Early in his remarkable rise, some people saw President Trump’s Twitter rampages as evidence of political mastery — a carefully planned strategy of distraction.
This week’s tweet denying the hurricane death toll in Puerto Rico made clear how wrong that view is. Trump’s tweets don’t stem from careful strategy, he just can’t help himself. He often says things that hurt his position more than they help.
The tweets about Puerto Rico came just hours after good economic news that another White House might have focused on for days. The incident highlighted several weeks of bad political news for the GOP as crucial midterm elections approach.
Trump’s tweet denied the now-official death toll of nearly 3,000 people from the hurricanes that swept over Puerto Rico last year, insisting that only “6 to 18 deaths” were recorded.
In keeping with his penchant for conspiracy theories, the president blamed the higher numbers on Democrats acting “to make me look as bad as possible.”
In fact, Puerto Rico’s government, headed by a governor who is allied with Republicans, commissioned a study by George Washington University public health experts who pegged the death toll at roughly 2,975, which is now the official number.
Trump’s words caused widespread outrage in all the usual quarters, but as Noah Bierman and Paloma Esquivel wrote, the political impact was especially focused in one place — Florida.
Florida voters could decide control of the Senate in just over seven weeks: The race between Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson and Rick Scott, the state’s Republican governor who is seeking the Senate seat, is among the closest in the country.
Both parties have been courting the large number of Puerto Ricans who have settled in the state, especially in the Orlando area.
So while most Republican officials in Washington avoided comment on Trump’s remarks, Scott expressly disavowed them.
“I disagree with@POTUS — an independent study said thousands were lost,” he tweeted.
THE WARMING CLIMATE
As the global climate gets warmer, extreme weather becomes more common. That includes powerful hurricanes like Maria, which hit Puerto Rico, and Florence, which is currently battering the Carolinas.
Trump in the past has taken multiple positions on climate change. But since becoming a presidential candidate, he has adopted the position of his party’s right wing — calling global warming a “hoax” designed to justify increased environmental regulation.
By coincidence, just as he plunged into new controversy over the toll of powerful storms, his political opposite in California, Gov. Jerry Brown, was hosting an international conference aimed at combating climate change.
As Evan Halper wrote, the central question for the conference was how far California and its allies can push the nation — and the world — despite the federal government’s current indifference.
“The point is to get people to think about doing more, and then to join with others who have gone through that process and, through that encounter with others, to up the general commitment of the world,” Brown said in an interview.
But the effort to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that cause global warming will have an impact on nearly all major industries.
That includes agriculture, and since the meeting was in San Francisco, it was inevitable that the city’s socially conscious food mavens would get in on the action, as well.
Can climate-friendly cuisine help save the planet? It could help more than you might expect.
THE POLITICAL STORM
The past few weeks have brought a steady stream of bad news for Republicans, much of which involved the chaos surrounding Trump.
Vice President Mike Pence, for example, over the weekend felt he needed to deny a claim in a new book by Bob Woodward that Cabinet members had talked of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump.
As Halper wrote from Philadelphia, GOP candidates in close races have adopted divergent strategies for dealing with the president and his controversies. Especially in suburban districts where Trump is unpopular, Republican incumbents are torn over whether to run with Trump — or from him.
Democratic candidates, meantime, are embracing help from Trump’s predecessor. President Obama hit the campaign trail in California over the weekend and implored Californians to rise up against what he called the “anger and division” of Trump and the GOP, Michael Finnegan and Christine Mai-Duc wrote.
The state features a half-dozen highly competitive congressional districts this year. As Mark Barabak wrote, that’s at least partly the result of California voters’ decision to adopt a non-partisan redistricting system. Unlike many political reforms, that one has largely performed as advertised, leading to more contested congressional races in the state.
THE PORN STAR
Trump has often threatened litigation to try to silence critics, although his threats have often proved hollow.
In February, his lawyers tried to bring an arbitration action against Stormy Daniels, the porn actress whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, accusing her of violating a non-disclosure agreement relating to her claims that she and Trump had an affair.
Now, as Michael Finnegan wrote, Trump has backed down, waiving millions of dollars in claims as he tries to fend off a suit pushed by Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti.
Having trouble keeping track of all the players in the Trump-Stormy Daniels saga? Finnegan and Barabak have this summary of what a porn star, a combative lawyer and a reality-TV contestant all have in common.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein has asked the FBI to review a letter involving Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
As Jennifer Haberkorn wrote, that request, which Feinstein confirmed publicly on Thursday, is the latest twist in Kavanaugh’s bumpy road toward the high court.
The letter reportedly involves an incident when Kavanaugh was in high school, and it’s not at all clear that it will have any impact on his nomination. But it’s generated considerable controversy in the Senate.
Republicans have accused Democrats of engaging in a smear campaign against the nominee. Some Democrats, meantime, have been frustrated that Feinstein did not make more of a public issue of the letter.
Nearly all senators have announced their positions on the nomination, but a crucial handful have not yet declared themselves: Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
Kavanaugh needs the support of at least one of those five, plus the rest of the Republicans in the Senate, to gain confirmation. A vote is likely by the end of the month.
TARIFFS, E-CIGS and NORTH KOREA
The economy hasn’t felt much impact from Trump’s widening trade war, but many U.S. firms at home and in China are feeling pain from tariffs, Don Lee wrote. The problems those firms have started to face — rising prices and disruptions in their supply chains — could be an indicator of broader trouble ahead, some economists say.
The Food and Drug Administration has threatened to get tough on e-cigarette makers, Melissa Healy wrote. In a speech, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned against an “epidemic of nicotine addiction” and said the regulatory agency would conduct a “sustained campaign to monitor, penalize and prevent e-cigarette sales in convenience stores and other retail sites” to minors.
Congress is once again racing to avert a government shutdown, Haberkorn wrote. This year, however, they may actually achieve their goal.
But as Sarah Wire wrote, lawmakers seem likely to miss a deadline to reauthorize the landmark Violence Against Women Act. Letting the law lapse would be politically risky for Republicans in tight congressional races, and they are putting pressure on the GOP leadership to negotiate a deal with Democrats.
The State Department ordered Palestinians to close their Washington office in the latest sign of the administration’s frustration over stalled peace talks, Tracy Wilkinson wrote.
Meantime, Eli Stokols wrote, despite all the evidence that North Korea has done little, if anything, to move toward ending its nuclear weapons program, Trump is claiming progress and is planning a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
That wraps up this week. Until next time, 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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