In a crazy week for news, President Trump is not the main story. Unless ….
For now, Trump has no obvious role in the astonishing standoff between Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the National Enquirer tabloid, which apparently obtained sexually explicit photos Bezos shared with a paramour.
Except an investigator for Bezos has suggested the Enquirer’s effort to harm Bezos is politically motivated. How? Well, the CEO of the Enquirer’s parent company is David Pecker, a friend of President Trump, who has essentially acknowledged that the Enquirer tried to help Trump’s election odds in 2016 by killing the story of a woman claiming to have had an affair with Trump.
Trump has an open feud with Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, which has relentlessly investigated Trump controversies. Is it possible Trump’s pal Pecker went after Bezos to help Trump settle a score?
Probably not. The Enquirer could jeopardize an immunity agreement with prosecutors if it broke any laws in its Bezos reporting, whether at Trump’s behest or not. Prosecutors are investigating. If there is some connection with Trump, it would be an explosive story, even by the standards of the Trump Chaos Machine. We’ll deal with that if we have to.
For now, the weekly Trump-o-meter is mostly measuring remarks on the economy Trump made during his State of the Union speech, and hints at a way to bury the hatchet with Democrats over border wall funding. The Trump-o-meter reads MEDIOCRE, our third-highest rating.
Trump used language in his speech to Congress suggesting he could moderate his demands for wall funding in a way that would avert another government shutdown. He said the wall he favors would be a “smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier,” rather than the concrete wall he was angling for before. If Trump drops the word “steel,” the formulation might be something Democrats can live with, since they favor funding for border security as long as it can’t be described as Trump’s wall.
Boring! Yes it is. The semantics of walls is not something we should really be spending much time on. So let’s hope a longer-term government funding deal gets signed by mid-February, so we can obsess, instead, on trade.
On Feb. 17, the Trump administration is due to release a report on whether auto-imports represent a threat to national security. The Trump-o-meter is not happy about this, and is already beginning to point left. Everybody knows auto imports don’t threaten national security, but by declaring that they do, Trump would then have the authority to impose tariffs on auto imports. Tariff Man is still at it.
Markets will quake if Trump threatens to do this, especially since Trump’s trade talks with China are reaching a climactic and worrisome phase. Markets are getting nervous as a March 2 deadline for a trade deal approaches, and news reports suggest the two sides remain far apart. But that’s for future weeks, perhaps many of them. This week, the government’s open, and likely to stay that way, and there are no damaging taxes on imported cars. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman