By Tom Baxter
It was hardly a surprise when, in the middle of a second weekend of furious reaction to President Trump’s executive orders, the White House announced that it was moving the announcement of his U.S. Supreme Court nominee from Thursday up to Tuesday.
The doctrine that the best antidote for any sort of news is more news has become a hallmark of the Trump administration. Young administrations make a lot of news, but this one has opened the presidential firehose as wide as possible.
Some of the decisions which have resulted in demonstrations, law suits and bureaucratic chaos can be explained by a hard-charging boss and an inexperienced staff. But there’s a gathering sense, in widely different circles, that a larger story — the concentration of power around a small White House group close to the president — is being overrun by events.
There was a lot of friction when the White House left out any direct mention of Jews in its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day statement. But while the stories all resonate somewhat, the more said on air about the Holocaust story, the less about the reorganization of the National Security Council to include Trump’s chief political operative, Steve Bannon, while relegating the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of National Intelligence to an “as needed” status.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the two career officers could still attend NSC meetings if they wanted, and noted that Bannon had served as an officer in the Navy. James Carville was a Marine. Imagine if Bill Clinton had put him on the NSC.
There was a lot of confusion, demonstrations around the country and more than one court order leading from Trump’s order imposing a 90-day ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries and a 120-day hold on all refugee emissions. But by all accounts the confusion was intended. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, among others, wasn’t informed of the order until the last minute, and his department’s recommendation on handling green-card holders was overruled by Bannon and White House advisor Stephen Miller. For a while, Customs agents reportedly carried out the White House directive in defiance of a federal court order, caught in a dispute high above their pay grade.
All this is happening at a time when the top echelons of the U.S. State Department are largely empty due to forced and unforced retirements. Troubling reports continue to swirl about Trump’s Russian connections, even as the president’s first telephone conversation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin gets lost amid other weekend news. Amid so many developments, the increasing number of direct contacts between the leadership of foreign countries, and those in the Trump inner circle, including Bannon, Miller and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner has gone largely unremarked. Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis, who are held up as positive examples of the stability of the Trump team, have so far played no guiding role in the development of its policies.
Rich Galen was the press secretary for House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Vice President Dan Quayle, and these days writes an online column called Mullings. He wasn’t on the Trump train, but he has defended the president’s cabinet choices and encouraged young Republicans to seek jobs in the Trump administration. Having been around the track in Washington a few times, he is also not prone to rash statements.
“Over the large part of these first days of the Donald Trump Presidency many of us have been saying ‘He’s doing what he said he would do.’ And we have been correct,” Galen wrote this week.
“But, I can’t help thinking there is something going on we don’t know about. We haven’t been let in on. I’m beginning to think there is a plan to consolidate influence and power in the Executive Office of the President that may make FDR look like a States Rights guy.”
Some, less invested in a Republican majority administration, are beginning to go farther than that. It’s time to pay very close attention to who has their hands on the firehose.