U.S. Politics

Bannon And Trump Have Quietly Installed An Alt-National Security Council Operating Inside The White House

Bannon And Trump Have Quietly Installed An Alt-National Security Council Operating Inside The White House

attribution: NONE

THE NATIONAL MEMO

Less than a month after much-admired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster took over from Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser, Trump’s alter-ego Steve Bannon appears to be more in control of U.S. foreign policy than ever.

There is little sign McMaster will be able to restore traditional U.S. foreign policy commitments to NATO and the European Union, and every indication that Bannon’s shadowy Strategic Initiatives Group, denounced by two national security experts as “dangerous hypocrisy,” is driving U.S. policy.

McMaster, a lieutenant general with a reputation as an intellectual, was perhaps the last-gasp hope of Washington’s foreign policy professionals against the radical ambitions of the Trump administration. He was seen as a man who could speak unpopular truths to Trump and block Bannon’s improvisations while restoring a degree of continuity to U.S. foreign policy under Obama and Bush.

Losing Ground

No sooner had Flynn been fired over undisclosed meetings with a Russian diplomat, it was reported that McMaster would impose order on Flynn’s chaotic NSC, purging ideologues and removing Bannon from the National Security Council as urged by Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Given the gravity of the issues the NSC deals with, it is vital that that body not be politicized, and Bannon’s presence as a member of that body politicizes it instantly,” Mullen said.

McMaster urged Trump not to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” arguing, along with virtually every other U.S. military leader, that the phrase only alienates friendly Muslims and increases the risk to U.S. personnel stationed in Islamic countries without providing any military or political advantages.

McMaster’s influence has been fading ever since. There would be no “purge” at NSC, an unnamed senior White House official told Foreign Policy. “Key NSC officials focused on the Middle East and other vital areas will keep their positions in the near term,” the official said. Bannon remains on the NSC’s Principals Committee, while the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is only a part-time participant.

Trump pointedly ignored McMaster’s advice and denounced “radical Islamic terrorism” in his address to the Congress, much to the satisfaction of deputy national security adviser Sebastian Gorka. A lightly credentialed acolyte of Bannon, Gorka seems to have more influence with Trump than McMaster, a decorated lieutenant general.

While Colin Kahl, former national security adviser to Vice-President Joe Biden, recently expressed hope that an “axis of adults” can take control of Trump’s foreign policy, all indications are that the “axis of ideologues,” led by Bannon and Gorka, are ascendant.

What SIG does

The Strategic Initiatives Group is emerging as Bannon’s conduit for aiding the populist right in Europe. Described as a “White House think tank,” SIG is run by Chris Liddell, formerly chief financial officer at a Hollywood talent agency. The group’s mission is described as supporting Trump administration collaboration with “private forums.”

In practice, that seems to mean Liddell will assist in marketing the message of the chauvinist European right.

Last week, Gorka signaled the ascendant ideology by endorsing a white nationalist opus by Georgetown University professor Joshua Mitchell in the debut issue of a policy journal called American Affairs.

For globalists, Mitchell writes, “political justice involved material growth made possible by global management and the identity debt-points that global elites dispensed to this or that oppressed ‘identity’ group as a consequence of past infractions or of the irredeemable fault of others—typically (the imaginary category of) White People.”

“The dark Protestant machinations about human freedom and pride that drove President Bush and President Obama, respectively, make no appearance in the thinking of Trump,” Mitchell writes. “He will ask of foreign nations, simply, are they going to be allies or not; and will America be able to win with or without them?” In other words, Europeans who favor economic integration, ethnic pluralism and military deterrence of Russia are no longer regarded as U.S. allies.

“Trump has made clear that he’s at best indifferent, if not openly hostile to the modern European project, and Bannon has indicated that anti-E.U. populists have a friend in the White House,” writes American conservative James Kirchick in the German daily, FAZ.

