‘BAD’ DEAL CRACKDOWN Trump signs exec order tackling trade deficit

One week before he hosts a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Trump on Friday signed a pair of executive orders aimed at cracking down on trade abuses and identifying the causes of America’s massive trade deficit. 

“We’re going to get these bad trade deals straightened out,” Trump said from the Oval Office. “The jobs and wealth have been stripped from our country, year after year, decade after decade, trade deficit upon trade deficit reaching more than $700 billion last year alone and lots of jobs.”

The first executive order concentrates on tougher enforcement of anti-dumping laws and increasing the collection of anti-dumping penalties and so-called countervailing duties — a mechanism used against foreign governments that subsidize their producers and sell goods at below-market prices.

Anti-dumping penalties target exporters that sell goods below the cost of production.

Between 2001 and 2016, about $2.8 billion in import taxes went uncollected from companies in 40 countries, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Friday. He told reporters that by not using the enforcement mechanism properly, Americans lose out on funds that could be used for other purposes.  

The second executive order calls on the Commerce Department and U.S. trade representative to produce a comprehensive report to identify “every possible cause of the U.S. trade deficit.”

Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s nominee for post, has yet to be confirmed.

Once completed, the findings of the report will serve as the foundation that will guide the Trump administration’s future trade policy.

Officials will consider the impact on deficits of trade abuses, non-reciprocal trade practices, specific trade obligations, poor or inconsistent enforcement and World Trade Organization rules.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross praised Friday’s step. 

“If anyone had any doubt about the president’s resolve to fix the trade problems, these two executive orders should end that speculation now and for all time,” he said standing next to Trump. “This marks the beginning of the totally new chapter in the American trade relationship with our partners overseas.”

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Ross said the first-of-its-kind report demonstrates that the administration will “not to do anything abruptly, but to take a very measured and analytical approach, both to analyzing the problem and therefore to developing the solutions for it.”

The cautious approach is welcome news to some in the business community.

“They are not just jumping into something. They are going to carefully look at what it is we really want to accomplish and hopefully think about how it will affect us and the other country,” founder of Paul Mitchell and billionaire investor John Paul DeJori told Fox Business Network.  

Administration officials have 90 days to finish a country-by-country and product-by-product analysis.

The report will also examine whether bilateral deficits are caused by free trade deals, like NAFTA, and actions taken by previous administrations.

White House Trade Council President Peter Navarro broke slightly from Trump, saying deficits are not always bad for the economy and that bad behavior is not always the cause.

For example, one of the reasons for the trade deficit with Canada is the U.S. is not energy independent and imports a lot of oil.

During the campaign, then-candidate Trump frequently singled out China as a trade abuser and promised to hold China to account for unfair trade practices, including currency manipulation. 

Asked Friday why Trump has not fulfilled his pledge to label China a currency manipulator on “Day One,” Spicer said a decision would occur after next Thursday’s meeting with Xi Jinping.

Navarro argued the executive orders address far broader concerns than just China.

“Let’s not make this a China story. This is a story about trade abuses, this is a story about an under-collection of duties,” he said.

Trump, however, recognizes the potential for an uncomfortable meeting next week in Palm Beach, Fla.

“The meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits,” Trump said in a Thursday tweet.

He added that “American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives.”

On March 7, the Commerce Department released figures showing the U.S. had amassed its largest trade deficit since March 2012.

In January 2017, the trade deficit for goods and services was 11.8 percent higher as compared to January 2016, increasing from $43.4 billion to $48.5 billion. 

“Today’s data shows there is much work to be done,” said Ross in a statement, adding that the administration would in the coming months “renegotiate bad trade deals and bring renewed energy to trade enforcement in defense of all hard-working Americans.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 


MAKING GOOD ON VOW? Trump set to sign executive orders aimed at trade abuse crackdown

President Trump on Friday is set to sign a pair of executive orders aimed at cracking down on trade abuses, administration officials said.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the first order calls for the completion of a large-scale report to identify “every form of trade abuse and every non-reciprocal practice that now contributes to the U.S. trade deficit.”

Officials will have 90 days to produce a country-by-country, product-by-product report that will serve as the basis of future decision-making by the administration on trade-related issues, Ross told reporters at a Thursday night briefing.

“It will demonstrate the administration’s intention not to hip-shoot, not to do anything casual, not to do anything abruptly, but to take a very measured and analytical approach, both to analyzing the problem and therefore to developing the solutions for it,” he said.

Trump talked tough on trade on the campaign trail, vowing to renegotiate a slew of major deals and to label China a currency manipulator on “Day One.”

