The Trump White House on Friday ended the week in a manner that has become routine: embroiled in controversies that staffers struggle to explain and that threaten the president’s legislative agenda.
The beginning of the week mirrored the pattern of most of the nine of Donald Trump’s presidency that came before it — recovering from a setback, this time in the form of the collapse of the GOP-crafted health bill’s failure.
Trump held meetings with Cabinet officials, manufacturing executives, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the prime minister of Denmark, led a “women’s empowerment panel” in the ornate East Room, received daily intelligence briefings, and signed a long-awaited executive targeting the Obama administration’s rules to combat climate change, the Clean Power Plan.
All indications suggested the president and his senior team were aiming for a quiet week after the health bill in the face of House Republican opposition.
Then, Thursday happened. And it bled into Friday.
The president began and ended his working day Thursday attacking House Republicans on Twitter, using evening tweets to call out House Freedom Caucus leaders by name. He blamed them for wrecking the health bill and, jarringly, also a tax overhaul package that has yet to be crafted.
Trump was back at it on Twitter the Friday morning, seeking to influence two congressional investigations into possible ties between Russia and his campaign associates.
The White House was deluged with questions about Russia and the White House’s handling of outstanding questions about alleged ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Presidential aides struggled to deal with House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., acknowledging he received from Trump administration officials intelligence reports he said shows Trump associates were “unmasked” in some Obama-era reports — documents he briefed Trump about the next day.
There were the reports that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, once worked secretly to advance Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interests.
There were plenty of efforts by the White House to gain some policy traction. There was the energy executive order, a meeting to kick start the tax overhaul push, another order on trade —- a top Trump issue — and an effort to explore a second try at a bill to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s 2010 health law.
And the White House explained how it went about ensuring staffers divested financial holdings that could have created conflicts of interests — and release disclosure forms a few days earlier than the Obama White House did in 2009.
All should have been welcome news for Republicans, especially Trump’s base. Yet, any momentum from those moves was canceled out by another week’s slide from routine to controversial.
One former adviser to several top national Republican officials said Friday that no president and White House senior staff can find operate effectively under the Trump pattern.
“The problem with distraction is that — by definition — they’re distracting, and every White House only has so much bandwidth,” said Michael Steel, a former senior aide to former Speaker John A. Boehner and 2016 GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush.
“Time and effort put into dealing with these distractions is time and effort that can’t go into health care or tax reform or infrastructure or any other priorities,” Steel said.
Trump’s approval rating climbed into the low 40s (41 percent) by the middle of last week. (His high is 49 percent earlier this month.) But as he failed to lock in a deal on the health bill with members of his own party, Gallup’s daily tracking poll found his approval rating again falling into the 30s as the number of Americans who disapprove of his performance again approaches 60 percent.
As the Russia controversies and brewing civil war with his own party intensified, Gallup put his approval at a new low, 35 percent, and his disapproval level at a new high, 59 percent, by midweek. They had improved slightly, to 38 percent and 56 percent, respectively, by week’s end.
To be sure, those numbers are being dragged down by the looming Russia questions.
“The issue of whether or not Trump or his associates, his campaign, had colluded with Russia in the elections is an issue of incredible consequences,” independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2016 Democratic presidential candidate said Thursday. “Why it is that President Trump has only positive things to say about this authoritarian figure?” Sanders said on CNN, referring to Putin.
“What hold does Russia or might Russia have over the president? It appears, at least from media, that Russian oligarchs lent Trump and his associates money. Does that have anything to do with Trump’s relationship with Russia?” Sanders asked.
He continued: “These are issues that must be thoroughly investigated. The American people want to know that our president is representing the best interests of the American people — not Russian oligarchs or the Russian government.”