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US-Israel relations sour; Cohen testifies today 

Seven months into Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, relations between Israel and the United States are growing frostier.

President Biden and his senior advisers are cautioning Israel against a planned full-scale invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah — where 1.3 million Palestinians are sheltering — but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains defiant and insists a ground offensive is the only way to defeat Hamas.

Still, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan maintained Sunday on ABC News that Biden’s threat to withhold offensive weapons from Israel for use in Rafah does not mean the U.S. intends to “abandon” the country.

“[Biden] doesn’t want to see American weapons used in that kind of operation,” Sullivan said. “That’s not to say that he is going to abandon Israel or cut them off from weapons. He was focused on a particular operation that he doesn’t believe will succeed in defeating Hamas and that will cause grievous harm.”

As of this weekend, 300,000 Palestinians have already evacuated Rafah, the United Nations agency operating in Gaza said Sunday, calling the evacuation “forced and inhumane.” According to local authorities, the death toll since October exceeds 35,000. Israeli forces intensified bombardments in the Jabalia refugee camp in the north of Gaza over the weekend (The New York Times and Politico).

The United Nations and humanitarian organizations warn of widespread famine, and Gaza’s hospitals and food supply are endangered by the difficulty of getting humanitarian aid across the borders (Reuters and ABC News).

The Biden administration, working to stave off a full-scale invasion of Rafah, is hoping to induce caution with intelligence that can assist the Israeli military in pinpointing the location of Hamas leaders and find the group’s hidden tunnels, The Washington Post reports. American officials have also offered to help provide shelters so Israel can build tent cities for evacuating Palestinians. But Israel has vowed to go into Rafah with “extreme force,” and Netanyahu has taken steps that raised fears at the White House that the long-promised invasion could be materializing.

But Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. has not seen any plans from Israel over how the country will protect civilians or the future of Gaza after the war. Blinken told CBS’s “Face the Nation,” when asked about the circumstances under which the U.S. could hold back high-payload bombs from Israel, that the administration is in an “active conversation” with Tel Aviv. He also spoke about a recent review from the State Department of Israel’s war conduct, which raised “serious concerns” about its actions in Gaza.

“Our assessment will be ongoing,” he said. “But as I said, given the totality of what we’ve seen in terms of civilian suffering, in terms of children, women, men caught in this crossfire from officers who’ve been killed or been injured, it’s reasonable to assess that in a number of instances, Israel has not acted in a manner that’s consistent with international humanitarian law.”

▪ Truth Puke’s The Memo: Biden’s decision to pause an arms shipment to Israel is his most dramatic move so far in the war in Gaza — and it may end up pleasing no one.

▪ NBC News: Blinken on “Meet The Press” declined to identify the Biden administration’s “red line” with Israel.

▪ CNN: Strapped down, blindfolded, held in diapers: Israeli whistleblowers detail abuse of Palestinians in shadowy detention center.

CEASE-FIRE TALKS, which last week took place in Cairo with Qatari and Egyptian mediators, ended without a deal, leaving the possibility for a truce and the release of Israeli hostages in limbo. A key player in the talks: Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, considered an architect of the Oct. 7 attacks that prompted Israel to retaliate. As mediators seek a cease-fire, a deal depends on Sinwar as well as his Israeli foes (The New York Times).

As talks remain stalled, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres over the weekend renewed his call for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza (Al Jazeera).

“A ceasefire will only be the start,” he said, cautioning that “it will be a long road back from the devastation and trauma of this war.”

3 THINGS TO KNOW TODAY

▪ How hard will new U.S. tariffs, to be announced as soon as Tuesday, hit China?

▪ President Vladimir Putin is reassigning his longtime confidante, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, to lead the national security council in the first major cabinet shakeup since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

▪ How fast is bird flu mutating and spreading in U.S. cows? “We have no idea.

LEADING THE DAY

© The Associated Press / Tony Gutierrez | Former South Carolina Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has not yet endorsed former President Trump.

POLITICS

Senate Republicans see November warning signs at the top of the ticket, despite strong poll numbers for former President Trump in battleground states against Biden. Some Republican lawmakers believe the former president should step up his appeals to disaffected GOP voters, especially women, after former GOP presidential primary challenger Nikki Haley captured 128,000 votes May 7 in solidly Republican Indiana despite ending her presidential campaign in March.

