There are too many unanswered questions about the White House’s role in advancing Saudi ambitions.
Jared Kushner slipped quietly into Saudi Arabia this week for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, so the question I’m trying to get the White House to answer is this: Did they discuss American help for a Saudi nuclear program?
Of all the harebrained and unscrupulous dealings of the Trump administration in the last two years, one of the most shocking is a Trump plan to sell nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia that could be used to make nuclear weapons.
Even as President Trump is trying to denuclearize North Korea and Iran, he may be helping to nuclearize Saudi Arabia. This is abominable policy tainted by a gargantuan conflict of interest involving Kushner.
Kushner’s family real estate business had been teetering because of a disastrously overpriced acquisition he made of a particular Manhattan property called 666 Fifth Avenue, but last August a company called Brookfield Asset Management rescued the Kushners by taking a 99-year lease of the troubled property — and paying the whole sum of about $1.1 billion up front.
Alarm bells should go off: Brookfield also owns Westinghouse Electric, the nuclear services business trying to sell reactors to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi swamp, meet American swamp.
It may be conflicts like these, along with even murkier ones, that led American intelligence officials to refuse a top-secret security clearance for Kushner. The Times reported Thursday that Trump overruled them to grant Kushner the clearance.
This nuclear reactor mess began around the time of Trump’s election, when a group of retired U.S. national security officials put together a plan to enrich themselves by selling nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia. The officials included Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, and they initially developed a “plan for 40 nuclear power plants” in Saudi Arabia, according to a report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The plan is now to start with just a couple of plants.
As recently as Feb. 12, Trump met in the White House with backers of the project and was supportive, Reuters reported.
No one knows whether Prince Muhammed will manage to succeed his father and become the next king, for there is opposition and the Saudi economic transformation he boasts of is running into difficulties.
Trump and Kushner seem to be irresponsibly trying to boost the prince’s prospects, increasing the risk that an unstable hothead will mismanage the kingdom for the next 50 years. Perhaps with nuclear weapons.
Merkley is probably best known for being the only colleague of Sanders to endorse the Vermont senator last year.
.. He has no campaign staff, and has raised no money. But he seems to be hoping that the credibility he has with progressive activists and the wild new world of lefty politics will change all that. So he’s starting early, even if the odds don’t look great right now.
.. He’s the right age and would be 72 by 2028, if another Democrat beats Donald Trump in 2020 and then has a lock on the nomination for 2024.
.. he’s not immune to the sense going around many Democrats these days that if Trump can win, maybe anyone can, and there’s certainly no harm in trying.
.. Whether there’s actually an appetite for pulling the party further to the left is a different question.
.. support for individual issues Merkley supports, from health care changes to free college to universal basic income, all at under 40 percent.
.. inside Washington, he is very much a player, having quietly brought together leading groups on the left for what’s become a regular series of pragmatic, action-focused meetings.
.. Every other Thursday, around the table in his conference room (or sometimes over the phone), top staffers from leading progressive groups MoveOn.org, Ultraviolet, Democracy for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Daily Kos, Credo and Indivisible join him to plot strategy and share information. If there is a nerve center of the vast left-wing conspiracy, this is it.
.. Merkley circulates invitations among senators. Among the regulars: Warren, Hawaii’s Brian Schatz, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Minnesota’s Al Franken. A rotating cast of others, including New Jersey’s Cory Booker, Connecticut’s Chris Murphy and California’s Kamala Harris, have been known to stop by. Sanders is always invited, but he never comes, instead sending a staffer and people from his Our Revolution group.
.. In recent months, a staffer from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has started joining.
.. The meetings began as strategy sessions for how to push a presumed President Hillary Clinton to the left on Cabinet picks and abruptly transformed into a lefty war council, bringing together battered progressives and minority senators looking to amplify a voice that’s much further from power than they’d been prepared for.
.. Some who know Merkley suspect he regrets not running for president last year—he could have been the progressive magnet pulling Clinton to the left, but without doing the damage that Sanders did to her that she blames in part for her loss.
.. In fact, he insists, Clinton ought to thank Sanders for running. “There was a tremendous amount of grass-roots energy
.. As for Trump, Merkley likes his position on trade, and that’s about it. He calls the president a “mystery,” because he ran as a populist but is governing more like a movement conservative.
.. “It was a surprise that he was able to campaign on one vision, and implement a completely different vision.
