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Sexual Harassment, Other Claims in Congress Cost $17 Million Since 1997

The government has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer money during the last 20 years to resolve claims of sexual harassment, overtime pay disputes and other workplace violations filed by employees of Congress.

The Office of Compliance released the numbers amid a wave of revelations of sexual misconduct in the worlds of entertainment, business and politics that consumed Capitol Hill this past week.

Two female lawmakers described incidents of sexual harassment, one in explicit detail, and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken apologized to a woman who said he forcibly kissed her and groped her during a 2006 USO tour.

Franken faces a likely investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.

264 settlements

In a statement on the office’s website Friday, it said “based on the volume of recent inquiries about settlements reached under the Congressional Accountability Act, the executive director is releasing awards and settlement figures for 2015, 2016 and 2017 that would have been released as part of the OOC Annual Report early.”

 

The independent office doesn’t break the figures down, meaning there’s no way to determine how many of the 264 settlements and awards dealt specifically with cases of sexual misconduct brought by legislative branch employees. The office, which was created in 1995 by the Congressional Accountability Act, said the cases may involve violations of multiple statutes.

The claims range from sexual harassment complaints, allegations of religious and racial discrimination, and overtime pay disputes, according to the office. The money has been paid out between 1997 and 2017. The largest number of settlements, 25, occurred in 2007 when just more than $4 million was paid out, according to the figures. The money comes from an account in the U.S. Treasury.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said the House will move ahead on legislation requiring anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and their staffs. The Senate has voted for mandatory training for senators, staff and interns.

​Move to overhaul reporting process

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have introduced legislation to overhaul the process of reporting sexual harassment. Victims of sexual misconduct are currently required to undergo counseling, mediation and a 30-day “cooling off period” before filing a formal complaint with the compliance office.

The bill would eliminate nondisclosure agreements as a condition of initiating mediation and create a public list to identify offices that have sexual harassment complaints pending.

The bill would also protect interns and fellows, make mediation and counseling optional, rather than required before a victim can file a lawsuit or formal complaint, and require members of Congress who settle discrimination cases to pay back the Treasury for the amount of the award.

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Kushner’s Lawyer Pushes Back on US Senate Committee Request

A lawyer for White House adviser Jared Kushner pushed back Friday after a Senate committee said he had not been fully forthcoming in its probe into Russian election interference.

 

Lawyer Abbe Lowell said Kushner encouraged others in President Donald Trump’s campaign to decline meetings with foreign people who “go back home and claim they have special access to gain importance for themselves.”

 

The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to Kushner, who is Donald Trump’s son-in-law, on Thursday asking him to provide additional documents to the committee, including one sent to him involving WikiLeaks and a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite.”

 

The senators noted they have received documents from other campaign officials that were copied to or forwarded to Kushner, but which he did not produce. Those include “September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks.” It was revealed this week that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., corresponded with WikiLeaks that month and later sent an email to several Trump campaign advisers to tell them about it.

Lowell wrote Friday to Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. He said the email from Donald Trump Jr. referring to his contact with WikiLeaks was forwarded to Kushner, but he did not respond.

 

Apparently referring to the email that the senators called a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” Lowell said that was part of an email chain that included biographies of various individuals. Lowell wrote that “there is a reference to one of these people suggesting an idea that somewhere, sometime (before the words ‘Russia’ or ‘Putin’ were politically charged or relevant in the campaign), someone thought candidate Trump should visit Russia.”

 

Lowell goes on to quote Kushner’s response to that email: “Pass on this. A lot of people come claiming to carry messages. Very few we are able to verify. For now I think we decline such meetings. Most likely these people go home and claim they have special access to gain importance for themselves. Be careful.”

The senators’ request is part of the panel’s probe into the Russian election meddling and whether the Trump campaign was involved. The Judiciary committee is one of three congressional committees looking into the issue, along with the Senate and House intelligence panels. The committees have separately requested and received thousands of documents from people associated with the Trump campaign, and have interviewed dozens of individuals. Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller is also looking into the meddling.

 

In the letter to Kushner, the senators noted they had asked him to provide documents to, from, or copied to him “relating to” certain individuals of interest to investigators, but Kushner responded that no emails had been found in which those individuals were sent emails, received emails, or were copied on them.