A leaked memo reported on Thursday signaled the Trump administration will seek slight changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement in upcoming negotiations with Mexico and Canada, despite Trump’s consistent campaign rhetoric slamming NAFTA as the “single worst trade deal ever approved in this country.”

He has continued his tough talk on social media. He tweeted Thursday about his upcoming meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“The meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses. American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives.”

The U.S. deficit with China was $347 billion last year.

Peter Navarro, the director of the White House National Trade Council, said the U.S. is leaving billions of dollars on the table as a result of lax enforcement. The order will establish more effective bonding requirements, among other measures.


But Navarro insisted the orders had nothing to do with the visit or sending a message to China.

“Nothing we’re saying tonight is about China. Let’s not make this a China story. This is a story about trade abuses, this is a story about an under-collection of duties,” he said, later adding: “We’re not here for tweets.”

While Trump has long argued that trade deficits imperil U.S. workers, Ross cautioned that they aren’t necessarily all bad. In some cases, for instance, the U.S. simply can’t produce enough of a product to meet domestic demand.

In others, foreign countries may make products substantially cheaper or better than in the U.S. They can also mean that foreign countries and entities are investing in U.S. assets.

Still, Ross argued, the U.S. has the lowest tariff rates of any developed country. The report, he said, will examine whether deficits are being driven by things like cheating, specific trade agreements, lax enforcement and World Trade Organization rules.

Ross said the report would not focus extensively on currency manipulation, which is under the purview of the U.S. Treasury Department, despite Trump’s campaign rhetoric.

The second order will focus on stepping up the collection of anti-dumping and countervailing duties, which are levied against foreign governments that subsidize products so they can be sold below cost.

The U.S. trade deficit totaled $502.3 billion last year, a slight increase from 2015, according to the Commerce Department. The trade gap rose to its highest level since 2012 last year, though the imbalance remains below its 2006 high, shortly before the Great Recession struck.

Trump has portrayed trade deficits as strangling economic growth and devastating factory jobs. Research last year by academic economists, including David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that China’s emergence hurt some communities and they have yet to fully recover.

But foreign trade has also helped reduce prices for clothing, cars and furniture, among other items. This has created savings for U.S. consumers.

While economists concede the benefits of trade can be uneven, they argue the job losses that Trump blames on trade pacts can largely be attributed to automation. A study released this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that robots account for up to 670,000 lost factory jobs between 1990 and 2007.

Both exports abroad and imports into the United States fell in 2016, but exports declined by a greater sum in part due to a stronger dollar making American-made goods and services more expensive overseas.


CIRCULAR FIRING SQUAD Trump, Freedom Caucus clash in wake of ObamaCare bill collapse

President Trump on Thursday struck back at the House caucus that sunk his ObamaCare replacement bill, threatening their legislative careers if the staunchly conservative members refuse to get on board with the new president’s agenda.

“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, fast. We must fight them, Dems, in 2018!” Trump tweeted.

Later Thursday, Freedom Caucus member Rep. Justin Amash returned fire in the Republican civil war:

“It didn’t take long for the swamp to drain @realDonaldTrump. No shame, Mr. President. Almost everyone succumbs to the D.C. Establishment,” Amash wrote.

Later, Amash told Fox News that “most people don’t take well to being bullied” and compared Trump’s tactics to those of a fifth grader.

Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan, however, refused to take Trump’s bait during an interview on “America’s Newsroom.”

“We appreciate the president,” Jordan said. “We’re trying to help the president, but the fact is you have to look at the legislation.”

He added: “I’m not here to assign blame to anyone…what I focus on doing is doing what I told the voters we’re going to do.”

The 30-plus member Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives was the key bloc that refused to vote in favor of the Trump-backed health care bill earlier this month. Despite the bill’s general lack of popularity, the consensus was that it could have been able to pass the Republican-majority House – if the Freedom Caucus joined in.

But Trump and top advisers were never able to allay the concerns of caucus members, and House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill – which would have been Trump’s first major legislative achievement and dealt a death blow to ObamaCare – prior to a scheduled Friday vote.

Ryan said during a Thursday news conference that he understood “the president’s frustration,” regarding Trump’s tweet.

Trump hasn’t taken health care reform off the table entirely in the aftermath of the debacle; however, he and his aides have moved on to other issues such as tax reform and infrastructure.

Trump’s tweet suggests he may attempt to primary some members of the caucus in 2018, hoping to find a candidate more favorable to his agenda. It’s a tactic he’s threatened in the past, notably in the cases of former presidential primary rivals Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who had refused to endorse Trump. Cruz eventually gave his endorsement.

The Republican infighting has not been limited to the House.

