After Another Week of Chaos, Trump Heads to Palm Beach. No One Knows What Comes Next.


March 23, 2018

March 23, 2018

President Trump spoke to reporters at the White House on Thursday. –  Doug Mills/The NY Times

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Trump prepared to leave the White House for Florida on Friday after a head-spinning series of moves on national security, trade, the budget and with his legal team that left the capital reeling even more than usual at the end of a week in Mr. Trump’s Washington.

The president, furious over the failure of Congress to pay for his border wall with Mexico, began the day by threatening to veto a $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress hours earlier. That raised the specter of another government shutdown at midnight, this one precipitated entirely by Mr. Trump.

By 1:30 p.m., Mr. Trump had begrudgingly signed the bill and, in a hastily arranged news conference, called it a “ridiculous” situation.

The whipsaw on spending came hours after the president forced out his national security adviser and replaced him with John R. Bolton, a hard-line former American ambassador to the United Nations, catalyzing fears of a sharp turn toward military confrontation on Mr. Trump’s national security team.

Mr. Bolton’s appointment followed Mr. Trump’s announcement of tariffs on $60 billion worth of Chinese imports, which sent financial markets into a deep dive and ignited fears of a trans-Pacific trade war. New steel and aluminum tariffs also took effect on Friday, though the White House exempted several allies from the measures, sowing equal measures of relief and confusion.

The tumult occurred against the ominous backdrop of the Russia investigation. The resignation of Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer, John Dowd, on Thursday signaled that the president was determined to sit down with investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, even as he takes a more combative stance toward the overall investigation.

By midday Friday, officials at the White House and in Congress were equally mystified about what might come next.

Shortly before the president spoke on the spending plan, several of his top advisers — including Defense Secretary Mattis, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner — huddled in the Palm Court, preparing for an appearance that, like so many by Mr. Trump, could go in any number of directions. Mr. Trump’s public schedule called for him to leave for a weekend at his Palm Beach estate at 4:40 p.m.

As is often the case, he filled much of his time Friday with a series of tweets.

At 8:55 a.m., after becoming agitated at the conservative backlash against the spending measure that dominated Fox News, Mr. Trump declared, “I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded.”

In a separate tweet, the president expressed anger at Democrats for failing to reach a deal with him to include provisions in the spending bill that would preserve Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era program he rescinded last fall. The program allows undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to apply for permits to work legally and avoid deportation. Democrats had rejected Mr. Trump’s offer of a short-term fix to DACA after Mr. Trump retreated from an earlier position that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients.

But Mr. Trump was most angry about the lack of funding in the bill for a massive wall on the nation’s southern border that he has billed as the centerpiece of his crackdown on illegal immigrants.

The measure includes nearly $1.6 billion for border security — including new technology and repairs to existing barriers — but not Mr. Trump’s wall. It provides $641 million for about 33 miles of fencing, but prohibits building a concrete structure or other prototypes, and allocates the rest of the money for new aircraft, sensors and surveillance technology.

Mr. Trump’s personnel moves, on the legal and national security front, suggest a president unleashed from those who have tried to constrain his impulses. The departing national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, urged Mr. Trump not to rip up the Iran nuclear deal. Mr. Bolton is an outspoken opponent of the deal.

General McMaster bid farewell to the staff of the National Security Council on Friday morning and was spotted walking briskly out of the White House complex. Staff members at the N.S.C. were stunned by the sudden change in leadership, even though General McMaster’s status with Mr. Trump was known to be shaky for weeks.

Inside and outside the White House, the appointment drew increasing alarm.

Mr. Mattis, viewed as a moderating force on the president, told colleagues before the appointment was announced that he would find it difficult to work with Mr. Bolton, people briefed on the conversation said.

Democrats and others said Mr. Bolton’s record of advocating military action against Iran and North Korea raised the risk of war.

“Mr. Bolton’s tendency to try to solve every geopolitical problem with the American military first is a troubling one,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in a tweet on Thursday. “I hope he will temper his instinct to commit the men and women of our armed forces to conflicts around the globe, when we need to be focused on building the middle class here at home.”

Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, said in a statement, “Bolton’s extreme views could tilt the malleable Mr. Trump in the wrong direction on critical decisions affecting the future of the Iran nuclear deal, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and the strained U.S. relationship with Russia, among other issues.”

As Mr. Trump prepared to travel for the weekend to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, rumors swirled at the White House that his purge might soon continue with the firing of David Shulkin, the embattled secretary of the Veterans Affairs department.

Mr. Trump is methodically shedding himself of those who have clashed with his views, including Rex W. Tillerson, his secretary of state, who was fired last week. But the president is also losing aides like Hope Hicks, his communications director and confidant, whose resignation is effective soon.

Courtesy/Source: NY Times