President Trump spoke on the phone with Chinese President Xi Jinping late Friday, but according to the White House, the two didn’t discuss Monday’s planned executive action that will order a U.S. investigation into Chinese trade practices.
President Trump is planning to ask his staff to consider investigating Chinese trade practices, senior White House officials said Saturday. The Trump administration is insisting the move isn’t tied to heightening tensions with North Korea, but it is inherently connected to complications in the region.
“I don’t think we’re heading toward a period of greater conflict (with China),” said one White House official. “This is simply business.”
The executive memo Trump is expected to sign on Monday will direct U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to look into whether his office should open an investigation into China’s trade policies and whether they abide by the U.S. Trade Act of 1974.
It’s impossible, however, to see the move as somehow disconnected from the back-and-forth rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea over the past week. Trump has previously expressed frustration that China hasn’t done more to economically punish North Korea.
“I am very disappointed in China,” he said on July 29 on Twitter. “Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet … they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk.
“We will no longer allow this to continue.”
And then on Thursday, when speaking with reporters, Trump said in relation to North Korea, “if China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade.”
The title of the so-called “301 investigation” that Trump is expected to call for Lighthizer to consider, refers to Section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974, which authorizes the president to work to remove or retaliate against a practice by a foreign government that is “unjustifiable and burdens or restricts United States commerce.”
In a background briefing with reporters on Saturday, White House officials pointed to frustration from U.S. businesses that they have to share intellectual property with China as a condition for doing business in the country.
“Americans are among the most innovative,” said one official. “They should not be forced to turn over the fruits of their labor.”
Despite Trump’s previous comments, officials at the briefing repeatedly rebuffed any attempt by reporters to connect the possible investigation to the North Korea situation.
It’s unclear whether any actual repercussions for China, like sanctions or tariffs, would come from an investigation like this, and officials said there is no timeline for how long an investigation would take.
Both Reuters and CNN reported this week that Trump was planning to call for the investigation to be considered earlier this month but that the president waited until after a United Nations Security Council vote to impose new sanctions on North Korea. The vote passed with unanimous support from all 15 member nations, including Russia and China.
CNN also reported that Trump told Chinese President Xi Jinping about the expected executive action in a phone call on Friday. A White House communications staffer declined to confirm or deny the report on Saturday, instead pointing to a statement released by the White House on Friday describing the phone call. That statement didn’t mention the executive action, but said the leaders discussed North Korea policy and Trump’s visit to China later this year.
Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller talks to reporters about President Trump’s support for creating a “merit-based immigration system” in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on Aug. 2.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Stephen Miller stood at the lectern in the White House press briefing room wearing his trademark skinny suit and tie and engaged in the kind of verbal combat he’s been perfecting since high school.
Miller, 31, a policy adviser and speechwriter in the Trump White House, sparred with a CNN correspondent about legislation that would reduce legal immigration and require those immigrating to the U.S. to speak English. There was even a heated exchange about the meaning of the Statue of Liberty.
For those who knew Miller way back when, the exchange came as no surprise.
“Before he even addressed reporters about the immigration policy … I was like, that’s Stephen all over [President Trump’s prepared remarks]. You can hear it. You can just hear it,” says Nick Silverman, a writer in Los Angeles and former high school classmate of Miller’s.
“You can tell when it’s Stephen because he kind of paints this uber-nationalism with this kind of cinematic, almost flowery sparkle … you can just kind of tell when he has his handprints on a speech or in a statement because he was always into the glorification of ‘American culture,’ you know, whatever that is.”
While the briefing room scene went viral (even spawning a Pauly Shore parody video), it was hardly the first time Miller found himself in the spotlight. He first made a name for himself at Santa Monica High School — a large, liberal and ethnically diverse campus in Southern California.
He first made a name for himself at Santa Monica High School — a large, liberal and ethnically diverse campus in Southern California.
His classmates describe Miller as an outspoken person who liked to push people’s buttons, challenging Latino students to speak English, arguing school announcements should be in English only and saying people who disagreed with him weren’t patriotic.
