Week 9 in Trump’s America
Week 9, in one sentence: President Donald Trump joked about wiretapping with an unamused German Chancellor Angela Merkel; accused Germany of owing NATO money; threatened the possibility of pre-emptive military action against North Korea through Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; became the first president whose campaign the FBI confirmed it is investigating for alleged collusion with a foreign government to undermine the U.S. election; tweeted incorrectly about FBI Director James Comey’s testimony, who then fact-checked him on live TV; had his besieged wiretapping allegations shot down by the FBI, the NSA, and the Department of Justice; watched his nominee for the Supreme Court undergo three days of confirmation testimony at the hands of the Senate; offered an unprecedented unofficial role and West Wing office to his daughter Ivanka, raising tons of ethical questions; had Press Secretary Sean Spicer downplay the roles of two former staffers with ties to Russia, one of whom ran his campaign for months and secretly worked for a Russian oligarch in the 2000s; had his approval rating sink to another record low; signed a $19.5 billion NASA budget with a goal of sending people to Mars; repeatedly tried to get Republicans to approve the unpopular GOP health care bill before threatening to just keep Obamacare and move on; and sat down with TIME for a story about truth — but didn’t tell the truth for much of the interview.
Day 57 — March 17: Trump had his first meeting as president with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and things got off to an awkward start. First, he seemed to ignore her request to shake hands. Then, at a joint press conference, Trump referenced the Obama administration’s alleged surveillance of Merkel and joked they had “something in common, perhaps.” Merkel did not look not amused.
In perhaps the most aggressive U.S. threat to North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that pre-emptive military action is “on the table” if the erratic nation continues with its nuclear weapons program.
A “GREAT” meeting with Merkel
Day 58 — March 18: A day after Trump’s chilly meeting with Merkel in Washington, Trump tweeted that their conversation went “GREAT”— but also that the country owes “vast sums of money to NATO.”
Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nevertheless, Germany owes…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2017
…vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2017
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen later shot down Trump’s claims. “There is no debt account at NATO,” she said in a statement.
Still no wiretap
Day 59 — March 19: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee blasted Trump’s still evidenceless wiretapping claim — on the eve of FBI Director James Comey’s appearance before the House Intelligence Committee, no less.
“Was there a physical wiretap of Trump? No,” Republican Rep. Devin Nunes said. “There never was, and the information on Friday continues to lead us in that direction.”
A president under investigation
Day 60 — March 20: FBI Director James Comey officially confirmed what many had long suspected (or even hoped): The FBI is investigating not only Russia’s interference in the U.S. election but also whether the Trump administration helped them do it. He also testified, along with National Security Agency head Mike Rogers, that the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the NSA have found no evidence to back up Trump’s claims that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower during the election.
Comey told the House Intelligence Committee that the Russia investigation has been going on since July. That means Comey made his investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails public during her campaign — but not Trump’s ties to Russia.
Comey was later forced to fact-check Trump in real time after the president tweeted during the hearing that the NSA and the FBI confirmed Russia did not influence the electoral process. The tweet was read aloud to Comey, who said that “certainly wasn’t our intention to say that today.”
Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, also appeared before the Senate to begin his confirmation hearings. Republicans praised the 10th Circuit judge as a highly qualified candidate, while Democrats tried to suss out his views on abortion and grilled him over his past rulings in favor of corporations.
Ivanka Trump announced she’ll be taking on an unofficial advisory role within her father’s administration — complete with a West Wing office. The unprecedented move raises tons of ethical questions that have never been answered before. Ivanka is also seeking security clearance, which Trump previously said he wasn’t trying to get for his children.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to downplay the roles of two prominent former Trump staffers who have been linked to the Russian government. Paul Manafort — who ran Trump’s campaign for five months — played a “very limited role for a very limited amount of time,” according to Spicer. And Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who was forced to resign, was a “volunteer of the campaign,” Spicer said.
Some passengers on U.S.-bound flights will have to start leaving their laptops at home, according to a rule being issued by the Department of Homeland Security. Passengers on airlines based in 13 countries (including Royal Jordanian Airlines and Saudi Arabia’s Saudia Airlines) will be forbidden from boarding flights with electronics larger than phones.
