Why crowd size matters to Trump
Press Secretary Sean Spicer Monday poured out Donald Trump’s heart — but held back his spleen — over why the president got so riled up over reports his inauguration crowd wasn’t the yuge-est ever.
“It’s not just about a crowd size. There’s this constant theme to undercut the enormous support he has,” Spicer said at his first official White House briefing. “I think it’s just unbelievably frustrating when you’re continually told it’s not big enough, it’s not good enough, you can’t win.”
“It’s demoralizing,” Spicer said.
Spicer himself went on a falsehood-filled rant Saturday against the news media — a performance so fraught that even his boss reportedly gave a thumbs-down review.
On Monday, a calmer Spicer conceded that the audience that saw Friday’s ceremony in person wasn’t the biggest ever, though he didn’t concede that was a concession. His claim for the most watchers on video can’t be verified or debunked for lack of reliable measures of web streaming views.
The bulk of the briefing focused on more typical concerns for a president and those who cover him, such as the orders he signed, meetings planned with foreign leaders and policies in the making.
Not down with the count
Trump felt compelled to insist in a meeting with congressional leaders that he really won the popular vote, several reports said — a claim unsupported by any evidence.
The final election returns showed Hillary Clinton had almost 2.9 million more votes. Trump prevailed in the Electoral College. Trump said 3 million to 5 million votes were cast illegally, people familiar with the exchange told The Washington Post.
Trump formally moved to pull the United States out of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact Monday, fulfilling a campaign promise.
Praise and criticism over the decision cut across party lines, with Rust Belt Democrats and TPP opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in agreement and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the GOP opponents, calling it “a serious mistake” that will hurt the U.S. economy “and our strategic position in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Said Trump as he signed the papers: “Great thing for the American worker that we just did.”
The take-away: Partly cloudy
In some of his first big actions, Trump moved with the clarity, swiftness and decisiveness he promised, including the TPP withdrawal. Look elsewhere and it gets murky, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
Trump pledged during the campaign that entitlements wouldn’t be decimated, but he is also looking to fund Medicaid through block grants to the states, raising worries about the effects on the programs.
Then there’s the uncertain future of his hate-love relationship with intelligence agencies and the pause on his pledge to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Kellyanne Conway reversed herself Monday, while pretending she didn’t, after her comments Sunday that Trump won’t be releasing his tax returns because “we litigated this all through the election” and “people didn’t care.”
Conway, Trump’s senior counselor, backtracked to the previous story — that Trump is waiting for the IRS to finish auditing his returns. She tweeted: “On taxes, answers (& repeated questions) are same from campaign: POTUS is under audit and will not release until that is completed. #nonews.”
Tillerson on his way
Rex Tillerson’s nomination for secretary of state was approved on a party-line 11-10 vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the full Senate is expected to go along by next week.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who had been a GOP holdout, said earlier he would support Tillerson despite “reservations,” including the nominee declining to agree that Russia’s Vladimir Putin is a “war criminal.”
The full Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo, a conservative Kansas congressman, as CIA director by a vote of 66-32.
China tensions on rise?
Spicer reaffirmed comments from Tillerson recently that the United States would prevent China from taking over territory in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
“It’s a question of if those islands are, in fact, in international waters and not part of China proper, then yeah, we’re going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country,” Spicer said.
Tillerson’s remarks at his Senate confirmation hearing prompted Chinese state media to say the United States would need to “wage war” to bar China’s access to the islands, where it has built military-length air strips and installed weapons systems.
New York State of mind
Was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky feeling a little left out when Trump — his fellow Republican — had the congressional leaders over to the White House Monday?
“I enjoyed the president and Sen. [Chuck] Schumer talking about all the people they knew in New York,” McConnell said afterward.
Also discussed by Trump, said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.): the inaugural crowd size.
What else is happening
- The FBI has not found any evidence of wrongdoing or illicit ties from its intercepts of communications between the Russian ambassador to the United States and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, U.S. officials told The Washington Post. Flynn is not an active target of the ongoing investigation, the officials said.
- Trump promised during the campaign to “immediately terminate” a program that shields from deportation more than 742,000 people brought to the country illegally as children. But he has put off canceling it, The Los Angeles Times reports.
- A left-leaning watchdog group filed a lawsuit charging Trump is violating the Constitution by allowing his business to accept payments from foreign governments. Trump called the lawsuit “without merit, totally without merit.”
- Trump signed an executive order to reinstate a Reagan-era ban on U.S. government funding for international nongovernmental organizations that perform or promote abortions. He also imposed a governmentwide hiring freeze, with exceptions for the military and public safety.
- Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto on Monday vowed “no confrontation, but no submission” to the United States in renegotiating relations under Trump.
- Trump says he has resigned from positions in hundreds of business entities, according to a document provided to CNN by the Trump Organization.
- A “Saturday Night Live” writer was suspended indefinitely for a cruel tweet about 10-year-old Barron Trump, Frank Lovece reports in Newsday. Chelsea Clinton, a former first kid herself, weighed in on Twitter against the social media abuse aimed at Trump’s youngest.
- Spicer’s White House ascension has surfaced his long-running Twitter trash talk against Dippin’ Dots, a form of ice cream, amNewYork reports. The company’s CEO wrote Spicer that the product creates jobs in “the heartland of our great country ... We hear that’s on your agenda, too.”