Jason Islas, a local reporter in Santa Monica, Calif., and an activist, says he bonded with Miller in middle school over a shared affinity for of all things Star Trek.
“He really was fascinated with Captain Kirk and that kind of alpha leadership persona,” Islas says.
They were close enough that Islas attended Miller’s bar mitzvah, but Islas says they lost touch the summer between eighth grade and high school. Once Islas finally made contact, Miller told him they couldn’t be friends.
“He gives me this sort of litany of reasons why he doesn’t want to be my friend anymore,” Islas says.
Islas says Miller listed many reasons for the friend breakup — most of them personal: Islas was too awkward, too short. But there was one reason that surprised him.
“The one thing that really sticks out in my memory was my Latino heritage,” Islas says.
It took Islas aback because in all the time he had known Miller, nothing had indicated he felt this way. In hindsight, Islas says that moment marked the beginning of Miller becoming, in his opinion, a provocateur.
“He was posturing himself as an anti-establishment figure in a world where the establishment celebrated diversity, inclusiveness and overall … the liberal values that, you know, he now makes a point of attacking all the time,” Islas says.
“I see where he is now as a teenage rebellion that metastasized into a kind of pernicious, illiberal, exclusionary ideology.”
NPR submitted a request to the White House to interview Miller, but after a query about the deadline, there were no more responses. White House spokespeople also didn’t respond to a series of questions about Miller’s earlier years and his specific duties in the administration.
Ari Rosmarin, the editor of the high school newspaper, says Miller got a thrill from being a conservative soldier behind enemy lines in progressive Santa Monica.
“Stephen made it his business at the school to be heard and be known,” says Rosmarin, now a civil rights lawyer with the ACLU.
“He was playing it out in the high school hallway, which I don’t think any of us had ever seen before.”
Miller was one of the few students who regularly submitted op-eds to the paper — so many that the newspaper couldn’t publish all of them.
In one op-ed headlined “A Time to Kill,” Miller wrote that he relished the thought of watching Osama bin Laden being riddled to death with bullets. “We have all heard how peaceful and benign the Islamic religion is, but no matter how many times you say that, it cannot change the fact that millions of radical Muslims would celebrate your death for the simple reason that you are Christian, Jewish, or American,” Miller wrote.
He disagreed with his fellow students who were concerned about the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and those who postulated that American policies could be to blame for anti-American sentiments. “Blaming America for the problems of countries whose citizens would rather spend time sewing blankets to cover women’s faces than improving quality of life is utterly ludicrous,” he wrote.
He would often come to the newspaper’s office to argue with the staff about what was written. Rosmarin calls Miller “theatrical” and says he went too far sometimes.
“For a lot of students, particularly Latino and immigrant students, it wasn’t funny,” Rosmarin says.
“He was aggressive. He was demeaning. He was condescending and was really challenging their place in the school to be there and the right to speak the language that they spoke. And, you know, that wasn’t funny.”
A page from Stephen Miller’s high school yearbook features a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt: “There can be no fifty-fifty Americanism in this country. There is room here for only 100 percent Americanism, only for those who are Americans and nothing else.”
Santa Monica High School yearbook
Santa Monica High School yearbook
At one point, Miller came up to Rosmarin in the school hallway, unhappy with an op-ed Rosmarin penned where he suggested that if people really wanted to be anti-war in the wake of Sept. 11, they should stop driving SUVs.
“He ran up to me and he essentially ripped apart the button-up shirt and had a T-shirt with an American flag on it underneath and told me if I don’t like it here to go somewhere else. And that, you know, I’m anti-American and that sort of thing.”
Rosmarin was stunned but chalked it up to the fact that Miller, in his mind, was looking for the showmanship that moment created.
“In that way,” Rosmarin says, “he has a lot in common with his boss, in that, really king of some of these political stunts.”
Oscar de la Torre was a counselor at the school when Miller was a student. He now serves on the Santa Monica-Malibu school board.
“He seemed to feel that, you know, the growth of the country’s diversity was the downfall of the country. He really did believe that,” de la Torre says.
