Received a ‘beautiful letter’ from Xi, says Trump amid trade tensions

US President Donald Trump on Thursday said that he received a “beautiful letter” from his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, adding that he would speak to him amid trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

“We were getting very close to a deal and then they started renegotiating the deal. It was their idea to come back. He just wrote me a beautiful letter. I just received it. I’ll probably speak to him by phone,” Trump was quoted by¬†USA Todayas saying while speaking to reporters at the White House.

Meanwhile, officials from China and the US are participating in the 11th round of high-level economic and trade consultations in a bid to chalk out a deal to stop the trade war between the two countries.

Despite the negotiations, Trump, at times, has threatened to increase tariffs on Chinese products. But, he has backed down his warning amid signs of progress towards finalising a new trade agreement.

However, Trump on Wednesday had alleged that China “broke the deal,” escalating the threat of slapping a new round of tariffs on Beijing.

“You see the tariffs we’re doing? Because they broke the deal! The (Chinese) Vice Premier (Liu He) is flying in tomorrow, good man, but they broke the deal. They can’t do that…If we don’t make the deal, nothing wrong with taking in over 100 billion a year. We never did that before,” Trump had said during a rally.

In response, China threatened to take “necessary countermeasures” if the US increases tariffs on Chinese goods worth USD 200 billion from 10 per cent to 25 per cent from May 10, according to an official statement.

“China deeply regrets this, and will be forced to take necessary countermeasures if the US side puts the tariff measures into effect,” Chinese state media quoted an official statement as saying. They further said that escalating trade frictions are against the interests of “the two peoples as well as people of the world.”

Both the US and China are trying to negotiate a way out of the trade dispute which is ongoing since last year.

Trump met Xi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Argentina in December, where both the leaders agreed to hold talks and work towards a trade deal to end the tensions between the two nations.


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Is Trump’s net worth $10bn or $3.1bn?

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How rich is Trump really? If the Democrats are successful in their campaign to unearth his tax filings, it may finally be known if his net worth is $10 billion as he has claimed or less than a third of that as estimated by others.

On Wednesday, House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal demanded that the Trump administration turn over the boastful billionaire’s and his businesses’ tax returns for the past six years.

As the head of the panel that deals with tax matters, Neal has the authority to see confidential the tax documents. Trump immediately refused to provide them and may go to courts to keep them secret.

The legislators may be interested in examining the tax filings for irregularities and possible violations, but the public would be more keen to find out how rich the billionaire real estate developer really is and how much taxes he has paid – or avoided paying them or reduced them because of business losses or other deductions.

Trump has used his claims of wealth and business acumen as his qualification to be president and to justify his unconventional negotiating tactics at home and abroad.

While he is no doubt the richest US President in history and did not rise from a log cabin like Abraham Lincoln, Trump’s claims of wealth have been controversial.

During the election campaign, he claimed a net worth of $10 billion, but Forbes magazine, which tracks the world’s billionaires, estimates it at $3.1 billion and ranks him the 715th richest person, while Bloomberg says he is worth only $2.8 billion.

His former personal lawyer Michael Cohen has told a House panel that Trump had claimed in documents a net worth of $4.5 billion in 2012 and that it had suddenly jumped to $8.6 billion the next year when he sought a loan from Deutsche Bank to buy an American football team.

While all modern presidents and most presidential candidates have disclosed their tax filings for transparency in their finances, Trump has refused to do so, even though the Democrats made it an election issue. He maintains his tax filings are still being audited and he will not release them till the audits are over.

Meanwhile, amid stiff Republican opposition, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday to authorise Chairman Jerry Nadler to compel Attorney General William Barr to turn over the full report prepared by Special Counsel Robert Mueller that had, according to a summary by Barr, absolved Trump of colluding with Russians in his election.

The Mueller report summary issued last month by Barr was a blow to Democratic hopes that it would implicate Trump in a clandestine election deal with Russia. But Barr’s statement that report neither exonerated Trump nor found him guilty of obstruction of justice gives Democrats hope finding something to go against Trump.

Not satisfied with the summary, Democrats are hoping for some nuggets in the report that would undercut Barr’s summary or provide leads for other inquiries against Trump and his associates or family.

Nadler had set a Tuesday deadline for him to turn over the full report, but Barr has refused to comply saying that he would need time to study in order to withhold sensitive portions of it as legally required before releasing it.

