If you believe the narrative many in the media are pushing, this week was one of the worst of Donald Trump’s entire presidency. I know, I know, they’re all the worst, but this time they meant it.
“Republicans, it’s time to panic,” blared the headline from the Washington Post. Columnist Michael Gerson wrote that Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., “has given public permission to raise the most serious questions: Is Trump psychologically and morally equipped to be president?” For context, Corker had been mocking and disparaging President Trump since May, and upped his criticism last week. Trump, as we have grown accustomed to for the last three decades or so, returned fire and insulted him.
For further context, Corker knew the Trump administration was preparing to decline to certify Iranian compliance with President Obama’s nuclear deal, giving Congress an opportunity to work to improve it. Corker strongly opposed this. Despite some fraudulent “fact checks” to the contrary, National Review explained Corker’s role on the Obama-Iran deal best when the editors wrote last year, “Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee was last seen facilitating President Obama’s Iran-deal path through Congress, in one of the prime exhibits of GOP fecklessness in recent years.” Should you wish to read a detailed explanation of how he did this, go here.
The Gerson column repackaged Ross Douthat’s May solution to all that ails Trump opponents: the 25th Amendment. That’s the Get Out Of The Election Free Card where the cabinet will declare Trump unfit for presidency since, as we keep being told over and over and over, he’s so obviously unfit for the presidency. This message has about as much resonance in 2017 as it did in 2016. Which is to say there’s a bit of a divide. NeverTrumpers are extremely confident in their view that this is in no way insane and a totally reasonable solution, giving not a moment’s thought — why start now? — to how Trump’s voters might respond to such an attempt to oust a duly elected president.
MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program spent the entire week running on the theme that the president is unbalanced and that the best option is, wait for it, a 25th Amendment type of removal. “Is it time to talk about the 25th Amendment?” CNN Political Analyst Julian Zelizer wrote. And NeverTrumper hero Evan McMullin wrote about how all the people he talks to are totally in agreement:
The other big narrative push was one of cabinet chaos. After last week’s anonymously sourced “news” that Secretary of State Tillerson had to be talked out of quitting — he denied the report — this week’s anonymously sourced story was that Trump had called for a tenfold increase in nuclear weapons. He denied the report and Chief of Staff John Kelly also denied it, saying the truth is Trump would like to see fewer nuclear weapons. Kelly also took the opportunity to deny anonymously sourced media reports that he was leaving his job.
There are incredible challenges, economic challenges, healthcare challenges, international challenges that have to be dealt with. I don’t mean any criticism to Mr. Trump’s predecessors, but there is a lot of things that were, in my view, kicked down the road that have come home to roost right now that have to be dealt with. This is hard, hard work, John. My only frustration, with all due respect to everyone in the room is when I come to work in the morning and read about things I allegedly said or things that Mr. Trump allegedly said, or people who are going to be fired or whatever. It’s just not true. That’s my frustration, and I mean no disrespect to you.
Defense Secretary James Mattis also strongly denied the anonymous reports of Trump calling for a tenfold increase in nukes and Tillerson supposedly calling him a “moron.”
‘There was no discussion with that tone or that content that I recall in the Pentagon or at any other time,’ Mattis told reporters during an impromptu visit to the Pentagon press area. ‘I will even remove that I recall. I think I would recall a conversation about doubling or ten times the nukes, Okay. I’ve never had that discussion.’…
Mattis said he left the meeting walking with both Trump and Tillerson along a rope line of troops, where both shook hands.
“I was right there so anyone who says that he called someone a moron, I mean, I was there with him the whole way and that never happened,” Mattis said.
Was this week one of chaos and doom? Is it time for Republicans to break norms and oust duly elected presidents? Is the situation that bad?
If you’re focused on tweets, as the media in particular are, President Trump threatened the “licenses” of media outlets he accused of promulgating fake news, told suffering Puerto Ricans that some of their problems predate Hurricane Maria, and engaged in various other antics.
Tweets, as presidential rhetoric, are far more important than anonymously sourced gossip. And threats against freedom of the press, religion, speech, or guns are never a good look for a president, and never defensible. Yet it’s worth looking at the more substantive week Trump had, the one away from Twitter and gossip.
1. An End to the Clean Power Plan
The Environmental Protection Agency administrator announced the proposed repeal to facilitate development of U.S. energy resources and to decrease regulatory burdens:
‘The Obama administration pushed the bounds of their authority so far with the CPP that the Supreme Court issued a historic stay of the rule, preventing its devastating effects to be imposed on the American people while the rule is being challenged in court,’ said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. ‘We are committed to righting the wrongs of the Obama administration by cleaning the regulatory slate. Any replacement rule will be done carefully, properly, and with humility, by listening to all those affected by the rule.’