And that diversity was on prominent display at the high school. De le Torre was the chair of the campus committee for equity and equality in education. Miller joined that committee but de la Torre thinks his aim was to sabotage it.
“Here we had this young man who was jaded. … He sounded like he was, you know, some 50-something-year-old man who was just angry at the world. He was very upset at everything and in particular anything that would help students of color or anything that addressed issues of racism. He would get really agitated about.”
Miller’s high school peers say he had a penchant for bold language and confident declarations. He rejected the idea of white privilege, would rattle off statistics about immigration and crime and was big on the Second Amendment.
And while it didn’t help his popularity in high school, it won him a fan in conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, who is African-American
After Sept. 11, Miller was fighting with school officials to have the Pledge of Allegiance recited daily, something he found out the school was required to do but hadn’t been.
Miller wrote a letter to Elder, who thought the issue was interesting and invited him on his show.
“He was amazing,” Elder says. “He just blew everybody away. He was articulate. He was funny. He was passionate.”
Miller became a show regular, appearing on the nationally-syndicated program some 70 times.
Elder was wowed by the high school student’s interest in the Constitution, federalism and immigration policy — a fully-formed conservative ideology at an age Elder says most guys would still be reading comic books. And he bristles at the idea that the young man he mentored would be called racist.
“What Stephen is opposed to is identity politics, race-based politics — the idea that there ought to be some sort of special rules for women, for gays, for blacks, for Hispanics, lowering standards in order to achieve some sort of pre-engineered racial diversity,” Elder says.
“That’s the kind of thing that drove him crazy. To call him a bigot just because he doesn’t believe that racism is as big a deal as other people do, to call him a bigot because he believes that the borders ought to be secured, that’s just liberal intolerance, in my opinion.”
Miller continued the fight through college at Duke University, where he once again proved his media chops, making appearances on Fox and Friends and HLN’s Nancy Grace to discuss political correctness, free speech and terrorism.
“You know, the people on the far left, they claim to be about free speech and expression, but as soon as you put something out there that offends them, all of a sudden, no, free speech out the window,” Miller said on Fox and Friends in 2007.
Most significantly, Miller became a leading voice on cable, talking about the Duke lacrosse case, which was big news nationwide in 2006.
Miller spoke up for the white lacrosse players who had been falsely accused of rape by a black woman. The charges were ultimately dropped.
After graduation, Miller went to Washington, D.C., where he worked for a series of conservative lawmakers. He eventually ascended to communications director for then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who is now attorney general in the Trump administration.
White House adviser Stephen Miller moves quickly through the Rose Garden Colonnade while making last minute preparations before President Trump announces his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement at the White House on June 1, 2017.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Andrew Logan worked closely with Miller in Sessions’ office and called Miller a bit of an alchemist, pulling together the senator’s ideas and research from legislative analysts to create a product that was “greater than the sum of its parts.”
“I think one of the reasons why he was able to so quickly gain the trust of Jeff Sessions was that he had that ability to understand exactly what the desire was, what the intended outcome was and then come up with something that was on point and ultimately very persuasive,” Logan says.
Miller was a key player in helping Sessions sink bipartisan legislation intended to reshape the American immigration system. Miller helped compile a booklet of arguments and statistics aimed at convincing House Republicans not to support the bill that had passed the Senate. According to Logan, Miller would stay up late sending detailed emails to reporters covering immigration.
In the end, the bill never passed the House.
Logan disagrees with claims that Miller is an attention-seeker, saying in his professional life he hasn’t been one to seek the spotlight.
Logan points to the immigration debate in 2013 as an example, saying you may find news stories written about spokesmen for other lawmakers, but not about Miller.
“We felt … it was not our job to be the story. And I think Stephen fit into that role naturally and certainly never tried to … put himself in the spotlight,” says Logan.
Miller’s mentor, Larry Elder, agrees.
“I think he recognizes that if he is the star, if he is the story, then he’s not serving the best interest of the boss,” Elder says.
And now his boss is the president of the United States.
Few NPR interviewed are surprised that Miller with his determination and work ethic found success.