Bannon approved of the visit of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen to Trump Tower in January. He published Dutch anti-immigration leader Geert Wilders in Breitbart News. And now he seems to be targeting Angela Merkel, the pro-immigration German prime minister who has emerged as the de facto leader of Europe, if not the free world. Merkel, who faces elections this fall, certainly sees Bannon’s media strategy as a threat.

“We shouldn’t underestimate what’s happening on the internet,” Merkel said in a speech to the German parliament last week. “Opinions today are formed differently than 25 years ago. Fake pages, bots, and trolls can distort views.”

Not coincidentally, Breitbart.com is said to be opening a Berlin bureau later this year.

While Bannon often talks in apocalyptic terms about war between the Christian West and Islam, his initial moves in the National Security Council are more political than militaristic. Through SIG, Bannon seeks to midwife a more nationalist and Christian Europe, as a prelude to escalating a “clash of civilizations” war against Islam.

In this geopolitical gambit, Bannon and company are setting the course, while McMaster and the “adults” of the Washington policy elite look increasingly irrelevant.

U.S. Politics

The 78 programs Trump wants to eliminate don’t even pay for his border wall

President Trump with House Speaker Paul Ryan. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

THINK PROGRESS

Here are the things Donald Trump says the government should stop doing forever.

In his initial budget document released on Thursday, President Donald Trump called for huge reductions in government spending. Beyond simply handing some agencies and programs less money to work with, he wants to completely eliminate 78 programs — including the Appalachian Regional Commission, Community Services Block Grant, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Legal Services Corporation, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Minority Business Development Agency, National Endowment for the Arts, United States Institute of Peace, and United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

All told, the money saved from the functions that Trump wants to eliminate comes to just under $23.6 billion, according to a ThinkProgress analysis.

That may sound like a lot of money, but it’s not even half of the increase in funding he wants to give to the military: $54 billion. The United States already spends more on defense than the next seven largest military budgets around the world combined.

The sum is also dwarfed by the size of the tax cut that Trump has proposed enacting, which would cost the government $341 billion in the first year and $6.1 trillion over a decade. Under that plan, the poorest families would get just $110 in annual tax relief, while the richest 0.1 percent of Americans would get more than $1 million in one year.

The amount of money saved by eliminating these government programs wouldn’t even be enough to pay for the construction of Trump’s border wall, the price for which has been put at $25 billion.

CREDIT: Adam Peck/ThinkProgress

Several of the programs Trump wants to cancel have very small price tags and very large impacts. Trump’s decision not to spare even these high-efficiency connections between the government and its people is impossible to justify in budget terms, given their low costs. Instead, these cuts seem to represent a philosophical choice to derail things the president doesn’t believe in doing — even if they help people.

One HUD program tagged for execution generates massive private investment in housing construction, at the cost of just $35 million per year. The Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing program generates more than $20 in private investment in low-income housing for every dollar taxpayers spend. That radically efficient system lured almost $6 billion in low-income housing development spending from private sources since 2010, according to the nonprofit network Enterprise.

By contrast, Trump is forcing taxpayers to spend an estimated $3 million every time he travels to his Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida. He could cancel a dozen of his tropical weekends and save more money than he does by eliminating the HUD program — and without savaging the already rocky state of affordable housing investment nationwide.

Other examples from Trump’s proposed budget cuts make even less fiscal sense. He would eliminate the Overseas Private Investment Corporation even though the self-sustaining business development organization actually returns money to the treasury every year. The Interagency Council on Homelessness would be dissolved — saving just $4 million a year in exchange for making it harder to coordinate policies and reach consensus in the fight to end homelessness — as would the $11 million federal organization that investigates chemical accidents like the deadly West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion.

Alan Pyke

U.S. Politics

Spicer uses strikingly passive language to describe Trump’s oversight of troop deployment to Syria

This frame grab from a video provided by the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), shows fighters from the SDF opening fire on an Islamic State group’s position, in Raqqa’s eastern countryside on March 6 | CREDIT: Syria Democratic Forces, via AP

THINK PROGRESS

“The president was made aware of that.”

