TRUMP AGENDA: Thanking Putin, but criticizing McConnell
One of the most eyebrow-raising comments from Trump yesterday: Trump saying he is "very thankful" for Putin's dismissal of hundreds of U.S. diplomats.
NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell and Kasie Hunt: "President Donald Trump escalated his attacks against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday, suggesting that the GOP leader should step aside if he doesn't pass any major pieces of legislation backed by the White House."
The Washington Post: "In this moment of heated, belligerent rhetoric, planners in and out of government are diving into decades of plans and projections, playing out war games, engaging in the macabre semi-science of estimating death tolls and predicting how an adversary might behave. Inside Washington's "what if?" industry, people at think tanks, universities, consultancies and defense businesses have spent four decades playing out scenarios that the Trump administration now faces anew. The pathways that have been examined fall into four main categories: doing nothing, hitting Kim Jong Un's regime with tougher sanctions, pushing for talks, and military confrontation. An armed conflict could take place in disparate spots thousands of miles apart, involving any number of nations and a wide variety of weapons, conventional or nuclear."
And from the New York Times: "Even a limited strike against a North Korean missile on its launching pad or the shooting down of a missile in midair would pose risks that the North's leader, Kim Jong-un, might retaliate, setting off a spiral of escalation that could plunge the Korean Peninsula into war."
The AP: "With North Korea threatening to send a salvo of ballistic missiles close to Guam, a U.S. military hub in the Pacific, pressure could grow for Washington to put its multibillion-dollar missile defense system into use and shoot them out of the air. If U.S. territory is threatened, countermeasures are a no-brainer. But if the missiles aren't expected to hit the island — the stated goal is to have them hit waters well offshore — should it? Could it? It's not an easy call."
The biggest danger in the standoff with North Korea may be miscommunication, writes NBC's Alexander Smith.
Don't miss this scoop in Foreign Policy: "The memo at the heart of the latest blowup at the National Security Council paints a dark picture of media, academics, the "deep state," and other enemies allegedly working to subvert U.S. President Donald Trump, according to a copy of the document obtained by Foreign Policy. The seven-page document, which eventually landed on the president's desk, precipitated a crisis that led to the departure of several high-level NSC officials tied to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. The author of the memo, Rich Higgins, who was in the strategic planning office at the NSC, was among those recently pushed out… Trump is being attacked, the memo says, because he represents "an existential threat to cultural Marxist memes that dominate the prevailing cultural narrative." Those threatened by Trump include "'deep state' actors, globalists, bankers, Islamists, and establishment Republicans." The memo is part of a broader political struggle inside the White House between current National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and alt-right operatives th whatth a nationalist worldview who believe the Army general and his crew are subverting the president's agenda."
Jane Timm, on fact check watch: "President Donald Trump on Thursday repeated his past claim that the American people are the most heavily burdened with taxes in the world, while critiquing Congress for failing to move more quickly on his legislative agenda to cut them… His claim is not true, no matter how many times he says it."
POLITICO: "The conservative news site Breitbart has waged a nonstop campaign against national security adviser H.R. McMaster, but so far it seems to have done the most damage to someone else: Steve Bannon."
OFF TO THE RACES: Are Dems about to get a top candidate in Arizona?
Julian Castro has a new PAC.
AL-SEN: Contenders in the Alabama Senate race aren't defending Mitch McConnell against Trump, POLITICO notes.
Luther Strange said he has "no problem" with Trump's tweets about McConnell.
Joe Biden is endorsing Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones.
AZ-SEN: KPNX reports that Kirsten Sinema is prepping for a run against Flake.
FL-GOV: The Tampa Bay Times looks at how Adam Putnam's congressional record could haunt his gubernatorial bid.
ME-GOV: Maine has its eighth(!) Democratic candidate for governor: Former Portland Rep. Diane Russell.
NV-SEN: Danny Tarkanian is siding with Trump in the McConnell spat, too.
VA-GOV: Ralph Northam is out with his first general election ad.