 

Lowell replied that Kushner had provided the Judiciary panel with the same documents he had provided the intelligence panels, believing that would be enough to satisfy the Judiciary request.

 

The Senate and House intelligence committees interviewed Kushner in July. The Judiciary panel has also sought an interview with Kushner, but his lawyers offered to make the transcripts available from the other interviews instead, according to the letters. Grassley and Feinstein say those panels haven’t provided them with those transcripts, and ask Lowell to secure that access.

 

“I do not understand why these committees would not provide the transcripts to you, but we do not have those transcripts,” Lowell wrote, adding that it would be “duplicative” if the committees did not share their transcripts.

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Texas: Disaster Aid ‘Inadequate’; White House Replies: ‘Step Up’

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday criticized as “completely inadequate” the Trump administration’s $44 billion request to Congress for disaster relief in his hurricane-ravaged state and other areas hammered by storms. The White House shot back that Texas may want to foot more of the bill for its own recovery.

Abbott has lavished praise on the federal government since Hurricane Harvey killed more than 80 people, triggered historic flooding in Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, and caused an estimated $180 billion in damage. On Friday, he refused to criticize President Donald Trump by name, but said his administration’s request “is completely inadequate for the needs of the state of Texas, and I believe, does not live up to what the president wants to achieve.”

“The president has told me privately what he’s said publicly, and that is he wants to be the builder president,” Abbott said at a news conference inside his Texas Capitol office. “The president has said that he wants this to be the best recovery from a disaster ever.”

​White House bristles

A short time later in Washington, however, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared to contradict that, suggesting that Texas hasn’t put up enough of its own money for Harvey recovery.

“We feel strongly that they should step up and play a role and work with the federal government in this process,” Sanders said. “We did a thorough assessment and that was completed and this was the number that we put forward to Congress today.”

The request is Trump’s third since hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria hit Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. If approved, it would bring the total appropriated for disaster relief this fall close to $100 billion, and that doesn’t include most of the money to rebuild Puerto Rico’s devastated housing stock and electric grid.

The request followed lobbying by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who pressed the White House for far more. There are sure to be attempts to add to the measure as it advances through the House and Senate.

 

“This request does not come close to what local officials say is needed,” said New York Rep. Nita Lowey, top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Abbott complained that Congress approved more funding, more quickly to areas affected by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 “which was half the storm of what Hurricane Harvey was.”

“You can see that this falls short,” Abbott said. “Hopefully, this is just one of multiple steps along the pathway.”

​Cornyn vows a fight

Abbott has visited Washington repeatedly in recent weeks, lobbying for $61 billion in disaster relief he says his state needs just for infrastructure, including ambitious projects meant to combat future floods. Not only is Friday’s request far less than that, but Texas will have to share it, which didn’t sit so well with Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the chamber’s powerful majority whip.

“It’s really time for the federal government to live up to its responsibilities,” Cornyn said at the same Austin news conference.

He recalled that Puerto Rico’s governor requested more than $90 billion, just for his island’s recovery.

“Just imagine, given the size and scope of our great state, extrapolate that,” Cornyn said. “We’re not asking for that. We are asking to be treated fairly. And we intend to fight for that.”

Puerto Rico’s Rossello has requested $94 billion, including $18 billion to rebuild the island’s power grid and $31 billion for housing. The White House anticipates sending another request focused on the needs of the island territory but hasn’t indicated when that would be.

The Florida congressional delegation asked for $27 billion. 

At the same time, Mick Mulvaney, White House budget director asked lawmakers to consider $59 billion in spending cuts to pay for the aid, including $44 billion from benefit programs.

At the same event, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that $5 billion was being allocated to Texas in federal grants that will help meet the long term needs of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Harvey. But even that may be a relative drop in the bucket since Abbott has said that, ultimately, his state will likely seek more than $50 billion in federal housing funding alone.

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Pentagon Releases Base-by-base Sexual Assault Report Data

The U.S. military on Friday disclosed for the first time base-by-base data on sexual assault reports, showing a higher number of reports at big military installations like Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia as well as overseas hubs like South Korea.

Sexual assault in the military, which is defined as anything from groping to rape, is believed to be significantly higher than the number of reports. The Pentagon said it estimates that, in 2016, less than a third of service members who experienced a sexual assault reported it.

Still, that was an improvement in reporting from previous years, the Pentagon said.