During his news conference on Thursday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked “how involved” President Trump was in the decision to deploy roughly 400 heavily armed marines to Syria.

The passive language Spicer used to describe Trump’s role may reflect the new latitude military commanders have to conduct operations without the commander in chief’s direct knowledge.

“Obviously the president was made aware of that,” Spicer said. “This is something that was done in consultation. He understands the regional issues that need to be addressed there.”

Spicer’s comment comes on the heels of reports that Trump won’t micromanage military operations in the way President Obama did.

Earlier this month, the Daily Beast, citing multiple officials, reported that “[t]he White House is considering delegating more authority to the Pentagon to greenlight anti-terrorist operations like the SEAL Team 6 raid in Yemen that cost the life of a Navy SEAL [named Ryan Owens].”

Trump “has signaled that he wants his defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, to have a freer hand to launch time-sensitive missions quickly, ending what U.S. officials say could be a long approval process under President Barack Obama,” the Daily Beast added.

Mattis required a congressional waiver to become defense secretary because he hadn’t been retired from active military service for more than seven years. Prior to Mattis, there was only one precedent for such a waiver being issued. Civilian control of the military is enshrined in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, which says the president “shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States when called into the actual Service of the United States.” Trump’s move to give generals more decision-making power chips away at that tradition.

The January 29 raid in Yemen, which was approved by Trump over dinner with his advisers, resulted in the deaths of at least 25 civilians, including nine children under the age of 13, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Days after it happened, Reuters reported that unnamed U.S. military officials told them Trump signed off on his first military action “without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations.”

Trump won’t accept responsibility for deadly SEAL raid he approved over dinner, blames Obama

“Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here.”thinkprogress.org
Late last month, Trump appeared to try and shift responsibility for the Yemen raid to his generals, saying during a Fox & Friends interview that “this was a mission that was started before I got here.”

“This was something that was, you know, [the generals] wanted to do,” Trump said. “And they lost Ryan.”

Spicer’s language on Thursday suggests Trump will be able to use the same excuse if anything goes awry in Syria, where the newly deployed marines, armed with artillery guns, are “working with local partners in Syria — the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Coalition” to rout ISIS from the city of Raqqa, Reuters reports.

According to Al Jazeera, the deployment, which is temporary, “could be an indication that the White House is leaning towards giving the Pentagon greater flexibility to make routine combat decisions in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” The US is also preparing to send up to 1,000 troops to Kuwait.

Trump appears determined to go after both al Qaeda and ISIS despite sending conflicting signals about his desire to get involved in Middle East conflicts during the campaign.

In September 2015, Trump asked “Why are we fighting ISIS in Syria? Let them fight each other and pick up the remnants. I would talk to them, get along with them.”

But two months later, Trump said of ISIS, “I would bomb the shit out of ‘em.”

“They have certain areas of oil that they took away,” Trump said. “I would just bomb those suckers… there would be nothing left.”

While Trump and his generals are targeting al Qaeda and not ISIS in Yemen, Foreign Policy reports that the numbers of bombs the Trump administration dropped in that civil war-ravaged country over a single week “eclipsed the annual bombing total for any year during Obama’s presidency.”

“Under the previous administration, approval for strikes came only after often slow-moving policy discussions, with senior officials required to sign off on any action, while the Trump administration has proven much quicker at greenlighting attacks,” Foreign Policy adds.

Aaron Rupar

U.S. Politics

The myth of liberal Ivanka Trump

CREDIT: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

THINK PROGRESS

A series of anonymously-sourced anecdotes have created an image of a moderate Trump in the White House. But actual policy changes are hard to find.

Standing before the crowd at the Republican National Convention last July, the future first daughter— dressed in an Ivanka Trump-branded muted sheath dress that was later marketed to consumers through her considerable social media presence — opened her speech with a strange line for the most visible child of the new leader of the Republican Party.

