The Trumpian “Dealmaker” Myth Is Finally, Truly Dead – Vanity Fair
For all of his adult life, Donald Trump has been telling people that he’s a brilliant businessman, a habit he continued, to great effect, on the campaign trail. So you’ll have to forgive Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who may have been laboring under a similar assumption when he got on the phone last January with the newly sworn-in president. One of the primary purposes of the call was to discuss a deal that had been struck by Barack Obama to take in 1,250 refugees who had been detained by Australia, which Turnbull was worried would not be honored in light of the travel ban Trump had ordered the day before. But as Turnbull quickly realized, as revealed Thursday by a leaked transcript of their conversation, Trump is completely incapable of grasping even basic facts about foreign policy—and is too ignorant to negotiate even the most basic deals. In fact, it seems highly possible Turnbull came away from the conversation not confident the president of the United States knows what Australia is.
The details of said deal were fairly straightforward: in order to deter human smuggling, as well as to prevent people from drowning at sea, Australia has a policy of not allowing refugees who arrive by boat to enter the country. That means you could be the second coming of Mother Teresa, Mr. Rogers, and Albert Einstein all rolled into one, but if you arrive by boat, you’re not coming into the country. Because Australia did not want to compromise this policy, when a significant number of refugees did arrive by boat, rather than deporting them, Turnbull’s government placed them in detention centers on the Pacific Islands of Nauru and Manus. Human-rights groups have condemned the conditions of these camps, the latter of which is set to close on October 31. Australia reached an agreement with the Obama administration for the U.S. to vet 1,250 of these refugees and then take as many of them as deemed acceptable to enter the country. If the U.S. decided none of them were safe, then it would be under no obligation to take any of them in. In exchange, Australia agreed to take in people the Obama administration wanted to get out of the United States. See? Simple. Really, it’s not that difficult.
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That is, unless you’re Donald Trump, president of the United States, who apparently can’t follow a simple train of thought, based on the transcript of his mind-boggling conversation with Turnbull. Here’s how things got started.
Turnbull: Good evening.
Trump: Mr. Prime Minister, how are you?
Turnbull: I am doing very well . . . I believe you and I have similar backgrounds, unusual for politicians, more businessman but I look forward to working together.
Unfortunately, that exchange represented the high point for Turnbull, who mistakenly thought he was having a conversation with a peer. He would be quickly disabused of that notion. When it became clear that Trump did not understand the deal at all, Turnbull tried to break it down for him, explaining that these are not dangerous people the U.S. needs to be worried about, but rather “economic refugees” who would have been let into Australia if, wait for it, they had not arrived by boat. Moreover, he reminded the president that, based on the terms of the deal, the U.S. could vet each and every one of them with full discretion:
Turnbull: Every individual is subject to your vetting. You can decide to take them or to not take them after vetting. You can decide to take 1,000 or 100. It is entirely up to you. The obligation is to only go through the process. So that is the first thing. Secondly, the people—none of these people are from the conflict zone. They are basically economic refugees from Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. That is the vast bulk of them. They have been under our supervision for over three years now and we know exactly everything about them.
Trump: Why haven’t you let them out? Why have you not let them into your society?
Turnbull: Okay, I will explain why. It is not because they are bad people. It is because in order to stop people smugglers, we had to deprive them of the product. So we said if you try to come to Australia by boat, even if we think you are the best person in the world, even if you are a Noble [sic] Prize-winning genius, we will not let you in. Because the problem with the people—
That’s pretty clear, right? Except, apparently, the only part Trump heard was “we will not let you in,” and then proceeded to commend Turnbull on a policy that he, wrongfully, believed was simply to tell anyone seeking refuge to get lost:
Trump: That is a good idea. We should do that too. You are worse than I am . . . Because you do not want to destroy your country. Look at what has happened in Germany. Look at what is happening in these countries. These people are crazy to let this happen. I spoke to [Angela] Merkel today, and believe me, she wishes she did not do it. Germany is a mess because of what happened.