Ryan and a top Senate Republican engaged in a brief public spat Thursday about comments Ryan made earlier in the morning, seeming to suggest Trump should not try to work with Democrats.

“What I worry about, Norah, is that if we don’t do this, then he’ll just go work with Democrats to try and change ObamaCare and that’s not – that’s hardly a conservative thing,” Ryan told CBS.

Sen. Bob Corker, an avid backer of Trump’s during the presidential campaign who was among those considered to be vice president, shot back on Twitter: “We have come a long way in our country when the speaker of one party urges a president NOT to work with the other party to solve a problem.”

Ryan, during his news conference, dismissed Corker’s remarks.

“They’re not going to help us repeal ObamaCare, that’s my point,” Ryan said of Democratic lawmakers.


GROWING INVESTIGATION: Senators expand probe of Trump, Russia ties

Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee announced Wednesday they are expanding their investigation of Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential campaign and beyond, vowing to remain independent and “get to the bottom of this” – amid mounting controversy over a similar probe on the House side.

The senators announced they are now scheduling interviews and reviewing thousands of sensitive documents, and are prepared to issue subpoenas if necessary.

“This investigation’s scope will go wherever the intelligence leads it,” Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., told reporters, speaking alongside top panel Democrat Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

The committee is set to hold its first public hearing on the Russia issue on Thursday, a session that will feature several foreign policy experts. But on the sidelines, Burr and Warner revealed new details about the scope of their investigation.

Burr said they’ve devoted seven professional staff members to the investigation, and they’re going through “an unprecedented amount of documents.” He said they’re reviewing “thousands” of raw intelligence and other products.

Further, he said the committee this week began to schedule its first interviews — making 20 requests so far, with five already scheduled. He confirmed that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser, is among those the committee will interview. 

“We will get to the bottom of this,” Warner said.

Their joint press conference marked a stark contrast with how a similar investigation is proceeding on the House side, where top lawmakers are battling over whether a key Republican should even be involved.  

That Republican, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., riled Democrats last week after claiming he learned Trump transition team communications were incidentally collected during surveillance operations conducted under the prior administration. The comments clashed with FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to the same committee that they had no evidence to support Trump’s controversial allegations of wiretapping against him.

But Democrats voiced concern that Nunes was too closely tied to Trump. And top committee Democrat Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and others are now calling on Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia probe after it emerged he viewed secret information on White House grounds.

Nunes has rejected those calls, and defended his actions.

On Wednesday, Burr was asked whether he can pledge impartiality given his history as a Trump campaign adviser.

The senator said he “absolutely” could. He disclosed that he voted for Trump but suggested that would not affect the investigation.

He acknowledged a big “challenge” for the committee is now looking at whether Trump was involved in Russia’s meddling.

While Trump associates are under scrutiny for past contacts with Russia officials, the White House and its allies insist that Obama officials improperly snooped on Trump associates leading up to the inauguration.

Circa reported Wednesday that some intercepted communications in that period involved Trump transition officials or foreign figures’ perceptions of the incoming administration.

According to the report, top Obama aides routinely reviewed intelligence reports from incidental intercepts of Americans abroad, after rules were relaxed starting in 2011 pertaining to such surveillance. Such reports identified Americans either talking to foreign sources or discussed by foreign figures, according to Circa. Some names were “unmasked,” which is an issue certain Republican lawmakers are now looking at as they probe whether Trump associates were “unmasked” during the transition. 


‘THE O’REILLY FACTOR’ Nunes talks meeting Trump source on WH grounds

The chairman of the House intelligence committee told Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” Monday that “there was no sneaking around” when he met with the secret source behind his claim that President Trump’s associates were caught up in “incidental” surveillance.

“We go to the executive branch at least once or twice a week,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., told host Bill O’Reilly. “This is not unusual, because there are intelligence products that we don’t have access to in the House of Representatives, although we do have the clearances to see them.


“So, we’ve known about this long before Trump actually sent his famous tweet out about the ‘wiretapping’ at Trump Tower,” Nunes went on. “We’ve known that there was additional unmasking of Americans’ names. We’ve had sources that have provided that information. And so, what I had to do was that I needed a place that I could actually go and find this information and review it.”

The chairman said he did not go to the West Wing or speak to Trump on the day he met his source, and re-emphasized that the information he reviewed “had nothing to do with Russia. That’s the key here.”

Nunes’ confirmation that he met with the source on the White House grounds prompted Democrats to call for him to recuse himself from the committee’s ongoing investigation into possible ties between Russian officials and members of Trump’s campaign. 

Backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Nunes struck a defiant tone, telling O’Reilly, “I’m sure the Democrats do want me to quit, because they know that I’m quite effective at getting to the bottom of things.”


INFO DIDN’T ‘BELONG IN THERE’ Key lawmaker says NSA turning over ‘concerning’ Trump surveillance docs

A key lawmaker who went public this week with charges the Obama administration collected and spread information from surveillance of President Trump’s transition team said Friday documents he’s been shown “concerned me.”

“There’s some information in those documents that concerned me and I don’t think belonged in there,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., told reporters at a press conference.

He reasserted that it seemed that the information was still collected legally, and also expressed concern about the decision to unmask names.

By law, Americans caught incidentally during surveillance of foreign targets must be protected by having their names “masked.” Nunes said more than one American – and possibly Trump – had their names “unmasked” and their names and information were widely distributed within the intelligence community.

“It appears like this was all legal survillance from what I can tell,” he said, but later added: “You have to ask why were names unmasked.

“Maybe someone has a good reason for it but not from what I’ve been able to read,” he said.

Nunes said NSA Director Mike Rogers has been “highly cooperative” with his committee and could turn over documents, possibly transcripts of surveilled conversations, Friday or sometime next week.

Nunes did not say how many names were unmasked.

“There was additional unmasking that was done in the documents I read the other day. I don’t know who asked for them to be unmasked, i just know there are more,” he said, although he said he knew about the unmasking before he read the documents.

He re-emphasized, however, that President Trump’s claims that Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped, appeared unfounded.

“There was no wiretapping of Trump Tower — that didn’t happen,” he said.

Nunes dropped a midweek bombshell when he told reporters Wednesday that he had seen information showing that communications by Trump transition officials had been picked up via “incidental collection” – meaning they had been picked up as security agencies had been monitoring other targets.

Nunes said while the information had been obtained legally, he added that it showed that communications were then widely disseminated in an improper manner during the last days of the administration.

He also told reporters that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had volunteered to be interviewed by the committee.


Manafort acknowledged this week that he had worked for a Russian billionaire about a decade ago, but he denied an Associated Press report suggesting the lobbying efforts served Russian political interests.

Manafort resigned from the Trump team in August after it was revealed he had previously worked for the pro-Russian party of ex-Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych.

But Nunes warned about reading too much into it, and emphasized that Manafort had volunteered to be interviewed. As for other people mentioned in press reports, Nunes warned against that.

“We’re not going to get into neo-McCarthyism era where we just start bringing in Americans just because they were mentioned in a press story,” he said.

Both Rogers and FBI Director James Comey will return for closed sessions testimony next week, Nunes said.

Trump’s initial National Security Adviser, Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, was forced to resign after information leaked to the press showed he had been in contact with the Russian ambassador, who was under surveillance.

Adam Shaw is a Politics Reporter and occasional Opinion writer for FoxNews.com. He can be reached here or on Twitter: @AdamShawNY.


LIVE BLOG Gorsuch tangles with Leahy over Trump travel ban, interrogations

Judge Neil Gorsuch is facing his first day of questions in the second day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing Tuesday.

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‘FOX NEWS SUNDAY’: Key GOP rep denies Trump Tower wiretap claim

The chairman of the House intelligence committee told “Fox News Sunday” that phones at President Donald Trump’s campaign headquarters in midtown Manhattan were never tapped during last year’s election campaign, contrary to Trump’s earlier, unsubstantiated assertion.

“Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No, there never was,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said. “The information we received Friday continues to lead us in that direction.”

Nunes added: “There was no FISA warrant I am aware of to tap Trump Tower.” FISA stands for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires investigators to seek a warrant from a secret court to wiretap a foreign suspect.


Nunes spoke as the committee prepares to begin hearings Monday into Russia’s role in cybersecurity breaches at the Democratic National Committee, as well as President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that his predecessor had authorized a wiretap of Trump Tower. FBI Director James Comey and Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, are slated to testify.

Trump told Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” earlier this week that he would provide evidence of his wiretapping claim to the committee “very soon.”

Nunes said the committee will also examine whether the Russians were trying to sow doubt in the U.S. electoral system or whether they were trying to help Trump get elected to the White House.

“We need to get to the bottom of that,” Nunes said.

Meanwhile, ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told NBC’s “Meet The Press” that documents given to the committee by the FBI and the Justice Department late last week offered circumstantial evidence that American citizens colluded with Russians in Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the presidential election.

“There was circumstantial evidence of collusion; there is direct evidence, I think, of deception,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said. “There’s certainly enough for us to conduct an investigation.”

Intelligence officials have said that Russia was behind the theft of Democratic National Committee emails last summer. The U.S. government later concluded that the Russian government directed the DNC hack in an attempt to influence the outcome of November’s presidential election.


