The Daily 202: Trump wins a battle in the culture war as NFL owners cave on national anthem protests

 In U.S.

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump said in an interview that aired on Fox News this morning that “the NFL owners did the right thing” by altering the league’s national anthem policy. Football players will no longer be required to appear on the field when the anthem plays before games, but teams and the league will now be allowed to impose discipline for those who protest publicly during the song.

“I don’t think people should be staying in the locker rooms, but still I think it’s good,” Trump said on “Fox & Friends.” “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem!”

The president added that athletes who don’t stand “shouldn’t be playing.”

“Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country,” he mused.

Even by Trump standards, that’s a truly jarring statement from the president of the United States.

Vice President Pence, who went to an NFL game last season just so he could make a scene of walking out in disgust after players knelt during the anthem, tweeted “#Winning” with an image of the American flag.

The president’s son added:

— The league’s new policy, unveiled publicly yesterday in Atlanta, is a compromise that’s not as punitive toward the players as earlier drafts, but it nonetheless represents some of the richest men in the country caving to political pressure placed upon them by Trump. After initially standing in solidarity with their players when Trump reignited the controversy around an issue that had moved to the back burner, the owners came to capitulate to the power of the presidential bully pulpit. Attendance and viewership dropped off after Trump called for his supporters to boycott games.

— So this is a political win for Trump. But it can also be viewed as a Pyrrhic victory in the sense that it underscores the extent to which the president has divided Americans and exacerbated preexisting tensions.

Most presidents see unifying the country as one of their core job responsibilities. Not this one. He seized on the wedge issue almost by accident last year when he mentioned it as an aside during a meandering speech at a rally in Huntsville, Ala. The crowd loved his criticism of the protesters, and his suggestion that they anyone who disrespects the flag should be fired. He knew he was definitely onto something when he watched the cable coverage on the flight home.

— The fact the NFL backed down will embolden Trump and make him feel more confident in his political instincts.

— But consider how the issue divides Americans along racial, partisan, ethnic and generational divides. In a Washington Post-Kaiser survey conducted earlier this year, 42 percent of U.S. adults said it is sometimes appropriate to protest by kneeling during the anthem while 53 percent said it is “never appropriate.”

  • “By a 69 percent to 22 percent margin, more African Americans said protests of the anthem were acceptable than not. Yet over half of white (58 percent) and Hispanic adults (54 percent) said anthem protests are never appropriate,” pollsters Scott Clement and Emily Guskin note.
  • “Among adults ages 50 and older, 63 percent say kneeling during the anthem is never appropriate, compared with 50 percent among those ages 30-49 and 38 percent of people ages 18-29. Among this youngest group, a 57 percent majority say anthem protests are appropriate.”
  • While 86 percent of Republicans said it’s never appropriate to kneel, 66 percent of Democrats said it’s sometimes appropriate.

— Post sports columnist Jerry Brewer faults the NFL for resorting to “Trump-pacifying language” in its announcement. The phrase “respect for the flag and the anthem” is used four times. The words “social justice” are used just once.

“The protesting players have spent months trying to dispel the idea that their protests are indicative of a lack of respect for the country, but what does the NFL do when given the opportunity to write a thoughtful policy statement? It goes back to that tired narrative, which makes it seem as if the players are protesting merely for the sake of protesting,” Brewer notes. “The league could have used this news event to show what it had learned amid all the fuss and prove the power of compassionate discourse. Instead, it chose to talk about ‘respect,’ as if giving a shout-out to Trump, the man who hijacked the issue and turned it into an oversimplified referendum on patriotism.

You can go back 75 years and read the relevant words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. In 1943, he wrote for a 6-3 majority that the state could not make students salute the flag: ‘To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes.’

“The athletes must adhere to league policies, and most of them will follow this latest one. This is what’s best for the NFL’s multibillion-dollar monopoly, and the players make millions from it, too. So on the surface, the issue will get shoved out of the limelight. For now, at least. But if this has been a window into how the NFL tries to solve complicated matters, you should definitely fear for its dwindling status as an invincible institution.”

“If you have to threaten someone into showing respect, whatever they end up showing isn’t respect but a simulation of it for someone else’s consumption,” argues columnist Elizabeth Bruenig. “Kneeling isn’t a sign of disrespect, and nobody brought up in a country with the faintest hint of Christian culture actually thinks it is. … Kneeling during the anthem was always a kind of plea — for an America that works the way the civics textbooks say it does. But making the plea raises the fact that America doesn’t, in fact, function according to its founding story … Some are protected more than others, and some better than others, and some at the expense of others, and it isn’t clear that our representative bodies are interested in doing anything about it. All Colin Kaepernick and others ever did was ask.”

The moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press” added:

The American Civil Liberties Union went further:

— Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke has a different take. He calls it “a decent compromise to an indecently messy situation”: “The NFL is a private corporation that has decided players protesting the national anthem, in public, while in uniform, is bad for business. Remove the rhetoric, examine the bottom line and understand that this divisive issue is actually about the one simple thing that everyone understands: It’s all business.”

— The NFL owners voted 31-0 in favor of the new policy. San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York abstained.

New York Jets Chairman Christopher Johnson said he “seriously struggled” with his decision and announced afterward that he’ll personally pay the fines imposed by the league on any of his players who continue to protest. He told Newsday that no members of the Jets organization will suffer “repercussions” for being “on the front lines” of “some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with.” He added that he prefers if players stand, but: “I understand if they felt the need to protest.” This is notable because Johnson is the younger brother of Jets owner Woody Johnson, who temporarily turned over control of the team to become Trump’s ambassador to the United Kingdom.

— The NFL Players Association complained it was not consulted before the announcement. Union leaders said they will challenge the new rule if they decide it violates their collective bargaining agreement.

— Some of the players are angry. Consider these two reactions from stars on the Philadelphia Eagles. From safety Malcolm Jenkins:

Defensive lineman Chris Long said the new policy “is not patriotism” and predicted “it’s only going to get messier.”

Both Jenkins and Long have previously said they will not join their teammates at the White House on June 5 to celebrate their Super Bowl win because they don’t want to appear with Trump.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

In this morning’s interview with “Fox & Friends,” Trump said history would look kindly on his treatment of former FBI director James Comey, whose ouster led to the appointment of a special counsel to examine Russian influence in the 2016 election. “I think of the things that I’ve done for the country, the firing of James Comey is going to go down as a very good thing,” the president told Brian Kilmeade, saying the former FBI director was a “rotten apple” in that organization. “I think of the things that I’ve done for the country, the firing of James Comey is going to go down as a very good thing.”

— The president is weighing a 25 percent tax on imported cars in a bid to force concessions in negotiations about the future of NAFTA. David J. Lynch and Josh Dawsey report: “Officials may cite national security grounds to justify [it] … Trump used the same provision of U.S. trade law in March when he called for tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum. … The threat to impose an import tax on cars was seen as an attempt to press Mexican officials to accept a U.S. demand for a higher percentage of auto content to be made in American factories.”

— North Korea threatened to reconsider Kim Jong Un’s participation in a summit with Trump next month, saying it is up to the U.S. whether the two countries meet at a table or in a “nuclear showdown.” Anna Fifield reports: “The punchy statement comes a day after Trump suggested there was a ‘substantial chance’ that he would postpone or cancel the summit [if] North Korea did not meet ‘certain conditions,’ without elaborating on what those conditions were. A close aide to Kim unleashed a torrent of invective against the Trump administration Thursday morning, calling [Mike Pence] a ‘political dummy’ for remarks he made to Fox News on Monday.” 

Despite the brinkmanship and squabbling, North Korea is expected to still blow up one of its nuclear testing sites on Thursday afternoon — a mostly symbolic gesture intended to show seriousness about making peace. “The North Korean regime took a group of foreign journalists to the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site in the mountainous northeast of the country to document the closure of the site. However, it did not allow in any experts, making it difficult to assess what, exactly, they had done,” Anna adds.

Trump continued to waffle on whether there would be a summit in the Fox interview: “We have certain conditions. We’ll see what happens. But there’s a good chance,” he said, adding that a phase-in of denuclearization in North Korea “may be a little bit necessary.”