2. An End to Illegal Subsidies to Insurance Companies
Health and Human Services Acting Secretary Eric Hargan and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma announced the change, which was based on a legal opinion from the attorney general:
It has been clear for many years that Obamacare is bad policy. It is also bad law. The Obama Administration unfortunately went ahead and made CSR payments to insurance companies after requesting – but never ultimately receiving – an appropriation from Congress as required by law. In 2014, the House of Representatives was forced to sue the previous Administration to stop this unconstitutional executive action. In 2016, a federal court ruled that the Administration had circumvented the appropriations process, and was unlawfully using unappropriated money to fund reimbursements due to insurers. After a thorough legal review by HHS, Treasury, OMB, and an opinion from the Attorney General, we believe that the last Administration overstepped the legal boundaries drawn by our Constitution. Congress has not appropriated money for CSRs, and we will discontinue these payments immediately.’
3. Market-Based Health Insurance Reforms to Give People More Options and More Affordable Options
As Christopher Jacobs explains, the proposed reforms will:
Give individuals more options, and more affordable options. Premiums on the individual market have more than doubled since 2013, due to Obamacare’s regulatory mandates. AHPs would allow workers to circumvent state benefit mandates through ERISA’s federal pre-emption of state laws; self-insured AHPs would also gain exemption from several federal Obamacare mandates, as outlined above. Because virtually all of Obamacare’s mandated benefits do not apply to short-term plans, these would obtain the most regulatory relief.
Allow more small businesses to subsidize workers’ coverage—either through Association Health Plans, or by making contributions to HRAs, and allowing employees to use those pre-tax dollars to buy the health coverage of their choosing on the individual market.
As Peter Suderman wrote at Reason:
Trump’s order is intended to create less regulated, less expensive alternatives to Obamacare. It is not an attempt to unwind the law so much as to work around it, providing options that do not exist under the current scheme, which has resulted in steady and significant increases in health insurance premiums and limited health insurance choices in many parts of the country. The order is less a direct attack on Obamacare and more of an attempt to escape its failings.
4. Declining to Certify Iran’s Compliance with the Nuclear Deal
If Obamacare was the previous president’s signature domestic policy achievement, the Iran nuclear deal was his signature foreign policy achievement.
The president gave a speech announcing a dramatic shift from the Obama-era posture toward Iran. The new strategy will focus on denying Iran a nuclear weapon, recognizing the regime’s destabilizing influence and aggressive support for terrorists, hurting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the pocketbook, and working with other countries to fight Iran’s violations of human rights.
5. Pakistan Helps Free American Hostage Family
An American family held hostage by Taliban-linked radicals in Pakistan was freed, thanks to the government there.
6. The United States Withdraws from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization, citing its ‘anti-Israel bias’
The White House announced:
UNESCO has a record of fostering anti-Semitism, including the decision to include Palestine as a member in 2011, though Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters. While the U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member, the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office at its Paris headquarters and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes. The withdrawal means the U.S. will halt the debt it has run-up since it stopped funding the organization in 2011 to protest the admission of the Palestinian Authority as a full member. By the end of 2017, the unpaid U.S. bill will amount to $550 million. The Trump administration’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year contained no provision for the possibility that UNESCO funding restrictions might be lifted.
7. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Says ‘Everyone Should Stand for the National Anthem’
This past weekend, Vice President Mike Pence left a football game after some players kneeled during the national anthem. While the media continued their chorus that President Trump and his administration should not be weighing in on the kneeling protest, within a few days the NFL commissioner sent a letter to team owners saying the protest should end. Public opinion polls continued to show support for standing during the anthem.
8. Stock Market Continues to Rise
The Nasdaq logged its 57th record high of the year, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended at 22,871.72 after hitting an intraday all-time high of 22,905.33, following President Trump’s Iran speech..
9. Continued Support for Religious Liberty
President Trump spoke at a gathering of Christians in Washington DC, reminding them of the work he’s done to protect religious liberty, which had been under serious attack in recent years:
Just last week, based on this executive action, the Department of Justice issued a new guidance to all federal agencies to ensure that no religious group is ever targeted under my administration. It won’t happen. (Applause.)
We have also taken action to protect the conscience rights of groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor. You know what they went through. (Applause.) What they went through — they were going through hell. And then all of the sudden they won. They said, how did that happen? (Laughter.)
We want to really point out that the Little Sisters of the Poor and other people of faith, they live by a beautiful calling, and we will not let bureaucrats take away that calling or take away their rights. (Applause.)
A focus on tweets or rhetoric is not completely inappropriate — cultural threats to the First Amendment are still threats and must be fought strenuously — but the focus should not keep people from noting what is happening policy-wise. Before you accept the supposed consensus amplified by a compliant media about chaos and disaster, consider whether the White House’s week was really one of failure or success.