He attacked Hillary for being too close to Wall Street. Well, he wakes up every day seeing what he can do for Wall Street, how he can tear down consumer protections.”
.. living “his whole life stepping on others. He was raised to step on others.”
.. That language reinforced the argument that Kim Jong Un is making to his own population, which is that the U.S. wants to destroy North Korea, that they have to put all their resources into the military side, that they have to have nuclear weapons in order to deter America from bombing them,” Merkley says
.. official rollout of his Medicare for All plan.
But here’s the thing—as soon as they take the kids away from their parents, they call them “unaccompanied minors” too!
.. We do know that during a 12-day period in May 658 kids were separated from their families. We know that the number of immigrant children detained without parents went up 21 percent from May to June.
.. Another question is: Where do the kids end up, and can the parents reach them? They told me, “Oh yes, they get an A code,” and I asked, “Well, what’s an A code,” and it turns out it’s an “alien code,” a number where they can be tracked through the system. So it’s really not a difficulty for parents to find their children, they said. But the children are actually in one agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the parents are in another agency, the Department of Homeland Security. And according to immigration advocates I spoke with, they’re saying it’s actually not easy to track down the kids. The younger kids may be in a foster family, where the foster family doesn’t speak Spanish.
.. saying they have a “policy” of not allowing visits…. Yeah, I know, I guess I should have said they have a “strategy.”
But they say they will accommodate members of Congress with two weeks’ notice?
.. Yes, they told me I could apply, and I might be able to get in within two weeks. I might be. But if members of Congress can’t be assured they’ll be allowed in, then it’s a de facto policy [not to let them in].
.. Also: In two weeks, they can clean it up and make it all happy-face. I want to see how it’s operating on a day-to-day basis. And look, we all have top-secret clearances. I don’t know why we can’t go there and have them take us around, and say to us, “Here is who we have in here.” And then we can ask: “Do you have the resources that you need? To treat kids with trauma and anxiety?” And we can also ask: “Let us see the kids you’ve taken from their parents. Let us see how they are.”
The lesson Trump has learned is not that saying shocking, untrue, and arguably racist things about immigrants is politically dangerous but that doing so helped him become President.
.. But others, Merkley told me, quickly saw political peril. “There were folks saying, ‘My goodness, shifting the attention from health care to immigration is a huge political mistake.’ ”
.. Senator Jeff Merkley said he considers Trump a “fear” candidate from a Party that had learned to run what he called the “three-terrors strategy”: pick three issues that scare the American public, and emphasize them at all costs.
.. Trump’s ability to gin up fears about illegal immigration, more than perhaps any other issue, won him the White House. Headed into a midterm election that will be won by the political party that can better rally its base, Trump has remained determined to talk about immigration, even when others in his party have resisted. Indeed, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill were furious with Trump as the immigration controversy spiralled out of control this week—a time they had planned to spend celebrating the G.O.P. tax cut, along with the general strength of the economy, which they hope to make the centerpiece of their fall campaign.
.. Trump, she told me, had a “freakishly stable” approval rating; in such a polarized moment, people know where they stand on the President.
.. voters in both parties are more motivated to vote than they were at any time in the previous twenty years.
.. The pollster agreed that it appeared to be a smart move on Trump’s part to keep talking about illegal immigration as much as the economy, even in the midst of the backlash over his tough policies. “On most issues, whether health care or taxes or the general mood, the Republicans are in a bad place,” the pollster said. “This is their one wedge issue that actually works for them.”
The lesson learned by Trump was not that saying shocking, untrue, and arguably racist things about immigrants was politically dangerous but that doing so helped him become President. “Remember I made that speech, and I was badly criticized? ‘Oh, it’s so terrible, what he said,’ ” he told the audience. “Turned out I was a hundred per cent right. That’s why I got elected.”.. this is exactly what Merkley predicts Trump will do between now and November. He told me in our interview that he considers Trump a “fear” candidate from a Republican Party that had learned to run what Merkley called the “three-terrors strategy”: pick three issues that scare the American public, and emphasize them at all costs... he predicted, illegal immigration will be one of Trump’s main rallying cries.. Merkley acknowledged that his more cautious Democratic colleagues could well be right: changing the subject to immigration plays into the President’s hands. “I just feel like when you see children being mistreated, forget the politics,” Merkley told me. “You’ve got to call it out as completely wrong.”