“Like many of my fellow millennials, I do not consider myself categorically Republican or Democrat,” Ivanka told a cheering crowd. “More than party affiliation, I vote on based on what I believe is right, for my family and for my country. Sometimes it’s a tough choice.”

It was a speech met with near-universal praise from pundits and delegates. California delegate Shawn Steel told the Guardian that it proved Ivanka was “the greatest asset Donald Trump has.” CNN called it “smart and savvy.” And Vanity Fair called it “remarkable,” noting that it struck a decidedly different tone from the rest of the convention.

“She simply pretended she was speaking at the Democratic Party’s convention, and delivered a speech about the wage gap, maternal leave, and other liberal ideals,” wrote Tina Nyugen.

Ivanka followed that speech with a slew of public appearances and interviews where she advocated for her father’s paid leave plan — a plan that will do little to help low-income Americans who need the most help shouldering the cost of childcare. When Trump won the election in November, a trickle of anonymously-sourced stories suggested Ivanka would use her position in the White House — unofficial, to comply with nepotism laws — to pull her notoriously extreme father towards the center on traditionally liberal issues like women’s rights, family leave, and the environment.

 ivanka

In recent weeks, the trickle of anonymously-sourced stories painting Ivanka as a progressive influence on her father has grown to a deluge, with stories coming out almost daily suggesting Ivanka and her husband, senior White House advisor Jared Kusher, have been working behind the scenes to moderate both Trump’s tone and policy goals.

Among the stories are rumors that, thanks to Ivanka and Kushner, when Trump releases his long-anticipated executive order next week rolling back several crucial Obama-era climate policies, there will be no mention of pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, a pledge that had been a staple in the Trump stump speech. A recent round of anonymously-sourced stories also claim that Ivanka was the primary reason for Trump’s more moderate tone during his Joint Address to Congress on Tuesday night, a perception that won Trump rounds of praise from political pundits.

But just as Trump’s more measured tone benefited Trump more than it benefited Americans — allowing the president to bask in the adoration of the media without actually changing any of his unpopular policies — the liberal myth of Ivanka does more to bolster Ivanka’s personal brand, and insulate the White House from criticism of its most unpopular policies, than protect Americans from Trump’s extreme agenda.

In late January and early February, at the dawn of the Trump presidency, rumors began circulating that the White House was preparing an executive order that would overturn Obama-era protections of LGBTQ workers, something Trump’s Vice President, Mike Pence, has supported throughout his legislative career.

That executive order did not come to fruition; instead, the White House released a statement pledging its support to “protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community.” Sources identified only as being “close to Kushner and Ivanka Trump” told Politico that the world had Ivanka and Kusher to thank for that order, who had worked behind the scenes to ensure the Obama-era protections remained in place.

But almost a month after pledging to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community, the White House rolled back federal protections for transgender students. This time, there was no word from Ivanka — not even through anonymous sources. When it came to actual policies enacted by her father’s White House, Ivanka was silent.

That’s far from the only example of an outlet running a story, based on an anonymous source, depicting Ivanka as a moderating influence on her father, followed by a Trump policy that functions to the opposite effect. In December, Politico ran a story, based again on nameless sources, suggesting Ivanka was looking to make climate change her signature issue.

The media seized on the story almost immediately, wondering if Ivanka would be able to convince her father — an infamous climate change denier who called the phenomenon “a hoax” created by the Chinese — that climate change was a crisis worth tackling.

And those stories have continued through the early days of Trump’s presidency: A week ago, the Wall Street Journal published a story based on unnamed sources that credited Ivanka and Kushner with removing mention of the Paris climate agreement from Trump’s forthcoming executive order on climate change. The day after Trump’s speech to Congress, Axios published a story based on an unnamed source that credited Ivanka with the passing mention of “clean air and clean water” that made it into Trump’s remarks — the only reference to the environment in the entire speech.

