrangement. If the U.S. runs a trade deficit, that means other nations are taking unfair advantage, he believes. He’s advocated for a “tougher” U.S. trade policy for decades.

Most Americans don’t share Trump’s view, polls indicate, but the voters who care the most about trade tend to be the ones who feel oppressed by it — especially older, former blue-collar workers in industrial states who, with some justification, blame globalization for the declining economic fortunes of their communities. They’re a key Trump constituency.

So Trump sees trade fights as good politics, and he’s dived into them with relish.

Last week, he angered allied leaders by imposing tariffs on their exports of steel and aluminum.


The idea of being declared a national security threat — Trump’s rationale for the tariffs — outraged Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Laura King wrote. The Canadian leader pointed to the thousands of soldiers from his country who died fighting side by side with Americans in wars throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

Opposition to the metals tariffs — and threatened tariffs on other goods, such as German automobiles — likely will dominate the Quebec meeting of the G-7, the annual meeting of the heads of government of the world’s wealthiest nations.

As Eli Stokols wrote, Trump likes to proclaim that because of him the U.S. is “more respected” overseas than ever. The reality, however, is that U.S. alliances have been badly strained.

“The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote Thursday, borrowing Trump’s favored medium, Twitter, to make his point.

Trump fired back in kind, Noah Bierman wrote.

“Please tell Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron that they are charging the U.S. massive tariffs and create non-monetary barriers,” he wrote. “The EU trade surplus with the U.S. is $151 Billion, and Canada keeps our farmers and others out.”


Before heading to Quebec on Friday, Trump issued another blast, telling reporters that he wants the G-7 to readmit Russia. Moscow was kicked out of the group four years ago after Russia’s invasion of Crimea.

The tariffs have also drawn fire from Republican members of Congress, many of whom have long argued for free trade. Several senators, led by Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), have started to push a measure that would require Congress to vote before new tariffs could be imposed.

The proposal is a long way from becoming law, but the degree of support it has gotten provides evidence that on this issue, at least, Trump has not been able to snuff out dissent within the GOP.

Trump also paid tribute to CNN’s Anthony Bourdain during his impromptu news conference on the White House lawn before leaving for the summit.

“I enjoyed his show,” Trump said. “He was quite a character.”

Bourdain, a celebrity chef, author and TV host, died of an apparent suicide Friday at the age of 61.



California’s much-discussed “top two” primary is behind us, and Democrats avoided the fate that some feared — getting shut out of the November election in some districts by having too many candidates split the party’s vote in the primary.

As Mark Barabak wrote, the outcome, coupled with favorable results for Democrats in primaries in New Jersey and New Mexico, moved the party a step closer to its goal of retaking control of the House.

Now, the question remains: How many more seats can Democrats squeeze out of California’s already heavily blue congressional delegation?

My colleagues have been tracking the key contests all year. They’ve updated their list of the most competitive races, and as subscribers of this newsletter, you’re the first to see the rankings.

Democrats appear to have their best shots in two districts: The 49th stretches from southern Orange County through much of coastal San Diego County and is currently represented by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who is retiring. The 25th, in northern Los Angeles County, is held by Rep. Steve Knight, a longtime Democratic target.

Knight’s opponent, Katie Hill, is a rising Democratic star. The identity of the Democrat in the 49th district is still uncertain, pending tens of thousands of votes yet to count.

Another strong possibility for a Democratic pickup is the 48th district in coastal Orange County held by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. There, too, the identity of the Democratic challenger has yet to be determined. Two Democrats have been nearly tied for second place in the primary, and either one has the potential to defeat the increasingly controversial incumbent.


After that, the pickups get harder, although Democrats have decent chances in at least two other Orange County districts and maybe a third district in the Central Valley. Democrats need to flip 23 districts nationwide to gain control of the House. Winning several in California is almost certainly a necessary part of that equation.

Want to see how every precinct in L.A. County went in the race for governor? Sure you do. It’s a fascinating look at the intersection of politics and demographics, and it’s all on this map prepared by Anthony Pesce and John Schleuss.

With some 2 million votes statewide still to be counted, there are a number of key races yet to be called. Track all the live election results as they come in.

We’ll be posting about important races on our special primary news feed. And we’ll be updating the rankings of competitive districts up until the November election.

Make sure to sign up for breaking news alerts so you don’t miss a moment.



Trump has told associates that he believes the summit with Kim can bring him a big political dividend. He may be correct, although foreign policy events only rarely have a major impact on U.S. elections.

