Power Grid: John Kelly, Jared Kushner, Amazon, Walmart and More

Who's up and who's down in politics, money, global affairs and culture this week.
By Allen McDuffee
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Just a few stories dominated this week’s Power Grid: the John Kelly-Jared Kushner power struggle, President Donald Trump’s announcement of a tariff on aluminum and steel and the NRA attempting to hold its ground.

Here’s who won and lost the week…


Up: John Kelly
Last week, the power struggle between White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner came to a head when Kelly stripped Kushner of his top-secret security clearance. This week, however, The New York Times reports that even President Trump is looking to be disassociated from Kushner—and with Kelly’s assistance. Trump has told the couple “that they should keep serving in their roles, even as he has privately asked Mr. Kelly for his help in moving them out.”

Down: Jared Kushner
Not only is Kushner in hot water with President Trump and John Kelly after a disastrous week in White House relations, but The Intercept has reported that representatives of Kushner Companies, including Kushner’s father, met with the Qatari finance minister in hope of securing Qatari financing for the firm’s distressed signature property, 666 5th Avenue. A deal never materialized and a week later a coalition of nations led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates abruptly severed diplomatic relations with Qatar. They proceeded to blockade the small, natural gas-rich nation—a blockade that remains in effect today. “If the reason this administration put U.S. troops at risk in Qatar was to protect the Kushners’ financial interests, then that’s all the evidence you need to make some big changes in the White House,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut told Huffington Post.


Up: Amazon
This week it was revealed that Amazon paid nothing on $5.6 billion in profits from 2017 thanks to a combination of tax credits and tax breaks for executive stock options, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reported. And that’s all before the Trump administration’s lowering of the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. But where tax avoidance turns into a power play is in Amazon’s search for a new headquarters, forcing cities and states to offer massive tax breaks in their bids to become the new home.

Down: American Beer
President Donald Trump’s Thursday announcement of a new tariff on aluminum has American beer producers saying their annual production costs will soar by more than $250 million. MillerCoors released a threepart statement on Twitter noting that they anticipated layoffs and suggested the rise in cost would be passed on to consumers.

Global Affairs

Up: Xi Jinping
Last week, the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee introduced a proposal to remove the presidential term limit constraining the rule of President Xi Jinping. On Monday, the constitutional amendment is expected to be overwhelmingly passed by the National People’s Congress, permitting Xi, already enormously powerful, to extend his rule indefinitely—a move that is being derided on Chinese social media and is a sign of reform reversal. The power grab did, however, catch the attention of President Trump, who said at a fundraiser in Florida on Saturday, “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”

Down: Donald Trump
For his seemingly off-the-cuff announcement to slap sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and his assertion that trade wars are good and easy to win—and “win big”— President Donald Trump finds himself on the losing end of what amounts to be a trade war.  The EU says it’ll add a 25 percent tax on Levi jeans and bourbon. China has vowed general retaliation. Some are spinning Trump’s announcement as a play for voters in a special congressional election in Pennsylvania, but reporting suggests the president had become angry and “unglued” when he made his decision.


Up: Walmart
Following the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Walmart—America’s largest gun seller—announced changes to its gun-selling policy by no longer selling any gun to anyone under 21 years of age after it had already removed assault-style rifles in 2015. But where Walmart may be making its biggest change is in gun culture itself, saying it would no longer sell items resembling assault-style rifles, including toys and air guns.

Down: The NRA
In response to activism and organizing efforts in the days following the massacre in Parkland, banks, airlines, insurance, and car rental companies began severing their ties with the NRA—a measure that will shrink the organization’s bloated membership base. But it’s also unclear exactly where the NRA stands with the Trump administration. The NRA seems so out of sorts that they’re now targeting Hollywood.

The Rundown

1. Mitch McConnell’s Trump Calculation 

Jane Mayer at The New Yorker takes a deep dive on the risk of McConnell’s refusal to restrain the chief executive of the United States. 

2. 500,000+ Zoom Accounts Are For Sale on the Dark Web

Credentials of individuals and high-profile companies like Chase have been swept up, marking a new headache for the videoconferencing giant.

3. Bernie Sanders Endorses Joe Biden

Sanders told Biden, “We need you in the White House,” during a teleconference. But how many of his supporters heard him?

4. Paul Manafort Is Seeking Prison Release Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

Trump’s former campaign manager claims he is “high risk.” 

5. Joe Biden Could Get a Critical Boost From a Black VP Pick

New polling suggests Biden could garner more enthusiasm among black voters in battleground states by picking a black woman.

6. Sanofi and GSK Partner on COVID-19 Vaccine

The Sanofi-GlaxoSmithKline vaccine will enter clinical trials later in 2020, but still won’t be available until late 2021.