POLITICO Playbook: INSIDE THE GRIDIRON DINNER: What Trump said and who showed up to bathe in the swamp
Good Sunday morning. THE PRESIDENT made news last night at the Gridiron dinner talking about an upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
WHAT HE SAID: “I won’t rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un, I just won’t. As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned, that’s his problem not mine,” Trump told the more than 600 attendees during his 35-minute address at the Renaissance Washington Hotel on Saturday. “By the way a couple days ago they said we would like to talk, and I said, so would we, but you have to de-nuke, you have to de-nuke. So let’s see what happens. Maybe positive things are happening, I hope that’s true … We will be meeting and we’ll see what happens.”
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TRUMP’S BEST LINES OF THE NIGHT, via Brent Griffiths: “‘I told them not to worry, nobody does self-deprecating better than I do.’
“On chaos in the White House, the president said: ‘So many people have been leaving the White House it’s been exciting and invigorating … I like chaos. So, who’s going to be the next to leave? Steve Miller, or Melania? That’s terrible. But you love me right, honey? She said, behave! By the way she has been an incredible first lady.’” http://politi.co/2oORjuX
— ON JARED: “I want to apologize for running a little late, as Jared could not get through security.”
— ON PENCE: “Trump said he calls Pence ‘the apprentice,’ joking that the vice president ‘wakes up every morning and asks, Has he been impeached yet?’”
— “THE APPRENTICE” VS. THE WHITE HOUSE: “In one job I had to manage a cutthroat cast of characters, desperate for TV time, totally unprepared for their roles and their jobs and each week afraid of having their asses fired, and the other job I was the host of a smash television hit.”
— ON OPRAH: Oprah “says she’ll run only if she gets the go ahead from the almighty – alright, Oprah go ahead and run.”
BEST OF NEW ORLEANS MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU and SEN. TOM COTTON (R-ARK.):
— COTTON: “America is falling in love with our first lady. In fact, I hear that one of the most popular names for newborn girls in America today is ‘Melania.’ It’s true. And I guess that makes up for a inexplicable decline in the new crop of ‘Donalds.’ …
“I came to this city by way of the Ivy League and a few years in the military. Being the only senator still in his 30s, I arrived in Washington, as a young man looking for role models. As they say in crime stories, ‘the search continues.’ …
“More than a few reporters have strained to find the sources of the electrifying personality that’s carried me so far in politics, and now you’ll know the answer. This is what you get when you combine the common touch of Harvard, the sensitivity of the Army, and the personal mentoring of Dick Cheney.
“Another unexpected mentor is Sen. Elizabeth Warren. She was my first professor in law school, and she was a good one. She would even host dinner for students at her place — a hearty family recipe of stone-ground corn and freshly slaughtered buffalo. Liz calls it ‘pow wow chow’ and I just couldn’t get enough.”
— LANDRIEU, who also made a surprise appearance onstage to sing with the Gridiron members during a skit: “I just came here from Mardi Gras and I have to say: boy do you guys have some weird traditions.” …
“I’m not gonna lie — I feel kinda out of place here. More out of place than Mike Pence at a men’s figure skating competition. More out of place than Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin. More out of place than the Mnuchins in a Waffle House. More out of place than Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice. More out of place than John Kelly. Period.” …
“The truth is the president and I have a lot in common. We’re both a little overweight and balding. I just have had an easier time admitting it. I know you like winning but…you’re not gonna win this battle. We both love Wrestlemania. We both take more mulligans than we’d admit to.
“And another thing that we have in common — the President has a lonely job, and I understand lonely. I’m a Democrat from the South. That’s lonely. Nobody ever comes to visit. For Nancy Pelosi, the south is San Jose. For Chuck Schumer, the south is the Jersey Shore, sunbathing with a shirtless Chris Christie.”
DEPT. OF BATHING IN THE SWAMP — SPOTTED at the Gridiron dinner: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Louise Linton, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
THE PRESIDENT’S WEEK: Monday: Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the president meets with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Tuesday: Trump hosts the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Thursday: Trump holds a Cabinet meeting. Friday: Trump meets with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
LATEST ON MUELLER – “Mueller’s Focus on Adviser to U.A.E. Indicates Broader Inquiry,” by NYT’s Mark Mazzetti, David D. Kirkpatrick and Maggie Haberman: “George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman, has hovered on the fringes of international diplomacy for three decades. He was a back-channel negotiator with Syria during the Clinton administration, reinvented himself as an adviser to the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, and last year was a frequent visitor to President Trump’s White House.
“Mr. Nader is now a focus of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s investigators have questioned Mr. Nader and have pressed witnesses for information about any possible attempts by the Emiratis to buy political influence by directing money to support Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.
“The investigators have also asked about Mr. Nader’s role in White House policymaking, those people said, suggesting that the special counsel investigation has broadened beyond Russian election meddling to include Emirati influence on the Trump administration. The focus on Mr. Nader could also prompt an examination of how money from multiple countries has flowed through and influenced Washington during the Trump era.” http://nyti.ms/2HYBH0J
EURO NEWS: “European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has vowed to fight back against President Donald Trump’s threat of a 25% tariff on steel and 10% on aluminum imports.
