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.
Foreign policy messes
This week the president escalated tensions with U.S. allies and adversaries alike. Trump made the first of three notable phone calls revealed this week on Jan. 27, when he warned Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto that “you have a bunch of bad hombres down there” and that if Mexico’s military wasn’t willing to control them, he “just might send [the U.S. military] down to take care of it.” The excerpt the Associated Press obtained didn’t include any context for the conversation, but the call followed continued tension between Trump and Peña Nieto over the border wall.
The next day, Trump’s conversation with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ended abruptly after Trump berated Turnbull over a refugee agreement between the two countries, bragged about his Electoral College win, and told the prime minister that the conversation had been “the worst call by far” of four he’d had with world leaders that day. In a subsequent tweet, Trump declared he would “study this dumb deal,” in which the U.S. promised to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center known for human rights violations.
Then, on a Jan. 28 call with French President François Hollande, Trump repeatedly ranted “about the U.S. getting shaken down by other countries,” according to Politico.
In another foreign policy surprise, the Trump administration shifted its approach to Israel. Trump had rejected the idea that settlement expansion could be a threat to peace—but on Thursday, the White House released a statement discouraging new settlement construction, an apparent reversion to Obama administration policy. The White House said the statement did not indicate an official position on Israeli expansion.
Finally, after Iran’s recent ballistic missile test prompted a new round of sanctions from the Treasury Department, Trump addressed the situation on Twitter. The tweets, which reflected the belligerent attitude of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, said Iran had been “formally PUT ON NOTICE.” In response, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei thanked the president for revealing America’s “true face.”
Trump’s chaotically implemented executive order on immigration was abruptly halted by a Seattle judge Friday night. The ruling, which did not address the constitutionality of the ban, came in response to a suit brought by the states of Washington and Minnesota. Nearly 100 tech companies filed an amicus brief opposing the travel ban, and 10 former high-ranking diplomatic and national security officials signed an affidavit that said the order “cannot be justified on national security or foreign policy grounds.”
In response to the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge James Robart, Customs and Border Protection began reinstating revoked visas, and the Department of Homeland Security announced it had suspended its implementation of the ban. Trump responded with a Twitter tirade criticizing “this so-called judge” and subsequently warning, “if something happens blame him and court system.” Early the next morning, Trump tweeted that “any negative polls are fake news” and that “people want border security and extreme vetting.”
The Justice Department appealed Robart’s ruling, and a federal appeals court heard arguments Tuesday night.
The administration defended the executive order by pointing to specific terror attacks. Kellyanne Conway cited the “Bowling Green massacre,” which never happened. Trump accused journalists of intentionally ignoring terrorist attacks, and the White House released a list of 78 attacks it said had not been covered sufficiently. The list included the 2015 Paris attacks and San Bernardino shooting and last year’s Orlando nightclub shooting.
In his first press conference after the election, Trump brought up his lawyer to describe how “he is completely isolating himself from his business interests.” But documents obtained by ProPublica reveal the president’s continuing ties to his business holdings.
The verdict of a trust and estates lawyer who examined the papers for the New York Times: “I don’t see how this in the slightest bit avoids a conflict of interest. First it is revocable at any time, and it is his son and his chief financial officer who are running it.”
ProPublica also found that Ivanka Trump, who also promised to resign from Trump businesses, remains heavily involved.
Also this week:
- After a rough confirmation battle, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as education secretary in a 51–50 vote, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie.
- Trump moved to eliminate Obama-era financial regulations imposed in the wake of the financial crisis.
- Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump mocked Arnold Schwarzenegger for his ratings on Celebrity Apprentice and pledged to “destroy” the Johnson amendment, which bars churches from endorsing political candidates.
- Trump threatened to withhold federal funding from U.C.–Berkeley after violent protests on the campus prevented alt-right figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking.
- When Fox host Bill O’Reilly called Putin “a killer,” Trump responded, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?”
- At a Black History Month event, Trump talked about the “terrible” inner cities, bragged about how much of the black vote he got, praised Fox News, and called Frederick Douglass “someone who has done a terrific job that is being recognized by more and more people.”
What to read
The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza probes the ways a new terror attack could swell Trump’s power:
“If it is a large and grim attack, he might ask for more surveillance powers inside the U.S. (including fewer restrictions on data mingling and storage and queries), more immigration control power at the border, an exception to Posse Comitatus (which prohibits the military from law enforcement in the homeland), and perhaps more immigration-related detention powers,” [ Jack Goldsmith, a former Justice Department official in the George W. Bush Administration] wrote in an e-mail. “In the extreme scenario Trump could ask Congress to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which would cut off the kind of access to courts you are seeing right now.”
The New York Times painted a striking portrait of the Trump White House at night:
Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate the light switches in the cabinet room. Visitors conclude their meetings and then wander around, testing doorknobs until finding one that leads to an exit. In a darkened, mostly empty West Wing, Mr. Trump’s provocative chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, finishes another 16-hour day planning new lines of attack.
Politico’s Jack Shafer is sanguine about the threat Trump poses to democracy:
Much of the denigration and praise that comes out of his mouth has little to do with politics and almost everything to do with Donald J. Trump and his toddler-sized ego. He’s furious with Judge Robart because Robart defied him and because he has no retaliatory power. Trump can’t “win” unless Robart plays along, and there’s possibility he will. Lifetime appointments to the bench are like that.
This Week in @realDonaldTrump
- Trump attacked Judge James Robart personally after the George W. Bush appointee stayed the president’s immigration ban.
- He attacked Nordstrom after the retailer announced it was dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. (The company’s shares ended the day up 5 percent.)
- And he launched a bold new policy initiative aimed at ending the wait for “EASY D.”
Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live performance as Press Secretary Sean Spicer earned raves from critics and a mixed review from Spicer himself. But Trump himself wasn’t laughing. Politico reported that the president was “rattled” by the skit—especially by the fact that Spicer was portrayed by a woman.
Sensing blood, Twitter users called on SNL to cast Trump nemesis Rosie O’Donnell as Trump adviser Steve Bannon—and O’Donnell indicated her willingness to do her patriotic duty.