Day 55 (3/15/17)—President Trump faces a challenge that may come to define the early trajectory of his administration. His (in)ability to save the Republican healthcare bill will demonstrate his ability to wield influence in Washington. Multiple Republicans say that Trump’s attempt to guide the bill, which is facing opposition on many fronts, through Congress is becoming an important test of his command of political savvy. With tougher tasks ahead, a win for Trump on such a divisive issue like healthcare would represent a rallying cry for the GOP (Grand Old Party). Republicans are relying on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act in order to free up budget to deliver on the administration’s other promises, such as the border wall (to be paid for by Mexico through visa and port entry fees), a new system of tariffs to encourage companies to manufacture within the United States, and a crackdown on immigration. During the campaign, Trump promised to work with Congress to cut taxes and inject $1 trillion into national infrastructure projects to bolster bridges, roads, and highways across the nation. Thus arises the importance to the administration of successfully navigating Trump’s American Health Care Act (AHCA) through Congress. Read more
The Trump administration continues to be mired in scandal. On Monday, President Trump signed his second sweeping immigration Executive Order, now barring entry to the United States to citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries. Meanwhile, Attorney General (AG) Jeff Sessions officially recused himself from the Russia inquiry and any further investigation into potential Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Trump has been busy trying to refute alleged ties to Russia by creating allegations against House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). He resurfaced old pictures of the two meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian President Vladimir Putin respectively, and is calling for an investigation into the Democrats for their ties to Russia. He then accused former President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in the months leading up to the election without offering any evidence. Read more
Day 39 — President Trump took the first steps to radically shifting the allocation of the federal budget Monday, calling for a $54 billion increase in defense and security spending. Trump’s proposal will focus national security spending on boosts to the military, local law enforcement, and Border Patrol. To balance out these increases, he plans to cut spending on virtually every federal agency, as well as on foreign aid. His plan will not cut spending to Medicare or Social Security. The President announced that “this budget follows through on my promise of keeping America safe, keeping out terrorists, keeping out criminals and putting violent offenders behind bars or removing them from our country all together.” While the White House has yet to define the extent of cuts to various programs, it is expected to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that currently has an $8.1 billion budget. Throughout Trump’s campaign, he promised to “get rid of it [meaning the EPA] in almost every form.” His proposed cuts to foreign spending are also justified by an Office of Budget and Management official, saying that “this budget expects the rest of the world to step up in some of the programs this country has been so generous in funding in the past.” One such program is NATO, and this sentiment follows up on Defense Secretary Mattis’ recent ultimatum to NATO. Trump has also pledged to increase infrastructure spending on roads, bridges and tunnels across the nation.
Last weekend finds Trump’s administration facing fierce criticism as its first full month in office draws to a close. Trump’s policies on immigration come under fire while he continues to deny allegations of Russian involvement in the election.
On Saturday, The Washington Post reported events that transpired on Wednesday at Houston International Airport when Henry Rousso, “an Egyptian-born French citizen” and a leading Holocaust scholar was detained and almost deported. It was thanks to the quick actions of Texas A&M University that the situation was diffused. Richard Golsan, director of the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research at Texas A&M, explained that “Rousso was ‘mistakenly detained’ by U.S. immigration authorities” in an article in The Washington Post.” Rousso tweeted “the officer who arrested me was ‘inexperienced.’” Issues with Rousso’s treatment are further compounded by the fact that France is “a beneficiary of the U.S. visa waiver program, which permits French citizens to enter the United States without a visa,” as well as the fact that Egypt was never included in the seven countries in the travel ban. Rousso’s lecture was on the Vichy Regime in unoccupied France in WWII and its collaboration with Nazi Germany, where tens of thousands of Jews were deported to concentration camps. The irony was not lost on fellow historians, as Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of Italian history with New York University, called out the irony in her tweet, calling “his work on cost of forgetting past (Vichy) so relevant.” Ruth Ben-Ghiat also drew a parallel between Donald Trump and Mussolini’s authoritarian traits in this article from The New Yorker. Read more
Day 36 — Last Friday the President’s criticism of the media reached its peak. He took to Twitter to blast the New York Times and CNN, stating that “FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. A great danger to our country.” He then escalated his assault on the media by banning reporters from the NYT, CNN, and other news organizations from attending Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s Friday press briefing. This decision demonstrates the administration’s use of presidential authority to undermine those who may check Trump’s decisions, while awarding sources it deems “friendly.” Dan Baquet, executive director of the NYT, expressed his dismay over the decision, saying “free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.” Ironically, it was Mr. Spicer who two months ago advocated for open access for the media, saying that it is “what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship” and who now seems to follow the President’s directives.
