February 13, 2018
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Credit to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for thinking outside the box — or, rather, thinking up a new box. Nestled in President Trump's 2019 budget proposal is a plan to transform the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamp program into an "America's Harvest Box" full of government-picked nonperishable items. The boxes would be distributed to the roughly 16 million U.S. households getting at least $90 a month in food stamps. Perdue called his Harvest Box idea "a bold, innovative approach" that would give low-income families the "same level of food value as SNAP" at considerably lower costs.

"Secretary Perdue wanted to give it a chance," White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney said Monday. "We thought it was a tremendous idea." Apparently unimpressed with the "America's Harvest Box" branding and enticing pitches like "same level of food value," however, Mulvaney called the idea a "Blue Apron-type program" — which, Politico notes, compares Perdue's boxes to the "high-end meal kit delivery company that had one of the worst stock debuts in 2017 and has struggled to hold onto customers."

The Blue Apron comparison has other problems, too. Blue Apron specializes in delivering fresh fruit, meat, and produce to customers' doors. The Harvest Boxes would include staples like shelf-stable milk, peanut butter, pasta, cereals, beans, canned meat and fish, and canned fruit and vegetables — in other words, nothing fresh. And USDA spokesman Tim Murtaugh said states would have "flexibility" in how they got the boxes to SNAP recipients, adding, "The projected savings does not include shipping door-to-door for all recipients."

The plan has already gathered an unusual coalition of detractors — advocates for the poor, Walmart, rural mom-and-pop markets — and it faces long odds in Congress, which would have to approve the program. SNAP recipients would still get half of their monthly disbursement on a special debit card, like under the current system. Peter Weber

10:38 a.m. ET

As President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin make their way around Helsinki for Monday's summit, they will be met with some 300 billboards promoting press freedom.

The ad campaign is run by Finland's largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat. Its aim, explained editor-in-chief Kaius Niemi, is to make a "statement on behalf of critical and high quality journalism."

The billboards are printed in English and Russian and feature the paper's headlines about Trump and Putin's hostility toward the media.

Trump has labeled the media the "enemy of the American people" and decries unfavorable reports as "fake news" regardless of accuracy. Putin's Russia is marked by "draconian laws and website blocking" targeting independent media, notes watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF): "At least five journalists are currently detained in connection with their reporting — an unprecedented number — and more and more bloggers are being jailed."

RSF ranks Russia 148 of 180 on its 2018 World Press Freedom Ranking. The U.S. has dropped to rank 45. Finland is in the top five. Bonnie Kristian

10:30 a.m. ET

Jokes about President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin's so-called love affair have persisted for years. But apparently the trope isn't tired enough for The New York Times.

On Monday morning, before the U.S.-Russia summit, the Times' opinion section tweeted an absurd video rehashing the homophobic rhetoric for the umpteenth time.

This episode of Trump Bites, which the Times calls a series of "satirical video cartoons" stringing together recorded Trump quotes, envisions the president as a teenager imagining a "forbidden romance" between himself and Putin. The lecherous premise is disgusting enough, but the actual product is far worse. Imagine a shirtless Putin and underwear-clad Trump on a daisy-pooping unicorn, complete with nipple twisting and a look into the two leaders' entwined mouths. Or don't. That's fine too.

If you absolutely, positively must, watch below. Kathryn Krawczyk

Kathryn Krawczyk

10:04 a.m. ET
JIM YOUNG/AFP/Getty Images

"To the people of the United States, please help us," begins an open letter to America handwritten in Spanish and signed Sunday by 54 migrant parents who remain separated from their children and detained in Texas.

"We are desperate parents," the note continues. "We were not prepared for the nightmare that we faced here. The United States government kidnapped our children with tricks and didn't give us the opportunity to say goodbye."

The parents were separated from their children more than a month ago, and since then contact, even by phone, has been extremely limited. "Each day is more painful that the last. Many of us have only had the chance to speak to our children once (this is very difficult because the social workers never answer)," the letter explains. "The children cry; they don't recognize our voices; and they feel abandoned and unloved. This makes us feel like we are dead."

