First one cri­sis, then an­other, then …

White House dis­trac­tions brew­ing up frus­tra­tions, anx­i­ety, dys­func­tion

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Jonathan Lemire

WASH­ING­TON — Less than a month into his ten­ure, Don­ald Trump’s White House is be­set by a crush of crises.

Divi­sions, dys­func­tion and high-pro­file ex­its have left the young ad­min­is­tra­tion nearly par­a­lyzed and al­lies won­der­ing how it will re­boot. The bold pol­icy moves that marked Trump’s first days in of­fice have slowed to a crawl, a tacit ad­mis­sion that he and his team had not thor­oughly pre­pared an agenda.

Nearly a week af­ter the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s travel ban was struck down by a fed­eral court, the White House is still strug­gling to re­group and out­line its next move on that sig­na­ture is­sue. It’s been six days since Trump — who promised un­prece­dented lev­els of im­me­di­ate ac­tion — has an­nounced a

ma­jor new pol­icy di­rec­tive or leg­isla­tive plan.

His team is riven by di­vi­sion and plagued by dis­trac­tions. This week alone, con­tro­versy has forced out both his top na­tional se­cu­rity aide and his pick for la­bor sec­re­tary.

“An­other day in par­adise,” Trump quipped Wed­nes­day af­ter his meet­ing with re­tail­ers was in­ter­rupted by re­porters’ ques­tions about links be­tween his cam­paign staff and Rus­sian of­fi­cials.

Fel­low Repub­li­cans have be­gun voic­ing their frus­tra­tion and open anx­i­ety that the Trump White House will de­rail their high hopes for leg­isla­tive ac­tion.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota de­manded Wed­nes­day that the White House “get past the launch stage.”

“There are things we want to get done here, and we want to have a clear-eyed fo­cus on our agenda, and this con­stant dis­rup­tion and drum­beat with th­ese ques­tions that keep be­ing raised is a dis­trac­tion,” said Thune.

Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona blasted the White House’s ap­proach to na­tional se­cu­rity as “dys­func­tional,” ask­ing: “Who is in charge? I don’t know of any­one out­side of the White House who knows.”

Such crit­i­cism from al­lies is rare dur­ing what is of­ten viewed as a hon­ey­moon pe­riod for a new pres­i­dent. But Trump, an out­sider who cam­paigned al­most as much against his party as for it, has only a tiny reser­voir of good­will to pro­tect him. His ad­min­is­tra­tion has made un­even at­tempts to work closely with law­mak­ers and its own agen­cies.

Of­fi­cials have be­gun try­ing to change some tac­tics, and some scenery, with the hope of steady­ing the ship. The White House an­nounced Wed­nes­day that Trump, who has of­ten men­tioned how much he loves ador­ing crowds and af­fir­ma­tion from his sup­port­ers, would hold a cam­paign-style rally in Florida on Satur­day, the first of his term.

The event, ac­cord­ing to White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer, was be­ing “run by the cam­paign” and it is listed on Trump’s largely dor­mant 2016 cam­paign web­site. No other de­tails were of­fered.

To be sure, pin­balling from one cri­sis to the next is not un­prece­dented, par­tic­u­larly for a White House still find­ing its foot­ing. But the dis­rup­tions that have swirled around Trump achieved hur­ri­cane force early and have not let up.

On Wed­nes­day, his choice for la­bor sec­re­tary, fast food CEO Andy Puzder, with­drew his nom­i­na­tion while the ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tin­ued to nav­i­gate the fall­out from the forced res­ig­na­tion of na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn. Flynn was ousted on the grounds that he mis­led the vice pres­i­dent about his con­tacts with a Rus­sian am­bas­sador.

Flynn’s de­par­ture marked the re­turn of an is­sue Trump is not likely to move past quickly. The pres­i­dent’s re­la­tion­ship with Moscow will con­tinue to be scru­ti­nized and in­ves­ti­gated, some­times ap­par­ently fu­eled by leaks from within his own ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Trump on Wed­nes­day blasted what he called “il­le­gal leaked” in­for­ma­tion.