— The Washington Capitals are heading to the Stanley Cup Finals after extinguishing the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 of the conference championship. Alex Ovechkin scored a minute into the game. Andre Burakovsky got two more goals in the second period and then the Caps scored on an empty net at the end. Game 1 of the finals is next Monday.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Milwaukee police released body camera footage from the arrest of NBA rookie Sterling Brown, who was thrown to the ground and tased over a routine parking violation in January. Brown sharply criticized officers for their “attempt at police intimidation, followed by the unlawful use of physical force,” and said he plans to file a civil rights lawsuit. (Cindy Boren and Des Bieler)
  2. Cameras can also exonerate cops: A 37-year-old woman from Texas said after being charged with a DWI this weekend that a state trooper sexually assaulted her. Her story went viral on social media, promoted by civil rights activists. Then the Texas authorities released two hours of body camera footage undercutting her claims. (Marwa Eltagouri)
  3. A federal judge ruled that Trump cannot block Twitter followers. In a 75-page decision, Naomi Buchwald said the president uses the social media site as a “public forum” for governmental business, which has First Amendment implications. (Brian Fung and Hamza Shaban)
  4. Three Ebola patients in Congo escaped a hospital isolation ward and reentered the general population, which could fuel the spread of the deadly outbreak in an urban area. (Siobhán O’Grady)
  5. A Wyoming wildlife commission voted unanimously to approve the state’s first grizzly bear hunt in more than four decades, a proposal that could lead to the killing of as many as 22 bears just one year after Yellowstone-area grizzlies were removed from the endangered species list. The decision, which opens the door for the largest grizzly hunt in the Lower 48 and the state’s first since 1974, marks a major milestone in a divisive debate over protections for one the West’s most iconic animals. (Karin Brulliard)
  6. An appeals court upheld a ruling against California’s assisted suicide law, which was put on hold last week because a judge said it was improperly passed during a special legislative session. (NPR)
  7. A robot submarine discovered a shipwreck from 1708 off the coast of Colombia with booty that’s worth billions of dollars. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  8. A Minnesota couple’s dream fishing trip to Iceland turned tragic, after one of them was swept into an icy lake, and the other jumped in to try to help. Both were eventually pulled from the water, but they could not be resuscitated. (Lindsey Bever)
  9. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the star of “Veep,” will receive the Kennedy Center’s 2018 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Sonia Rao)

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

— “Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was notified Wednesday that he has been granted a permanent security clearance to view top-secret material — an indication that he may no longer be under scrutiny by the special counsel, who had been investigating his foreign contacts and other activities,” per Philip Rucker, Carol D. Leonnig, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett.

Last month, Kushner sat for about six hours of questioning by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team on a wide range of topics, including his meetings with foreign officials during Trump’s transition and Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, according to Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s attorney.

Kushner’s permanent clearance was granted by career White House and intelligence officials after the completion of his FBI background check, according to a person familiar with the matter … Current and former law enforcement officials said it would be very unusual for someone to get a full security clearance if there were an ongoing criminal investigation that had the potential to result in charges for that person.”

— A federal judge agreed to begin the process of preparing to sentence George Papadopoulos, a former adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign. Rosalind Helderman reports: “Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about Russian contacts during the campaign and has been cooperating with the investigation. In the filing Wednesday, prosecutors with the special counsel’s office asked the judge to refer Papadopoulos’s case to U.S. probation officials to prepare a pre-sentencing report — the first step to bringing his case to a close. They indicated that they would update the court on that process on June 22. Prosecutors’ willingness to start the sentencing process for Papadopoulos may be a sign that their need of assistance from the young oil and gas consultant is coming to a close.”

— “Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 … to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved,” the BBC’s Paul Wood reports. “The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine’s leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law. Mr Cohen denies the allegation. The meeting at the White House was last June. Shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home, his country’s anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. A high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence officer in Mr Poroshenko’s administration described what happened before the visit to the White House. Mr Cohen was brought in, he said, because Ukraine’s registered lobbyists and embassy in Washington DC could get Mr Poroshenko little more than a brief photo-op with Mr Trump. Mr Poroshenko needed something that could be portrayed as ‘talks.’”

INVESTIGATING THE INVESTIGATORS:

— Relenting to Democratic criticism that the White House is politicizing intelligence gathering, the Trump administration agreed last night to brief a bipartisan group of lawmakers in addition to two House Republicans about the FBI’s confidential intelligence source in the Russia investigation. From CNN: “The Justice Department announced Wednesday evening that it will hold back-to-back meetings on Thursday, one for House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes and Oversight Chair Trey Gowdy and another immediately after for the bipartisan ‘Gang of Eight’ and Gowdy. The ‘Gang of Eight’ consists of the top Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate intelligence committee as well as congressional leaders from both parties.” Initially, the White House was adamant that only Republicans would get the briefing.

— In a reversal, White House chief of staff John Kelly will attend the two briefings. Despite previous White House assurances that no one from Trump’s team would be at the briefing, Kelly’s presence ensures that Trump “will have a high-level emissary there for a discussion of sensitive evidence connected to his associates,” Politico’s Kyle Cheney reports.

— The Post’s Editorial Board: “If Republicans want to uncover FBI misconduct, they sure aren’t acting like it.”