Look for him to ballyhoo whatever does emerge from Singapore. White House aide Kellyanne Conway, at a breakfast with reporters this week, was already talking up the idea that Trump was bringing an end to “70 years of war,” referring to the fact that no final peace agreement has been reached to bring a formal end to the Korean War.

Despite such heady talk, major disagreements remain on central issues. Most importantly, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Thursday, the two sides continue to disagree about what they mean by “denuclearization” — the ostensible goal of the summit.

My colleagues have written several insightful pieces this week about key issues in advance of the summit. There will be more strong coverage to come from Singapore.

Bierman and Matt Stiles examined the big gap on the central issue of denuclearization.

Tracy Wilkinson wrote about the reality that any agreement Trump reaches will almost certainly be compared with the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump pulled out of and has derided as weak. The administration seems headed toward an agreement that — at best — looks much more like the Iran pact than Trump would like to admit.


All that is part of the reason why Trump for the past two weeks has steadily tried to lower expectations for the summit. As Wilkinson wrote, he’s gone from insisting that North Korea must totally, and immediately, abandon its nuclear arsenal to saying that denuclearization is a process that could require years.

Bierman wrote that the North Korea summit has turned into a test of Trump’s approach and his challenge to the foreign policy establishment.

Trump’s blustery approach rankles foreign policy professionals and experts. The president doesn’t mind that. In his eyes, his aides say, the experts have failed for years in dealing with North Korea, so why should he follow their lead?

Washington and Pyongyang are not the only world capitals with a lot at stake in the summit. Don Lee looked at what China wants, and why it makes U.S. officials nervous.

And Matt Stiles examined the role of South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In, who has served as the matchmaker for the summit and has a huge interest in seeing it be a success.



It’s June, and that means the Supreme Court’s term is coming to a close, and the justices will be stepping up the pace of issuing decisions in this year’s cases.

The biggest headline this week was something of a punt. The court faced a major conflict between the rights of gay couples and those of conservatives who say they have religious objections to same-sex marriages. They decided not to decide.

As David Savage wrote, the court, in an opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, sided with a baker from Colorado who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. But they ruled on very narrow grounds, and a majority appeared to reject the religious conservatives’ main claim — that the 1st Amendment’s freedom of religion provides a broad shield against anti-discrimination laws.

The court meets again on Monday. Here’s a rundown of the major decisions still to come.


Trump’s new-found enjoyment of his clemency power continued this week as he freed a woman who had been sentenced to life in prison on a cocaine charge. As Stokols wrote, the woman, Alice Johnson, had been championed by Kim Kardashian West, who visited Trump in the Oval Office last week to press the case.

White House aides say Trump has a long list of pardons and commutations he’s looking at, mostly bypassing the long-standing Justice Department process for vetting such moves.


But the move most in the news this week was the possibility that Trump might pardon himself.

Trump’s talkative lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, got the speculation started by declaring in a television interview that Trump “probably” has the power to pardon himself, but wouldn’t use it because, Giuliani said, he hasn’t done anything wrong.

The next day, Trump, himself, weighed in. He dropped the “probably,” declaring on Twitter that he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself. For good measure, he called the special counsel “unconstitutional,” Stokols wrote.

One person who probably won’t be getting a Trump pardon — the former security director for the Senate Intelligence Commitee, James Wolfe. He was arrested Thursday and charged with lying to federal investigators about his contacts with four reporters.

The charges stem from a leak investigation aimed at finding out how reporters learned information about Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide who has had contacts with Russian intelligence agents, according to U.S. officials.

One of the reporters who wrote about Page, Ali Watkins, who was recently hired by the New York Times, has admitted to having a three-year romantic relationship with Wolfe. Federal investigators have seized her telephone and email records.


Conservative media groups have already begun labeling Wolfe a “deep-state leaker.”


The fairly small band of Republican moderates has been pushing the House leadership to bring an immigration bill to the floor that could provide a path to citizenship to the so-called Dreamers — young adults who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

To overcome opposition from the leadership, they’ve turned to a seldom used parliamentary device, the discharge petition, which allows a majority of House members to force a vote on a measure.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has been trying to find a compromise that would avoid the discharge petition. But talks stalled on Thursday, and the dissident Republicans, backed by the House Democrats, stepped up their pressure, Sarah Wire wrote. They’ve set Tuesday as a deadline for Ryan to come up with an alternative.


That wraps up this week. My colleague Christina Bellantoni will be back Monday with the weekday edition of Essential Politics. Until then, keep track of all the developments in national politics and the Trump administration with our Essential Washington blog, at our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.


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