Balance of Power: Trump Returns to Cauldron After Asian Fumbles

Donald Trump did little to improve his standing at home during his trip to Asia.

The U.S. president is likely to return to Washington this week in hotter water than ever after he vouched for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s repeated denials that he meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

The comments, which Trump later rushed to clarify, drew fire from foreign policy veterans, including fellow Republicans, ahead of the next round of congressional hearings this week probing the administration’s ties to the Kremlin.

Also spurring domestic criticism: Trump’s effusive praise for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose deadly narcotics crackdown has prompted allegations of human rights abuses. And his most extreme Twitter attack yet on Kim Jong Un — in which he called the North Korean leader “short and fat” — was seen as another sign that he lacks discipline.

The president comes back to a huge week on Capitol Hill for tax reform, his last opportunity for a legislative win during his first year in office. Should his focus — and his Twitter angst — revert to that issue, there’s a real chance he could do more harm than good.

Trump with Asia-Pacific leaders during the 31st ASEAN summit.
Photographer: JIM WATSON/AFP

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Global Headlines

Just in | The death toll of the earthquake that struck northwestern Iran and Iraq’s Kurdistan region yesterday rose to at least 330, with thousands injured. The 7.3 magnitude tremor was felt as far away as Kuwait and Israel.

May’s troubles deepen | U.K Prime Minister Theresa May, who stared down a coup last month and lost two cabinet ministers in a week, is looking like her authority is shot — with just two weeks to save Brexit talks from failure. The massive piece of legislation that will set Brexit in stone returns to Parliament today, an opportunity for hardliners and pro-EU Conservatives to influence the government, and for the opposition to try to bring May down.

Rajoy’s Catalonia bet | The Spanish prime minister caught separatists off guard when he called a snap election as well as seizing control of the Catalan administration last month. But his plans for restoring stability in the region now hinge on preventing the rebels winning another majority on Dec. 21, and polls suggest the result is on a knife edge.

Saudi king is staying | Saudi Arabia dismissed rumors that King Salman would abdicate in favor of his son, saying it was unthinkable given the monarch’s “perfect” physical and mental health. Dispelling one uncertainty, though, didn't resolve another surrounding Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who’s still in Riyadh after his surprise resignation. In a televised interview last night, he said he plans to return home in days — but what happens next remains unclear.

Bringing North Korea in | Calling the country an impoverished “time warp” that props itself up with propaganda about a hostile world, South Korea’s foreign minister said North Korea has a better chance of securing its future by seeking talks with the west. Speaking in an interview, Kang Kyung-wha welcomed a two-month hiatus in Kim’s missile tests but said he needs to do more to defuse tensions and allow room for negotiations.

Moore soldiers on | With Republican leaders in Alabama rallying around him, Senate candidate Roy Moore isn’t backing down over allegations he had inappropriate relationships with teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Yet recent polls show his once-solid lead over Democrat Doug Jones evaporating as female voters abandon him. A Democratic win next month in solid-Republican Alabama would shake an already skittish party establishment ahead of next year’s midterms.

And finally... Thousands of nationalists marched in Poland’s capital in a rally that included masked demonstrators chanting “Pure Poland, white Poland” and “pure blood.” Marking the 99th year of Poland’s independence, the gathering attracted white supremacists from Britain, Italy and other countries. Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak called the march “a beautiful sight.” The event has only added to concerns in the European Union that democracy is eroding in the bloc’s largest eastern member.

Demonstrators burn flares and wave Polish flags during the annual march to commemorate National Independence Day in Warsaw.

— With assistance by Michael Winfrey

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