President Trump met with former Colombian Presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana at Mar-a-Lago last weekend, an undisclosed meeting that Colombian media says was arranged by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Rubio, Uribe, and Pastrana are all prominent critics of the peace deal Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos negotiated with the FARC guerrilla group. Next month, Santos is meeting with Trump in Washington, and he will urge Trump to support the peace deal, which won Santos the Nobel Peace Prize, by maintaining the $450 million in foreign aid that former President Barack Obama pledged to implement the agreement, McClatchy reports.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to confirm that the meeting had taken place. On Thursday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told McClatchy that Trump had "briefly said hello when the presidents walked past them," saying the two presidents happened to be visiting Trump's private club with an unidentified member. "There wasn't anything beyond a quick hello," she said.
On Twitter, meanwhile, Pastrana thanked Trump for the "cordial and very frank conversation about problems and perspectives in Colombia and the region," and Uribe ally and former vice president Francisco Santos told McClatchy that the former presidents had raised concerns with Trump about the turmoil in Colombia and Venezuela, and the FARC peace deal, in a short but direct meeting.
Colombian analysts focused on the damage to the peace process if Trump pulled funding or publicly opposed the peace plan, while in the U.S. observers were more concerned about the ease with which well-connected foreign leaders can meet with the president to press their case, without any public record. Mar-a-Lago's membership rolls are not public, the media is kept at arm's length when Trump is down there, and the club has no visitor log. You can read more about the meeting and the Colombian politics at The Miami Herald. Peter Weber
President Trump has praised Rasmussen Reports for producing "the most accurate" polls, although the latest news from the polling company might not have him so thrilled. As of Tuesday, Rasmussen finds Trump's "strong" approval rating is a mere 26 percent, while 45 percent of people "strongly disapprove" of the job he is doing in office.
— West Wing Reports (@WestWingReport) August 16, 2017
Trump's lowest rating on Rasmussen came August 3, when a mere 23 percent of voters strongly approved of him.
Rasmussen also records "total" approval of the president, with Trump at 42 percent approval and 57 percent disapproval Tuesday. This is higher than his marks in the Gallup Daily tracking poll, which recorded a new floor for the president Monday at just 34 percent approval.
President Trump's impromptu press conference on Tuesday made some waves, but so did Politico's transcript of his comments, which originally contained this line: "Okay, what about the alt-left that came charging at us — excuse me — what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right?" That seemed to suggest that Trump had made a Freudian slip, or perhaps a Kinsley gaffe, identifying himself as a member of the so-called alt-right. But Politico has since updated the transcript to the more accurate: "Okay, what about the alt-left that came charging at [indiscernible]."
BuzzFeed's Claudia Koerner looked into what Trump really said, noting that the official White House transcript just reads "charging at — excuse me," while the one from the Federal News Service quotes Trump as saying, "charging at them," not us. You can listen for yourself, near the beginning of the CNN clip.
"BuzzFeed News reviewed video of the press conference, and though the audio is muffled, it does sound like Trump is saying 'them,'" Koerner concluded. So if you are going to be outraged by Trump's statements on the Charlottesville violence, you can channel your ire toward the idea that in 2017, we have to have a national conversation about whether Nazis and white supremacists hold defensible beliefs. CNN's Jake Tapper has your answer below. Peter Weber
— CNN (@CNN) August 15, 2017
Joe Scarborough claims Trump has 'officially become the president of the white nationalist movement'
Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough did nothing to hide his disgust over President Trump's comments Tuesday regarding Charlottesville. "He has now officially become the president not only of America but also of the white nationalist movement," Scarborough told viewers Wednesday.
Lawmakers from both parties, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, took issue with Trump's moral equivalency Tuesday between neo-Nazis and those opposed to them, and Trump's statement that some of the alt-right protesters are "very nice people." Trump's comments received positive reviews from former KKK leader David Duke and alt-right organizer Richard Spencer.
"The president has chosen sides and it is very clear, not only morally …but also politically, he has chosen the wrong side," Scarborough went on. While the host made clear not everyone who voted for Trump is a white supremacist, Scarborough added: "There are a lot of people across the country asking, 'What the hell did I vote for? … I didn't want a Clinton or a Bush in the White House, but I sure as hell didn't want a Duke in the White House.' And that's what they've got." Watch below. Jeva Lange
— Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) August 16, 2017
Crews in Baltimore worked through the night to remove four Confederate monuments after the city council approved the plan Monday evening, the Baltimore Sun reports.
