The Week on Planet Trump: Republicans Despair as White House Flounders

Monday: GOP Despair

With control of both Congress and the White House — and yet no major legislative successes to point to — the Republican Party is finding itself stuck. A GOP Congress is frustrated with the president and unsure what will happen next in his daily West Wing drama. And Trump wants to sign legislation to show he is effective and is frustrated bills are not on his desk.

A sudden White House shakeup on Friday made it even more clear that Trump, who campaigned as an outsider, is determined to govern as one, too — and not listen to McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan or other orthodox allies. The president expanded the power of the political neophytes in his administration, elevating Manhattan hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci to White House communications director, at the cost of an operative — press secretary Sean Spicer, who announced his resignation on Friday — with years of Washington experience.

Eliana Johnson and Josh Dawsey, Politico

Tuesday: The Slow Motion Defenestration of Jeff Sessions

Trump has suggested a pattern with law-enforcement officials: First, he tries to cultivate them and get them to kill investigations that could hurt him; then, he fires them, as he did U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Comey. Mueller, Sessions, and Rosenstein could easily join that parade.

Sessions was reportedly at the West Wing on Monday. Since a resignation would likely spell the end of the 70-year-old’s political career, he has little incentive to resign beyond avoiding further humiliation. His only public comments on the matter came on Friday at a Justice Department press conference. “I have the honor of serving as attorney general,” he said. “It is something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself. We love this job. We love this department. I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.”

While choosing a new attorney general might make it initially easier to fire Mueller, it’s hard to see how it would help Trump in the longer run. The problem with firing Mueller is that it will only enhance the impression—fed, among other things, by Trump’s decision to fire Comey, his repeated insistence that there’s nothing to see, and his son’s rapidly changing account of the June 2016 meeting—that Trump has something to hide. He already stands accused in the court of public opinion of obstructing justice, though he has not been charged with any crimes, and firing Mueller would only make that seem more true.

David A Graham, The Atlantic

Wednesday: Unteachable Trump

The American presidency is a peculiar institution. Its occupant is supposed to be simultaneously head of government and head of state, performing the functions that in most other countries are separated between a prime minister and a monarch or ceremonial president. As head of government, the president can, and sometimes must, be nakedly partisan. But as head of state he is supposed to rise above the muck of politics, serving as a symbol of unity to bring Americans of all political persuasions together.

That is something Ronald Reagan did after the Challenger disaster, Bill Clinton did after the Oklahoma City bombing, George W. Bush did after 9/11, and Barack Obama did after the Charleston church shooting. Perhaps Donald Trump will rise to the occasion after, God forbid, some future tragedy. But so far it’s safe to say that while he doesn’t know how to be an effective president in general, he is especially bad at the ceremonial, non-partisan part of the job. He is always in campaign mode — even when it is highly inappropriate.

Max Boot, USA Today

Thursday: Dishonourable Transgender Ban

Defense Secretary James Mattis had already ordered a review of the issue of allowing openly transgender recruits to join the military. But he and other senior officers have made clear they saw no reason to roll back current policy, which allows transgender persons currently serving to do so openly. The Pentagon referred all questions about the ban to the White House.

Trump's peremptory ban on transgender individuals serving "in any capacity" flies in the face of that measured response. It also seems to have more to do with politics than policy.

Most of all, Trump's tweeted ban smacks of disrespect: for the military's careful process, for the value of political deliberation, for the American ideal of equality. And, finally, it demeans the service of the transgender people currently serving in the military, who have volunteered to fight and die for their country, and deserve the gratitude of all Americans.

Michael R. Bloomberg, Bloomberg

Friday: MacCain Ends GOP Bid to Repeal ObamaCare

With a simple thumbs down, Sen. John McCain dramatically ended Republicans’ seven-year campaign to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

McCain, in the early hours of Friday morning, voted against his party’s scaled-back version of an Obamacare repeal, becoming the decisive vote preventing the GOP from succeeding on its top agenda item and throwing its legislative agenda into deep uncertainty. The Arizona Republican, along with Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, joined all Democrats in opposing the legislation gutting key portions of the ACA. All other Republicans voted for the repeal, which failed by a tally of 51-49.

James Arkin, RealClearPolitics

Saturday: Priebus Out, Kelly In

But Reince Priebus isn't the only one who deserves a moment of sympathy. John Kelly is taking over a White House staff that is badly divided in competing faction (which is not unusual) and chaotic (which is).

The move could reduce the degree of chaos — but only if Kelly, unlike Priebus, actually gets the power of a chief of staff.

Priebus has been on the endangered species list ever since he was appointed. Trump never invested him with total confidence or full power. Even worse, Trump often derided him in private meetings as a weakling for having suggested Trump withdraw from the presidential campaign after the "Access Hollywood" tape surfaced, a jibe that other aides leaked more than once.

Doyle McManius, Los Angeles Times

Sunday: Trump’s Weak Week

But after all his bragging about being a great negotiator and closer, it is President Trump who can’t get it done. He couldn’t even close the deal on a pathetic, bare-bones health care bill, ineffectually bullying Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, and failing to win over John McCain, who gleefully had his revenge for Trump’s mockery of him as being a loser because he was captured in war.

Trump can’t get it done for his pal, Putin, either. In fact, the biggest legislative accomplishment before Congress leaves for August will have been passing new sanctions on Russia because lawmakers don’t trust their own president. Talk about weak.

Congressional Republicans are losing their fear of Trump, making ever more snarky comments about him. North Korea is shooting off missiles and the White House is flustered. The generals are resisting Trump’s tweet edicts. The mortified leader of the Boy Scouts had to apologize for the president’s suggestive and partisan speech.

And what could be weaker than that?

Maureen Dowd, The New York Times

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