Donald Trump’s two foreign policy crises: “Nuclear North Korea” and a “destabilizing” Russia


This is Mic’s daily read on how the country is changing under Trump. Welcome to the political newsletter that will be watching to see whether John Kelly can change the White House.

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What we’re watching:

Today: Russia has ordered the U.S. to scale back its diplomatic presence in Moscow.

More: The U.S. continues to pressure China to change North Korea’s actions.

Even more: Health care reform is not dead.

Yes, more: It’s John Kelly’s first day on the job as White House chief of staff.

Trump’s agenda today: Swearing in John Kelly. Running a Cabinet meeting. Meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Meeting with the secretary of state. Presenting the Medal of Honor.

Donald Trump’s two foreign policy challenges

Following what some called the worst week of his presidency, President Donald Trump faces several challenges outside the United States that appear to be quickly degenerating. Colder relations with Russia, North Korea’s nuclear tests and more will test Trump’s new chief of staff, John Kelly, a former top general, and his other advisers as Trump faces important decisions in the coming weeks.

1. Russia. Last week, the House and Senate passed legislation to further sanction Russia. The bill also restricted the president’s authority to prevent the implementation of sanctions. Trump is expected to sign it. On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence was in Estonia criticizing “Russia’s destabilizing actions” in the region.

That led to Russian President Vladimir Putin ordering the U.S. to scale back its diplomatic staff in Russia by 755. That brings the U.S. staff level in line with the 455 Russians who work in the U.S. The BBC reported it is the largest reduction of diplomatic staff in modern times.

The New York Times noted these worsening relations are the consequence of Congress making sure “Trump’s hands are now tied in dealing with Moscow” — an incredible turn of events for Putin, who interfered in the U.S. election to support Trump.

The U.S. relationship with Russia is absolutely consequential. It impacts major American companies, particularly energy giants like Exxon Mobil, and is important to fighting the Islamic State group in Syria.

2. North Korea. “The U.S. is on the verge of a binary choice: Either accept North Korea into the nuclear club, or conduct a military strike that would entail enormous civilian casualties.” That quote from a political risk consultant to the Washington Post sums up the challenge Trump faces with Kim Jong Un.

With North Korea on Friday testing another missile that can reach California, the U.S. conducted military exercises with South Korea over the weekend and successfully tested the Pacific missile defense system.

China continues to call for a diplomatic solution, but Trump ratcheted up the pressure publicly and privately on the dominant Asian power. He has tweeted criticism of China’s relationship with North Korea and spoken with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about pressuring Beijing. Likewise, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley tweeted she was “done talking” about North Korea.

The stakes here are high: 25 million South Koreans live within a short firing range of North Korea’s artillery.

News and insight you cannot miss:

Republican health care reform efforts are not dead yet:

• Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is leading an effort to craft a health care bill than can draw 50 Republican votes. The GOP has until the end of September to use reconciliation to pass legislation through the Senate without 60 votes.

• In the House, 40 centrist Republicans and Democrats have proposed a bill to stabilize health insurance markets.

• On Sunday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) reiterated that the Affordable Care Act should be reformed along bipartisan lines.

• On Saturday, Trump called for the end of “BAILOUTS” to health insurance companies if the GOP cannot pass health care reform. That would lead to insurers entirely pulling out of markets with poor and sick Americans.

Trump is going to begin his tax reform pitch this week. Tax reform is Trump’s signature issue, and one he is looking forward to pitching in Washington and rallies across the U.S.

Federal agencies are often not prepared to implement the tweet-length policies announced by the president.