And yet, Ivanka’s allegedly moderating influence with respect to the environment has done little to stop the Trump administration from enacting a strikingly anti-environment agenda. To lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump appointed Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general who sued the EPA 14 times to block various environmental regulations, from the Clean Power Plan to the Clean Water Rule. On the same day Trump gave his speech to Congress, with its single mention of “clean air and clean water,” he signed an executive order directing the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to begin rolling back the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, which expanded the coverage of the Clean Water Act to protect drinking water for 117 million Americansnot previously protected by the Clean Water Act.

Perhaps most glaring are reports of the omission of the Paris agreement from the forthcoming Trump executive order on climate — one of the most widely re-reported anonymously-sourced anecdotes about Ivanka’s environmental efforts in the Trump White House. Without fail, they all neglect to highlight the fact that the United States’ participation in the Paris agreement, without the domestic policies that Trump is set to undo with that same executive order, amounts to little more than a public relations performance.

The Paris agreement is built on the independent domestic pledges of participating countries — without domestic policies like the Clean Power Plan, or without a leader interested in deepening the country’s commitment to greenhouse gas reductions, it makes little difference if the United States participates in the agreement. It is participation in name only — and coming from the world’s largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases, participation in name only could be enough to sink the agreement altogether.

Unlike issues she has championed publicly, any image of Ivanka as an environmentalist or a champion of LGBTQ rights comes not from her own words, but from pictures painted by anonymous sources and published by media outlets without critical coverage. And even when Ivanka speaks about an issue on the record — as she has with paid leave and women in the workplace —coverage is often uncritical, focusing more on talking points than the details of the policy.

The benefit of these stories to readers, and the American public, is negligible. It offers the quick thrill of an uncorroborated glimpse into an administration that seems, at times, without a unifying purpose, and for those who care about issues like the environment or human rights, it can seem like a life raft of sanity in an otherwise hopeless sea of extremism. But despite Ivanka’s palpable presence in the administration — she appears in administration meetings and events almost daily, despite having no official role — Trump’s presidency has thus far been marked by orders to roll back protections on both human rights and the environment.

If anything, these stories are a net-negative for the American public, distracting from Trump’s more extreme policies by softening them through Ivanka. A story on a forthcoming executive order not criticizing the Paris climate agreement shifts focus away from what the order does mention: likely the dismantling of crucial domestic policies meant to curb carbon pollution and slow global warming. Stories about Trump mentioning clean water once in his speech detract attention from the fact that hours before, he signed an order rolling back clean water protections — protections that are extremely popular with voters.

But, above all, these stories benefit Ivanka. They perpetuate her carefully cultivated image of a young woman who votes with her conscience, not a particular party; a young woman who cares deeply about equality and opportunity and the future of our planet, deeply enough to attach her name to those causes so long as it comes from an unnamed, untraceable source.

Her choice of issues — paid family leave, LGBTQ rights, the environment — are as calculated as the carefully curated reality of her Instagram account, where her inoffensive tone creates what ThinkProgress’ Jessica Goldstein described before the election as a “blank space onto which liberals can project a favorite fantasy.” It’s no coincidence that Ivanka’s preferred causes are those often championed by millennials, and especially millennial women. That is, and always has been, her target audience — the group that, according to a 2015 Vogue profile, Ivanka geared her entire clothing and lifestyle brand toward.

In that same profile, author Jonathan van Meter quotes a friend of Ivanka’s, who tells him that “her father is hated by half of America and loved by the other half. The half that love him love her, and the half that hate him love her — because she’s not him!’”

Anonymously-sourced stories give Ivanka enough cover to perpetuate the idea that she is distinct from her father — that she is of Trump, but not necessarily the Trump. For those who oppose her father’s policies, this myth of a liberal Ivanka acts like an oasis of reason in a landscape seemingly void of such principles; it comforts those who know that without a moderating presence, all the president is left with is an adviser like Steve Bannon. But for those who support her father’s policies, anonymously-sourced stories create a myth nebulous enough that it can be ignored — especially when the concrete policies coming from the White House are consistently more Bannon than Ivanka.

