Panic in the West Wing: Trump’s remarks fuel White House meltdown
by Agence France Presse
A White House lurching from crisis to crisis appeared close to complete meltdown Friday, as Donald Trump’s staff struggled to limit damage from two impulsive moves with far-reaching consequences.
Trump’s off-the-cuff enticement of a global trade war and calls for limits on the constitutional right to bear arms cleaved a schism between the mercurial president and his Republican backers, sparked a stock market sell-off and prompted threats of retaliatory sanctions from across the globe.
Angered by the announced departure of confidant Hope Hicks, financial scandals surrounding son-in-law Jared Kushner and the ongoing investigation into his campaign, Trump thumbed his nose at advisors’ warnings and announced punitive steel and aluminum tariffs.
“When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win,” Trump tweeted Friday.
Officials made no effort to disguise that the decision — which will bring legal action — had short circuited internal deliberations and preempted the administration’s own determination about whether the step was lawful.
The tariffs are an extension of Trump’s decades-long crusade against America’s terms of trade, but infuriated allies in Canada, Europe, Asia and Latin America.
– Internal blowback –
The internal blowback was swift, with renewed rumors that top economic advisor Gary Cohn — who had been infuriated by Trump’s unwillingness to condemn neo-Nazis — was ready to walk.
Wall Street insiders — who have embraced Trump’s tax cuts and laissez faire approach to regulation — expressed disbelief at the policy, but also disbelief at a White House that appears to have careened off the rails.
Trump’s tweets came only hours after he blindsided Republicans by advocating raising age limits for gun ownership, tightening background checks and seizing some weapons without due process.
Republicans have shown themselves to be strikingly tolerant of Trump’s rhetorical and even alleged moral transgressions, but that gun heterodoxy was a step too far for most.
“Strong leaders don’t automatically agree with the last thing that was said to them,” snapped Republican Senator Ben Sasse. “We have the Second Amendment and due process of law for a reason.”
Even Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, who has marched in lock-step with the White House, accused Trump of betrayal.
“Imagine Obama saying something similar? He’d (have) been denounced as a dictator. Congress would talk impeachment. Some would mutter secession,” Carlson said.
On Thursday Trump himself had to clean up the mess, hosting representatives from the powerful gun lobby in the Oval Office for what he termed a “Good (Great) meeting”.
– Backpeddling –
Sources say he called the Republican author of pro-gun bill, Senator John Cornyn, to express support, as his staff tried to row back his comments.
“Conceptually, he still supports raising the age to 21,” said Sarah Sanders, peddling back hard on universal background checks. “Universal means something different to a lot of people,” she said.
The latest wave of crises has rocked an administration that has been in the impact zone for more than 13 months.
“The lack of anything resembling a serious process around both the gun and tariff announcements makes painfully clear we have a White House in disarray at the same time we have a world in disarray,” said Richard Haass, a veteran diplomat and president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
“If you are not worried, you should be. The combination is nothing less than toxic.”
As the White House struggled to keep its head above water, Kushner faced a rash of new allegations about his financial dealings with foreign governments, the chief of staff John Kelly was forced to say he would not resign and Congress announced a probe into White House security clearances.
This, after Kelly admitted the administration’s early handling of classified information and gatekeeping of sensitive secrets was not up to snuff and 35-40 staffers had “top secret” clearance they did not need.
“In terms of the handling of classified material” he said the White House “wasn’t up to the standards that I’d been used to.”
“Nothing illegal,” he added. “But it wasn’t quite up to the standards.”
Between this barrage of scandal and an angered president willing to go off script, the most common question around Washington and around the White House is “how long can this go on?”