President Donald Trump’s recent tweets about the London terror attacks and his administration’s controversial “travel ban” have increased the already prevalent perception that he is going rogue and undermining his team along the way.
Trump started off Monday morning by blasting the Department of Justice for watering down his temporary ban on travel from some majority Muslim countries.
“The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.,” he tweeted, referring to the Supreme Court.
After several more tweets on the travel ban, he pivoted to criticising London’s mayor over his handling of the terror attacks there this past weekend.
“Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his ‘no reason to be alarmed’ statement,” Trump tweeted. (News outlets pointed out that Trump seems to have misconstrued Khan’s statement, which urged Londoners not to be alarmed by the increased police presence around the city in response to the attacks. Seven people were killed and 48 others were injured after three men rammed a van into pedestrians and subsequently went on a stabbing spree. The terrorist group ISIS took credit for the attacks.)
Trump’s Monday morning tweets created new controversy, undermined his Department of Justice, and took attention away from his administration’s planned “infrastructure week,” which was supposed to showcase an important part of the president’s agenda in the hopes that it would distract from ousted FBI Director James Comey’s blockbuster testimony on Thursday.
Instead of focusing on Trump’s infrastructure plans, the White House was forced to address his latest series of tweets on Monday. In an interview with NBC’s “Today,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who has promoted the president’s use of Twitter previously, said the news media has an “obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little what he does as president.”
But Trump’s inflammatory tweets often draw backlash, sometimes from the subjects they target, which leads to more headlines and questions from reporters.
Trump’s initial criticism of Khan came Sunday.
“At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!'” Trump wrote.
The tweet was a sharp turn from Trump’s earlier tweet, in which he promised the US would do “whatever” to help Britain, saying “we will be there.”
Khan’s staff called the tweet “ill-informed” and said the mayor did not have time to respond, which then triggered Trump’s Monday-morning tweet.
Meanwhile, the US embassy in London felt it necessary to contradict Trump and praise Khan’s leadership.
“I commend the strong leadership of the @MayorofLondon as he leads the city forward after this heinous attack,” Lewis Lukens, an appointee of President Barack Obama’s who is serving as the interim leader of the embassy, tweeted Sunday.
Trump also might have created headaches for his own administration with his travel ban tweets.
The ban is currently being blocked by federal courts. In upholding a nationwide block on the order, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals said the executive order “drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.”
But Trump seemed to suggest that the current travel ban doesn’t go far enough. The initial travel ban introduced by the Trump administration, which did not make clear that existing visa holders could enter the country and also included Iraq on the list of banned countries, was withdrawn after it too was blocked by the courts.
The Department of Justice appealed last week to the Supreme Court to review the legality of the current order.
“The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down Travel Ban before the Supreme Court – & seek much tougher version!” Trump tweeted Monday.
The tweets could cause problems in court, as the DOJ has tried to distance itself from the original order in defending the new one. Trump has already seen his past statements, and those of his surrogates, used against him in court, particularly his calling for a Muslim ban in December of 2015.
The DOJ lawyers defending the order have repeatedly called for Trump’s statements not to be considered when ruling on the legality of the order, instead asking the judges to focus on the text of the document. But that strategy has not proven effective yet, as judges have taken Trump’s statements into consideration.
“In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe,” he tweeted. “The courts are slow and political!”
George Conway, Kellyanne’s husband who recently withdrew from consideration for a top job at the DOJ, tweeted Monday that the tweets hurt Trump’s cause.
“These tweets may make some ppl feel better, but they certainly won’t help [Office of the Solicitor General] get 5 votes in SCOTUS, which is what actually matters,” he wrote. “Sad.”
These aren’t the only recent instances of Trump falling out of sync with his administration.
Politico reported Monday that Trump’s national security team was “blindsided” by Trump not explicitly endorsing Article 5 of NATO during a speech to NATO leaders last month in Europe.
An endorsement of Article 5 — which states that an attack against one NATO nation is considered an attack against all of NATO — was included in the original text Trump was set to deliver, according to Politico. But Trump did not discuss it in his big speech, instead opting to focus on lecturing representatives from NATO countries on how they needed to increase defence spending.
Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly worked for weeks with Trump to nail down the NATO speech, with each pushing for an endorsement of Article 5 to be included after noticing it had been removed in later drafts.
“There was a fully coordinated other speech everybody else had worked on” — and it wasn’t the one Trump gave, a White House official told Politico.
Trump’s undermining of his staff has led to rumours of a bigger White House shakeup to come.
Following the president’s ouster of Comey last month, multiple outlets reported that a staff shakeup is coming and that Trump is not pleased with his communications staff and its messaging, which he regularly contradicts. Trump even went as far to tweet last month that his surrogates can’t speak for him “with perfect accuracy” after he contradicted his administration’s messaging on the rationale for Comey’s firing.
“As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” Trump tweeted, adding in a subsequent tweet: “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”
But so far, the only person who has left a top White House job in the weeks since those reports was communications director Mike Dubke.
Trump’s tendency to go rogue, which has become amplified in recent weeks, might make such a staff shakeup impossible.
Politico noted Monday that Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff who is routinely mentioned as being on the chopping block, remains in place because of “his greatest job security” — the fact that “there are few takers for what might be an unworkable gig.”
With Trump’s decision-making often splitting from that of his team, Politico wrote that Priebus is left with little power.
“He stays in the office until late at night and often toils away on the weekend with little control of what ultimately happens,” the publication wrote.
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