A month of President Trump: Tweets and turmoil

2017-02-18 22:13
President Donald Trump and his wife Melania walk down Pennsylvania Avenue shortly after his inauguration in Washington, DC (Evan Vucci, AP)

President Donald Trump and his wife Melania walk down Pennsylvania Avenue shortly after his inauguration in Washington, DC (Evan Vucci, AP)

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Washington - One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone.

Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing.

The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside.

Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess.

At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labour secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials.

Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office.

November election

Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" - aka the media. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to.

Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media.

At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news."

From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them.

The long-standing US policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution."

Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.)

After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor.

Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace.

Around the globe

"This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time."

That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter.

Trump selected Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives.

But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee programme and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travellers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the US-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect.

Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign.

"A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid."

But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals.

The messy roll-out of the travel ban and tumult over the ousting of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency.

Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style.

"I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in.

But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing."

Health care

He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can."

The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy.

At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda.

Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform."


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