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Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

When President Donald Trump left the NATO summit on the heels of threats to pull out of the alliance, the Pentagon made calls to defense officials in Europe to offer reassurances that the U.S. would not abandon their defense posts in the region, NBC News reported Friday.

Multiple current and former diplomatic and military officials who spoke with NBC characterized the calls as “damage control” and a reinforcement of “alliance commitments.”

In a press conference on Thursday, Trump wouldn’t answer questions about his threats to pull out of the alliance over allies’ defense contributions, but said that withdrawing the U.S. would be “unnecessary” because “people have stepped up today like they’ve never stepped up before.”

While Trump boasted that NATO leaders had committed to contributing a bigger percentage of their nations’ gross domestic product, some allies have combated those claims. French President Emmanuel Macron said nothing had changed, and that each country remained committed to contributing at least 2 percent to defense by 2024, an agreement made in 2014.

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After British tabloid The Sun published audio of President Donald Trump scorching UK Prime Minister Theresa May for her handling of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, the President claimed he didn’t criticize May and flip-flopped on his biting remarks.

In his opening comments at a joint press conference with May, Trump said that “whatever” May decides to do on Brexit is “okay with me, that’s your decision.”

“Just make sure we can trade together, that’s all that matters,” he said.

During the interview with The Sun ahead of his visit to the UK, Trump said May ignored his advice by taking a soft stance on trade with the EU as the UK exits and said that decision would “kill” any chance of an effective trade deal with the U.S.

But on Friday Trump claimed that The Sun didn’t include all his “tremendous” comments about May and explained his about-face by hinting that he had changed his mind on his criticism since speaking with May.

“Prime Minister as I just said she’s going to make a decision as to what she’s going to do,” he said. “The only thing I ask of Theresa is that we make sure we can trade. … I read reports where that won’t be possible but I believe after speaking with the Prime Minister’s people and representatives and trade experts it will be possible so based on that and based on just trade in general and our other relationship which will be fine but the trade is a little tricky.”

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Touting the former UK foreign secretary as a “very talented guy,” whom President Donald Trump “respects,” Trump suggested Boris Johnson would make “a great Prime Minister.”

“I think he’s got what it takes,” Trump told British tabloid, The Sun, the only British outlet he granted an interview ahead of his trip to the UK. “I have a lot of respect for Boris. He obviously likes me, and says very good things about me. … I think he is a great representative for your country.”  

Johnson, a vocal conservative who’s been supportive of Trump, recently resigned as the UK foreign secretary over Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to maintain close trade ties with the European Union. In the same interview with The Sun, Trump also attacked May for her what he sees as a soft Brexit trade deal, and sad he was “saddened” to see Johnson had resigned. Before boarding the plane to fly to the UK, Trump told reporters that he considers Johnson a “friend.” 

“I was very saddened to see he was leaving government and I hope he goes back in at some point,” he said.

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President Donald Trump admitted in an interview published Thursday that aspects of the demonstrations in London protesting his trip to the United Kingdom really got under his skin.

While an estimated 200,000 people turned out to shout down the American president — which forced him to fly in his helicopter throughout the trip — one person in particular maimed his ego: the 20-foot Trump baby blimp.

“I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London,” he told The Sun, a British tabloid, in an exclusive interview. “I used to love London as a city. I haven’t been there in a long time. But when they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?”

Trump blamed the massive turnout of protesters on London Mayor Sadiq Khan and other politicians and claimed that real British people actually “love” him.

“Many people are delighted. I get thousands of notifications from people in the UK that they love the President of the United States,” he said. “They want the same thing I want.”

In the same interview, Trump unleashed on UK Prime Minister Theresa May, claiming she ruined the Brexit negotiations and had lost any chance of a deal with the U.S. on trade.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to throw cold water on some of the President’s vitriolic critique of UK Prime Minister Theresa May, clarifying to the White House press pool that Trump thinks May is “really terrific.”

“The President likes and respects Prime Minister May very much,” she said in a statement. “As he said in his interview with the Sun she ‘is a very good person’ and he ‘never said anything bad about her.’ He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person. He is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the Prime Minister here in the U.K.”

Ahead of his visit to London, President Donald Trump gave an exclusive interview to a British tabloid, The Sun. Among his many scathing remarks about May, Trump criticized her handling of Brexit, bragging that May ignored his advice and suggested that her soft stance would “kill” any future chance of an effective trade deal with the U.S.

If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal,” he told the Sun. “We are cracking down right now on the European Union because they have not treated the United States fairly on trading.”

In the interview, which published while Trump and May were having dinner together, he also suggested that Boris Johnson, who recently resigned as the UK foreign secretary over May’s plan to maintain close trade ties with the EU, would “make a great Prime Minister.”

