For WH, North Korea Justifies Health Bill, China Policy, Duterte Visit

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The White House indicated this weekend that much of the attention it has placed on North Korea’s nuclear missile ambitions may be a ploy to reach political or economic ends.

In two interviews, President Donald Trump and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus cited the authoritarian state in discussions of Republicans’ health care bill, Chinese currency manipulation and Trump’s invitation of Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte to the White House.

Speaking to CBS’ John Dickerson Sunday, Trump made the case that states should have more decision-making power in individuals’ health care. Congressional Republicans and lobbying groups have coalesced around an amendment to the American Health Care Act from Reps. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Tom MacArthur that would allow states to remove protections for patients based on age and medical status.

“Look, because if you hurt your knee, honestly, I’d rather have the federal government focused on North Korea, focused on other things, than your knee, okay?” Trump said. “Or than your back, as important as your back is. I would much rather see the federal government focused on other things.”

On Friday, North Korea test fired another ballistic missile, though South Korean and U.S. officials said it failed shortly after launch. The USS Carl Vinson Strike Group recently arrived in the area (after a detour), along with a nuclear submarine.

Earlier in the interview, Trump brought up North Korea during his justification of not declaring China a currency manipulator. Trump vigorously pledged to label the nation as such during the 2016 presidential campaign, but backed off in an April 12 interview, days before the publication of the Treasury Department report in which he would have kept his promise.

“I believe that President Xi is working to try and resolve a very big problem, for China also,” Trump said. “And that’s North Korea. Can you imagine if I say, ‘Hey, by the way, how are you doing with North Korea? Also, we’re going to announce that you’re a currency manipulator tomorrow.’ So the mainstream media never talks about that. They never say that. And that’s, you know, unfortunate.”

“I think that, frankly, North Korea is maybe more important than trade,” he added.

Also on Sunday, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus used North Korea to justify, bafflingly, Trump’s invitation to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House. In an readout of the leaders’ call, the White House said Trump praised the Philippine government for “fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs.” That fight has included thousands of extra-judicial killings of suspected drug dealers and users.

“When you have North Korea and you have them flagrantly talking about developing nuclear warheads, which they’ve already done, and wanting to — and putting out videos about how they’re going to launch these things to the United States and across the globe, that has to remain at the highest level,” Priebus told ABC’s Jonathan Karl.

Karl pressed Priebus on Duterte’s abysmal human rights record as a result of his drug war.

“It is something that this president in the Philippines is claiming that he’s working towards, and obviously we want to encourage him to do better,” Priebus said. “But this call, the purpose of the call, is all about North Korea.”

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