UPDATE: In the 90 minutes after this was published, we’ve learned that at Trump’s prodding about wall, the president of Mexico has canceled his planned state visit to Washington next week. We are turning our longtime ally into an enemy, it appears. In addition, the entire top level of career professional diplomats at the State Department has resigned en masse.
Every incoming administration has its organizational challenges, but nothing like this. This … this is epic.
During his confirmation hearing to serve as secretary of state, Rex Tillerson said something so implausible that at first I thought he must be lying to Congress. Asked about his discussions with Donald Trump about Russia and how we should proceed, Tillerson explained that he and Trump have had no such conversation.
Really? The nominee to head the State Department, a man with extensive experience in Russia, had not discussed Russia and our policy with the new president? What the hell had they talked about then? The ratings for “Celebrity Apprentice?”
Since then, similar stories keep popping up from every corner of the federal bureaucracy. In his own confirmation hearing as secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price was asked about Trump’s statement that the two men were devising a plan to replace Obamacare. Is that true?
“It’s true that he said that, yes,” Price said wryly, demurring on any more detail.
Other nominees, such as Mick Mulvaney at the Office of Management and Budget, have also grudgingly portrayed a president badly disconnected from those who are supposed to serve him. According to Mulvaney, he has met Trump just once and has had no contact since. Mulvaney also acknowledged that he’s a crusader for cutting Social Security and Medicare, serving a president publicly committed to the opposite. He is one of a whole string of nominees who have expressed basic, fundamental disagreements with many of the policy demands issued by the president, with nobody having any idea how those conflicts might be resolved.
Earlier this week, when a draft executive order began circulating in the White House that would reopen the door to torture of terrorism suspects, the two men who would implement that order, Mike Pompeo of the CIA and James Mattis at the Defense Department, learned of its existence when they read it in the New York Times. Both men strongly oppose the use of torture and have said publicly that they would resign rather than follow orders to do so.
And as Politico reports, Trump’s own team at the Department of Health and Human Services was given no input and no chance to offer advice into his strange executive order allegedly “repealing” parts of Obamacare. In fact, they weren’t even notified that it was coming until the night before its release. Congressional leaders on health-care legislation were also kept in the dark and remain in the dark.
In fact, Republicans in Congress have almost no idea what is going on. They aren’t getting leadership, guidance or even basic information from the Trump White House. Where is the president planning to go on Obamacare replacement? Immigration? Trade? The White House is merrily releasing a whole stream of executive orders that will require extensive congressional action to execute, without deigning to consult with or even notify congressional leaders. Trump and his aides seem to see Congress as a rubber-stamp assembly that will do as it’s told when the time comes.
Meanwhile, Steve Bannon is consolidating power and influence. After co-writing Trump’s pugnacious inaugural address, he announced the hiring of Julia Hahn, a reporter who led Breitbart’s effort to demonize Paul Ryan as a traitor to the conservative cause. Hahn will serve as his top assistant, and Breitbart’s “national security editor” is also on his way to the White House to serve with the National Security Council. It is, Breitbart gleefully notes, “the Breitbartization of the White House.”
So here’s the situation:
We have a president still clearly obsessed with his own popularity and internal neediness — his entire interview with ABC News is testament to that fact — with little apparent interest in anything else. He is also threatening to cancel a meeting with the leader of Mexico, our close ally and neighbor, unless it agrees to finance a wall that neither side needs, a stance that is almost purely ego-driven on Trump’s part:
We have an alt-right cabal nesting inside the White House, with every sign of it becoming the governing core of this administration. We have the FBI investigating illegal, perhaps traitorous links between Trump associates and Russia. We have CIA officials wary of giving sensitive information to the White House for fear of it leaking to Vladimir Putin. We have a Republican Congress transfixed in fear of what its nominal leader will say or do next. And the administration’s war on facts and knowledge has become so obvious that it has prodded the nation’s scientific community to rise from its apolitical slumber to begin organizing its own march on Washington.
And it’s Day Six, people. Only 1,455 more to go.