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You can’t help but get the sense that the Trump White House is coming apart at the seams. Yeah, it’s sorta been that way forever. And sure, it’s been exactly the chaos presidency Jeb Bush warned about during the GOP primary, with the cloud of the Russia scandal hanging over the president’s head and a staff of infighting, inexperienced ideologues being stymied at every turn. But this week, the bow seems to have finally broken, or something close to it. (As the Trump administration is teaching us, there is no bottom.) Yesterday, I compiled a lengthy list of major Trump stories that had roiled the White House in just twenty-four hours. But the last twenty-four hours have offered the president no relief. The headlines:
WHAT IT MEANS:
- Communications director and Trump confidant Hope Hicks, a former model who joined the campaign despite a lack of political experience, who had previously admitted to lying on the president’s behalf, announced her resignation. Per The New York Times: “As the person who spent the most time with Mr. Trump, Ms. Hicks became enmeshed in a number of controversies over the past year, including key aspects of the investigations by Congress and the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, as well as the firing of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey. In recent weeks, her personal life drew unwanted attention when it was reported that she had dated Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who resigned under pressure over allegations that he had abused his two former wives.”
- That makes at least twenty-one high-profile departures from the Trump White House in just thirteen months, an unprecedented display of dysfunction.
- Trump again attacked his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, on Twitter, calling his handling of the Republican memo alleging surveillance allegations “disgraceful.” Per The New York Times, “Mr. Trump excoriated Mr. Sessions for not ordering his own investigation into the handling of the Russia inquiry during its early months, calling his attorney general ‘DISGRACEFUL’ in a lacerating Twitter post. Mr. Sessions, who has absorbed blows from the White House since last year mostly in silence, responded with a rare statement defending his ‘integrity and honor.’”
- On Tuesday night, Sessions, whom the president refers to privately as Mr. Magoo, went to (a very public) dinner with deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia investigation, and solicitor general Noel Francisco, an apparent show of solidarity.
- The Washington Post reported that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has been questioning witnesses in the Russia investigation about a period last summer when Trump appeared to be trying to drive Sessions to quit: “The thrust of the questions was to determine whether the president’s goal was to oust Sessions in order to pick a replacement who would exercise control over the investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump associates during the 2016 election, these people said.”
- Meanwhile, the president held a freewheeling televised session with lawmakers in which, as The Washington Post describes it, he “sent so many mixed signals about what he envisioned for a package on firearms and school safety that he left Democrats gleeful and Republicans tight-lipped amid doubts that Congress would produce any legislation.” “Sitting with a group of Democrats and Republicans, including some who are backed by the NRA, Trump made what sounded like an extraordinary break with the powerful gun-rights organization. He accused lawmakers of being so ‘petrified’ by the NRA that they have not been willing to take even small steps on gun control. … On Wednesday, Trump backed or said he would consider tougher background checks for gun buyers, greater police power to seize guns from mentally disturbed people, the outlawing of ‘bump stock’ devices and tighter age limits for buying rifles such as that used in Parkland. Most striking were Trump’s remarks decrying what he called excessive ‘checks and balances’ that limit what can be done to prevent mentally unfit people from buying or keeping guns. ‘Take the firearms first, and then go to court,’ Trump said, cutting off Vice President Pence as Pence articulated a version of the due-process arguments that the NRA and other gun-rights advocates have used to derail past gun-control measures. ‘You could do exactly what you’re saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.’”
First, close your eyes and try to imagine the reactions of the NRA and Fox News had Barack Obama ever said take the guns first, worry about due process later. Now put that aside: Will Trump’s seeming change of heart on guns change anything? From WaPo:
- “Although Trump appeared to support what would be the largest effort to enact new gun control in more than a decade, it was not clear what role he would play and whether he would try to insulate lawmakers from a gun-rights backlash. ‘I thought it was fascinating television,’ Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said afterward, suggesting the president was playing to the cameras.” Meanwhile, Republican deputy whip Steve Scalise, who was shot last year at a baseball practice, wants to marry any modest gun reform with a huge concealed-carry bill that has zero chance of making it through the Senate. Even after Trump pooh-poohed that idea, Scalise said he wasn’t giving up.
- The president, gasping for air amid a deluge of chaos and bad headlines and poor approval ratings, doesn’t have the political muscle to force his party to go against its own inclinations, which would seem to make any substantial gun reform package unlikely. And that’s kind of the larger point: the White House’s dysfunction will make it harder and harder for the administration to actually accomplish anything.