Here is your weekly briefing in American politics:
Let’s begin with this week’s biggest number : 4,983.
On Wednesday, Trump delivered a 4,983 word speech to Congress that Republicans hailed as a new beginning for his presidency. He had less than 24 hours to bask in the rare glow of the media’s praise before Russia related revelations once again plunged his administration into chaos. Attorney General Jeff Sessions became the fifth Trump associate caught lying (under oath) about repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officers during the 2016 campaign. In response, Trump reverted to instinct and unleashed another of his infamous distract attacks:
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Early Saturday morning Trump accused former President Barack Obama of “wiretapping” his 2016 campaign headquarters. Neither Trump nor his staffers have been able to offer any evidence to back up his claims. Even his most ardent supporters hit the Sunday news shows to refute the President’s latest conspiracy theory. The Washington Post investigated the motivation behind such an explosive tweet and found the President’s source to be based on unverified reporting from two widely discredited, alt-right news organizations. More on this later.
Here is a list of the 90 regulations Trump has repealed through executive order to initiate, in the words of Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon, “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” As the New York Times reports, the orders are streaming directly from powerful corporate interests writing the language for the deregulation of their own industries. Here’s a teaser:
-An executive order allowing the mentally ill to buy guns
-An executive order allowing the use of lead bullets on federal lands, which was previously banned due to its unintended effect of widespread poisoning of wildlife up and down the food chain
– An executive order reducing emissions and mileage standards for car
– An executive order reducing the amount of lakes and rivers protected from pollution under the Clean Water Act
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill…
Top Democrats are demanding Sessions’ resignation in a unified front to further discredit Trump’s cabinet and hamper his ability to move his priorities through Congress. While Democrats are still finding their stride as the opposition party, Republicans are struggling to prove their potential to govern after eight years in the minority.
– Healthcare was the talk of the town this week, with Republicans scrambling to reach their self imposed 30-day deadline to pass an Obamacare repeal.
– Just six years after Republicans railed against Democrats for crafting Obama’s healthcare law behind closed doors, Republican lawmakers are devising their plan in total secrecy, forcing party members to view the draft of the bill in secured locations.
– It has been widely reported that House Speaker Paul Ryan is facing increasing dissension among the Republican ranks over how to tackle the healthcare issue.
The fissure between Republicans is growing amid the absence of leadership from the President who, despite declaring healthcare his administration’s first priority, has offered no policy specifics to steer the debate towards an agreeable resolution. In Trump’s defense, he claimed last week that, “nobody knew how complicated healthcare would be.” His predecessor would disagree:
— POLITICO (@politico) February 27, 2017
Trump’s accusation that Obama “tapped” his phone betrays a stunning ignorance of the American legal system and the intelligence processes over which he now presides. If Trump’s claim is correct, and his phone was indeed under surveillance by the federal government, it would mean his associates are suspected of an even deeper level of involvement with the Russian government than we can currently confirm. An American President does not have the power to wiretap the phone of a fellow citizen. Authorization from an independent federal judge would be needed to obtain such a drastic counterintelligence measure. Therefore, if Trump’s claim proves to be true, American intelligence agencies, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, all had to agree that Trump and his associates were acting as “agents of a foreign power.” If the claim proves to be false, the President’s accusation demonstrates the extraordinarily dangerous lengths to which he will go to distract from his scandal-ridden White House and the discord it has sown among his own party.
It’s time to recognize that the “ambitious policy-making agenda” that Trump laid out in his address to Congress is nothing more than a mirage. While this is partly due to underestimating the complexity of the issues at hand, the blame largely rests on Trump’s lack of discipline in lashing out against those he accuses of perpetuating the Russia scandal. Last week his victim was the media, this week it’s President Obama. The farther Trump veers off message, the more he damages his credibility. Questions over his ties to Russia will continue to emerge, further depleting the political capital he needs to guide Congress in passing the substantial reforms he promised to the American people.
Trump’s inability or unwillingness to whip Congress into action leaves the executive branch in the position of shaping the country’s path unchallenged. With the President’s disinterest in the details of policy becoming increasingly apparent, ideologically-driven advisers and special interest groups intent on writing the rules for their industries are maneuvering with unprecedented freedom in the Chief Executive’s shadow. With our elected representatives sidelined and our commander in chief more interested in creating news than governing, power has never rested so far from the hands of the American people.