Ancient cultures created myths to explain that which seemed inexplicable; earthquakes, floods, plagues, feast, and famine all came from unseen deities, forces that rippled into reality but remained just outside the field of view. But myths, by definition, are not real — and it’s time to learn the difference.

Natasha Geiling

 

U.S. Politics

Trump won’t accept responsibility for deadly SEAL raid he approved over dinner, blames Obama

CREDIT: Fox News screengrab

THINK PROGRESS

In an interview with the Miami Herald published Sunday, Bill Owens — father of Chief Ryan Owens, the 36-year-old Navy SEAL who died during President Trump’s first military operation — criticized the Yemen raid, and said he doesn’t have any interest in talking with Trump.

“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into [President Trump’s] administration?” Owens said. “For two years prior… everything was missiles and drones (in Yemen)… Now all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?”

Trump was asked about Owens’ comments during a Fox & Friends interview that aired Tuesday morning. He responded by trying to blame President Obama for a mission Trump gave final approval for over dinner with his advisers during his first full weekend as president.

“Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here,” Trump said. “This was something that was, you know, they wanted to do. They came to see me, they explained what they wanted to do — the generals, who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe.”

Trump acknowledged the Owens family’s loss, but maintained that the mission was a success.

“And they lost Ryan, and I was at the airport when the casket came in, the body came in, and it was a very sad — with his family and it’s a great family, incredible wife and children, I met most of the family, and I can understand people saying that,” Trump continued. “What’s worse? There’s nothing worse. But again this was something that they were looking at for a long time, and according to General Mattis, it was a very successful mission, they got tremendous amounts of information.”

Trump’s comments about the mission being successful are directly contradicted by an NBC report that says the mission yielded no significant intelligence.

“Although Pentagon officials have said the raid produced ‘actionable intelligence,’ senior officials who spoke to NBC News said they were unaware of any, even as the father of the dead SEAL questioned the premise of the raid in an interview with the Miami Herald published Sunday,” NBC reports. “A senior Congressional official briefed on the matter said the Trump administration has yet to explain what prompted the rare use of American ground troops in Yemen, but he said he was not aware of any new threat from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al Qaeda affiliate that was targeted.”

NBC reports that in addition to Ryan’s death, “six other U.S. service members were wounded. And at least 25 civilians were killed, including nine children under the age of 13, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.”

And despite Trump’s attempt to dodge accountability, NBC reports that “[p]lans for the raid were begun during the Obama administration, but Obama officials declined to sign off on what officials described as a significant escalation in Yemen. Just five days in, Trump greenlighted the mission.”

In a previous report, NBC cited a “senior U.S. military official” who said “almost everything went wrong” during the day. In the days following, U.S. CENTCOM acknowledged that “regrettably… civilian non-combatants were likely killed in the midst of a firefight during a raid in Yemen January 29. Casualties may include children.”

The Guardian, citing unnamed officials, reported that “the operation had been reviewed several times, but the underlying intelligence was not judged strong enough to justify the risks, and the case was left to the incoming Trump administration to make its own judgment.” Days later, Reuters reported that unnamed U.S. military officials told them Trump signed off on the raid “without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations.”

“As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists,” Reuters reports.

The issues continued after the SEAL team hit the ground. An official told CNN that “during the gun battle, al Qaeda fighters took up firing positions on the roof of a nearby building and that the US troops came under fire, calling in an airstrike against the building which likely led to the civilian casualties.”

“The raid encountered more problems when an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft was forced to undergo a ‘hard landing’ which resulted in three additional service members being injured,” CNN adds. “The military opted to destroy the aircraft in an airstrike to prevent it falling into enemy hands.”

After Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) described the raid as a “failure” on February 7, Trump responded with a tweetstorm blasting the war hero.think-progress

Press Secretary Sean Spicer also took an indirect shot at McCain, saying “anyone who would suggest it’s not a success does disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens.” Those comments angered Owens’ father.

“Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation,” Owens told the Herald. “I want an investigation… The government owes my son an investigation.”

Over the weekend, a Trump spokesman said the president may support an investigation into the Yemen raid. But during another part of the Fox & Friends interview, Trump indicated his willingness to self-criticize is limited.

Asked if he could cite an example “of a time when someone was critical of you and you thought to yourself, I deserved that hit, I deserved that column,” Trump said, “No, probably I could never do that.”

Aaron Rupar

POSTSCRIPT:

White House says Yemen raid that killed Navy SEAL ‘is a successful …

A timeline of events on how the controversial Navy SEAL raid on Yemen was planned and carried out

How Donald Trump’s first military action went from the Obama White House to deadly raid – CNN

U.S. Politics

What a Mix-Up

Warren Beatty, center, shows the card reading Best Film Moonlight after mistakingly reading La La Land initially at the 89th Oscars, on Feb. 26, 2017 in Hollywood, Calif.

Mark Ralston—AFP/Getty Images

TIME

The Oscars ended with one of the biggest shocks in its history: The producers of La La Land accepted their statues for the prize of Best Picture, only to be told that the honor was in fact supposed to go to Moonlight

U.S. Politics

Trump’s first month of travel expenses cost taxpayers just less than what Obama spent in a year

CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

THINK PROGRESS

Aaron Rupar

Meanwhile, his budget proposal cuts programs for poor people.

On Monday, President Trump will return to Washington, D.C. from his private Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, where he’s spent the last three weekends.

The Washington Post reports that those three trips “probably cost the federal treasury about $10 million, based on figures used in an October government report analyzing White House travel, including money for Coast Guard units to patrol the exposed shoreline and other military, security and staffing expenses associated with moving the apparatus of the presidency.”

So far, the highlight of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago trips has been him and his aides struggling to deal with an international crisis in full view of diners and staff during the evening of February 11.

The three Mar-a-Lago getaways, combined with the hundreds of thousands of public dollars spent on Secret Service protection during two international trips Trump’s adult sons have taken to promote their father’s business, cost taxpayers about $11.3 million over the first month’s of Trump’s presidency, according to the UK-based Independent. President Obama, by contrast, spent an average of $12.1 million on travel each year.

It wasn’t even a year ago that Trump was complaining about taxpayers “paying a fortune for the use of Air Force One.”

It was a theme Trump returned to often during the Obama years.

Trump’s decision to spend three consecutive weekends at his “southern White House” stands in contrast to what he promised during the campaign, when he said he’d “rarely leave the White House.”

“I would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done,” Trump told a reporter in 2015. “I would not be a president who took vacations. I would not be a president that takes time off… You don’t have time to take time off.”

While in Florida on Sunday, Trump, who repeatedly criticized Obama for playing golf while president, enjoyed his sixth golf outing during his first month as president. On Monday, the White House admitted to misleading reporters about the amount of golf Trump played during his 18-hole excursion with pro golfer Rory McIlroy:

Taxpayers are also on the hook for protecting First Lady Melania Trump, who has decided to continue living in New York City. According to the Post, police officials estimate the annual cost of guarding Trump Tower could be as high as $183 million.

Trump stands to benefit from all these taxpayers expenses. In order to have constant access to the commander-in-chief, the military is forced to rent space in Trump Tower at a taxpayer cost estimated to be $1.5 million annually, with the money lining the Trump family’s pockets. Relocating the executive branch to Mar-a-Lago each weekend raises the profile of the club and encourages people to pay for the access a $200,000 membership provides. And the Trump sons’ international business trips generate free publicity for the Trump Organization, while their appearances at the White House reinforce the message that doing business with them is a way to gain access to their father.

While Trump spent millions in taxpayer dollars on travel during his first month in office, his team put together a budget proposal that would cut cultural institutions and important services for poor people.

