Trump's Beltway: US strikes Syria as Xi meeting gets under way

Also, options on NK and Syria and Canada optimistic on NAFTA.

The US fired 70 precision-guided missiles at Syrian targets, reportedly focusing on key points in the Shayrat airfield southeast of Homs city, including runways, aircraft and fuel points.

According to MSNBC, 59 of the missiles hit their targets. The air base reportedly houses the two squadrons of Su-22 ground attack aircraft which allegedly conducted a recent chemical weapons attack. Syrian state media responded to the strikes, calling them an act of aggression.

One US defence official says there were Russians stationed at the air base, but that Washington informed them in advance of the strikes. 

US President Donald Trump told lawmakers he is considering further military action in Syria but a punitive strike was the least risky option and required the fewest resources.

Two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, also issued a statement calling for an international effort to ground the Syrian air force along with US military action.

Elsewher, US National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H R  McMaster phoned his South Korean counterpart to say Washington remains committed to the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in South Korea.

Mr Trump called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to say all options remain for responding to North Korea's possibly growing nuclear programme. US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift says a military response is among those options.

"That decision would be up to the president. The military was always an option,” he says.

Xi comes to Florida
US President Donald Trump and China President Xi Jinping are meeting in Florida.

Many senators want Mr Trump to pressure Mr Xi on trade practices, while others would like the president to prioritise cracking China's market for US beef – blocked since the early 2000s.

On the last point, a letter from a bipartisan group of nearly 40 senators says guaranteeing market access in China, which is "would create substantial opportunities for farmers and ranchers across the country."

But at the Mar-a-Lago estate, cyber-security will be a low priority. Back in 2015, when Mr Xi met with Barack Obama, the Chinese leader pledged Beijing would stop stealing US companies' secrets. China appears to be holding true to that pledge but is dragging its feet with cyber-crime investigation assistance.

Nevertheless, a letter from 13 senators says Mr Trump should press the Chinese leader over hacking regardless.

"We ask that you reiterate to President Xi that China's state-sponsored or state-endorsed malicious cyber activities negatively impact US businesses, US national security, and our bilateral ties. We also ask that China reaffirms their intent to implement the September 2015 cyber commitments."

Mr Trump will also press his Chinese counterpart on China's 25% tariff on automobile imports. The US tariff on cars is only 2.5%. The disparity is a shortcoming of the US-led agreement which allowed China to enter the World Trade Organisation in 2001.

Among other things, the US president will discuss steel, aluminium, paper and tires, or at least that’s what the United Steelworkers union wants.

"America cannot afford more of China's broken promises," "This week, workers are looking to Presidents Trump and Xi to produce results that will reverse the continuing build-up of steelmaking capacity in China. This must be coupled with results in other critical sectors that are being hammered by Chinese non-market economic policies," the union says.

Nunes steps aside
House intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes says he is temporarily stepping aside from the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

Republican Congressman Michael Conaway will replace Mr Nunes, along with two other House Republicans, Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney. Mr Nunes blamed complaints filed against him with the Office of Congressional Ethics. He will remain chairman of the committee.

Meanwhile, Democratic Representatives Eliot Engel and Eric Swalwell wrote a resolution urging the Trump administration not to lift US sanctions on Russia until the FBI completes its inquiry.

"Until investigations are completed and the American people know the full facts of the attack upon our democracy, the Trump White House should not be changing our nation's policies to benefit Vladimir Putin and his government," Mr Swalwell says.

Patent office and hiring freeze
A group of patent organisations wrote to the White House urging Mr Trump to excuse the US Patent and Trademark Office from the hiring freeze across the federal government.

National Venture Capital Association, Innovation Alliance and Alliance of US Startups and Inventors for Jobs say it would obstruct the agency’s work. USPTO does not use taxpayer money, the letter says, and the government syphons off some of its fees: "From 2010-2014, $US409.8 million in user fees were diverted from the USPTO to general government spending, contributing to the 540,000-patent backlog at USPTO."

"Increasing the patent pendency rate by reducing the number of patent examiners will be a boon to our foreign competitors, slowing the creation of American jobs and advantaging China, which is granting patents faster than the US," the groups said.

Robots taking jobs
Senator Ben Sasse says lawmakers should take the role automation and trade play in affecting job opportunities more seriously.

"Look at trade and automation: two competing but slightly overlapping forces in the shrinking of the duration of jobs right now.

“We have to be able to talk honestly about how disrupted this world is going to be, and it is crazy to mislead people and say we're going to bring back all of the big factory jobs by creating a protectionist regime. That isn't true," Mr Sasse says.

How long is this wall?
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly suggested it is “unlikely that we will build a wall from sea to shining sea."

The DHS boss says a border security plan could involve a variety of walls, fences, drones and other technology.

"On the barrier, wall, technology, whatever, we'll do it where it makes sense and what makes sense. But we won't waste any money," he says.

The Wall Street Journal also reports DHS may require foreign visitors to surrender social media passwords and answer questions about ideology. Mr Kelly says enhanced vetting, such as cell phone searches, would be used when warranted but aren’t likely to be made routine.

Canada on NAFTA
Canada’s ambassador to the US, David MacNaughton, says Ottawa is positive about a proposed renegotiation of NAFTA and is looking forward to modernising the pact.

In an interview with Politico, Mr MacNaughton says Canada won't necessarily be willing to make the same concessions it made in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. On dairy, Mr MacNaughton says "one of the reasons we gave up part of our market share on dairy as part of TPP is because it gave us access to other markets."

He says everything should be available for negotiation, and Ottawa will discuss its protected industries if the US is willing to discuss its own. He says the US sugar industry, the "Buy America" programme and port and airline regulations should be discussed as well.

"It's not a matter of figuring out how one can get the better of the other because our economies are so integrated that we're focused in on things that will benefit us both, like freer movement of labour," he says.

Slow pace for admin filling
Republicans are showing frustration with the White House's slowness in filling out the administration, and want it to "speed up the pace" on nominations.

The vast majority of the 553 key positions, including deputy, assistant and associate secretary posts, remains unfilled.

"We're going to have some holes in the calendar," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn says.

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