An Aggressive White House Finds Itself on Defensive

Spicer: 'They should either get with the program or they should go'

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer holds up paperwork highlighting and comparing language about the National Security Council from the Trump administration and previous administrations. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Trump White House wanted the themes — or, in proper Washington-speak “narrative” -- of the day on Monday to be nixing regulations and a coming Supreme Court pick. Instead, a new administration very much on the defensive found out the word of the day was: deflection.

From President Donald Trump’s executive order “temporarily” banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country to confusion about just what another order about the White House National Security Council actually said, administration officials were aggressively deflecting blame.

Trump started the day with a tweet blast, as is his habit, and used it to try and deflect chaos at U.S. airports off of him and onto Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Delta Air Lines. The former he panned for getting emotional over the weekend while speaking to refugees, which he later told reporters were “fake tears.” The latter he dinged for a computer malfunction.

[Deflecting Blame, Trump Hits Emotional Schumer for Airport Chaos]

Hours later, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer deflected confusion — including veteran national security officials — over Trump’s NSC order to his familiar target: the media. Various outlets reported over the weekend that the document would remove the Director of National Intelligence and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the body’s “principals committee.”

Not so, Spicer said during a feisty and aggressive press briefing that saw him scold and joust with multiple reporters, at one point holding up highlighted executive writings to attempt to prove Trump's order was similar to that from previous administrations.

The Joint Chiefs chairman, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, and eventual DNI (former Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., has been nominated for that post) are “welcome to attend” meetings of the National Security Council’s permanent committee, Spicer said. The executive order Trump signed was written as it is because, for instance, a meeting about a homeland security matter might not be the best use of the time of the president’s top military adviser, he said.

The exasperation about the media’s weekend coverage was clear on Spicer’s face, particularly when it came to questions about White House political adviser Steve Bannon’s new membership on the council. Bannon's seat there is a departure from common practice that keeps political types away from the policy perch.

But the aggressive approach of this White House was best visible Monday when the press secretary delivered a blunt message for State Department employees who have been going public with their disagreement with the refugee order: “They should either get with the program or they should go.”

ICYMI: There was a bit of scheduling news, with Trump announcing he will announce his Supreme Court on Tuesday at 8 p.m. More coverage here.

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