So Turnbull tried again, first by emphasizing that this is a “deal,” which one assumes is Mr. Art of the Deal’s favorite word after “yuuge,” “terrific,” and “beautiful,” and then by stressing the fact that these are not dangerous people and that, again, the U.S. can decide who to take:
Turnbull: This is a big deal. It is really, really important to us that we maintain it. It does not oblige you to take one person that you do not want. As I have said, your homeland officials have visited and they have already interviewed these people. You can decide. It is at your discretion.
Trump: Malcom [sic], why is this so important? I do not understand. This is going to kill me. I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country. And now I am agreeing to take 2,000 people and I agree I can vet them, but that puts me in a bad position. It makes me look so bad and I have only been here a week.
Turnbull: With great respect, that is not right — It is not 2,000.
Thus commenced the “I get my information from Fox & Friends” portion of the conversation:
Trump: Well, it is close. I have also heard like 5,000 as well.
Turnbull: The given number in the agreement is 1,250 and it is entirely a matter of your vetting.
Really, why shouldn’t Fox News or Breitbart know better than the prime minister of Australia?
Trump: I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now. They are not going to be wonderful people who go on to work for the local milk people.
Turnbull: I would not be so sure about that. They are basically—
Trump: Well, maybe you should let them out of prison. I am doing this because Obama made a bad deal. I am not doing this because it fits into my executive order. I am taking 2,000 people from Australia who are in prison.
That’s right: he still doesn’t understand the terms of the deal whatsoever. At this point, if you asked him to explain it, his answer might as well have been, “Trucks. Big-rig. 9/11. Ice cream.”
Trump: I hate having to do it, but I am still going to vet them very closely. Suppose I vet them closely and I do not take any?
Turnbull: That is the point I have been trying to make.
Trump: Does anybody know who these people are? Who are they? Where do they come from? Are they going to become the Boston bomber in five years? Or two years? Who are these people?
At this juncture, you get the feeling that Turnbull wanted to scream, “LISTEN TO THE WORDS I AM SAYING!” But, through what we can only assume were gritted teeth and expressions of absolute disbelief on the faces of aides surrounding him, Turnbull tried again.
Turnbull: Let me explain. We know exactly who they are. They have been on Nauru or Manus for over three years and the only reason we cannot let them into Australia is because of our commitment to not allow people to come by boat. Otherwise we would have let them in. If they had arrived by airplane and with a tourist visa then they would be here.
Trump: Malcom [sic], but they are arrived on a boat?
Turnbull: Correct, we have stopped the boats.
Here, Turnbull might have thought he’d made some sort of small, incremental breakthrough. A glimmer of understanding. But it would prove to be a false, cruel sense of hope.
Trump: Can Australia give me a guarantee that if we have any problems—you know that is what they said about the Boston bombers. They said they were wonderful young men.
Turnbull: They were Russians. They were not from any of these countries.
Trump: They were from wherever they were.
Oh, just wait:
Turnbull: Please, if we can agree to stick to the deal, you have complete discretion in terms of a security assessment. The numbers are not 2,000 but 1,250 to start. Basically, we are taking people from the previous administration that they were very keen on getting out of the United States. We will take more. We will take anyone that you want us to take. The only people that we do not take are people who come by boat. So we would rather take a not very attractive guy that help you out then to take a Noble [sic] Peace Prize winner that comes by boat. That is the point.
Trump: What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats? No, I know, they come from certain regions. I get it.
Holy mother of God. Yes, after all that, after the slow talking and the handhold and what might as well have been Turnbull saying things like “Okay, so there’s this place called Australia…” Trump didn’t actually “get it” at all. Turnbull, amazingly, did not lose his patience and ask Trump if he was regularly dropped on his head as a child. Instead, he tried one more time:
Turnbull: No, let me explain why. The problem with the boats it that you are basically outsourcing your immigration program to people smugglers and also you get thousands of people drowning at sea. So what we say is, we will decide which people get to come to Australia who are refugees, economic migrants, businessmen, whatever. We decide. That is our decision. We are a generous multicultural immigration nation like the United States but the government decides, the people’s representatives decides. So that is the point. I am a highly transactional businessman like you and I know the deal has to work for both sides. Now Obama thought this deal worked for him and he drove a hard bargain with us—that it was agreed with Obama more than a year ago in the Oval Office, long before the election. The principles of the deal were agreed to.