According to the newly released data, a collection of U.S. bases in South Korea had a combined 211 reports of sexual assault while Norfolk had 270 reports of sexual assault in the 2016 fiscal year, which began in October 2015 and ended in September 2016. That is down slightly from 291 cases at Norfolk in 2015.

The Pentagon did not elaborate on the data but noted that the reports showed where a victim reported a sexual assault, not necessarily where the sexual assault occurred.

Sexual assault reports from other big bases in 2016 included: Fort Hood in Texas with 199 reports; Naval Base in San Diego, California, with 187 reports; Camp Lejeune in North Carolina with 169 reports; Camp Pendleton in California with 157 reports, and Fort Bragg in North Carolina with 146 reports.

The Pentagon announced earlier this year a record total of 6,172 sexual assault reports in 2016, compared with 6,082 the previous year. This was a sharp increase from 2012, when 3,604 cases were reported.

The U.S. military said it believes that a biannual anonymous survey provides a more accurate estimate of the number of sexual assaults. According to the latest survey, 14,900 service members experienced some kind of sexual assault in 2016, down from 20,300 in 2014.

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State Department Battles Criticism of Tillerson’s Management

The State Department is hitting back at the growing bipartisan criticism of Rex Tillerson’s leadership and accusations he is presiding over a debilitating brain drain of the nation’s diplomatic corps.

 

In a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Republican chairman, the department said Tillerson’s reorganization plans aren’t crippling the agency as reports have claimed. Top ranks aren’t being intentionally gutted through attrition, mass retirements and buyouts, it said, and a planned 8 percent reduction of its nearly 75,000 employees had been mandated by the Office of Management and Budget and is proceeding under that order.

 

In the letter sent to Sen. Bob Corker late Thursday, the department said there are only 108 fewer foreign service officers now than in 2016. The tally is still 2,000 more than there were in 2008, it said.

 

It said a widely cited figure that 60 percent of diplomats at the highest level had left the foreign service since January is a “distortion” because only six people held the rank known as “career ambassador.” Two remain, it said. Since 1980, only from one to seven career ambassadors have ever served at the same time.

 

Nevertheless, the letter seems unlikely to stem the criticism of Tillerson. Critics also point to departures of senior and mid-level foreign service officers and a hiring freeze of entry level diplomats that has been relaxed only to take on about 100 new employees in the current budget year. That’s about a third of recent yearly intakes.

 

Democratic and Republican lawmakers also oppose Tillerson’s proposal to cut the department’s budget by nearly 30 percent, suggesting there will be rancorous exchanges on staffing levels in coming months.

 

The letter follows an intense week of criticism of Tillerson.

 

Since taking office, the former ExxonMobil CEO has been targeted by frequent attacks from Democrats, former diplomats and pundits on the left and the right. In recent days, Corker and a fellow prominent Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, joined the chorus.

Corker on Tuesday echoed comments of his committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Ben Cardin, who spoke of “alarming” reports that America’s diplomatic corps is being decimated by the reorganization. Corker said the concerns were “bipartisan in nature” and lamented that a briefing about the reorganization with State Department officials had been “very unsatisfactory” and incomplete.

 

A day later, McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, wrote a letter with Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen criticizing the department for management decisions “that threaten to undermine the long-term health and effectiveness of American diplomacy.”

 

The entire minority membership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee followed, writing to Tillerson to say they’re “profoundly concerned about what appears to be the intentional hollowing-out of our senior diplomatic ranks and the entire State Department with no apparent goal.”

 

The criticism followed a highly critical missive from the American Foreign Service Association, the union representing U.S. diplomats.

 

Its president, Barbara Stephenson, likened senior staff reductions to a “decapitation” that would be met with public outcry if it had occurred in the military.

 

“The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events,” she said.

The State Department feels the criticism is unfair. In its letter to Corker, the agency said there are only 20 fewer senior foreign service officers now than there were a year ago (1,048 compared with 1,068). This year’s retirements are five fewer than in 2016, it said. Buyouts to induce early retirement of more than 600 diplomats are consistent with a directive to reduce the federal workforce.

 

It said reorganization is a work in progress, appealing for patience as officials make the department “more efficient and effective within a sustainable budget.”

 

“A project such as this demands careful execution and we are committed to doing just that and notifying Congress as required,” the State Department said.