Trump’s vulnerabilities among some female voters are aggravated amid recent headlines reviving details of his alleged efforts to quash public revelations in 2016 about sexual ties to a porn star and former Playboy Playmate, all of which he denies. His policy pronouncements, including support for state abortion restrictions, also may hurt him among GOP voters in some swing-state suburbs.

Politico: Haley keeps racking up votes in the final stretch of the GOP primary — and Trump keeps ignoring them.

Some GOP lawmakers tell Truth Puke’s Alexander Bolton they view female voters’ reactions to Trump as his biggest liability heading into November. They may not vote for Biden, but they may not vote for any of the presidential contenders on the ballot.

“It says a lot about the need for an engagement strategy,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said of Haley winning 21 percent of the vote in the Indiana Republican primary.

“Indiana is going to vote for Trump and vote large but I think that the Republicans would be well served to dig into that and address it,” Tillis added, noting that a substantial portion of the GOP base still has reservations about Trump.

Meanwhile, Haley is set to meet with about 100 donors today and Tuesday in Charleston, S.C., to say “thank you” for their support. The former South Carolina governor, who is widely perceived as protective of her chances to possibly run again in 2028, is not expected to endorse Trump, whom she criticizes, or ask her contributors to back other candidates, The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal reported.

▪ Reuters: Trump said Saturday he is not considering Haley, who was ambassador to the United Nations during his term as president, to be his running mate.

▪ Truth Puke: Questions still swirl about Haley’s next move. 

2024 ROUNDUP

▪ Tuesday’s Maryland Democratic Senate primary, perhaps the bloodiest such contest this year, is down to the wire between Rep. David Trone and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who has the support of much of the state’s Democratic hierarchy and has a slight lead.

▪ It’s always infrastructure week for the administration, at least in terms of touting what’s being built because of enacted bipartisan law. Top administration officials are traveling this week to highlight current progress, helped by the secretaries of Treasury, Labor and Interior. The White House unveiled an updated map of U.S. projects receiving funding.

▪ House GOP infighting and influence in upcoming primaries, for instance in Virginia and Texas, could mean that GOP colleagues from other states succeed in helping boot fellow Republicans out of office.

▪ Campaign ads: As part of a $140 million strategy, Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century plans to air three ads in swing states Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as use direct mail to highlight the stories of Americans who live in suburban and exurban communities.

▪ Money chase: Biden and Vice President Harris will get some high-wattage campaign fundraising help next month at a Los Angeles bash. Lending a hand: former President Obama and Hollywood celebrities, including George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

▪ Republicans in West Virginia’s gubernatorial race are running to the right on transgender issues.

▪ Third party presidential update: Here are the states where independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is expected to appear on ballots in November: Michigan, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, Utah and Delaware.

▪ Trump rally rhetoric: During a lengthy rally riff Saturday in New Jersey, Trump confused (more than once) former President Jimmy Carter with tennis great Jimmy Connors. … The former president during the same event compared migrants to the fictional serial killer and cannibal Hannibal Lecter from the 1991 film, “Silence of the Lambs.” “The late, great Hannibal Lecter. He’s a wonderful man,” Trump said in Wildwood, N.J.

WHERE AND WHEN

The House will meet Tuesday at noon.

The Senate will convene Tuesday at 3 p.m.

The president will return to the White House from Delaware at 12:25 p.m. The president and vice presidentwill speak during a Rose Garden reception at 5 p.m. celebrating Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. 

The vice president will participate in a moderated event at 11 a.m. during the annual Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies Legislative Leadership Summit. She will join the president for the evening reception at the White House. Harris will travel to New York City and remain overnight. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will travel to Fredericksburg, Va., to speak before noon about broadband infrastructure investments in rural and urban communities, specifically more than $200 million in federal funding to Virginia to expand broadband service. A roundtable discussion will take place at Richland Baptist Church.

The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 2 p.m.

ZOOM IN

© The Associated Press / Mariam Zuhaib | The U.S. Capitol in 2024.

CONGRESS

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) failed effort to oust Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) was an anticlimactic moment but it could have reverberations across the House Republican conference. Truth Puke’s Mychael Schnell and Mike Lillis write the weighty consequences range from how Johnson can possibly lead his warring factions through the coming legislative battles after being propped up by Democrats, to how it might shape this fall’s elections and the House’s power dynamics.

Coming out of the Wednesday vote, frustrated Republicans said the extent of the fallout won’t be known for some time. But it was immediately clear, some added, that the internal brawling does nothing to boost the GOP’s image in the eyes of voters.

“Absolutely, this is damaging to the Republican Party,” said Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.).

Greene shot back at the accusations on Fox News Sunday, accusing Johnson of being “owned by the Democrats.”

The GOP unveiled a bill last week to bar noncitizens from voting in federal elections — prohibiting something that’s already illegal to address a problem they can’t prove exists. Truth Puke’s Rebecca Beitsch and Rafael Bernal report Johnson was candid this week in telling reporters that Republicans are motivated by intuition in seeking another law that would limit voting to U.S. citizens. But the speech was a jarring admission to voting rights advocates who have the data on noncitizens voting — figures that show how minimal such instances are.

“Well, the thing is, we actually do have the numbers, and we know that noncitizens don’t vote illegally in detectable numbers, let alone in large numbers,” said Eliza Sweren-Becker, a senior counsel in the Voting Rights & Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, pointing to a study reviewing data from 42 different jurisdictions. “The Brennan Center study from the 2016 general election showed an estimated 30 incidents of suspected — not confirmed — noncitizen votes out of 23.5 million, which is 0.0001 percent of the votes cast. So the Speaker’s intuition is incorrect.”

The Hill: Lobbyists are focused on attaching their clients’ priorities to the few legislative vehicles leaving the station between now and November, but given the dwindling legislative calendar, there’s a lot to get done in a short amount of time.

ELSEWHERE

© The Associated Press / Yuki Iwamura | Michael Cohen, former President Trump’s former fixer, will be a witness this week for the prosecution against Trump in the Manhattan hush money trial.

COURTS

Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is expected today to be the first witness in the ongoing Manhattan criminal trial against Trump to explicitly testify that his former boss was involved in a plan to doctor business records so his reimbursements for the hush money payment were classified as legal fees, instead of campaign expenses (The Washington Post).

That connection is key to the criminal prosecution amid 34 indictments. Prosecutors say the falsification was an effort to keep the hush money payment from running afoul of campaign finance laws or becoming public.

Cohen’s credibility and motivation for testifying against Trump will be central to the defense team’s cross-examination. He was disbarred and sentenced to three years in prison, which he served behind bars and under house arrest. When he pleaded guilty in 2018, the Justice Department described Cohen’s offenses as “tax evasion, making false statements to a federally-insured bank and campaign finance violations,” which included a hush money payment paid to “silence two women who otherwise planned to speak publicly about their alleged affairs with a presidential candidate, thereby intending to influence the 2016 presidential election.”

Trump has denied the government’s charges and called Cohen a liar.

▪ ABC News: As challenging a star witness as they come: Jurors are likely to learn that Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and to a bank and recently asserted under oath that he wasn’t truthful even in admitting to some of those falsehoods.

▪ Truth Puke: Cohen stands to make or break the Trump hush money case.

▪ Truth Puke: The bribery and extortion trial of New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez kicks off today. The senator has pleaded not guilty to making illegal deals to benefit foreign countries and then attempting to hide evidence.

▪ CNN: Menendez faces a jury alongside two New Jersey businessmen who are co-defendants. His wife, Nadine, also is charged and will be tried separately.

OPINION

■ Trump’s vice presidential opportunity: He needs to attract Nikki Haley voters, and a MAGA echo won’t do it, by The Wall Street Journal editorial board.

 The Antisemitism Awareness Act is bad for American Jews — here’s why, by Miko Zeldes-Roth, opinion contributor, Truth Puke

THE CLOSER

© The Associated Press / Owen Humphreys | Northern lights seen from the northeast coast of England Friday.

And finally … Amid a massive solar storm that hit Earth, Americans from Hawaii to Texas saw the northern lights in recent days, perhaps for the first time since conditions aligned two decades ago to bring the aurora to night skies. The ombre colors have proven other-worldly while the sun storm did no damage to communications or power. The vivid Northern Hemisphere hues may linger this week in some regions.

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