This Week in Trump: Bombing Syria, Cracking Down on Immigrants
A Striking Shift
The United States took direct military action against Bashar al-Assad’s government for the first time when Trump made the decision to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase last Thursday night. The base housed the warplanes that carried out a devastating chemical weapons attack earlier in the week, prompting a shift in Trump’s thinking on Syria. The president characterized it an emotional decision reached in response to photos of dead children.
Trump once dismissed any possibility of direct U.S. intervention in Syria. Some of his top advisers argued for regime change last week, although the administration’s policy is unclear.
Russia vehemently condemned the strike but later agreed to work with the U.S. on investigating the chemical attack. Ahead of his trip to Moscow, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson criticized Russia for failing to ensure Assad destroyed his chemical weapons. And Trump partly blamed Russia’s Vladimir Putin for the current chaos in Syria.
Crackdown at the Border
Attorney General Jeff Sessions went to the U.S.-Mexico border this week with a clear message: “This is the Trump era.” And that means federal prosecutors across the country are being instructed to prioritize immigration cases, including bringing charges against those who harbor undocumented immigrants.
Sessions called on U.S. attorneys to appoint one person in charge of border prosecutions to deal directly with the Department of Homeland Security. He also vowed more judges would be put in place to deal with the influx of cases.
Despite a 40 percent decline in illegal border crossings in the first two months of the year, Sessions insisted the border wall is necessary and “will have a great and positive impact.” A veteran federal prosecutor told the Daily Beast that the new guidelines are “totally horrifying … and we don’t know what to do.”
Two of the president’s top advisers just can’t seem to get along. The war between white nationalist senior adviser Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was pegged as a battle for the direction of the administration. Bannon wants Trump to keep his campaign promises to his base, Kushner wants him to drop all the crazy stuff.
Last week it seemed Kushner was winning and Bannon, who never cultivated many alliances in the White House, was on his way out. At first Trump admonished the pair to “work it out,” but in an interview on Tuesday, the president appeared to throw his chief strategist under the bus. “I like Steve,” Trump said when asked if he still had confidence in Bannon, “but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late.”
Also This Week
It was revealed that the FBI was granted a secret court order to keep tabs on the communications of Trump associate Carter Page last summer.
Neil Gorsuch was sworn into the Supreme Court on Monday after Republican senators moved forward with the “nuclear option,” ending the filibuster for nominees to the highest court.
As tensions increase with North Korea, a U.S. aircraft carrier was sent toward the region, leading Beijing to call for calm.
Trump once again changed course in his legislative priorities, saying that a repeal of Obamacare should take precedence over tax reform.
The administration lifted a federal hiring freeze, although that doesn’t mean “agencies will be free to hire willy-nilly,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said.
Britain’s Daily Mail agreed to pay $2.9 million and issue an apology to settle a libel claim for an article that claimed Melania Trump once worked as an escort.
Good news! Trump isn’t a threat to global economic stability anymore, at least according to Fitch Ratings.
Former Fox News commentator K.T. McFarland will be stepping down as deputy national security adviser and is likely to be nominated as ambassador to Singapore.
What to Read
The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert wonders how it is that the notoriously disorganized Trump presidency does seem fully focused on destroying the environment:
While money is clearly key, it doesn’t seem entirely sufficient as an explanation. There’s arguably more money, in the long run, to be made from imposing the regulations—from investing in solar and wind power, for example, and updating the country’s electrical grid.
To acknowledge our interconnectedness is to acknowledge the need for caution, restraint, and, yes, rules. Almost a hundred days into Trump’s Presidency, it’s obvious that he has no agenda or coherent ideology. But two qualities that clearly have no place in his muddled, deconstructive Administration are caution and restraint. As a result, the planet, and everything on it, will suffer.
Historian Rick Perlstein wonders how he failed to foresee the rise of Trump:
We advanced a narrative of the American right that was far too constricted to anticipate the rise of a man like Trump. Historians, of course, are not called upon to be seers. Our professional canons warn us against presentism—we are supposed to weigh the evidence of the past on its own terms—but at the same time, the questions we ask are conditioned by the present. That is, ultimately, what we are called upon to explain. Which poses a question: If Donald Trump is the latest chapter of conservatism’s story, might historians have been telling that story wrong?
It’s frightening how analysts were tripping over themselves to praise Trump for the Syria strike, writes Slate’s Isaac Chotiner:
But Trump is not—and will never be—a normal president. He is an uninformed and dangerously unstable one. If he wants to conduct military action without congressional approval, he should be challenged, not lauded. The prospect of someone with Trump’s limited focus and understanding immersing the United States more deeply in another foreign conflict is unnerving—especially when that conflict is taking place in a region that predominantly practices a religion Trump despises.
This Week in @realDonaldTrump
The president’s Twitter feed was largely devoid of controversy this week as he kept most of his 140-character missives pretty subdued. He celebrated the visit of President Xi Jinping but warned “only time will tell on trade.” Trump also celebrated the Syria airstrikes and hit back at critics by noting that “you don’t generally hit runways” because they are “inexpensive to quickly fix.” And he cheered the victory of Ron Estes in a special congressional election in Kansas.
In what was likely his most provocative tweet of the week, Trump seemed to suggest the United States would be willing to act alone on North Korea—but he later insisted he had “a very good call” with China’s leader on the issue.
Press secretary Sean Spicer shocked the world with a galling historical analogy in trying to explain the justification for last week’s Syria airstrikes: “You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” He later referred to the Nazi concentration camps as “Holocaust centers.” As outrage grew, Spicer launched an apology tour. He remains White House press secretary.