Trump according to Trump
How’s Donald Trump doing? His administration — never mind the evident chaos — “is running like a fine-tuned machine,” he says. What about that travel ban launch, which even the Homeland Security secretary admitted was botched? “The rollout was perfect.”
And for stuff that isn’t going right, the president said at a wild, chock-full-of-grievances, 77-minute-long news conference, there are culprits: The news media. Leakers. Federal judges. Democrats stalling his nominees.
Take Russia. It’s “not good,” Trump agreed, that a Russian spy vessel has been sailing off Long Island, that Moscow tested a cruise missile that the United States says violates an arms treaty and Russian military aircraft buzzed a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea.
But how can he blame Vladimir Putin, given the “false, horrible, fake reporting” about the Trump team’s ties to Russia?
“Probably Putin assumes that he’s not going to be able to make a deal with me because it’s politically not popular for me to make a deal,” Trump said.
Calling leaks “criminal,” Trump said he has asked for a Justice Department investigation.
Trump and Russia, continued
Trump bobbed, weaved and deflected, but would not say categorically that there were no Russia contacts by members of his team during the campaign.
“No, nobody that I know of,” Trump said.
As for ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s chats with the Russian ambassador about sanctions during the transition, Trump said, “I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job.”
While Trump continued to press his case for better relations with Russia, his defense secretary, James Mattis, said during a NATO conference in Brussels there is “little doubt” Moscow has tried interfering in democratic elections. He also rebuffed calls for renewed military cooperation with Russia.
Help wanted, national security
Vice Adm. Robert Harward has rejected Trump’s offer to take Flynn’s place as national security adviser.
Two sources told CBS News that Harward demanded his own team be installed on the National Security Council, and the White House resisted dumping Flynn’s deputies, including K.T. McFarland, the former Fox News commentator who sought but lost the primary for the 2006 Republican Senate nomination in New York to challenge Hillary Clinton.
Second try on labor secretary
The news conference opened with Trump’s announcement that he had nominated R. Alexander Acosta, a Florida law school dean, as secretary of labor, Newsday’s Tom Brune reports.
Republicans hope Acosta, who served in the Justice Department during President George W. Bush’s administration, will have an easier path to confirmation than Andrew Puzder, the fast-food CEO who withdrew Wednesday.
Acosta would become the first Hispanic member of Trump’s Cabinet. Democrats didn’t react immediately, but an organized labor voice had a favorable take.
“In one day, we have gone from a fast-food CEO who routinely violates labor law to a public servant with experience enforcing it,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
The take-away: Undercooked
Looking at what sank the nomination of Puzder, it’s an enigma how he got picked in the first place, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
There were enough red flags for a May Day parade — the undocumented housekeeper, the touting of robots over human workers and the frequent charges of labor law violations by the burger chains he ran, to name a few.
But the vetting by Trump’s transition team seems to have come up well short of extreme.
Judge-proofing Trump travel ban
He’s still complaining about it, but rather than fight to overturn the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that froze his travel ban targeting people from some Muslim nations, his lawyers are using it to guide the drafting of a new executive order, he said.
“The new order is going to be very much tailored to what I consider to be a very bad decision,” said Trump during his news conference. “We can tailor the order to that decision and get just about everything, in some ways more.”
The new order will come next week, he said.
‘Friends of yours?’
When April Ryan, an African-American reporter, quizzed Trump if he would meet with the Congressional Black Caucus to further his promises to help inner cities, he asked, “Are they friends of yours?” and could she “set up the meeting.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a caucus member, took exception to Trump’s remarks. “This guy knows nothing and then he sees a black reporter and assumes that somehow she must be connected with the caucus,” Cleaver told Politico.
Trump claimed he had sought to meet with a former caucus chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), but Cummings backed out.
Cummings said that never happened — he would look forward to a meeting with the president. “I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today,” he said.
Trump got angry when a reporter from Ami Magazine, an ultra-Orthodox publication from Brooklyn, asked him about an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents. The reporter, Jake Turx, said his community wasn’t accusing Trump of anti-Semitism, but Trump responded as if it was.
Trump demanded Turx “sit down” and said, “I am the least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen in your entire life.”
Another questioner followed up, asking Trump to speak about the anti-Semitism by some of his supporters. Trump said it was people “on the other side” who were really to blame.
It marked a continued resistance by Trump to acknowledge and condemn open anti-Semitism by white nationalists and other hate groups that count themselves as his supporters.
Tweet of the mornin' to ya!
The president deployed the celebrity name of Rush Limbaugh for moral support after a rollicking, obscurant show of a news conference that excited fans and drew ridicule from critics, when he tweeted Friday: "Thank you for all of the nice statements on the Press Conference yesterday. Rush Limbaugh said one of greatest ever. Fake media not happy!"
He also hyped his planned Boeing meeting and denied an Obamacare replacement is stalled.
Deportations: What else is new?
Confusion seems to surround recent ICE raids in the region and what they signal. While President Donald Trump seeks to give the impression that he's fulfilling his campaign promise, the conservative National Review, for one, sees no departure so far from previous federal efforts. What's certain is the anxiety it causes in some places, especially among those working and living in the U.S. illegally.
All of which makes this a good time to recall that more deportations took place under President Barack Obama than any other president, with the number pegged at some 2.5 million -- earning him the nickname long ago of deporter in chief.
What else is happening
- Trump is still wavering on whether to spare “Dreamers” — people who were brought to the U.S. without proper documents as children — from his immigration crackdown. “I love kids . . . and I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do,” he said.
- Trump referred to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as a “lightweight” during the news conference. It’s unclear whether that’s an upgrade, downgrade or no change from when Trump called Schumer the “head clown.”
- A day after Trump said he didn’t care much whether it took a two-state or one-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “the two-state solution is what we support,” and to say otherwise “would be an error.”
- David Friedman, the former Trump lawyer nominated as ambassador to Israel, told a confirmation hearing he regretted past inflammatory comments, such as calling Barack Obama an anti-Semite and liberal Jews “kapos” — comparing them to Jews who collaborated with Nazis in concentration camps.
- Reversing previous action, the government of China awarded Trump valuable rights to his own name this week, in the form of a 10-year trademark for construction services. U.S. critics worry about the conflict-of-interest implications.
- The Senate confirmed Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) on a 51-49 vote to run Trump’s White House budget office, giving the tea party faction a voice in the Cabinet. The lone GOP dissenter was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) because of Mulvaney’s past House votes to cut to Pentagon spending.
- A Pew Research Center poll puts Trump’s approval vs. disapproval rating at 39 percent vs. 56 percent.