"They needed to come down. My concern is for the safety and security of our people," said Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh in the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Pugh's predecessor, former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, had introduced a commission to review Baltimore's Confederate statues in June 2015.
"Way to be, Baltimore, sneaky style, and do it in the middle of the night," observed one late night passerby to the Baltimore Sun.
And there they go. Lee and Jackson sailing through air onto flatbed truck in Baltimore at 3:40 AM. An amazing sight. pic.twitter.com/4SzRYRiVOB
— Alec MacGillis (@AlecMacGillis) August 16, 2017
Pugh suggested the statues might be moved to Confederate cemeteries in other parts of Maryland, The New York Times reports.
Although Maryland sided with the Union in the Civil War, 22,000 of its residents fought for the Confederacy, The Guardian reports. In addition to a statue of Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, the city removed its Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Confederate Women's Monument, and Roger B. Taney Monument between 11:30 p.m. Tuesday and 5:30 a.m. Wednesday. Jeva Lange
Hope Hicks, President Trump's White House director of strategic communications, will be promoted to communications director, filling the hole left by Anthony Scaramucci's departure, The Daily Caller's Rachel Stoltzfoos reports, citing a White House insider. Trump has already offered the role to Hicks, one of his most trusted aides, and she has accepted, The Daily Caller says. Hicks did not offer any response in the report. Peter Weber
Daniel Craig had some news to make on Tuesday's Late Show, and he said he'd been saving it for Stephen Colbert. Colbert got the ball rolling, telling Craig he thinks he's the best of the six James Bonds and asking if, as rumored, he is going to reprise the role. "I've been quite cagey," Craig said. "I've been doing interviews all day, and people have been asking me and I think I've been rather coy, but I kind of felt like, you know, if I was going to speak the truth, I should speak the truth to you." The answer, of course, was yes. "I couldn't be happier," he said, and neither could Colbert, who exclaimed, "Hot damn!"
"I have to apologize to all the people I've done interviews today," Craig said, and Colbert assured him, "You did the right thing." He said he has been sitting on the news for "several months," and that he always wanted to return to the role, though he "needed a break." Colbert fact-checked him, noting he said he would rather slit his wrists than play Bond again, and Craig apologized for the "really stupid answer" he gave to a reporter two days after wrapping Spectre. Still, he said, this will probably be his last Bond film. "I just want to go out on a high note, and I can't wait," he said. They also, sometimes punchily, talked about Colbert's crush on Craig's wife, Craig's new movie Logan Lucky, and his cameo in The Force Awakens. Peter Weber
The White House sends Republican members of Congress a list of talking points every day, and Tuesday was no different, Molly Ball reports at The Atlantic. The notes from the White House communications office are supposed to get everyone in the GOP on the same page, and a GOP congressional aide sent Ball Tuesday evening's special talking points, aimed at defending Trump's comments at his press conference Tuesday. The memo begins: "The president was entirely correct — both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility."
These are the talking points the White House sent out to Republicans in Congress tonight: "The President was entirely correct." pic.twitter.com/Mcdy53fRRI
— Molly Ball (@mollyesque) August 16, 2017
Except for David Duke, alt-right organizer Richard Spencer, and maybe Fox News eminence gris Brit Hume, not many public figures applauded Trump's statements that neo-Nazis and white supremacists and their "very nice" allies did not shoulder all the blame for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, because the "alt-left" counter-protesters picked some fights, too. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) insisted that "there can be no moral ambiguity" that "white supremacy is repulsive," for example, and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) dropped the subtweeting, saying: "White supremacy, bigotry, & racism have absolutely no place in our society & no one — especially POTUS — should ever tolerate it."
Maybe they hadn't gotten the memo yet, or perhaps they disagree with Trump's equivocations. You can read the entire memo at The Atlantic, and if you want more information about what happened in Charlottesville, what its organizers had in mind, and who bears the blame for the death and violence, you can watch the chilling, sometimes NSFW documentary VICE News released earlier this week. Peter Weber