He’s a bask-in-it case
All those clapping hands squeezed the air out of the brag.
Reviews for President Donald Trump’s speech to a joint session of Congress came in strong — enough so for Trump to forgo boasting about it, reports Newsday’s Emily Ngo.
“THANK YOU!” he tweeted. Press Secretary Sean Spicer described Trump as “humbled” by the praise.
If that sounds like a bit much, remember how Spicer in the first week of Trump’s presidency complained that coverage calling out fact-free comments — such as his inauguration crowd size claims — was “demoralizing” and “frustrating.”
So for Trump, post-speech, it’s serenity now, and Spicer said Americans can expect to see more of this side of him.
“His staff is probably trying to get him to avoid ruining the mood with another ill-timed utterance,” theorized Kyle Kondik, a political science professor.
Trump’s mellow will be tested. The Russia-connection questions that set off angry “Fake news!” tweets are still out there. There is no GOP consensus in Congress on details of his agenda. Democrats vow resistance — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday, “His speeches are detached from reality.”
The Trump of January and February trashed Schumer as the “head clown.” What will the Trump of March say?
Russia questions (continued)
Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, spoke twice last year to Russia’s ambassador in Washington — which he did not disclose during his confirmation hearing when asked about possible contacts between Trump’s campaign, in which he was active, and Moscow’s representatives, The Washington Post reported Wednesday night.
A Sessions spokeswoman said he did not consider the conversations relevant and doesn’t remember in detail what was discussed. The revelation could put new pressure on Sessions to recuse himself from overseeing any investigations on Russian links to Trump’s campaign.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that in the final days of the Obama administration, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the election — and about possible Russian contacts with Trump associates — across the government so people with security clearances could see them.
The officials feared a cover-up and/or destruction of evidence after they left office, and were determined to thwart future Russian meddling attempts, the report said.
Congressional Democrats including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are calling for Sessions to step aside, which is seen as highly unlikely to happen.
Iraq and scissors
Four top officials in the Trump administration want Iraq cut from the list of seven barred countries when the president issues his much, much-delayed Travel Ban 2.0, CNN reported.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster made the request because of Iraq’s crucial role in fighting ISIS, sources told CNN. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — whose agency is most directly responsible for enforcing the restrictions — also supported the move, the report said.
The take-away: Filling in blanks
Now that Trump has given the GOP majorities in Congress his wish list, it’s up to them to define more clearly what the president is asking of them and to decide how to respond, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
Trump the salesman wants Capitol Hill’s empowered Republicans to sign on the dotted line of his agenda, but the fine print — and some of the larger print, too — is still to be worked out.
The Associated Press’ fact-checkers found fault with some statements, claims and numbers in Trump’s speech.
SEAL’s widow: The back story
The poignant appearance at Trump’s speech to Congress of the widow of a Navy SEAL killed in Yemen wasn’t a last-minute move after the hero’s dad criticized the president, according to The Washington Post.
Trump first invited Carryn Owens in a condolence phone call on Jan. 30, the day after William “Ryan” Owens died in the attack on an al-Qaida stronghold. The White House later followed up, and she accepted.
Fast lane for ISIS fight?
The White House is considering delegating more authority to the Pentagon to green-light anti-terrorist operations like the Yemen raid, according to The Daily Beast.
Trump wants to give his defense secretary a freer hand. The argument goes that the approval process can take too long to launch time-sensitive missions. A former Obama administration official said the restraints were about “controlling escalation. Do I want to give someone else the authority to get me deeper into a war?”
Meanwhile a hoped-for Syria "peace process" still waits for the White House to decide on its options, according to the Wall Street Journal.
What else is happening
- Trump’s first speech to Congress as president was viewed by 43 million people on broadcast and cable news networks, compared with 52.4 million for Barack Obama in 2009, Nielsen says. Caveats: Webstream viewing is more common now, and Obama’s speech came amid a crisis — the economic collapse.
- The Trump administration’s preliminary budget plan would cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s staff by one-fifth and slash grants to states by 30 percent, The Washington Post says. Completely gone: grants to clean up brownfields, abandoned industrial sites.
- The stock market had its best day Wednesday in almost four months, encouraged by Trump’s pro-business agenda. The Dow Jones industrial average rose above 21,000 points for the first time.
- The Senate confirmed Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), a former Navy SEAL, as Interior secretary on a 68-31 vote. A confirmation vote is expected Thursday for Ben Carson as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
- State Department career employees feel the Trump administration has marginalized them and downgraded their boss, Tillerson, according to a interviews by The Atlantic.
- Trump’s Obamacare-repeal remarks Tuesday appeared to side with those Republicans in Congress who favor giving Americans tax credits to buy insurance under a replacement system. But other Republicans still oppose that, The Washington Post reports.
- A White House review cleared Kellyanne Conway for plugging Ivanka Trump’s fashion line in a TV interview, concluding she had no “nefarious motive,” and rebuffed a recommendation from the Office of Government Ethics to discipline her.