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US Senate Candidate Moore’s Wife Says ‘He Will Not Step Down’

The wife of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama said on Friday her husband would not end his campaign in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, dismissing reports about his past behavior toward some women as political attacks.

“He will not step down,” Kayla Moore said at a news conference on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery. “He will not stop fighting for the people of Alabama.”

The former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice’s campaign has been in turmoil since the Washington Post published a story last week detailing the accounts of three women who claim Moore pursued them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

More women have since spoken out with allegations of their own.

Reuters has been unable to independently confirm any of the accusations.

Before the allegations came to light, Moore was heavily favored to defeat Democrat Doug Jones in the special election next month.

Two polls this week showed Moore now trailing Jones. Fox News released a poll on Thursday putting Jones ahead with 50 percent to 42 percent for Moore.

But Moore’s embattled candidacy also got a boost on Thursday, when the Alabama Republican Party said it would continue to support him, putting it at odds with Republican leaders in Washington who want him to withdraw.

Republican Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Friday told reporters she would vote for Moore, emphasizing the importance of keeping Republican control of the U.S. Senate.

Asked whether she believed the women accusing Moore of sexual improprieties or unwanted romantic overtures, Ivey said, “the timing is a little curious but at the same time I have no reason to disbelieve them.”

The White House has said President Donald Trump finds the allegations troubling and believes Moore should step aside if they are true.

White House legislative director Marc Short on Friday said Trump previously backed Moore’s opponent, Luther Strange, in the primary contest and that Moore’s explanations “so far have not been satisfactory.”

“At this point, we believe it is up to the people of Alabama to make a decision,” Short told CNN. “The president chose a different candidate.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, several women went public with accusations that Trump had in the past made unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate personal remarks about them.

Trump denied the accusations, accused rival Democrats and the media of a smear campaign, and went on to be elected president.

Kayla Moore noted that the Washington Post endorsed Hillary Clinton over Trump in last year’s election, accusing it of being part of a concerted effort to push back against anti-establishment conservative candidates.

“All of the very same people who were attacking President Trump are also attacking us,” she said.

The Post’s editorial board, which endorsed Clinton, works separately from the reporters and editors who work on news stories, as is common at most newspapers.

 

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US Senator in Trouble After Being Accused of Sexual Harassment in 2006

A U.S. senator from Minnesota is the latest in a string of well-known personalities from entertainment and politics to be accused of sexual harassment. Democrat Al Franken is under fire after a radio newscaster said he kissed and groped her without consent during a tour to entertain U.S. troops in the Middle East in 2006. Meanwhile, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Alabama is battling charges of sexual abuse of underage girls. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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US Towns, Cities Fear Taxpayer Revolt if Republicans Kill Deduction

From Pataskala, Ohio, to Conroe, Texas, local government leaders worry that if Republican tax-overhaul plans moving through the U.S. Congress become law, it will be harder for them to pave streets, put out fires, fight crime and pay teachers.

A tax plan approved by the House of Representatives on Thursday would sharply curtail a federal deduction that millions of Americans can now claim for tax payments to state, county, city and town governments.

Ending that deduction, the local leaders say, could make their taxpayers, especially in high-tax communities, less likely to support future local tax increases or even tolerate local taxes at present levels.

The proposed repeal of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction is part of an “assault on local governments” by Republicans in Washington, said Elizabeth Kautz, the Republican mayor of Burnsville, Minnesota, near Minneapolis.

“My hope is that we look at being thoughtful about what we’re doing and not ram something through just to get something done before the year is out,” Kautz said of the plan being rushed through Congress by her own party.

In the United States, local governments run schools, operate police and fire departments, and maintain streets, parks and libraries, among other essential services. The federal government’s role at that level is limited.

Cities, towns, counties and states collect their own property, sales and income taxes. Under existing law, payments of those taxes can be deducted, or subtracted from federal taxable income, lowering the amount of federal tax due.

The House tax bill just approved would eliminate the deduction for individuals and families of state and local income and sales tax, while capping property tax deductions at $10,000.

A bill being debated in the Senate, with Republican President Donald Trump’s support, would kill the SALT deduction entirely for individuals and families, although businesses would keep it. The fate of that bill is uncertain.

