Now and again in President Donald Trump’s Washington, it’s hard to believe what you’re watching with your own eyes.
First, on live television, Trump’s acting chief of staff admitted a “quid pro quo,” saying that the US had conditioned aid upon Ukraine filling Trump’s political wish list — a potential abuse of power that could get the President impeached. “Get over it,” he said, before taking it back hours later.
He also announced a new, bold-as-brass conflict of interest: The US will host next year’s G7 summit at Trump’s struggling Doral resort in Florida — likely giving it a multimillion-dollar boost from visiting world leaders and their entourages, and a priceless splash of brand-polishing publicity.
Moments later, Trump proclaimed “a great day for civilization” over a temporary “ceasefire” — of the assault in Syria that he initially greenlit. The ceasefire deal appears to fulfill all of aggressor Turkey’s goals, and hands the negotiating baton to Russia.
“We did all this, it’s out in the open, in no way covert, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” the White House seems to be telling America and the world. It’s a strategy of shamelessness that tries to normalize bad behavior and dubious decisions — and makes it almost impossible for a conventional democratic governing system to respond.
What would once have been seen as outrages simply become a new normal.
Washington is buzzing over Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, his efforts to extricate himself from a crisis he started in Syria, and his decision to use one of his Florida resorts for the G7 next year. Here’s how it all unfolded Thursday, in the words of some of the main protagonists:
“The President is an arsonist who later pretends to be a fireman.”
This is how Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who’s the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, reacted to the deal to pause Turkey’s offensive in Syria for five days.
The Kurdish-led SDF have said they are ready to abide by the deal, and hopefully the agreement will save lives. But it does call for the US to help remove Kurdish fighters from the region — hardly absolving Trump of accusations he betrayed America’s anti-ISIS allies.
“We got exactly what we wanted.”
A senior Turkish official’s highly satisfied assessment of the ceasefire meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — viewed by some as a face-saving climbdown by a US President exposed by his own error.
“This is not a ceasefire”
Minutes after Mike Pence specifically said a five-day ceasefire had been agreed on, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pointedly announced that it was not a ceasefire, merely a “pause.”
“Get over it. “
Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, basically confirmed the central allegation in the Democratic impeachment probe — that Trump used his power to further his own self-interest. “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,” he added.
“It was not helpful”
That’s the reaction from inside Trump’s legal team, according to a source familiar with the attorneys’ mood after Mulvaney’s barn burner. “I think people are a bit stunned.”
“Egregious … corruption and self-dealing.”
Democrats are promising an investigation after the White House looked at resorts and conference facilities nationwide and decided that the absolute best place to hold a global summit was … was at the President’s Florida golf retreat.
“Hosting the G7 at Trump’s failing Doral resort is one of the most egregious examples of corruption and self-dealing in the most corrupt presidency in our history,” said Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon.
The world and America
Accused human rights abuser Venezuela won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. So did Libya and Sudan.
A 93-year-old stood trial in Germany on charges of accessory to murder, from his time as a Nazi concentration camp guard.
The European Union agreed to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit proposal. Now it’s on to the Parliament for a vote.
Trump trade policy adviser Peter Navarro repeatedly quoted an imaginary person in his books, with perspectives from “Ron Vara” — an anagram of Navarro — on both China and Brazil.
And an Iowa family discovered their basement flooded with blood.
Dancing with angels
Washington can’t afford to lose people like Elijah Cummings, the Maryland congressman who died Thursday at 68. Blunt, passionate and vehemently committed to civil rights, democracy, justice and his beloved Baltimore-area district, Cummings was a rare modern political titan who was loved even by his ideological foes.
He was a Democrat and a key player in the current impeachment drama, but heartfelt grief and respect gushed from the same Republicans who had clashed with him in hearings: “I am heartbroken. Truly heartbroken.” said pro-Trump Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, whom Cummings defended when he was accused of racism this year.
“Elijah Cummings was one of the most powerful, beautiful & compelling voices in American politics. The power and the beauty came from his authenticity, his conviction, the sincerity with which he held his beliefs,” wrote former Republican Rep Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, as partisan a conservative battler as there is.
Even Trump, who recently blasted Cummings’ district as a “disgusting, rodent and rat-infested mess,” suspended hostilities, saying the congressman would be impossible to replace. Earlier this year, Cummings said he had met Trump only once, and told him their most important job was to preserve America’s democracy for the next generation.
He may have had his own obituary in mind when he added, “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question we’ll be asked is, ‘In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?’ “
A load of scallops
The dinner menu enjoyed by European representatives and Boris Johnson after a long day of Brexit discussion Thursday had some searching for political symbolism embedded somewhere in the kraut soup and figgy puff pastries.
Scallops with potimarron pumpkin mousseline
Polish sauerkraut soup
Roast veal in a tonka bean sauce with green beans and fondant potato
Figs in puff pastry
What’s coming up
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back on Monday.
Meanwhile, keep an eye out for these news developments over the next three days:
On Friday, Energy Secretary Rick Perry is due to deliver documents about Trump’s communications with Ukraine. Now that Perry has announced he’s quitting soon, we’ll see if he complies. He just posted a video on YouTube and we’ve updated our story It’s also the deadline for the uncooperative White Houseto deliver similar documents.
On Saturday, the Brexit proposal agreed by Boris Johnson and the EU is expected to be voted upon by the UK Parliament. Here’s the math the UK PM faces. If the deal fails to pass, Johnson is required by law to ask the EU for a delay to the looming October 31 Brexit deadline. He once said he would rather be “dead in a ditch.”
And on Sunday, Hong Kong pro-democracy activists march again. Anything could happen. Weeks of escalating violence saw one prominent protest organizer hospitalized from a hammer and knife attack this week, and Chief Executive Carrie Lam forced to stop a policy address due to jeers.
And of course in this weekend’s world sport, European football leagues reopen after the international break. In the US, the New York Yankees and Houston Astros battle for the chance to face the Washington Nationals in the World Series. It’s quarterfinals weekend in the Rugby World Cup. England play Australia, the All Blacks take on Ireland, it’s Wales vs. France and hosts Japan play South Africa. The ATP Men’s Tennis Finals take place in London and India take on South Africa in Ranchi in their third and final Test Match.