Among other insults, he said EU leaders were destroying the culture of Europe by accepting millions of immigrants; blamed the London mayor for crime and terrorism in the city; said he felt “unwelcome” in London over the anti-Trump protests and the baby blimp, while insisting that British people love his policies.  

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Shahira Knight, who previously served as a deputy assistant to the President and the deputy director of the National Economic Council, will replace Marc Short as director the legislative affairs, the White House announced Thursday.

Short is set to depart the White House by July 20 to work for a private D.C. consulting firm, Guidepost Strategies, as well as a senior fellow and professor at the University of Virginia’s business school, Politico was first to report.

He’ll join the business school on Aug. 1.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) told reporters Thursday that the left “really jumped the sharks” in their efforts to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and gloated that it’s part of the reason he feels good about Republicans chances in the midterm elections.

“You want to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency? This is the agency that gets gangs out of our communities, that helps prevent drugs from going into our schools, that rescues people from human trafficking,” he said. “They want to get rid of this agency? It’s the craziest position I’ve ever seen, and they’re tripping over themselves to move too far to the left. They’re out of the mainstream of America and that’s one of the reasons why I feel good about this fall.”

The legislation — to shutter the agency, launch a probe into its agents’ conduct and develop a committee to review how the U.S. should process undocumented immigrants seeking asylum — has not yet been publicly released, but is being propelled by one of Ryan’s Wisconsin colleagues, Rep. Mark Pocan, according to the Washington Post.

“The ICE brand has been so damaged by the President that it can no longer accomplish its original mission,” Pocan told the Post. “Even ICE agents recognize that ICE doesn’t do what it was intended to.”

The movement to abolish the agency has been embraced by liberal activists for months and has only recently garnered mainstream attention as public outrage grows over the separation of migrant families at the border.

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The Trump administration’s director of legislative affairs is leaving the White House later this month to join a private consulting firm in D.C.

Marc Short will join Guidepost Strategies and also plans to teach and serve as a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s business school, Politico reported Thursday. Short, who has been one of the longest serving members of the administration, reportedly plans to leave the White House by July 20.

Short declined to talk to Politico about his departure, but his soon-to-be partner at Guidepost Strategies, Phil Cox, confirmed Short would be joining the team. The legislative director will begin his fellowship at UVA on Aug. 1.

Short’s departure comes at a time when smooth relations with lawmakers is crucial. Trump recently announced his pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, which will require Senate confirmation.

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During an impromptu news conference Thursday, President Donald Trump suggested that he could someday become friends with Russian President Vladimir Putin and said the Kremlin leader, whose country meddled in the 2016 election, is “not my enemy.”

“Somebody was saying, ‘Is he an enemy?’ He’s not my enemy. ‘Is he a friend?’ No, I don’t know him well enough, but the couple of times I’ve gotten to meet him, we got along very well, you saw that,” Trump told reporters Thursday when asked about his relationship with Putin ahead of their planned summit Monday. “I hope we get along well, I think we’ll get along well, but ultimately he’s a competitor. … Not a question of friend or enemy. He is not my enemy. Hopefully some day, maybe he will be a friend. It could happen.”

Trump also told reporters that he plans to ask Putin about the 2016 Russian election meddling during their meeting, which will include a one-on-one discussion between the two leaders.

He may deny it, it’s one of those things. All I can say is ‘Did you?’ and ‘Don’t do it again,'” he said. “He may deny it. You will be the first to know.”

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During a free-wheeling, unplanned press conference on Thursday morning following NATO deliberations, President Donald Trump proclaimed success and suggested NATO leaders had agreed to increase their defense spending.

“Everyone has agreed to substantially up their commitment. They’re going to up it at levels that they never thought of before,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “I told people that I’d be very unhappy if they didn’t up their financial commitments substantially.”

Trump did not directly answer questions about whether he had outright threatened to pull out of NATO, but said that he made it clear he was “extremely unhappy” with their financial commitments and “they have now substantially upped their commitment.” Multiple outlets reported that Trump threatened to “do our own thing” or “go it alone” if leaders didn’t up the ante.

But it’s unclear if nations actually agreed to pay a higher percentage of their countries’ gross domestic product. On Wednesday, the White House confirmed that Trump told other NATO leaders that he wanted them to increase their defense spending to 4 percent of their GDP. But later on in the press conference Thursday, Trump told reporters that NATO leaders had agreed to reach their goal of paying 2 percent of their nation’s GDP over a “faster” period of time. In 2014, NATO leaders decided each nation would increase their spending to 2 percent by 2024.

“They’re spending at a much faster clip, they’re going up to the 2 percent level,” he said. “Now what you have to understand is some of them have their own parliaments, their own Congresses, they have a lot of things to go through. … They can’t necessarily go in and say this is what we’re going to do, but they’re going back for approvals. Some are at 2 percent, others have agreed definitely to go to 2 percent. … After we’re at 2 percent we’ll start talking about going higher.”

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