Ending the SALT tax break is part of a package of changes to deductions that would help Republicans raise more than $1.2 trillion in new federal tax revenues over 10 years.

That increase would help offset the $1.4 trillion in revenue that would be lost from cutting the corporate tax rate, another part of both the Senate and House plans.

Police concerns

Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 325,000 law enforcement officers nationwide, wrote a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday.

“The FOP is very concerned that the partial or total elimination of SALT deductions will endanger the ability of our state and local government to fund these [law enforcement] agencies,” said the letter, distributed to reporters.

Emily Brock, a director at the Government Finance Officers Association, said if SALT deductions were killed by Congress, voters could revolt. “Can you blame an individual taxpayer?” she asked. “They try to minimize their individual tax liability.”

Those who want to curb the century-old SALT deduction argue it only motivates local governments to seek more tax increases and spend more money. “Maintaining the deduction encourages government overspending and taxation,” argues the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit group of conservative state legislators and private activists.

Various other groups are fighting on Capitol Hill to defend the SALT deduction, such as the National Association of Realtors and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Brady’s district

Steve Williams, chief financial officer for Conroe, Texas, said its rapid growth demanded new fire stations, schools, roads and public safety services.

Conroe is near Houston and in the congressional district of Republican Representative Kevin Brady, chairman of the House tax committee and a champion of restricting the SALT deduction.

“Tax reform comes with picking winners and losers and I think in the final analysis, the people in [congressional] District 8 will be losers,” Williams said.

Conroe is part of Montgomery County, which voted 75 percent to 22.5 percent for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

In Pataskala, Ohio, near the state capital, Columbus, city finance director Jamie Nicholson said the local police department needed a new station. It now works out of an early 1900s building with no holding cell for suspects who are under arrest. “They get handcuffed to a chair,” he said.

Given the past difficulty Pataskala has had convincing taxpayers to approve new taxes, he said, eliminating or paring back the SALT deduction might trigger demands for chopping local taxes and blow a huge hole in his budget.

Greg Cox, a Republican member of the San Diego County, California, Board of Supervisors, echoed similar concerns about the impact on his community.

He said the Republican plan was unfair partly because it let businesses keep the SALT deduction, while taking it away from individuals and families.

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McCain Warns Trump Over Staffing Pentagon With Industry Insiders

Senator John McCain warned President Donald Trump on Thursday against nominating any more defense industry insiders to top Pentagon posts, as his committee questioned an executive from Lockheed Martin about potential conflicts of interest.

Concern over the close relationship between the Pentagon and arms manufacturers has existed for decades but appears to have intensified under Trump. He has drawn scrutiny for filling posts throughout his government with high-ranking executives. The latest example was his naming this week of former pharmaceutical executive and lobbyist Alex Azar to become Health and Human Services secretary.

McCain, chairman of the Senate’s armed services committee, said he was troubled by the number of Defense Department nominees drawn from the defense industry. He said he would oppose any more such nominations after John Rood, Trump’s pick for the Pentagon’s No. 3 job, who appeared before the committee on Thursday.

“From this point forward, I will not support any further nominees with that background,” McCain said in a statement.

Rood ran into trouble during the hearing over his nomination to become undersecretary of defense for policy. As a Lockheed senior vice president, Rood’s job is to expand the company’s international business.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren pressed him to say if he would recuse himself from discussions with U.S. allies that could benefit Lockheed, the largest U.S. defense contractor with business in 70 countries.

Rood said he did not intend to participate in talks about the sale of Lockheed products but did not give the “yes or no” reply sought by Warren, triggering a charged exchange with the committee.

McCain joined Warren in demanding a direct answer and warned Rood that otherwise, he was “going to have trouble getting through this committee.”

’Ducking the answer’

McCain told Rood to submit his response in writing “because obviously you are ducking the answer here.”

The uproar came a day after the Senate confirmed Trump’s choice for Army secretary, Mark Esper, who was a top executive at Raytheon, another U.S. defense industry giant. He committed to recusing himself from matters tied to Raytheon.

Trump’s Pentagon also has officials who previously worked at Boeing and Textron Systems.

U.S. arms manufacturers like Raytheon, whose shares have risen more than 30 percent since December, are expected to benefit in the coming year from an increase in defense spending.

The Pentagon says it has 38 unfilled positions for civilian defense leadership roles that require Senate confirmation, and at least 23 nominees whose names have already been submitted to the Senate.