“What surprises me is that these views that he’s held for 15 years now, that he’s found a foothold with them within an administration, with a president, with a branch of the government,” says Silverman, one of Miller’s high school classmates.
“That’s what’s surprising. I always thought that his thoughts and stuff were too extreme to ever really be put into practice.”
On that, Silverman now knows he was wrong, like so many who predicted Donald Trump could never be president.
One of Miller’s high school editorials ended with this line: “As for those who question patriotism, I can only say that there are more people who agree with me than with you.”
Tom Perrotta is the author of several novels, including Election and The Leftovers.
Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:
In New Novel, Tom Perrotta Shares ‘Post-Parental’ Reflections From An Empty Nest: Mrs. Fletcher tells the story of Eve, a single mother whose only child, Brendan, has left for college. Perrotta says the book was inspired by the upheaval he experienced when his own kids moved out.
Albert Brooks’ ‘Lost In America’ Remains Piercingly Relevant 32 Years Later: Newly released on DVD and Blu-ray, the 1985 film follows a well-heeled LA couple who decide to become free-spirited wanderers. Critic John Powers says Lost In America is a comedy for the ages.
How The ‘Battling’ Kellogg Brothers Revolutionized American Breakfast: A century ago, two brothers took the world by storm with their mass-produced boxed cereal. Medical historian Howard Markel chronicles the contentious relationship between the creators of Corn Flakes.
You can listen to the original interviews here:
Residents go fishing near Tumon beach on the island of Guam on August 11, 2017. Tourism-dependent Guam is looking to cash in on its new-found fame as a North Korean missile target, tapping an unlikely promotional opportunity to attract visitors to the idyllic island and prove that all publicity is good publicity.
Virgilio Valencia/AFP/Getty Images
Virgilio Valencia/AFP/Getty Images
The tiny U.S. territory of Guam came under the international spotlight after North Korea on Wednesday said it’s studying whether to launch a missile test toward the island. President Donald Trump responded by escalating the rhetoric.
“Let’s see what he does with Guam,” Trump said of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “If he does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody has seen before what will happen in north Korea.”
The president spoke with Guam Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo on Saturday to reassure him and residents here. The call happened as some Guamanians worried aloud that the president’s harsh words are exposing their island home to unnecessary danger.
It’s a tropical paradise with white sand beaches and stunning sunsets, but this American territory since 1898 was fought over for centuries for a different reason.
“Guam is the largest island between Hawaii and the Philippines and it has a natural deep seawater port,” says Robert Underwood, former Guam delegate to the U.S. Congress and current president at the University of Guam. Guam today hosts major American military might like a bomber fleet and a missile defense system.
“For the United States, it’s the place from which you can project power into Asia in an unfettered way,” Underwood says.
The U.S. military owns about a third of the land here and has both an air force and naval base on Guam. But because of its key strategic role in the Pacific, Guam is also a target for North Korea.
“We’re too close for comfort,” says Francesca Ballendorf, a longtime Guamanian. She says she’d like see the president’s tough talk dial down.
“It is scary because I lived through the second world war and I certainly don’t want to see another one,” she says.
During that war, Japan occupied Guam until U.S. forces helped liberate it. Guam’s called the tip of the spear for that reason. But tenser times like this one throw residents into a familiar debate. Is being the tip of the spear really worth it?
“When President Trump says, ‘Go ahead and do what you’re gonna do on Guam and see what happens subsequently,’ it causes you to think well, would he say that if Anchorage had that same threat? If Kim Jong Un said he would hit Anchorage, would he say, go ahead hit Anchorage and see what happens?,” Underwood said.
Guamanians are American citizens by birth but not allowed to vote in the American presidential election. Guam elects a delegate to the U.S. House, but that delegate isn’t allowed to vote on a bill’s final passage. And yet it’s often exposed to threats coming at America.
“How do people really see Guam in the context of the U.S. family? Are we just like cannon fodder, are we just extras, are we just not part of the equation?”
It’s an existential question for this tiny territory currently caught between President Trump and North Korea.
Public Radio Guam’s Chris Hartig contributed to this story.