The letter's signatories are seeking asylum in the United States while they wait to be reunited with their children. They are held at the Port Isabel Service Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas. As of Friday, about 2,500 children remain separated from their families. Bonnie Kristian

9:50 a.m. ET

From redecorating the White House to proposing an Air Force One upgrade, President Trump is a man consumed with his image. But Russian President Vladimir Putin may be giving him a run for his money.

Putin rolled up to his Finland meeting with Trump almost an hour late Monday, The Washington Post reports. It's typical of the Russian leader, data from The Independent shows — and some say it's an attempt at showing dominance.

After ripping off his jacket on the tarmac, Putin ducked into a 22-foot-long, Russian-made vehicle that drew comparisons to Trump's "Beast" of a Cadillac, the Post noted. The massive vehicle is Russia's first luxury car produced in years, per state media.

Putin has elevated his brand during his presidency, graduating from oversized suits to shirtless horseback rides, the Post points out. He's carefully crafted a tough-guy image to counter his country's shaky one. That image — apparently built by once showing up four hours late to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel — has even earned him comparisons to Trump.

Putin also arrived 40 minutes late to meet former President Barack Obama, making his tardiness bipartisan. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:46 a.m. ET

President Trump's tweets have astounded, amazed, and enraged many people on many topics over the years, but usually his closest followers will give him a pass on his particularly outrageous posts.

His Monday morning tweet about strained U.S.-Russia relations, however, appears to be an exception. Brian Kilmeade, host of Trump's favorite news show Fox & Friends, had a hard time getting his head around the fact that Trump chose to place the blame on "U.S. foolishness and stupidity," and he asked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) to offer some clarity.

"I like the president's tweets, I understand what he’s trying to do with the EU and NATO," said Kilmeade, who ordinarily vocally supports most of Trump's statements and policies. "But what I don't understand is this tweet. It's really not our foolishness and stupidity. They might not like the things we're doing — but would you really say foolishness and stupidity is a correct characterization?"

Gingrich vaguely agreed with Trump's assessment, saying he wouldn't "try to rewrite the president's tweets." He cited "weakness" from previous administrations, but said that Trump knows how to "deal with" Putin. Watch the moment below, via Fox News. Summer Meza

9:04 a.m. ET
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As President Trump meets with an actual, intelligence community-certified geopolitical foe Monday, his combative rhetoric may be costing America one of its closest allies.

In an interview with CBS News that aired Sunday, anchor Jeff Glor asked Trump to name the U.S.'s "biggest foe globally right now." In response, Trump named Russia, China, and the European Union, for "what they do to us in trade." "You wouldn't think of the European Union [as a foe]," he said, "but they're a foe."

The comments prompted pushback from Germany on Monday, as Trump was meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin behind closed doors. "We can no longer completely rely on the White House," German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass told reporters Monday, per Reuters. "To maintain our partnership with the U.S.A. we must readjust it." German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been considered the de facto head of the EU since becoming chancellor in 2005.

Trump has threatened steep tariffs on auto imports from the EU, and his "foe" comments additionally follow the highly contentious NATO summit last week, where he threatened to withdraw American support from the alliance and pressed treaty members to rapidly and substantially increase their defense spending. Merkel called the summit "very intense" at the time, though she did call for Germany to up its defense contributions to the alliance. Kimberly Alters

8:47 a.m. ET

There was big news on Russia's 2016 election meddling late last week, when Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday indicted 12 Russian intelligence agents in connection with hacking Democratic emails. But that's apparently not on the agenda for President Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland today.

The two leaders will be having "discussions on everything from trade to military to missiles to nuclear to China," Trump spelled out in a pre-summit press conference alongside Putin. The talks will help the two countries form an "extraordinary relationship," Trump promised.

But that "everything" doesn't necessarily seem to include the Justice Department's Friday indictment of Russian agents who allegedly hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton. While Trump said before Friday's indictment that he'd "absolutely" ask Putin about Russia's election meddling, Trump has since barely acknowledged the new charges, which mark a big step in laying out the details of Russian interference in the 2016 election. His Twitter feed simply blamed America for worsening U.S.-Russia relations, and faulted former President Barack Obama for the hacking. Kathryn Krawczyk

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