Smoke and bathroom mirrors
When asked about it last year, Donald Trump said he would have no problem letting Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, choose a restroom based on her gender identity if she visited Trump Tower.
So why the rollback of Obama administration rules on bathroom and locker room access for transgender kids in schools?
“The president believes it’s a states’ rights issue,” said Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
Yet at the same briefing, Spicer signaled the Justice Department is looking at “greater enforcement” of federal laws against sales of recreational marijuana, setting up potential showdowns with the eight states where it is now legal.
If the deference to states is not consistent, something else is: Trump’s positions on both issues align him with social conservatives, who are part of the base he won in 2016 and wants to keep in 2020.
Another common denominator is that the courts may be the final deciders. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments March 28 on a suit by a transgender teen who is barred from using the boys’ bathroom at his Virginia high school.
Nobody speaks more precisely
Trump Thursday described his crackdown on illegal immigration as a “military operation.”
Hours later, on a Mexico City visit, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly pledged that there will be “no use of military force” and “no mass deportations.”
Trump did not misspeak, Spicer said — the president used the word “military” as an adjective because the orders are being executed with a “high degree of precision and in a flawless manner,” Newsday’s Emily Ngo reported.
Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were trying to calm tensions with Mexico over Trump’s plans on immigration, trade and a border wall. Trump said he sent them on a “tough trip.”
“We’re going to have a good relationship with Mexico, I hope. And if we don’t, we don’t,” the president said.
The take-away: Chaos theories
The Trump White House is not the first to betray signs of disorganization in the early days of a presidency. Newsday’s Dan Janison points to examples from the days of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
But Trump’s may be the first where chaos is by design — a reflection of his management style. “He’s the best instinctive manager I’ve ever seen,” said longtime Trump friend Thomas Barrack.
Trump: I want better nukes
Trump said in an interview with Reuters that he wants to upgrade the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.
“It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack,” Trump said. He complained a current nuclear limits treaty with Russia is “a one-sided deal.”
Trump also said China could solve the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear arms program “very easily if they want to.” He said accelerating a missile defense system for U.S. allies Japan and South Korea was among many options available.
No voucher from FBI
The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications during the 2016 campaign between Trump’s associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence, CNN reported, citing officials briefed on the matter.
There have long been restrictions on such contacts as a violation of procedures that limit communications with the FBI on pending investigations, CNN said.
Apparently, it upset Trump that this effort to quash the news had surfaced. Early Friday he carped on Twitter: "The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security "leakers" that have permeated our government for a long time.
"They can't even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW."
The tweet is out of the ordinary -- for what it does not answer. Is Trump confirming the CNN story? He's not denying it here. If it's true, who in the White House made the stonewall request of the FBI?
Would Trump still blow a kiss to FBI director James Comey as he did the last time they were in public together? Does he mean the agency is unable, or unwilling, to stop the leaks? Does he feel they were harmful during past administrations?
National security oopsy
The demotion last month of the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from full membership on the National Security Council may have been a paperwork mistake, not a power play.
Trump’s team was cutting and pasting language from an old George W. Bush organization chart and didn’t realize the omission, The New York Times reported. The new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, may put the pair back on the A list, the report said..
What else is happening
- A partner at Long Island mega donor Robert Mercer’s hedge fund is speaking out against his big-dollar support of Trump. “His views show contempt for the social safety net that he doesn’t need, but many Americans do,” David Magerman told The Wall Street Journal (pay site). Later it was reported that Magerman was suspended from the firm.
- Rumana Ahmed — who is Muslim, wears a hijab and worked in White House since 2011 — writes in The Atlantic on why she tried to remain in her National Security Council staff job under Trump and quit after eight “strange, appalling and disturbing” days, with the travel ban the last straw.
- Chief strategist Steve Bannon told the CPAC conference that Trump is an epic battle for “deconstruction of the administrative state” — meaning the system of taxes, regulations and trade that he believes has stymied economic growth and infringed upon U.S. sovereignty, The Washington Post writes.
- Former House Speaker John Boehner predicted his fellow Republicans running Congress won’t be able to pull off a full repeal and replacement of Obamacare. It is “not going to happen,” he said, and what changes are made will be modest.
- The Trump administration’s new immigration orders left unclear whether it will preserve an Obama-era program that blocked deportations of troops’ family members, the Military Times reports.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Justice Department would “rescind” a previous directive to scale back the use of private prisons. A spokesman said the change would give the prisons bureau greater “flexibility.”