— A winery partially owned by Nunes, the California Republican, was sued after a 2015 event which allegedly involved a yacht, cocaine and prostitutes. The Fresno Bee’s Mackenzie Mays reports: “The guests aboard the yacht that night — described in [a] 2016 lawsuit as 25 of the Napa Valley-based winery’s top investors, all men — were openly using what appeared to be cocaine and ‘drawing straws’ for which sex worker to hire, according to the lawsuit. [When a female employee] called the winery seeking help … a higher-up employee told her to ‘lie low’ to avoid harassment, the lawsuit says. When the cruise ended, the men ‘lined the prostitutes up on the deck of the yacht, reviewed out loud and in detail the sexual services performed and paid them in front of Plaintiff,’ according to the lawsuit. … The winery is owned by Robin Baggett, a major benefactor of Cal Poly, and its investors include his friend Rep. Devin Nunes. … It’s unclear how much of Alpha Omega Nunes owns, if he was aware of the lawsuit or was affiliated with the fundraiser.”

— Nunes attacked the paper:

WHAT THE PRESIDENT IS THINKING:

— “Trump has branded his latest attempt to discredit the special counsel’s Russia investigation as ‘spygate,’” the AP’s Mary Clare Jalonick and Jonathan Lemire report. “Trump told one ally this week that he wanted ‘to brand’ the informant a ‘spy,’ believing the more nefarious term would resonate more in the media and with the public. He went on to debut the term ‘Spygate’ on Wednesday, despite its previous associations with a 2007 NFL scandal over videotaping coaches.”

— “Trump has begun telling allies that he thinks Democrats would overplay their hand if they tried to impeach him — and has begun asking confidants and associates how likely they think an impeachment would be,” Sean Sullivan, David Weigel and Josh Dawsey report. “One senior White House official said the president has mentioned the ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ — the conservative argument that Democrats are so against Trump that they view everything he does as a scandal. ‘He is not afraid to mention the word,’ said one adviser who frequently speaks to him…

On Wednesday, the left-leaning watchdog organization Media Matters compiled information on all 487 segments that Fox News’s Sean Hannity, who speaks regularly to the president, had run about the Mueller investigation. Thirty-eight percent of segments pivoted the discussion to debunked accusations that Hillary Clinton’s State Department gave a sweetheart deal to a Russian-Canadian uranium company. Another 29 percent of Hannity’s segments accused Mueller’s team of ‘conflicts of interest,’ a theme the president has echoed repeatedly.”

— Rudy Giuliani said he would prefer Trump sit for an interview with Mueller — reversing course from a Wall Street Journal interview just 24 hours earlier. “I guess I’d rather do the interview. It gets it over with it, it makes my client happy,” he told Josh Dawsey. “The safe course you hear every lawyer say is don’t do the interview, and that’s easy to say in the abstract. That’s much harder when you have a client who is the president of the United States and wants to be interviewed.” The former New York mayor said the president seesaws on whether he wants to do it. “There have been a few days where he says, ‘maybe you guys are right,’” Giuliani said. “Then he goes right back to, ‘why shouldn’t I?'” 

Giuliani added that he is concerned the president will become a target or that the interview will be a perjury trap because the “truth is relative.” He added that the president’s legal team continues to try to set limitations on an interview, including the duration and questions posed. “They may have a different version of the truth than we do,” Giuliani said.

The president’s lawyer also said Trump is “unlikely” to make changes at the Justice Department and has “no intention” of ousting Mueller, Rod Rosenstein or Jeff Sessions. “I don’t think he is going to make changes. I wouldn’t advise it,” he said. “Before I was his lawyer, more of his political adviser, we might talk about it. We don’t talk about it at all now.”

VLADIMIR PUTIN IS NOT MESSING AROUND:

— “A Dutch-led international team of investigators said Thursday that a missile that downed a Malaysian Airlines jetliner over eastern Ukraine in 2014 came from the Russian military, opening the possibility that Dutch prosecutors could sue the Kremlin in connection with the attack that killed all 298 on board,” Michael Birnbaum reports. “The long-running inquiry already established that a Russian-made Buk antiaircraft missile downed flight MH17, but it had not previously made a direct link to the Russian military. The Kremlin has always denied involvement in the incident. Criminal charges against the Russian military or Russia’s government would likely exacerbate tensions between the Kremlin and the West even further, implicating Russian officials in the death of European tourists who were on their way to Kuala Lumpur.”

— “Russia will try again this fall. Congress doesn’t seem to care,” by Karen Tumulty: “When top intelligence officials went to Capitol Hill one morning this week to give House members a classified briefing on the security of the upcoming elections, only 40 or so bothered to show up. In other words, 9 out of 10 lawmakers thought they had better things to do than listen to an assessment of threats to the integrity of a closely contested midterm that is less than six months away. ‘Well, it was at 8 o’clock,’ Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) said. The handful who attended did not come away reassured that much is being done to harden defenses and prevent a repeat of what happened in 2016, when Russian hackers made an effort to infiltrate voter-registration files and balloting sites in 21 states.”

