Trump embraces time abroad as trouble brews at home


London (CNN)President Donald Trump’s sojourn to Britain is, so far at least, a smooth and only marginally controversial success, at least by the turbulent standards of his foreign trips. But his strategy of constant confrontation has created a clutch of showdowns that threaten to erupt upon his return at the end of the week.

There’s the possibility of a revolt among GOP lawmakers dismayed at Trump’s sudden decision to impose compounding tariffs on Mexico as an immigration enforcement maneuver, some of whom railed against the idea in a private lunch Tuesday with White House and Justice Department officials.

A new fight is quickly escalating with Democrats in Congress after the White House told Trump’s former confidante Hope Hicks and a top former legal aide to resist House subpoenas.

Democratic plans to go ahead with a House contempt vote against Attorney General Bill Barrand former White House Counsel Don McGahn are injecting new poison into a grave separation of powers struggle.

And fallout is still settling from a shaky interview by the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, that revived attention on the Trump team’s cavalier attitude toward Russian contacts in 2016.

All of this intrigue was building while Trump navigated two reasonably focused and restrained days in London, in the company of the British royal family and outgoing UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

The President, who usually indulges his disruptive and norm-shattering personality, has been a picture of decorum. He seemed enthralled when alongside the 93-year-old Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and during a state banquet.

Trump even went out of his way to be generous to May, whom he has frequently criticized over her handling of Brexit and is shortly to head into political oblivion as her Conservative Party elects a successor after a disastrous premiership.

The President did sate his taste for mischief with an intervention in British domestic politics — promoting his favorite Tory leadership candidates and blasting Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. This would be an extraordinary breach of protocol for any other foreign leader but it’s the kind of behavior the world has come to expect of the 45th US President.

On Wednesday, Trump will prioritize his head of state duties to lead the Western alliance in two days of commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings, which foreign leaders will use to focus him on the importance of post-World War II national security organizations that he has often decried.

Yet another tariff war

The most troublesome controversy currently transfixing Washington concerns the Mexico tariffs, which shocked Trump’s own political allies and global markets when he sprung them last week.

Trump staked out a hard line when asked about his threat to impose 5% tariffs on Mexico next week that will increase by 5% per month if it does not stop the flow of migrants toward the US border.

He noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would lead talks with Mexico on the issue starting Wednesday but didn’t hold out much hope of a resolution.

“I think it’s more likely that the tariffs go on,” Trump said in London. “Look, millions of people are flowing through Mexico. That’s unacceptable.”

The President dismissed the possibility that Republican lawmakers could seek to block his move.

“I don’t think they will do that. I think if they do, it’s foolish. There’s nothing more important than borders,” he said.

But Trump’s threat to impose tariffs that could peak at 25% is causing disquiet among some of his normally loyal fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill.

At a lunch Tuesday with White House and Justice Department officials, who reportedly ran into difficulties attempting to explain how the move would work, lawmakers made their unhappiness clear.

About half a dozen GOP senators spoke about why the tariff decision was ill-advised, a person who attended the lunch told CNN, and the members insisted that Trump hold off on any announcements until he can personally brief them on the plan.

Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who was the US trade representative under President George W. Bush, said after the lunch: “No one did not express concern.”

Before the lunch, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas told reporters he hopes that Mexican efforts to ease the situation could head off the tariff strike before it comes into force.

“This is uncertainty and unpredictability, and you are using tariffs for something other than trade, and I’m not a big fan of them to begin with,” Roberts told reporters. “The President is getting advice from three of his staff he has a lot of faith in, and he’s a man who believes in tariffs. But when you unsheathe the sword and go after border security instead of trade, perhaps that’s a step too far.”

Another Republican, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, pinned his hopes on the US-Mexico talks Wednesday to defuse the situation.

“Mexico … has been pretty measured and reserved so far in the things they’ve said,” Thune said on Tuesday. “Hopefully tomorrow we can have a discussion that will lead to some kind of understanding that would prevent those from being implemented.”

New executive privilege duel

Trump hasn’t so far spoken publicly about the latest effort to frustrate Democratic investigations targeting his campaign, financial affairs and presidency.

The administration ordered Hicks, its former communications director, and Annie Donaldson, McGahn’s former chief of staff, not to turn over any documents to the House Judiciary Committee relating to their West Wing service.

Hicks can still produce material the committee has requested related to the 2016 Trump campaign, a period in which the President has no grounds to invoke executive privilege.

The White House move is likely to intensify an already raging duel with Capitol Hill over disclosure that is likely to ultimately climax in a significant constitutional court battle.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said Trump had no grounds to stop Hicks and Donaldson from complying with the committee’s demands.

“Federal law makes clear that the documents we requested — documents that left the White House months ago — are no longer covered by executive privilege, if they ever were,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.

In another front in the constitutional tussle between the Congress and the White House, the Democratic-led House is due to vote next week to hold Barr and McGahn in contempt.

In a private leadership meeting on Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear her opposition to opening impeachment proceedings despite growing impatience in the Democratic grass roots.

Moving against Barr and McGahn in such a manner, and potentially other senior administration officials who are blocking Democratic oversight gambits, could be a way for Pelosi to let off some of the steam in her restive caucus.

So far, the latest Washington maneuverings have not affected Trump’s mood, nor deflected him from his goals on his trip. But his cable TV time has been limited by pageantry and a full schedule, and he has a history of being drawn into controversies that spring up at home when he is on the road overseas.

CNN’s Lauren Fox, Ted Barrett, Haley Byrd, Jim Acosta and Sunlen Serfaty contributed to this report.


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