Schemers in the Capitol
This past Thursday, February 23, Day 35 of the Trump administration, was less a day of legislation and political action, and more a day of Machiavellian scheming in smoke-filled backrooms. To begin with, the FBI refused to deny or publicly dismiss claims that Trump’s associates were in contact with Russian officials during the election. This followed accusations over the past few months of the Trump campaign’s collusion with the Russian government to influence the election in return for the easement of sanctions once the Trump campaign won the election. There were also reports that Paul Manafort, one of Trump’s campaign managers during his run for the presidency, was blackmailed by a Ukrainian parliamentarian during the campaign. Manafort was noted for his work as a political advisor to the Yanukovych administration from 2004 to 2010 in Ukraine and close ties to the current Russian politburo before coming to work for the Trump campaign, and his dismissal during the campaign came as a surprise to many observers. Read more
As Day 34 under Trump’s administration comes to a tumultuous close, the focus is on strong reactions to anti-immigration and anti-minority policies. Our day starts with the removal of Shepard Fairey’s “We the People” poster series from a Maryland high school. Fairey is known most for his work on the “Hope” posters that became iconic for President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign back in 2008. The pictures, depicting women of color framed by the caption “We the People,” intend to convey the idea that “equality, respect, and religious freedom are unassailable American values and non-partisan.” The school administration asked teachers to take down the posters because “they perceived them as ‘political’ and ‘anti-Trump’”, according to the Huffington Post. Fairey felt “very disturb[ed] that someone could find those ideas specifically, and by extension inclusion in general, to be partisan or problematic.” In response, the students have organized a day to wear shirts with the designs printed on them and stand in solidarity with those who feel marginalized by the school’s actions and Trump’s administration. Read more
Day 33 — Since President Trump’s recent Executive Order banning citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations was denied by a federal judge, Trump has been busy formulating a new order. The Department of Homeland Security issued guidelines that reveal the President’s plan to create new detention facilities, strip illegal immigrants of privacy protections, deploy local law enforcement officials as enforcers, and accelerate the deportation process.
A rejection of immigration policy of past administrations, Trump’s agenda allows for the government to employ the full force of government resources to track down and eventually expel all illegal immigrants. This is an escalation of the policy under the Obama administration that instructed agents to prioritize the removal of illegal immigrants who had committed serious crimes. Now, the President will allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to subject any person in the United States illegally to arrest, detention and potentially expulsion from the country. This policy will certainly strike fear into the hearts of illegal immigrants. It may also discourage people from seeking asylum in the United States. Sanctuary cities—select cities that allow for certain procedures to shelter illegal immigrants, like denying municipal funds or resources to be employed in further enforcement of federal immigration policy—are conflicted because Trump’s new directives would enlist local police officers and sheriff’s deputies to help with the deportation process, which directly contradicts their welcoming stance.
As Day 32 of Trump’s administration draws to a close, the American people find the position of national security adviser filled by Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster. After the fiasco earlier last week that led to the resignation of Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, President Trump was quick to fill the role with another high-ranking military official. He even gave his impressive Twitter following a play-by-play of his day, tweeting: “Meeting with Generals at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Very interesting!”
Although both are generals in the United States military, the two men could not differ more in their approaches to certain key issues of U.S. national security, in particular their attitudes on engagement with Russia. Flynn created suspicion when he failed to inform Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had secretly held with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., which led to his very public dismissal. McMaster, on the other hand, is known for his skeptical stance towards engaging Russia, developed during his time as director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center.
“He is a man of tremendous talent and experience,” President Trump said, announcing McMaster’s appointment earlier today. McMaster, who has been referred to in the media as a “warrior-scholar,”, is an experienced pick in terms of national security. Judging from his earlier experience in the Persian Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as well as his fierce public criticism of the government’s handling of Vietnam in his book, Dereliction of Duty (1997), it seems McMaster may finally be able to bring order to a National Security Council that has reportedly been “rattled and demoralized” by recent events, according to The New York Times.