— Our Cybersecurity 202 asked 100 security experts — a panel from across government, academia and the private sector — whether state election systems are sufficiently protected against cyberthreats. Ninety-five percent of survey respondents said no.

— U.S. law enforcement is trying to seize control of a network of hundreds of thousands of wireless routers and other devices infected by malicious software and under the control of a Russian hacking group, Derek Hawkins reports in this morning’s Cybersecurity 202. “In a statement issued late Wednesday, the Justice Department said the FBI had received a court order to seize a domain at the core of the massive botnet, which would allow the government to protect victims by redirecting the malware to an FBI-controlled server. The DOJ attributed the hacking campaign to the group known as Sofacy, also known as Fancy Bear. While the statement did not explicitly name Russia, Fancy Bear is the Russian military-linked group that breached the Democratic National Committee in the presidential election.”

— Federal agencies are struggling to comply with a law banning Kaspersky Lab software from U.S. government networks by October, the Daily Beast reports: “Multiple divisions of the U.S. government are confronting the reality that code written by the Moscow-based security company is embedded deep within American infrastructure, in routers, firewalls, and other hardware — and nobody is certain how to get rid of it. ‘It’s messy, and it’s going to take way longer than a year,’ said one U.S. official. ‘Congress didn’t give anyone money to replace these devices, and the budget had no wiggle-room to begin with.’”

— Yulia Skripal, the daughter of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, spoke for the first time since a Russian-linked nerve agent nearly killed them in Salisbury. “We are so lucky to have both survived this attempted assassination,” said Yulia, who was in a coma for 20 days following the attack. Both she and her father have been released from the hospital and are now under the protection of U.K. authorities. (BuzzFeed News)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged — only after prodding from lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — that he backs the finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential campaign to hurt Clinton and ultimately help Trump. (Bloomberg News)

CHECKING CHINA:

— The Pentagon disinvited China from participating in a major naval exercise, signaling growing U.S. anger over Beijing’s expanded militarization in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Missy Ryan reports: “A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, said the Defense Department reversed an earlier invitation to the Chinese navy to participate in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) drills, biennial naval exercises that involve more than two dozen nations, over Beijing’s decision to place anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jammers on the contested Spratly Islands. China has also landed bomber aircraft at Woody Island, farther to the north in the disputed Paracel Islands.”

— The State Department issued a warning to U.S. citizens in China after a government employee in Guangzhou reported unusual “sensations of sound and pressure” and was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury — an incident that resembled the string of “sonic attacks” on U.S. diplomats in Cuba. The State Department also said it will dispatch a medical team to China next week to conduct baseline medical evaluations of all employees. (Emily Rauhala and Carol Morello)

— “Sen. Marco Rubio has emerged as one of the loudest Republican critics of Trump’s policies on China, the latest in a series of splits with party leadership by the Florida lawmaker,” Sean Sullivan and John Wagner report. “For the fourth day in a row, Rubio took to Twitter on Wednesday to argue that China was besting the Trump administration in critical negotiations. He has used an assortment of hashtags to take aim at a developing deal to free a Chinese telecommunications firm from punitive action. Some, such as ‘#NotWinning,’ play off the president’s signature catchphrases.

We’ve seen this movie before: “During Trump’s presidency, Rubio has strayed from party leaders a few times, including on gun laws, taxes and Trump’s first pick for secretary of state. But he has backed down from many of those challenges and fallen in line, raising questions about where his latest show of defiance will lead. Like other ambitious Republicans in the Trump era, Rubio is looking for a way to craft his own, distinct image and sphere of influence in the party. Friends and associates say they believe the 46-year-old Rubio might wage a second presidential bid.”

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

— “House GOP holds last-ditch immigration talks as showdown looms,” by Mike DeBonis: “House Republican leaders have at least temporarily blunted an internal rebellion to force votes next month on protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation while they negotiate with the GOP renegades on an alternate path forward. But with conservatives and moderates far apart on crucial provisions, there was little sign Wednesday that the warring factions would be able to reach a workable agreement on a compromise immigration bill.

Republicans spent more than an hour in (Paul) Ryan’s office Wednesday trying to forge a solution, with plans to reconvene on Thursday. The backdrop for the negotiations is months of failed internal GOP talks — dating to last August, when Trump announced he was canceling DACA — aimed at assembling a Republican-only immigration bill that could win the necessary 218 votes to pass the House. That has so far proved to be impossible, though negotiators acknowledge the discharge petition has forced them to give it one last go.”

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