- Getty Images
President Donald Trump will head into the final third of his first 100 days in office attempting to recover from perhaps the most tumultuous week of his still-nascent presidency, one that has forced him to grapple with the limitations of a system he vowed to overhaul.
The week began with FBI Director James Comey making the extraordinary public announcement that the bureau was investigating potential collusion between Trumpworld and the Russian government to swing the election in the billionaire’s favor.
It ended with the American Health Care Act, the Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, being pulled from the House floor after it became clear it would not have enough votes to pass. It virtually guaranteed that Trump will not have a single major legislative achievement in his crucial first 100 days in office.
“You got played,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote following the healthcare failure.
It took President George W. Bush “years to smash everything,” she added. “You’re way ahead of schedule.”
‘This story is FAKE NEWS’
The week kicked off with Monday’s much anticipated hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Russian meddling in the 2016 election. It featured Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers.
Hours ahead of the testimony, Trump sought to preemptively delegitimize the Russia-related cloud hanging over his administration that was almost certain to be advanced with the testimony of the two directors.
“James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia,” Trump tweeted. “This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!”
The story was undoubtedly furthered in the hearing.
- REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
From the get-go, Comey dropped a pair of bombshells. First, he revealed that, since late July, the FBI’s been investigating potential connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government officials who worked to manipulate the election.
The FBI director, who prefaced his announcement by reminding the panel that it’s bureau practice not to “confirm the existence of ongoing investigations,” particularly those that involve classified information, said this was an “unusual circumstance” in which it was in the public interest to do so.
“I’ve been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” Comey said, “and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.”
Comey also asserted that the entirety of the DOJ was unable to find any evidence to back up Trump’s explosive allegations that President Barack Obama illegally wiretapped him ahead of the November election.
Also last week, a days-long drama followed House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes’ decision to brief the president on intelligence he claimed showed that information on members of Trump’s transition team was “incidentally collected” by the intelligence community during the transition period on “numerous occasions.” The intelligence showed, in his mind, that Trump was “monitored.”
He said the collection was not related to the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election – which, he said, made it fair to share with the president. Nunes, a member of Trump’s transition team, also said he believed the information was obtained legally under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
It sparked a rift on the committee just two days after Comey delivered his bombshell testimony to the body. The ranking Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, slammed the decision to brief Trump on the information, which had not been presented to the rest of the committee. Schiff went so far as saying the investigation was now compromised.
Asked by reporters at the White House after he was briefed by Nunes, Trump said he felt “somewhat” vindicated by the news, which came after his wiretapping claim – a charge many on the right and left later asserted was not true, including Nunes. Trump has backed away from the claim to an extent, saying his wiretapping reference meant more broad surveillance.
- Mark Wilson/Getty Images
A former top lawyer for the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the Department of Defense told Business Insider Thursday that the revelation was “far from a vindication.”
“In some ways it’s almost the reverse,” said Robert Deitz, who held those posts in the administrations of President Bill Clinton and of President George W. Bush. “That is, if, and let’s assume for a moment that someone getting [intelligence] collection from overseas [and] is getting a Trump person on the other line. It can be totally innocent. On the other hand, it could completely validate the notion that Trump people are talking to Russians.”
“So I don’t get the partial vindication argument at all,” he continued. “To me, it raises more questions than it resolves. … And so why it’s somehow ‘good news’ for Mr. Trump that some of his people have been captured in collection – I don’t see how that is ever good news.”
Supreme Court uncertainty and Obamacare stays
Wednesday brought another bit of bad news for Trump: His approval rating hit a new low. According to a Quinnipiac University national poll, the president’s performance rating dipped to 37%. It had dropped among Republicans, men, and white voters, three key elements of the coalition that led him to victory last November.
And on Thursday, it became virtually assured that Trump’s nominee to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat, 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch, will face a Democratic filibuster. It will create a showdown wherein Republicans will look to one of two options: peel off eight Senate Democrats or independents, or invoke the “nuclear” option, rewriting the Senate rules to end the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court picks.
It seemed to have about as much to do with Trump, if not more, than it was to do with Gorsuch, who was grilled by senators on Capitol Hill this week as a part of a more than 20-hour questioning during his Senate confirmation hearing.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer suggested it would be “unseemly to be moving forward so fast on confirming a Supreme Court justice with a lifetime appointment” due to the FBI investigation that Comey had revealed Monday.
“You can bet that if the shoe was on the other foot – and a Democratic president was under investigation by the FBI – that Republicans would be howling at the moon about filling a Supreme Court seat in such circumstances,” Schumer said. “After all, they stopped a president who wasn’t under investigation from filling a seat with nearly a year left in his presidency.”
- Associated Press/Susan Walsh
But the week’s biggest debacle came on healthcare. Congressional Republicans had promised for the better part of seven years that they would repeal and replace Obamacare. Now with majorities in both branches of Congress, as well as a president to sign the bill, they could not pass their alternative.
The reason: infighting among the same various factions of the party that has long prevented a united front for the GOP.
On Thursday, with it becoming clear that the American Health Care Act did not yet have enough votes to pass, the House vote was postponed. Given a second attempt on Friday, the votes still were not there. After an ultimatum the night before, Trump told House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday to pull the bill.
In the grand total of just 18 days from when Republicans first introduced the legislation, it had gone down in flames after facing a groundswell of grassroots opposition and staggeringly low popularity. And both Trump and congressional leaders were on the hook for failing to deliver on one of their biggest promises.
Trump, in a crucial meeting with conservative House leaders earlier in the week, had implored the Republican holdouts to “forget about the little s—” in the bill, according to Politico.
“Let’s focus on the big picture here,” he said.
But the members of the House Freedom Caucus did not, focusing in on the policy details over the political ramifications of potentially derailing the Trump agenda with the bill’s defeat.
- REUTERS/Carlos Barria
As news of the bill’s withdrawal echoed around Washington, Democrats were quick to pile on. Schumer, in a statement that followed shortly after, said, “So much for the ‘Art of the Deal,'” a jab at the president’s best-selling book.
Speaking to the media from the Oval Office late Friday afternoon, Trump blamed Democrats for the failure, and said “the best thing we can do is let Obamacare explode.”
But in doing so, he seemed to signal that he doesn’t believe he will be able to implement his agenda without cooperation from the Democrats, who hold the minority in both the House and Senate.
“We had no Democrat support,” Trump said, later adding, “With no Democratic support we couldn’t quite get there.”
Of the bill’s failure, he said, “I’m disappointed.”
“I’m a little surprised to be honest with you,” he said. “We really had it, it was pretty much there within grasp.”
Trump, as a candidate and as president, had a number of weeks that did not go his way. During the campaign, he always seemed to find a way to recover. And he did so enough times that he scored a stunning upset to become the 45th president. But it remains to be seen if President Trump – not candidate Trump – with a series of shortcomings and setbacks piling up, will be able to dig himself out of his latest hole.