Welcome to This Week in Trump, Slate’s weekly look at Donald Trump’s presidency. Every week, we’ll catch you up on the events of the past seven days, point you to further reading, and keep an eye on the @realDonaldTrump Twitter feed.
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Obsessed With Size
So, it happened. Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. The four horsemen of the apocalypse haven’t ridden into Washington (yet). But there was a lot of empty space in the National Mall as he delivered his strikingly bleak, nationalistic inauguration speech.
Side-by-side shots filled social media showing how many more people attended Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, and embarrassing photographs proliferated of empty stands along the parade route. Washington, D.C.’s public transit authority reported fewer people took the metro on Friday than in previous inaugurations.
Trump evidently didn’t like the comparisons. While standing in front of a memorial for fallen intelligence officers at CIA headquarters on his first full day as president, the commander in chief launched a tirade against the news media, “the most dishonest human beings on earth,” claiming reporters invented his feud with the intelligence community and lied about the size of the inauguration crowd.
Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, officially launched the administration’s war against the media the following day. He vowed that the administration would work to hold journalists accountable while repeatedly lying from the White House podium, including the false claim that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period.” A day later, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said Spicer wasn’t lying, just giving “alternative facts.” That phrase will likely live longer than anything from Trump’s inaugural address.
On Monday he signed three more: formally withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, resurrecting the “global gag rule” barring federal funding from going to groups that perform or promote abortion services abroad, and freezing the hiring of federal employees (except the military). The next day, he moved forward the approval of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines.
But like a slow-building nightmare, those policies were a warmup for Wednesday, when Trump moved to tackle his signature campaign issue: immigration. He signed executive orders directing funds to build a wall on the Mexican border and cut off federal dollars to so-called sanctuary cities. He plans to sharply curtail the country’s refugee program and to block visas to anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen later in the week, according to reports.
Leaks, Leaks Everywhere
By the end of the Trump administration’s first weekend, insider accounts described a sensitive commander in chief who is quick to anger and yearns for revenge. “Trump has been resentful, even furious, at what he views as the media’s failure to reflect the magnitude of his achievements,” notes the Washington Post. Part of the problem, reports Politico, is that the president “gets bored and likes to watch TV.”
Beyond the stories’ content, they demonstrate the willingness of White House insiders to reveal embarrassing details about their boss. “We have simply never seen this level of leaking, with this little respect for the President’s dignity or reputation, this early,” writes Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo.
- The Senate Foreign Relations committee voted along party lines and approved the nomination of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. The full Senate has now confirmed John Kelly (homeland security), James Mattis (defense), Mike Pompeo (CIA), and Nikki Haley (United Nations ambassador). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed confidence that all of Trump’s Cabinet nominees would be approved.
- FBI Director James Comey, whose letter to Congress shook up the end of the presidential race, will stay on. And Ajit Pai, an outspoken critic of net neutrality, has been tapped to lead the Federal Communications Commission.
- Two more staffers from far-right site Breitbart are joining the administration.
Also This Week
- Trump again claimed, without evidence, that he lost the popular vote because 3 to 5 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. cast ballots for Hillary Clinton. On Twitter, he later pledged to order “a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD.”
- Trump won’t release his tax returns, Conway said. A petition on the White House website calling on Trump to release his returns has more than 320,000 signatures.
- At least six journalists have been charged with felony rioting for covering the protests surrounding Trump’s inauguration. Approximately 230 protesters were arrested on the day of the inauguration.
- The White House has barred employees from several agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services, from posting on social media or talking to reporters.
- Trump has signed the paperwork needed to transfer control over his business empire to his sons.
What to Read
The White House is placing loyal senior aides at the top leadership levels of the main federal agencies to create a “shadow Cabinet,” write Josh Dawsey and Nancy Cook in Politico:
The arrangement … appears designed to help the White House maintain control over its priorities despite pledging to give Cabinet secretaries unusual autonomy …
“They want to keep kind of a West Wing-infused attachment to the agencies,” said a person familiar with the arrangement. “There will be tentacles from the White House to these agencies.”
Was the New York Times too conservative in its failure to report on hints of a possible connection between Trump and Russian officials? The paper’s public editor, Liz Spayd, thinks so:
If you know the F.B.I. is investigating, say, a presidential candidate, using significant resources and with explosive consequences, that should be enough to write.
The way Trump reacted to thin crowds at his inauguration and the mass protests the next day demonstrates that marching can be effective, writes Slate’s Jamelle Bouie:
There are a few lessons here. First, activists should know that their protests work. And that the larger the gathering, the greater the odds that Trump will respond with crippling anger and outrage. Second, Democrats on the Hill should see that Trump is far weaker than he looks. Popular presidents don’t lash out against protests. But then, most presidents don’t enter office with his unfavorability ratings already in the low to mid 50s, and most presidents aren’t immediately met by mass demonstrations. At present, all but a handful of Senate Democrats are playing nice with Trump’s Cabinet nominees. Perhaps they should take a page from the marchers.
This Week in @realDonaldTrump
In a marked change of pace, Trump laid off the Twitter attacks this week. He did criticize the millions of people who protested Saturday, noting “we just had an election.” But the president—or someone with access to his account—followed up with a conciliatory tweet.
Trump announced that he was “honered to serve” as the 45th President. It took him 12 minutes to delete the tweet and replace it with another, with the spelling corrected. He then deleted the original tweet, which may have constituted a violation of the Presidential Records Act.
The commander in chief also threatened to “send in the Feds” to Chicago, if the city “doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage.’ ”
A GIF of First Lady Melania Trump smiling at her husband—then scowling as he turned his back—was perfect fodder for Twitter. (The #FreeMelania movement had already begun making waves thanks to video showing Trump practically ignoring his wife and her apparent frowning throughout the transition ceremonies.) But you can spare her sympathy. Melania Trump is “a seasoned media performer and co-conspirator in her husband’s xenophobia.” And isn’t it a bit sexist to assume that a woman must be a victim if she isn’t constantly smiling?