“For the first time the American people, and all the political parties now, are paying attention to the threat that Russia poses,” Nunes said. “We know that the Russians were trying to get involved in our campaign, like they have for many decades. They’re also trying to get involved in campaigns around the globe and over in Europe.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


‘VAST SUMS’ Trump hits Germany on NATO after Merkel visit

President Trump said Saturday that he had a “great” meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, dismissing as “fake news” reports about a difficult first visit, while continuing to criticize the country for its limited support of NATO.  

“Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel,” Trump said in a two-part tweet. “Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”

The Saturday morning tweets have become a familiar part of Trump’s media strategy. And with 26.7 million followers, he has found a way to sidestep traditional media to challenge stories that he considers unfair, incorrect of simply “fake.”

News reports that Trump and Merkel struggled during her White House visit Friday is in part a result of the world leaders not shaking hands before reporters during a photo op in the Oval Office.

And later, during a joint news conference, Trump pushed back against the notion in Europe that his “America First” agenda means he’s an isolationist, calling such a suggestion “another example of, as you say, fake news.”

Merkel maintained her composure even when Trump repeated his contention that former President Obama may have tapped his phones in Trump Tower. He sought to turn the explosive charge into a light joke when he said to Merkel, “At least we have something in common, perhaps,” referring to 2013 reports that the U.S. was monitoring Merkel’s cellphone conversations.

As a candidate, Trump frequently accused the chancellor of “ruining” Germany for allowing an influx of refugees and other migrants from Syria and accused his campaign rival, Hillary Clinton, of wanting to be “America’s Angela Merkel.”

Trump also reaffirmed the United States’ “strong support” for NATO but reiterated his position that NATO allies need to “pay their fair share” for the cost of defense.

Though he said many countries owe “vast sums of money,” Trump declined to identify Germany as one of them.  

Only the U.S. and four other members currently reach the benchmark of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense. Germany currently spends 1.23 percent of its GDP on defense, but it is being increased.

When the topic moved to trade, Trump said the U.S. would do “fantastically well” in its trade relations with Germany. The president has been deeply critical of foreign trade and national security agreements but suggested he was only trying to revise trade deals to better serve U.S. interests, rather than pull back from the world entirely.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 


NOT BACKING DOWN: Trump stands by wiretap claim, jokes he has ‘something in common’ with Merkel

President Trump on Friday once again suggested former President Barack Obama wiretapped him during the 2016 election, joking during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that they have “something in common.”            

The president briefly touched on the wiretapping comment controversy when asked by a reporter about his allegations from earlier this month. 

“At least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump quipped. 

Merkel cracked a smile as reporters in the room laughed.

Trump’s comment was a reference to 2013 reports that the U.S. National Security Agency had listened in on Merkel’s phone calls. An inquiry was launched into the allegations after former NSA worker Edward Snowden revealed details of the secret U.S. eavesdropping programs.

Merkel declared at the time that “spying among friends” was unacceptable. The incident blemished an otherwise strong diplomatic relationship between Obama and Merkel.

Trump continues to face pressure to provide evidence for his widely disputed claims that Trump Tower was the target of an Obama administration wiretap during the presidential campaign.

On the sidelines of the press conference, Trump’s Justice Department said it had “complied” with a request from several congressional committees for information relating to surveillance during the 2016 election. A high-profile hearing is set for Monday that could turn up answers on the matter, and confirm or refute certain allegations. 

At the same press conference Friday, Trump also was asked about claims originally made by a Fox News analyst regarding British intelligence services. 

“We said nothing,” Trump said. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for [the claim].” 

Trump was referring to a report by Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox News’ senior judicial analyst, charging that British intelligence services were involved in the alleged spying of then-candidate Trump.

The allegation was cited by spokesman Sean Spicer at Thursday’s White House briefing. British officials have vigorously denied the claims, and Fox News cannot confirm the allegations. 

Trump and Merkel held a press conference after meeting earlier in the Oval Office, where Trump apparently pressed Merkel on Germany’s NATO dues. Later, Trump discussed the need for NATO allies to pay “their fair share” for defense.

“Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years, and it is very unfair to the United States,” Trump said. “These nations must pay what they owe.”

He then thanked Merkel, who was standing beside him, for Germany’s apparent commitment to increase defense spending and work toward contributing 2 percent of GDP to NATO.

The joint press conference was amicable, despite Trump’s blunt criticism of the German leader during his presidential campaign.

In a nod to that history and other ongoing disagreements, Merkel said it is “much better to talk to one another than about one another.”