“On Monday, the president will launch ‘infrastructure week,’” White House Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn declared last Friday. Three days later, however, President Donald Trump began his remarks during a kick-off event in the ornate East Room by talking about military veterans.
The president already was off message. And his veering from his staff’s carefully laid out “infrastructure week” plans would only continue.
Senior aides touted an air traffic control overhaul plan and prepared infrastructure-themed remarks that Trump delivered rather speedily Thursday in Ohio; then their boss repeatedly swerved off message.
The cumulative effect of Trump’s daily stomping on his own aide’s plans and statements means a week that White House officials intended as the start of the president fulfilling his campaign pledge to rebuild the country’s roads, ports, bridges and airports will be remembered for anything but. And that’s even before former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump has appeared to admit firing in part to ease his worries over the bureau’s Russia probe, testifies in what is being called the “Super Bowl” of recent congressional hearings on Thursday.
The White House arranged a Wednesday trip to Ohio, the kind of place Trump loves to visit: It’s a battleground Rust Belt state that helped put him in the White House. He was slated to give remarks at the Rivertowne Marina in Cincinnati. But shortly after 9 a.m., the White House issued a new schedule that indicated, just like the first two days of “infrastructure week,” there were other things on Trump’s mind.
The new schedule showed Trump delivering remarks at health care before he departed an Ohio airport for the marina.
Once Trump reached the venue for his infrastructure remarks, he again veered off script.
“I want to thank the king of Saudi Arabia, King Salman. We spent a lot of time together,” Trump said, referring to his first foreign trip as president. “And they’re doing a great job. … You see it with terrorism, the funding of terrorism. It’s going to stop … the funding of radical Islamic terrorism.”
Of the summit of more than 40 Arab leaders the Saudi government hosted while Trump was there, the president could not resist a little of his signature boasting. “They said there’s never been anything like it in our history,” he said, before inflating the brag: “In the history of this world, there has never been anything like what took place two weeks ago in Saudi Arabia.”
He also veered from the event’s message when he told the crowd that during his recent nine-day global trek he “sent a clear message that America expects fair trade, a level playing field, and so many other things that we’re demanding for our workers and for our companies. Every other country looks out for their interests. It’s time that we finally start looking out for our interests in the United States.”
And while a section of the speech did outline the infrastructure package he wants to sign into law and the improvements it would usher in from coast to coast, Trump did not exactly court the Democratic support he will need to pass it.
“American lives and livelihoods depend on our action together. That’s why I’m calling on all Democrats, who honestly have really been obstructionists — boy, have they tried. I mean, every single thing,” a frustrated GOP president said.
“Every single thing is obstruction,” he said “Honestly, if I were in that party, I wouldn’t be doing it that way. … That’s why they lost the House; they lost the Senate; they lost the White House. People don’t want to see what’s going on. They want to see us all come together. But I just don’t see them [Democrats] coming together.”
Wednesday broad messaging continued what the president has been doing all week, largely via his Twitter account.
On Monday, he took to the social media platform and criticized his hand-picked Justice Department leaders, tweeting that they erred in asking the Supreme Court to review a “watered down” version of his order banning some Muslims from entering the United States.
The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2017
Shortly before heading into the “infrastructure week” launch event Monday, he broke with decades of diplomatic protocol by labeling London’s mayor “pathetic” for his response to an Islamic State attack there Saturday night.
With his second critical tweet of Sadiq Khan’s response to an ISIS van and knife attack, Trump drove another wedge between the United States and an ally with which American long has had a “special relationship.”
Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his “no reason to be alarmed” statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2017
Then on Tuesday afternoon, when reporters and photographers were allowed into the Roosevelt Room at the top of a meeting with GOP leaders, Trump opted to make a not-so-veiled reference to the Russia scandal that is threatening to wreck his domestic agenda.
“Jared has actually become much more famous than me — I’m a little upset at that,” Trump said of his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner at the top of the meeting.
Trump said the same of the now-fired Comey in the early days of his whirlwind presidency, setting off speculation about what he might have been implying. Kushner reportedly is a person of interest in the FBI’s ongoing probe of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential race.
And Trump replied to a reporter’s question that he wishes Comey “good luck” during his Senate Intelligence Committee testimony. Presidents are under no obligation to answer questions during what are called “pool sprays,” and many, including Trump, often ignore shouted queries.
Roger Stone, a longtime Trump political ally, acknowledged in a phone interview that recent events appear to show that the president increasingly is doing his own thing while his White House staff is executing what seems like a different plan.
Of Trump and even his closest lieutenants, Stone said “they don’t speak with one voice.”
One former government official said Trump clearly believes in delegating tasks like event planning and military operations to his subordinates, something that stems from his time in the business world.
Micromanaging is “sometimes counterproductive,” said the former official, speaking anonymously to be candid. But on the flip side, being disconnected from your aides’ plans is “not a sound management practice,” the official added.
But Trump’s inability to stay on message during “infrastructure week” was perhaps best illustrated by a comment the always-pithy GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina made to reporters on Tuesday. “I don’t think he colluded with the Russians because he doesn’t collude with his own staff.”