“So now we will also impose import tariffs. This is basically a stupid process, the fact that we have to do this. But we have to do it. We will now impose tariffs on motorcycles, Harley Davidson, on blue jeans, Levis, on Bourbon. We can also do stupid. We also have to be this stupid,’ he said in Hamburg on Friday evening.” http://bit.ly/2FUucr2
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INSIDE 1600 — “‘Pure madness’: Dark days inside the White House as Trump shocks and rages,” by WaPo’s Phil Rucker, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey: “Inside the White House, aides over the past week have described an air of anxiety and volatility — with an uncontrollable commander in chief at its center.
“These are the darkest days in at least half a year, they say, and they worry just how much farther President Trump and his administration may plunge into unrest and malaise before they start to recover. As one official put it: ‘We haven’t bottomed out.’ Trump is now a president in transition, at times angry and increasingly isolated. He fumes in private that just about every time he looks up at a television screen, the cable news headlines are trumpeting yet another scandal.
“He voices frustration that son-in-law Jared Kushner has few on-air defenders. He revives old grudges. And he confides to friends that he is uncertain about whom to trust. Trump’s closest West Wing confidante, Hope Hicks — the communications director who often acted as a de facto Oval Office therapist — announced her resignation last week, leaving behind a team the president views more as paid staff than surrogate family.
“So concerned are those around Trump that some of the president’s oldest friends have been urging one another to be in touch — the sort of familiar contacts that often lift his spirits. … Still, Trump’s friends are increasingly concerned about his well-being, worried that the president’s obsession with cable commentary and perceived slights is taking a toll on the 71-year-old. ‘Pure madness,’ lamented one exasperated ally. …
“For instance, aides said, Trump seethed with anger last Wednesday night over cable news coverage of a photo, obtained by Axios, showing Sessions at dinner with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia investigation, and another top Justice Department prosecutor.
“The outing was described in news reports as amounting to an act of solidarity after Trump had attacked Sessions in a tweet that morning. The next morning, Trump was still raging about the photo, venting to friends and allies about a dinner he viewed as an intentional show of disloyalty.” http://wapo.st/2Fem7fy
THE TRUMP SHOW — “Live From the West Wing, Trump Pulls Back the Curtain,” by NYT’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis: “The chief executive sits at a long wooden table, putting his invited guests on the spot to defend their positions, occasionally needling them with biting comments, often shocking them with blunt talk — all for a rapt television audience. The tableau was a routine occurrence on President Trump’s reality show, ‘The Apprentice,’ punctuated each week for one unlucky contestant with his signature ‘You’re fired!’
“Now, it has become a staple of life at the White House, where Mr. Trump is presiding over a different kind of televised ritual: the hour-long discussion session with members of Congress or ordinary citizens. In West Wing meetings over the past several weeks, Mr. Trump has held discussions on immigration, school safety and gun control with cameras rolling and attendees speaking their minds.
“The sessions are extraordinary for the rare glimpses they provide of unscripted conversations at the White House on critical issues. They have featured plot twists of their own, with the president, at least while viewers are tuned in, breaking sharply with his own party. They are also a form of performance art for a president who has the instincts of a showman, and whose focus on building suspense and captivating an audience drives many of his decisions. … ‘He’s in his element,’ said Hope Hicks, Mr. Trump’s communications director. ‘It’s what he does best, whether it’s in real estate as a negotiator, but also as a television executive, he understands the value of showing people what happens inside the room.’” http://nyti.ms/2FmmqIk
HMM — “Trump on China’s Xi consolidating power: ‘Maybe we’ll give that a shot some day,’” by CNN’s Kevin Liptak: “In the closed-door remarks, a recording of which was obtained by CNN, Trump also praised China’s President Xi Jinping for recently consolidating power and extending his potential tenure, musing he wouldn’t mind making such a maneuver himself. ‘He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,’ Trump said. ‘And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.’” http://cnn.it/2oHDRdb
DUH — “Kushner-led Mideast-Peace Plan Faces Growing Difficulty Even Before Arrival: Trump administration blueprint remains in its nascent stages ahead of Netanyahu’s second White House visit,” by WSJ’s Felicia Schwartz. http://on.wsj.com/2FjkH6K
JONATHAN MARTIN in Palos Hills, Illinois, and ALEX BURNS in Cambridge, Massachusetts: “As Primaries Begin, Divided Voters Weigh What It Means to Be a Democrat” http://nyti.ms/2oSUqSL
SPOTTED: Barack and Michelle Obama at Bruce Springsteen in New York on Saturday night. They “received almost as big an ovation as Bruce [and] were with Craig Robinson and Valerie Jarrett,” per a tipster. … The Obamas and Jarrett were also seen having dinner on Friday night at Hank’s Oyster Bar at The Wharf. … Sean Spicer at Little Big Town at the Anthem.
ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU’S plane landed this morning at Andrews at 6:59 a.m.
SNL COLD OPEN – TRUMP flanked by Mike Pence and Dianne Feinstein: “It’s clear something has to change. We have to take a hard look at mental health which I have so much of. I have one of the healthiest mentals. My mentals are so high but we have to respect the law. Believe me no one loves the Second Amendment and due process more than me. But maybe we just take everyone’s guns away. Okay nobody is allowed to have a gun not even whites.”