Donald Trump jetted off Friday for his first weekend away from the White House after his first two weeks in office, capping off 14 days in which his administration moved aggressively to move on his campaign promises and take shots at the Obama era. Yet, as the president heads for his Mar-a-Lago retreat in South Florida, his first two weeks produced little clarity about the next four years.
The administration’s emerging Iran policy, in many ways, embodies its first two weeks.
In recent days Trump and some of his senior national security officials have signaled a much more bellicose stance on Iran, with the new president on Friday tweeting a warning. He wrote that “Iran is playing fire” a day after telling reporters “nothing’s off the table” as he mulls how to respond to a series of Iranian actions his administration has deemed destabilizing.
Trump and his top national security aides have sharply criticized the Obama administration for being too easy on Tehran. But on Friday, Trump ran a play right out of Barack Obama’s Iran playbook when he slapped new sanctions on Iranian businesses and individuals in response to Iran’s support for Houthi forces and a ballistic missile test.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on 25 individuals and companies as punishment for Iran’s Jan. 29 ballistic missile test and its continued support of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. The Trump administration emphasized the sanctions do not violate the 2015 multinational nuclear deal with Iran.
In short, the move was vintage Obama.
“The sanctions today are similar to ones that the Obama Administration issued after the [nuclear deal] was signed so the Trump administration does not yet appear to be taking a harsher or a different approach as to Iran than the Obama Administration,” said Lawrence Ward, national security lawyer at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney. “Instead, the current administration appears to be walking the same fine line that the Obama administration did.”
During a meeting with business leaders, Trump told reporters he would be “cutting a lot out of” the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law “because, frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses and they can’t borrow money.” The New York businessman-turned-president claimed unnamed banks will not allow his pals to “borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.”
A few hours later, Trump signed an executive memorandum before heading to Florida that “mitigates risk, encourages [economic] growth” and protects consumers, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, arguing that the law is “disastrous policy.”
White House officials no doubt might be tempted to reach for a stiff drink while mulling a new Gallup poll that found Trump already faces a 52 percent disapproval rating.
But something extraordinary happened Thursday, and amid a busy day, it went under-reported: the House minority leader speculated about a foreign government possibly using compromising information to influence a sitting U.S. president.
“U.S. intelligence agencies have thoroughly detailed the Russian security services’ brazen assault on American democracy in support of candidate Donald Trump,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement. “Less than two weeks after walking into the White House, President Trump lifts sanctions on the Russian Security Service. Vladimir Putin’s thugs meddle with an American election, and President Trump gives them a thank you present.”
Then Pelosi dropped the hammer: “I have been asking the same question for a while: What do the Russians have on President Trump?
The White House has denied such allegations. Still, consider the public nature of Pelosi’s statement. Bottoms up, folks.