It was unclear from McCain’s remarks whether he would oppose any of the already-announced nominees, although he seemed to be warning about future Pentagon picks.

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Trump Tack on China Likely to Shift from Sweet to Sour After Asia Trip

Fresh off his first visit to Asia, included a two-day stop in China that some argue was heavy on flattery and lacking in substance, analysts say President Donald Trump is now poised to do what he’s long promised: get tough on Beijing over its unfair trade practices.

While in China, Trump said he gives Beijing “great credit” for taking advantage of the United States, which left some perplexed.

Speaking at signing ceremony for deals that totaled some $250 billion he said: “I don’t blame China … who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the sake of its citizens?”

But that was only the first half of a key message of his trip.

The rest came in his speech at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and was echoed again at the White House on Wednesday.

“We can no longer tolerate unfair trading practices that steal American jobs, wealth and intellectual property. The days of the United States being taken advantage of are over,” Trump said.

 

WATCH: Leaders of US and China Offer Asia Business Leaders Divergent Paths

​Sweet and sour

Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he sees a domestic political strategy in the broader message that Trump conveyed during his trip.

By saying that China is not to blame and that it is doing what any country should do to protect its interests, Trump has given himself license to do for America what other leaders have not done.

Paal notes that early next month two key trade investigation reports are due and, unless something knocks them off course, they are going to lead to high tariffs on some products and maybe even outright bans.

And the Chinese will retaliate as they feel appropriate, he said.

“So we will go from the good feeling, high emotions of this state visit, which we’d call the sweet, to sour in December on trade. And that would be more suitable to the way Trump thinks about his political constituency and the debt he owes that constituency for his election,” Paal said.

Paal added the outcome of such an approach and impact on America is widely uncertain, but what is clear is that Trump will stick to his domestic political calculation until it proves to be wrong.

​Trade investigations

In addition to a section 301 investigation into China’s use of policies to force foreign companies to hand over intellectual property in exchange for market access, the Trump administration has also launched a section 232 investigation to determine whether cheap Chinese aluminum and steel imports threaten national security.

Both would allow the administration to levy tariffs on Chinese goods. Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 was a popular trade tool that was used in the 1980s against Japan, and it allows the president to impose tariffs or other restrictions to counter unfair trade practices.

China has called the launch of the investigation “irresponsible” because it is based on a domestic U.S. law that could be applied outside of the framework of the World Trade Organization.

Some have warned that the use of such measures could trigger a trade war between the two countries. Others, however, argue that the trade war began a long time ago and that the difference is that previous administrations did not do enough about it.

“I think there are very few people who would say that the previous administrations, whether it was the Obama administration or the Bush administration, were overly aggressive in enforcing trade law. Many people would say that they were insufficiently aggressive in enforcing U.S. law when it comes to unfair trade practices of U.S. trading partners,” said Ross Feingold, senior adviser with the American political risk manager DC International Advisory.

Economic bullets

In addition to the investigations, there is a bipartisan push by lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Representatives to bolster the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS.

If the draft legislation is approved, it would not only broaden the scope of the interagency body’s review of foreign investments in the United States, but expand it to include joint venture investments overseas as well.

CFIUS evaluates investments in the United States for potential threats to national security. Some lawmakers have proposed expanding the review domestically and to include investments overseas as well. A proposal that is likely to not sit well with big American multinational corporations.

Ethan Cramer-Flood, associate director of The Conference Board’s China Center and Asia Programs, said that over the past year there has been an enormous amount of tactical preparation and economic bullets for eventual economic confrontation.

And while that is no guarantee that will happen, the trade investigations and proposed CFIUS legislation are all part of that effort.

“The Trump trade team and their allies in Congress are loading up the chamber,” Cramer-Flood said. “That doesn’t mean they are going to fire the bullets, but they are creating a sort of legal arsenal, so that rather than just rhetoric and yelling, there are things the U.S. side can do to cause real pain on the Chinese side.”

What the Trump administration is aiming to do, Cramer-Flood said, is accumulate leverage and create a legitimate concern from the Chinese perspective, in hopes of bringing about change.

Without that kind of pressure, China is unlikely to have any interest in changing the status quo, which has been working very well for it for the past 30 years, he added.

Joyce Huang contributed to this report.

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