Moments of order and calm came to Week Two at the Trump White House. You just had to look fast to catch them amid the name-calling, indelicate tweets and hectoring of world leaders.
President Donald Trump pressed ahead with his promised conservative agenda, including his selection of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, steps to repeal financial sector rules and other moves to advance his priorities through executive orders and on Capitol Hill.
He made a solemn visit to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to honor the returning remains of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in a raid last weekend in Yemen.
“So you have that part of the presidency,” said Princeton historian Julian Zelizer.
“And then you have the chaos.”
Trump mocked the “fake tears” of the Senate’s Democratic leader. He referred to a federal judge who temporarily blocked his travel ban as a “so-called judge.” Word surfaced that Trump had cut short a testy phone call with the leader of stalwart U.S. ally Australia. It also came out that Trump had dangled the idea of sending U.S. troops to Mexico to stop “bad hombres.”
And, for good measure, Trump chose the National Prayer Breakfast as the setting to renew his ribbing of Arnold Schwarzenegger for the “Celebrity Apprentice” ratings slide after the actor replaced Trump on the show.
There was conflicting commentary about whether Trump’s lack of restraint was an intentional tactic by the avowed disrupter of the status quo or fresh evidence that top aides have been unable to rein him in.
Either way, the week had a roller-coaster rhythm to it. A look at how the week played out:
The week opened with worldwide confusion over the rollout of Trump’s order to suspend the country’s refugee program and block visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, including questions about exactly who was covered by the edict and what to do with those already in transit. Thousands gathered at airports and other settings around the world to protest. American diplomats spoke out in dissent. Even Republicans acknowledged the disarray, with Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Tim Scott of South Carolina lamenting “the confusion, anxiety and uncertainty of the last few days” in a joint statement.
“It may be that this is the way they want to roll right now,” Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said of the White House.
Homeland Security and State Department officials took charge of the effort to clear up the confusion and manage the travel restrictions in a more orderly fashion.
Trump questioned the sincerity of “Fake Tears Chuck Schumer” after the Senate’s Democratic leader choked up in discussing the immigration order.
“I’m going to ask him who was his acting coach,” he said.
In all that clamor, one could almost miss that on Monday, Trump also summarily fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, after she said she wouldn’t enforce the president’s order on refugees and immigrants. At week’s end, there was more tension over the immigration order as Trump pushed back hard against a federal judge’s move to temporarily block it, with the president tweeting that it was “ridiculous” and that “many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country.”
Trump managed to change the subject — at least temporarily — by moving up the announcement of his Supreme Court nominee from Thursday to Tuesday. The former reality TV star teased his prime-time reveal like a reality TV show and used Twitter to promise viewers a “VERY IMPORTANT DECISION.”
He managed to maintain an element of suspense up until he introduced Gorsuch in the East Room before an audience of Republican senators, family and White House staff in what was an otherwise staid and conventional rollout.
But rather than keep the spotlight trained on Gorsuch the next day, the White House brought out national security adviser Michael Flynn to deliver a cryptic message putting Iran “on notice” for testing ballistic missiles and supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Trump himself tweeted, “Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile. Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!”
There was plenty of head-scratching over what exactly Iran was on notice about and whether Trump would try to find a way out of the multinational nuclear deal with Iran. Two days later Trump cleared up some of the mystery by imposing sanctions on 25 people and companies, putting more pressure on Tehran but leaving the deal in place for now.
Who could have predicted that part of the week would be spent making amends with Australia, of all places?
A cleanup campaign was necessary Thursday after it emerged that Trump, in a phone call Jan. 28, had gotten into a tense conversation with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in which the president ranted about an Obama-era deal to accept some of about 1,600 asylum-seekers Australia has refused to resettle. Trump tweeted that it was a “dumb deal” and told those at the prayer breakfast not to worry about his “tough phone calls.”
“We have to be tough,” he said. “We’re taken advantage of by every nation in the world, virtually.”
White House officials and senators from both parties scurried to reach out to Joe Hockey, Australia’s ambassador to the United States, to reassure him about the strength of the U.S.-Australia alliance.
New questions also arose about the U.S.-Mexico relationship as it was revealed that Trump had warned Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to do something about the “bad hombres.” The White House said the comments were “lighthearted,” but some administration officials described the call as contentious.
SUPER BOWL TERRITORY
At week’s end, Trump declared that “amazing things are going to happen” for Americans. And with that, he headed to Florida for a working Super Bowl weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
The president who can’t get enough of good ratings seemed pleased that he’d seen on TV that “politics has become a much bigger subject than the Super Bowl.”
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.