Trump’s approval rating also sank to the lowest point for a president in his first term since Gallup began tracking: just 37 percent.
Rex Tillerson is too busy for NATO meetings
Day 61 — March 21: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who’s kept a low profile as the nation’s chief diplomat, ruffled feathers in Europe after reports that he plans to skip his first NATO meeting in April. It would be the first time in 14 years that a secretary of state skipped one of the meetings. Trump hasn’t been shy about his disdain for NATO, telling a German newspaper in January that NATO is “obsolete.”
While Gorsuch did a solid job of maintaining his cool on the first day of his confirmation hearing, questions Tuesday about Trump’s travel ban seemed to get under his skin.
“Senator, I’m not going to say anything here that would give anybody any idea how I’d rule in that case or any case that could come before the Supreme Court or my court of the 10th Circuit,” Gorsuch told Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy during a tense back-and-forth. “It would be grossly improper of a judge to do that.”
Meanwhile, Trump signed a bill that would increase NASA’s budget to $19.5 billion with a goal of (eventually) sending people to Mars.
The president also met privately with representatives in the House to warn them that they should change their minds about the unpopular GOP Obamacare replacement bill. Pass it, he said, or you’ll “lose your seats.”
The Trump campaign, now with more Russia!
Day 62 — March 22: Just days after the White House tried to distance itself from former campaign chair Paul Manafort, bombshell documents obtained by the Associated Press reveal that Manafort secretly worked for a Russian oligarch in 2005 until at least 2009 to advance the interests of Vladimir Putin.
“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in a 2005 memo about his strategy.
On his way to the bathroom during his third and final day of Senate testimony, Gorsuch learned that the Supreme Court — which he’s trying to join — unanimously struck down the standard he had set for the level of education schools must provide to disabled students.
Despite reportedly being warned against it by members of his own party, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes held a press conference where he said that intelligence agencies may have collected communications at Trump Tower while surveilling foreign targets. While Nunes reportedly apologized, his comments put a new spin on Trump’s so-far unproven claims of Obama wiretapping him.
Trumpcare appeared to be flatlining as at least 25 of the 30 members of the conservative House Freedom caucus vowed to vote against it. The Obamacare replacement would significantly cut healthcare subsidies for elderly Americans and roll back Medicaid expansion, among other policies. The caucus’ demand was simple: “Start over.”
The Secret Service wanted an additional $60 million to meet the unusual challenges of protecting the Trump family and the president’s administration — but the White House Office of Management and Budget rejected the request, according to The Washington Post. Between securing Trump Tower in New York, protecting his family on vacations and business trips, and maintaining both Camp David and Trump’s Florida estate Mar-a-Lago, taxpayers are already fronting a serious bill.
According to Pentagon emails obtained by the Huffington Post, Trump also wanted military tanks included in his inauguration parade.
Day 63 — March 23: But Trump warned that he won’t be starting over. The president issued an ultimatum: Vote for the GOP Obamacare replacement or get used to Obamacare.
A vote on the bill, originally slated for Thursday, was postponed to Friday, although it’s still unclear if the vote will happen.
Trump was the subject of a TIME cover story titled “Is Truth Dead?” The interview with Trump was all about telling the truth — but Trump spewed a bunch of falsehoods anyway. A few examples:
- Trump said NATO “doesn’t cover terrorism.” There are entire books about NATO’s handling of terrorism.
- Trump said “I predicted Brexit.” The day before Brexit, Trump said nobody should listen to him about Brexit, and a few weeks before that, he appeared to not know what it was.
- Trump defended his campaign-trail assertion that Ted Cruz’s father may have been involved in the JFK assassination by saying it “was in a newspaper.” The “newspaper” he mentioned is The National Enquirer. No other publication has ever corroborated this information.
While Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer revealed Democrats’ plan to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination, a “nuclear option” — where Senate Majority Leaders Mitch McConnell lowers the 60 votes necessary to a simply majority of 51 — is more likely.
This week in POTUS tweets:
Spoke to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May today to offer condolences on the terrorist attack in London. She is strong and doing very well.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2017
The irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows P.P. to continue if they stop this plan!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2017
What about all of the contact with the Clinton campaign and the Russians? Also, is it true that the DNC would not let the FBI in to look?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 20, 2017