“I said with the exception of the late great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office,” Trump told a rally crowd in Ohio on July 25. “It’s so easy to act presidential, but that’s not gonna to get it done.”
As 2018 draws to a conclusion, the last two weeks in July, 2017 are already down in the history books as a period of rapid fire change that set the tone not only for the rest of Donald Trump’sfirst year in office, but possibly for the rest of his term as well. From the fragmenting of relationships with Rex Tillerson and Jeff Sessions to staff shakeups with the ten day reign ofCommunications Director Anthony Scaramucci, the resignation within hours of Press Secretary Sean Spicer and the replacement of GOP yes man Reince Priebus with General John Kelly, this period inTrump’s administration overshadowed even the pyrotechnic week in May where every single day was a new banner headline of major importance (Sally Yates fired, the press banned from the Oval Officewhile the Russian ambassadors gloated with Trump over the firing of the FBI Director) — a week that journalist Dan Rather characterized as the “worst week he had ever seen” in his 85 years of living.13 days in July eclipsed even that. Associated Press:
The meeting in Room 2E924, known as “The Tank,” highlighted the sharp learning curve that the president, who had never held elected office or served in the military, faced as he grew into his new job. It also revealed the tensions within the administration between those from Washington’s national security establishment and those eager to pull back from international entanglements.
That rift only grew after the top-secret gathering. It was soon after the meeting concluded that Tillerson was reported to have privately called the president “a moron.” The secretary of state pointedly did not deny that he had done so — eventually, a State Department spokeswoman did — and it prompted a furious response from Trump, who repeatedly undermined Tillerson on his approach to North Korea.
Also present at “The Tank” was General John Kelly, who evidently decided that he had been remiss when he had previously turned down Trump’s offer of the position of Chief of Staff. Kelly set out to rectify that error and clean house.
“I don’t think you can overestimate the effect of the impact of those (staff) changes and that period,” Marc Lotter, Vice President Mike Pence’s spokesman, said at the time.
One of Kelly’s first official moves was to fire Scaramucci. In the months that followed, other headline-grabbing aides — Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Omarosa Manigault-Newman — also were pushed out as Kelly tried to enforce a one-team ethos. Most impactfully, aides said, Kelly worked to cut down access to the Oval Office and seize control of how information reached Trump.
Several advisers deemed Kelly’s hire a turning point for the administration, a move that cut down on internal fights, restored order to the West Wing and laid the groundwork for wins down the road.
“Once myself, Reince and Steve were out of the picture, I think that moved the target off — it got people back to focus,” Spicer recalled.
Meanwhile, back at the Senate:
At 1:29 a.m. on July 28, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona strode onto the Senate floor. The 80-year-old, just weeks after a brain cancer diagnosis, was poised to cast the tiebreaking vote on the GOP’s health care bill, in what was meant to be the fulfillment of seven years of work to undo President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
McCain paused for a moment, and then flashed a thumbs-down, drawing gasps from fellow senators. The bill was dead, and the White House had been dealt a devastating blow.
And that wasn’t all. When the raid on Paul Manafort’s home happened, Trump-Russia flared into a new level of activity, which Trump found very threatening and of course he had to blame somebody — Jeff Sessions came to mind and for the first time in history a United States president became an open adversary of his own attorney general.
Trump continued his assault in a series of tweets in which he called Sessions “weak” and “beleaguered.” Privately, he discussed firing Sessions, but was met with a wave of resistance from his advisers. Some warned it would worsen the Russia probe, while Bannon told the president it would hurt with his base supporters, who loved Sessions’ tough-on-crime approach at the Justice Department.
Kelly, in his first weekend on the job, called Sessions to assure him his position was safe. But the rift between Trump and Sessions still has not healed. Recently, Trump bemoaned the Republicans’ loss in a special election in Alabama and in part blamed Sessions, whose departure from the Senate to head to Justice necessitated the election.
This is where things stand today. Sessions is the all purpose scapegoat, allegedly responsible for the FBI Trump-Russia investigation and now also allegedly responsible for the loss of the Alabama senate seat. An examination of the facts makes it clear that in the first instance Sessions acted appropriately in recusing himself from the Trump-Russia investigation because he understands the concept of checks and balances and avoidance of conflicts of interest in government. In the case of the Alabama election, how by any reasonable yardstick could he possibly be blamed for resigning his position as senator to take over as United States Attorney General? These are reasonable observations and they would have been made by Trump himself if he was in any way, shape, or form reasonable himself. But he is not, and so the charade of pretending that there is actually a Chief Executive in Washington continues, aided and abetted by the sycophants in Trump’s cabinet and by the Republican party as a whole.
One thing is absolutely certain: 2018 is going to be another year for the record books.