Trump wings it, leaving aides in backwash

- David Jackson

WASHINGTON – Sometimes it seems policy at Donald Trump’s White House is like a Night at the Improv.

From transgende­r troops in the military to immigratio­n and tax cuts, Trump has a habit of winging it: announcing (or tweeting) a policy pronouncem­ent, and leaving it to aides to fill in the details (or somehow walk it back). In the past week alone, Trump did that with immigratio­n, the Mexican border and U.S. troops in Syria.

One result of the president’s style, said government officials as well as analysts, is a near-constant churning that leaves some people confused and creates the image of chaos.

“It’s been this way since the beginning,” said Stan Collender, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “It looks like they’re operating on pure adrenaline, emotion ... let’s say sugar-rush, also.”

To his aides, it shows an active president who makes decisions and wants to share them with constituen­ts.

“It’s his agenda,” Trump spokeswoma­n Sarah Sanders said. “He’s the one who won election. He gets to decide the policy and when he’s going to say it.”

Examples of the Trump method:

❚ This week, at a photo opportunit­y with the leaders of the Baltic nations, Trump told reporters he would send U.S. troops to the Mexican border to guard against illegal crossings. Trump and national security officials later met to discuss the details. Over the next two days, the White House put out statements saying the plan would involve deployment of the National Guard, in consultati­on with border state governors — details, such as troop numbers and costs, to be provided later.

❚ Last week, in what aides billed as an infrastruc­ture speech near Cleveland, Trump unexpected­ly said he plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Days later, after meetings with national security advisers, Trump and aides reaffirmed the goal of troop withdrawal but said the U.S. would wait until the Islamic State is completely defeated. They did not provide a timetable for withdrawal.

❚ Last year, on an early July morning, Trump tweeted he would reinstate the ban on transgende­r troops in the military. He did so without informing the Pentagon, which had been working on a plan to integrate those troops into its ranks, pursuant to a directive from President Obama’s Defense secretary, Ash Carter. Officials followed up on Trump’s tweet with more planning seeking to accommodat­e the president’s concerns. Just last month, the administra­tion announced a policy that would bar most transgende­r people from the military, though legal challenges have prevented the new restrictio­ns from taking effect.

❚ On Wednesday, Trump’s tweets about tariffs on China and his denial they will amount to a trade war roiled Wall Street in early trading. The White House sent Larry Kudlow, the new director of the National Economic Council, to speak to television networks to calm down the markets. “What you’ve got is the early stages of a process which will include tariffs, comments on the tariffs, then ultimate decisions and negotiatio­ns,” Kudlow told Fox Business Network. “There’s already back-channel talks going on.”

Recent tweets also have included a threat to veto a spending bill designed to avert a government shutdown and an announceme­nt that White House physician Ronny Jackson would replace David Shulkin as secretary of Veterans Affairs.

In administra­tions past, generally, presidents and aides would discuss policy options; the president would make a decision; and the staff would then decide when and how to formally announce the plan. In this White House, the process can be the opposite.

Trump allies said the president just does these things differentl­y. In many cases, they said, the issues have been discussed behind the scenes. They said, for example, that the president had discussed making Jackson deputy VA secretary in the days before his nominating tweet.

When Trump makes a decision, allies said, he doesn’t keep it to himself for long. Aides and allies, such as former campaign senior adviser Michael Caputo, said Trump sometimes tweets out announceme­nts to force action from his own aides.

They also said Trump uses his platform to cut off aides who are fighting against certain policies. Trump told reporters he would seek to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in the face of opposition from Gary Cohn, the since-departed director of the National Economic Council.

Caputo said the people caught by surprise tend to be those who oppose what Trump wants to do, or out of the loop entirely: “I believe the president is moving quickly on policy issues because some of his advisers have worked against him in the past.”

Observers have another word for it: chaos. Chris Whipple, author of The Gatekeeper­s: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, said the appearance is that Trump is “out of control,” and “we’ve never seen anything like it.”

Both White House chiefs of staff, first Reince Priebus and now John Kelly, have sought to limit Trump’s outbursts, especially the tweeting. They have had limited success. Said Whipple, “It may be Mission Impossible to get Trump under control.”

 ?? SUSAN WALSH/AP ?? When President Trump speaks on impulse, surprised aides can be left to fill in the details.
SUSAN WALSH/AP When President Trump speaks on impulse, surprised aides can be left to fill in the details.

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