This Week in Trump: Nuclear Options
Welcome to This Week in Trump, Slate’s weekly look at Donald Trump’s presidency. Every week, we’ll catch you up on the events of the past seven days, point you to further reading, and keep an eye on the @realDonaldTrump Twitter feed.
Republicans are getting ready to approve Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’ll do whatever it takes to get Gorsuch on the bench, even if it means eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Republicans don’t have the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster so it seems inevitable they’ll pursue what has long been known as the “nuclear option.”
Democrats say Gorsuch’s nomination is tainted by the GOP’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the vacant seat, last year. But they insist opposition to Gorsuch isn’t just payback, calling his record troubling. Sen. Chuck Schumer is calling for a compromise choice. McConnell, who has set up the showdown to begin Thursday, insisted that whatever happens this week, no one should interpret his actions as a prelude to doing away with the filibuster for legislation.
A Wide-Open Trust
Remember Trump’s pre-inauguration press conference, in which he and his attorney brought out stacks of paper to demonstrate his commitment to keeping his business separate from presidential business? Turns out he was just kidding.
The president’s plans for the Trump Organization have been criticized as vastly insufficient to avoid conflicts of interest. Now it turns out the president’s “blind trust” is no such thing.
Documents unveiled by ProPublica show that Trump can withdraw money from any of his more than 400 businesses without disclosing anything. The news is particularly concerning when you consider just how much time Trump has spent at his company’s properties since being sworn into office. Now it’s clear he can still directly benefit from their increased exposure.
Amid the recent spate of bad news for Trump, right-wing media have seized on a story they’re claiming vindicates the president’s claims that he was under surveillance by the White House. Susan Rice, Obama’s national security advisor, reportedly requested the names of Trump associates whose conversations had been collected incidentally but their names had been taken out of intelligence reports. Experts immediately said there was nothing unusual or unlawful about Rice’s requests, but for many Trump allies, this is the smoking gun they needed.
In an interview, Rice vehemently denied the White House kept tabs on Trump’s transition team for political reasons, although she did suggest she may have asked for identities of people whose names were redacted. But the White House is characterizing her behavior as suspicious. Trump said he thought she had committed a crime, although he didn’t provide any evidence. Sen. Tom Cotton went so far as to call Rice the “Typhoid Mary of the Obama administration foreign policy.”
Also This Week
- The White House is once again trying to negotiate with Republican lawmakers to come up with a Trumpcare compromise. So far, Capitol Hill seems unconvinced.
- Trump condemned a chemical attack in Syria, blaming Bashar al-Assad’s regime—and Obama.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions looks set to curtail the Justice Department’s oversight of troubled police departments across the country.
- Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner traveled to Iraq this week as part of his increased foreign policy duties.
- The founder of mercenary company Blackwater, Erik Prince, met with an ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin in January in an effort to help Russia build bridges with Trump.
- Trump moved to reset relations with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi despite human rights concerns.
- The White House released financial disclosure reports of top staffers in a Friday night news dump. And guess what? Many are really wealthy.
- The president said the United States is ready to act alone on North Korea if China refuses to lend a hand.
- Trump donated his salary for the first quarter—$78,333.32—to the National Park Service.
- One in three voters grade Trump with an F, according to a McClatchy/Marist Poll, which also found that 51 percent of registered voters disapproved of the job he is doing as president.
What To Read
In Politico, Josh Dawsey, Kenneth P. Vogel, and Alex Isenstadt take a look at how Jared Kushner’s unparalleled influence in the White House is ruffling some feathers:
Kushner’s status as the big-issue guru has stoked resentment among his colleagues, who question whether Kushner is capable of following through on his various commitments. And some colleagues complain that his dabbling in myriad issues and his tendency to walk in and out of meetings have complicated efforts to instill more order and organization into the chaotic administration. These people also say Kushner can be a shrewd self promoter, knowing how to take credit — and shirk blame — whenever it suits him.
Jonathan Mahler writes a fascinating profile of CNN’s Jeff Zucker that looks closely at Zucker’s symbiotic relationship with Trump:
Had Trump lost the election, CNN would probably have returned to its previously scheduled struggle for survival. Instead, it has become more central to the national conversation than at any point in the network’s history since the first gulf war. And the man who is presiding over this historic moment at CNN happens to be the same one who was in some part responsible for Donald Trump’s political career. It was Zucker who, as president of NBC Entertainment, broadcast “The Apprentice” at a time when Trump was little more than an overextended real estate promoter with a failing casino business. That show, more than anything, reversed Trump’s fortunes, recasting a local tabloid villain as the people’s prime-time billionaire. And it was Zucker who, as president of CNN, broadcast the procession of made-for-TV events — the always news-making interviews; the rallies; debates; the “major policy addresses” that never really were — that helped turn Trump into the Republican front-runner at a time when few others took his candidacy seriously.
Despite all the excitement on right-wing media, there is no Susan Rice “unmasking” scandal, writes Slate’s Michelle Goldberg:
In fact, it would have been a dereliction of duty for the Obama administration, which was still in charge of the country’s national security, to ignore suspicious contacts by members of the Trump transition team. After all, at the time, the FBI investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russian attempts to subvert the election had already begun. We also now know that Michael Flynn, who would soon assume Rice’s job, was a paid foreign agent of Turkey. … At the time of the alleged unmasking, all these men were still private citizens. If they were talking to targets of American surveillance, the people in charge of our national security had an obligation to understand why.
This Week in @realDonaldTrump
Trump tweeted a lot this week, but few of his 140-character messages made much news. In a shocking twist, the president praised a New York Times story a day after he wrote the paper “disgraced the media world.” He also had a particularly personal insult for NBC’s Chuck Todd: “Sleepy Eyes.”
Trump again called reports of his campaign’s ties to Russia fake news and expressed confidence his health care reform proposal would make a comeback. The president still can’t seem to get past the campaign, “asking” whether Clinton ever apologized “for receiving the answers to the debate.”
Trump gathered the media on Friday for an executive order–signing ceremony, but left before signing anything. BuzzFeed’s Jesse McLaren discovered that the chaotic scene works very well spliced into the closing credits of HBO’s Veep.