Newsletter: The surprise guest at the G7 summit, and deciphering Trump’s words on China


President Trump returns on Monday from France and a G7 summit with other world leaders that was overshadowed by two subplots: his feelings about the escalating trade war with China and a surprise visitor from Iran.


It had already been a day of unexpected news on Sunday when Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister and the country’s lead negotiator on the nuclear agreement opposed by Trump, showed up in the French seaside down where the G7 summit was taking place.


Zarif’s arrival seemed to catch Trump by surprise, reported Eli Stokols and Chris Megerian. “No comment,” the president said curtly when first asked about the Iranian official.

Stokols, who has been at the G7 summit with Trump, also was there when the president made the remarks that drove much of the Sunday morning television coverage — an observation about the tense trade war he’s waging against China. He was asked by reporters if he had any second thoughts about it.

“Yeah, sure, why not?” he responded. “Might as well. Might as well. I have second thoughts about everything.”

Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, later insisted that Trump wasn’t lamenting his actions. “His answer has been greatly misinterpreted. President Trump responded in the affirmative — because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher.”

Stokols tweeted on Sunday that Trump might not have really absorbed the importance of the question. “Hard to know for certain, but being in the room, Trump’s answer didn’t convey to me that he was really contemplating the question, sincerely regretting tariffs overall — or how they may be too low,” Stokols wrote. “It just seemed like banter. He got a question and volleyed it back quickly.”

On Monday, Trump claimed that the two sides, the U.S. and China, will start serious trade negotiations soon.



Joe Walsh, the former GOP congressman who once backed the president, said Sunday he would mount a Republican primary challenge to the president because “we can’t take four more years of Donald Trump.”

And that might have been the nicest thing he said during his network TV appearance.

“He’s nuts. He’s erratic. He’s cruel. He stokes bigotry. He’s incompetent. He doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Walsh said of Trump.

Then there’s the other Joe in the race. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has been making his case for the presidency to voters in New Hampshire.

As he doubles down on his argument that he’s the best Democrat to take on Trump, there are risks to that strategy. That’s because it hinges not on voters’ passion for Biden but on their perception of his ability to win — a strength that could erode as voters get to know some of his less prominent rivals.

“When you have to tell people you’re electable, you’re probably not as electable as you think you are,” said Andrew Smith, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.



There’s probably no California government agency more unpopular than the Department of Motor Vehicles, where state officials have investigated long lines and mistakes made in the launch of its sweeping new voter registration program.

The guy who’s tasked to turn things around: a newcomer to state government by way of Silicon Valley.

Steve Gordon, chosen by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month to be California’s new DMV director, is vowing to improve customer service. And he’s going to have a lot of people — inside and outside state government — watching closely.

“I was inspired to take this job because I think it’s the largest and most important turnaround opportunity in the state, and maybe in the nation from the constituent perspective,” he said.


-- Newsom and state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra will appear at a news conference on Monday in Sacramento to formally announce a lawsuit that seeks to block the Trump administration’s new rules that could indefinitely detain immigrant minors and families.


-- Cities and counties in Southern California will have to plan for the construction of 1.3 million new homes in the next decade, a figure more than three times what local governments had proposed over the same period.

-- Newsom has been giving heightened consideration to pardon requests from people targeted for deportation, prompted largely by the Trump administration’s widespread crackdown on immigrants, especially those with criminal records.

-- The governor accused President Trump last week of trying to scuttle California’s strict car emissions standards to help the oil industry, calling it a “pathetic” decision that was disguised as a way to assist automobile manufacturers.

-- Sacramento Police cited an anti-vaccine activist for assaulting vaccine bill author state Sen. Richard Pan last week near the Capitol.

-- There was, um, “otter” disbelief last week when Newsom told elementary school students in the tiny town of Paradise about the pet he had as a child.



Essential Politics is written by Sacramento bureau chief John Myers on Mondays and Washington bureau chief David Lauter on Fridays.

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