He has said it may take him till the end of this month or sometime next month to continue the review. Legally he is not allowed to disclose some of the secret testimony and he also wants to redact matters of national security like the details of work by US or other intelligence agencies.

For now, Nadler has said that he would not immediately issue a subpoena for the full Mueller report and associated documents hoping that Barr changes his mind.

It is also likely to end up in courts.

Nadler ‘s committee also authorised him to demand the appearance of five former Trump officials to testify about the obstruction of justice and other allegations against Trump.

The former officials include Reince Priebus, who was chief of staff; Steve Bannon, an adviser; lawyer Don McGahn, and Hope Hicks, who was the communications director.

Categories: International


Donald Trump to propose his 2020 federal budget on Monday

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When President Donald Trump proposes his 2020 federal budget on Monday, official Washington will likely have a quick look, shrug and move on, marking another stage in the quiet decay of the U.S. government’s traditional policy-making processes.

There was a time when the release of the president’s budget was a red-letter day on the calendar of Washington wonkery, with policy experts and fiscal hawks delving into spreadsheets and expounding upon new spending plans and the national debt

But the hoopla of budget day is gone, a relic of a time when politics were less polarized, the federal deficit drove political decisions and the White House and Congress still took the budget process seriously.

“It has seemed to me that budget day ain’t what it used to be,” said Robert Bixby, who has pored over the budget for more than 25 years at the Concord Coalition, a fiscal responsibility advocacy group.

Last year’s budget weighed in at a whopping $4.4 trillion. It was not balanced and was panned for relying on rosy economic projections and for not doing enough to cut the federal deficit.

The 2020 Trump budget will land a month after a deadline established in law, a lag blamed on the recent five-week partial shutdown of the federal government over a funding dispute.

Congress, which controls federal spending, is likely to dismiss Trump’s proposal, if recent history is any guide.

The Democratic-ruled House of Representatives and Republican-majority Senate also are unlikely to agree on a joint budget resolution of their own. Instead, they probably will stumble forward until fiscal 2019 ends and a spending deadline arrives on Oct. 1, forcing them to produce a last-minute deal or face another government shutdown.

“The entire process has become one of missed deadlines, make-believe budgets filled with gimmicks and magic asterisks,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

MacGuineas remembers in years gone by “scurrying around” to read through the budget as fast as possible so that she could answer a flurry of calls from reporters. These days, the budget is a blip on the news cycle, a process that is neither serious nor effective.

“I think it feels like a bit of kabuki theater at this point, for everybody,” MacGuineas said.

The White House disagreed. The budget process helps the administration set priorities for agencies for the year ahead and lays down a marker on issues, a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Of course, Congress has the power of the purse but the president’s budget plants a flag to define terms of the tax and spending debate in Washington,” the official said.

The traditional budget and appropriations process was limping along well before Trump took office.

One of former President Ronald Reagan’s budgets in the 1980s was brought out on a stretcher as a stunt to show the document was alive and well, ahead of it being declared dead-on-arrival in Congress, recalled Stephen Moore, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

“What we have right now is essentially government by automatic pilot and that’s not healthy,” Moore said, describing the cycle of last-minute massive omnibus spending bills agreed on only when deadlines loom.

The budget and spending process has been further hobbled by lawmakers’ unwillingness to compromise and tendency to put off hard decisions while hoping for a shift in the next election cycle, said Kenneth Baer, an associate director in the Office of Management and Budget under former President Barack Obama.

Trump’s budget office has accelerated the downward slide of the process by using more gimmicks to make up for shortfalls, Baer said. “All the normal ways of operating the government have just been thrown out of the window,” he said.

Trump’s acting budget director, Russell Vought, has said the budget aims to cut non-defense spending and cap spending under levels set in the 2011 Budget Control Act – a feat made possible only with an increase in an emergency account called the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund to cover Trump’s plan to increase defense spending.

The tactic makes a mockery of the budget process, said Bixby of the Concord Coalition.

“It’s nothing but an astronomical gimmick! It’s over the top! It’s so over the top, it’s clownish!” Bixby said.

With the national debt now topping $22 trillion and the deficit at $900 billion in 2019, it is unlikely that Washington will find its way to fiscal discipline without an overhaul of the process, Bixby said.

He said he is frustrated and worried that it could take a crisis to jolt change, like a recession or a failure to raise the government’s debt limit – something that needs to happen in coming months to avoid stumbling into a first-ever default.

“If they act as dysfunctionally this fall as they did last fall and throw the debt limit into the mix, it’s very, very toxic,” Bixby said.