From there Trump started ranting about all the crappy deals the U.S. has struck, none of which have anything to do with Australia, before accusing Turnbull of making a fool of him and ending the conversation shortly thereafter. One assumes the prime minister still has nightmares about this call, as we all will knowing that a man with the mental capacity of 3 year old-and that may be too generous!- is the leader of the free world.
Poor Carl Icahn
All Carl Icahn wanted to do was parlay his decades-long acquaintanceship with Donald Trump into a “special adviser” role on regulatory matters wherein he could influence the president to scrap regulations that were affecting his investments, none of which he felt obligated to sell. What he didn’t anticipate were the knuckleheads in the E.P.A. failing to take his recommendations as gospel. Per Bloomberg:
The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to formally deny requests by Valero Energy Corp., Icahn’s CVR Energy Inc., and other oil companies to shift the compliance burden for using ethanol and other biofuels away from refiners, moving it to fuel blenders and other entities instead. The people asked not to be identified discussing the policy action before it was announced, possibly before the end of this week. The E.P.A. proposed rejecting the change last November under former President Barack Obama. But analysts had raised the prospect of a reversal amid pressure from Icahn, who serves as an unpaid special regulatory adviser to President Donald Trump . . . CVR Energy fell 3 percent to $19.00 a share at 2:08 p.m. in New York. Valero Energy Corp., the largest independent U.S. oil refiner, was nearly unchanged at $68.47.
The Mooch giveth and the Mooch taketh away
On Wednesday night, Anthony Scaramucci, late of the White House Communications Department, announced via CNN that he would be holding an “online event” to set the record straight on his 10-day West Wing cameo, causing reporters, Mooch fans, and casual watchers of Team Trump drama to clear their entire schedules in anticipation. What sort of bombshells would be dropped, people wondered. Would he reveal that although it was likely his conversation with New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza that got him fired, in retrospect he wouldn’t have changed a single thing, other than to reveal he once saw Steve Bannon trying to . . . y’ know . . . in both the Lincoln Bedroom and the Situation Room? Would he, in explaining his ruthlessness in trying to root out the White House leakers, offer that he was merely “going to the mattresses” on Trump’s behalf? Obviously, the mind reeled with possibilities. Or at least it did until 10:23 a.m. on Thursday, when the Mooch shattered the dreams of what we can only assume are millions:
While it’s unclear why the Mooch announced and canceled the event within the span of 12 hours, we certainly hope it’s because he decided his online tell-all needs to be a much bigger production—a Moochstravaganza, if you will, starring a chorus of Dancing Priebuses—that he’ll be taking the next several months to plan.
Should Gary Cohn run the Federal Reserve?
If you ask the president: quite possibly!
If you ask people who have worked for the Fed, no. If you ask people who know him, the answer is still no. The reasons why include:
It would involve a lot of reading: “He’d have to read a lot, and I don’t know if that’s what he’d like to do,” former Dallas Fed chief Richard Fisher told Bloomberg.
It would involve a lot of boring meetings: “I can’t see why he would want to spend all his hours in those meetings dealing with material that’s as dry as a bone,” said former Goldman partner Jay Dweck. “He has no patience for that kind of stuff.”
It would involve not telling congresspeople exactly how dumb he thinks they are: “Another former colleague tried to imagine how a Chairman Cohn would handle silly questions from members of Congress or reporters, then started laughing.”
U.S. Stocks Fall on W.S.J. Report of Mueller Impaneling Grand Jury (Bloomberg)
Goldman Sachs buys into Aramco $10 billion loan as it seeks IPO role (Reuters)
Steven Cohen’s Point72 faces regulatory rebuff in UK (Financial Times)
Liberal groups launch campaign to oppose tax cuts for the wealthy (The Hill)
Oil ‘God’ Andy Hall is shutting down his main hedge fund after it tanked 30% (CNBC)
Dan Loeb on his great year so far: “Better lucky than right” (CNBC)
Trump denies he called the White House a ‘dump’ (Politico)
Golf journalist: At least 8 people heard Trump call the White House a ‘dump’ (The Hill)
Trump budget director backs off demand to tie debt ceiling increase to spending cuts (CNBC)
Tinder Wreaks Havoc in the Hamptons (Vanities)
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