Not just leaks, but also le­gal woes, have de­railed Trump’s early ef­forts.

Af­ter the 9th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals re­jected his im­mi­gra­tion ban last week, Trump em­phat­i­cally tweeted “SEE YOU IN COURT!” and the ad­min­is­tra­tion vowed that it would re-ap­peal the block and ei­ther re­vise its orig­i­nal ex­ec­u­tive or­der or write a new one from scratch.

But con­fu­sion soon fol­lowed. Af­ter first in­di­cat­ing they would not take a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der to the Supreme Court, ad­min­is­tra­tion staffers squab­bled au­di­bly, be­hind closed doors, over the ac­counts emerg­ing in news re­ports.

When the dust set­tled, a new state­ment was printed out and handed to jour­nal­ists, stat­ing, “to clar­ify,” that all op­tions were on the ta­ble. But de­spite Trump’s vow to have a plan in place by Tues­day, one has not emerged.

The col­lapse of the ban, which poured fuel on sim­mer­ing staff ri­val­ries, was fol­lowed by a pe­riod of stark in­ac­tion by a White House sud­denly put on the de­fen­sive. Trump did sign leg­is­la­tion Tues­day that rolled back a fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tion, but his ad­min­is­tra­tion has not is­sued any ex­ec­u­tive or­ders in days.

House Repub­li­cans have been nudg­ing the White House to get be­hind Speaker Paul Ryan’s tax over­haul, which in­cludes a bor­der ad­justa­bil­ity plan of which Trump has been skep­ti­cal. GOP aides be­lieved they were mak­ing progress, but the mat­ter has been over­shad­owed by the flood of con­tro­ver­sies.

Other pos­si­ble ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions have been bandied about, from a task force on al­le­ga­tions of voter fraud to steps to strengthen cy­ber­se­cu­rity, but have yet to be re­leased. Key leg­isla­tive items such as a mas­sive plan to re­build roads and bridges and an over­haul of tax law re­main works in progress.

“He’s a one-man band for all prac­ti­cal pur­poses, it’s how he ran his busi­ness,” said Bill Daley, a for­mer White House chief of staff un­der Obama. “When you try to take that and every­thing re­volves around that and he is the be­gin­ning, mid­dle and end of every­thing, that is a tough model. His cam­paign was the same way.”

Trump’s new ad­min­is­tra­tion has also been plagued by ethics brush­fires that are tak­ing up the time and en­ergy of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and le­gal staff mem­bers.

In one in­ci­dent that sparked bi­par­ti­san con­dem­na­tion and calls for ethics in­ves­ti­ga­tions, White House coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way said on TV that peo­ple should “go buy Ivanka’s stuff” — an en­dorse­ment that came af­ter the pres­i­dent dis­par­aged Nord­strom for drop­ping his daugh­ter’s fash­ion line. And con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans also are de­mand­ing to know more about the se­cu­rity mea­sures in place at Mara-Lago, Trump’s week­end White House, where re­sort mem­bers pho­tographed him dur­ing a din­ner­time na­tional se­cu­rity strat­egy ses­sion af­ter North Korea launched a mis­sile.

“When you are the White House, ev­ery day is a cri­sis. Cri­sis is rou­tine,” said Ari Fleis­cher, who was Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s first press sec­re­tary. “But when they all come right on top of each other, par­tic­u­larly at the start of an ad­min­is­tra­tion, it starts to cre­ate the feel­ing that they don’t know how to run the place.”

AN­DREW HARRER-POOL/GETTY IMAGES

The dis­rup­tions that have been swirling around Pres­i­dent Trump have seem­ingly hit hur­ri­cane force and have not let up.

WIN MCNAMEE/GETTY IMAGES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Israel Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu an­swer ques­tions dur­ing a joint news con­fer­ence in the East Room of the White House on Wed­nes­day.

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