Struggling to govern, Trump faces growing
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[July 29, 2017]
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As fellow
Republicans labored to repeal Obamacare this week, U.S. President Donald
Trump repeatedly swerved off-topic, escalating concerns in his party
about his ability to govern the country six months after taking office.
While senators grappled with healthcare, Trump banned transgender people
from the military. He regaled a Boy Scout jamboree with a tale from a
New York cocktail party. He indulged an obscene tirade by his flamboyant
new communications director.
In the end, the Senate's efforts collapsed in a predawn vote on Friday,
magnifying the ineffectiveness that often goes with the chaos around
Trump, the constant storm of tweets, the White House infighting, the
"We're seeing clear evidence that all of these distractions are standing
in the way of their ability to achieve legislative accomplishments,"
said Republican strategist Alice Stewart, a top aide to Senator Ted
Cruz's presidential campaign last year.
In the latest twist, Trump late on Friday named U.S. Homeland Security
Secretary John Kelly as his new White House chief of staff, replacing
Reince Priebus, who has been in a feud with Trump's new communications
director Anthony Scaramucci.
Among some establishment Republicans, there were signs that patience
with Trump was wearing thin.
His national security team, seen as a bedrock of normality, increasingly
is frustrated. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of
State Rex Tillerson were described by sources as unhappy with their
handling by the White House.
Defense Secretary James Mattis was coming to grips with Trump's abrupt
decision on Wednesday, via a tweet, to ban transgender individuals from
military service. The Pentagon said it would not execute the order
without more guidance.
Republican strategist Charlie Black said Trump needs to let an
investigation of possible ties between Russia and his 2016 campaign run
its course and not keep talking about it. Russia denies meddling, and
Trump denies any collusion.
The Russia probe has fed public spats with Attorney General Jeff
Sessions, quarreling among aides and attacks on Robert Mueller, the
special counsel running the investigation.
"He should be talking about policy and sticking to issues for a while,"
Black said. "There are still some good things that could get done in
Congress like tax reform. He can help further those things if that's
what he talks about."
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President Donald Trump arrives aboard Air Force One at Joint Base
Andrews, Maryland, U.S. July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
In the Senate healthcare fight, Trump phoned Republican senators and
urged them to support repeal of Obamacare, but the effort fizzled, a
sign there was little political retribution to fear from a president
with a sub-40 percent approval rating.
A moderate House Republican said Trump let down the Obamacare
rollback effort by not going out and selling a plan. For Trump, a
businessman and former reality TV show host, the presidency is his
first elected office.
"This issue was outsourced to Congress. It was never really sold. I
think that was part of the reason why it was a failure," said
Republican Representative Charlie Dent.
As the Senate fight was coming to a head, Washington was suddenly
mesmerized by a profanity-laced rant from Scaramucci, who tore into
Priebus and Trump strategist Steve Bannon in an interview in The New
Yorker magazine. Stunned aides stopped what they were doing to read
the article online.
The rant has so far gone unpunished. Inside the White House, there
was a sense of genuine concern and bewilderment about what
Scaramucci's future might portend.
Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the tensions
did not seem to trouble Trump.
"The president's management style seems to be to encourage
factionalism among people below him. He seems to place value on
watching people fight," Fleischer said.
Aside from sacking Priebus, it was unclear how Trump planned to
proceed to regain his footing.
With healthcare stalled, Trump has his sights set on tax reform with
no consensus on how to proceed. Top aides are split on how deeply to
cut taxes. It is the same moderates-versus-conservatives split that
doomed the Obamacare rollback.
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Susan Cornwell; Editing
by Kevin Drawbaugh and Howard Goller)
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