The proposal would eliminate “longstanding conservative targets like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, AmeriCorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities,” the New York Times reports. “Most of the programs cost under $500 million annually, a pittance for a government that is projected to spend about $4 trillion this year.”

U.S. Politics

One of the only black people in Trump’s team has been fired for criticizing Trump

Shermichael Singleton, second from right in this picture from a NewsOne Now panel discussion with director Spike Lee, was reportedly fired on Wednesday over past criticisms of President Trump for which he had already apologized. CREDIT: Rodney Choice/AP Images for TV One

THINK PROGRESS

A senior adviser to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was suddenly fired Wednesday, apparently because the White House discovered he had criticized President Donald Trump.

Shermichael Singleton, 26, had worked on Carson’s own presidential bid in 2016 before joining the administration. In the closing weeks of the election, Singleton wrote an op-ed critical of Trump in which he blasted the then-nominee’s rhetoric toward black voters as “a coded message from an era in our history that should stay in the past.”

Singleton had already “answered a number of questions regarding the article and expressed remorse for the piece and support for Mr. Trump” prior to assuming his HUD position in January, the New York Times reports. But administration staff hadn’t finished his background check and “this week, Mr. Trump’s advisers turned up” the op-ed and some related tweets, according to the Times.

Singleton, who the Huffington Post notes is “one of the few black Republicansin the Trump administration,” told the Times he could not discuss the circumstances of his abrupt firing.

Security guards reportedly escorted Carson’s aide out of the HUD building Wednesday.

The decision reinforces President Trump’s long-standing image as a thin-skinned manager for whom personal loyalty is at least as important as a person’s qualifications for a job. A week earlier, Trump made a similar call in rescinding plans to appoint pardoned war criminal Elliott Abrams to a senior State Department post after the president discovered Abrams had criticized him online last year.

Singleton’s case is more likely to do damage. Carson is a neurosurgeon just beginning a job managing a large suite of housing policy programs. Trump’s team has deprived him of a trusted staffer, apparently in order to preserve the president’s ego.

Alan Pyke

U.S. Politics

The Americans, season 5, episode 1

 

Paul Manafort (center) is accused of talking with Russian intelligence during the campaign.

Brooks Kraft/Getty Images

VOX SENTENCES (from my inbox)

  • There are roughly three distinct scandals regarding the relationship between the Trump administration and the Russian government (Russia’s alleged attempts to intervene in the election to help Trump; calls between ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak; and rumored blackmail material Russia might have on Trump). They’re rapidly metastasizing into one. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • Most recently, the New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump campaign officials had repeated contact with Russian intelligence officials during the presidential campaign — which is not something that presidential campaigns typically do with foreign countries’ intelligence services. [NYT / Michael S. Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti, and Matt Apuzzo]
  • There’s no evidence that they discussed Russia’s involvement in the campaign. That’s plausible because so many members of Trump’s inner circle had preexisting relationships with Russian officials. Which itself raises a lot of questions. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • Flynn, for example, could have been freelancing when he hinted to Kislyak that Trump would lift sanctions on Russia. But he also could have been in contact with Trump on the subject, or even acting on Trump’s direction. The point is we don’t know for sure. [The Atlantic / Uri Friedman]
  • The Trump administration, of course, claims no one but Flynn had any involvement. But since they can’t keep their stories straight about what happened to Flynn — press secretary Sean Spicer claims he lost Trump’s trust, while Trump himself praised Flynn and blamed government leakers for his ouster — it is not clear that the administration should be believed. [Vox / Tara Golshan]
  • Trump (and Flynn) isn’t entirely wrong. The anti-Trump leaks are definitely motivated, at least in part, by people in the intelligence services trying to rein Trump in. It’s just that the intelligence community is totally outplaying the White House. [Foreign Policy / Marc Ambinder]
  • The irony is that as all this is happening, the Trump administration’s actual policy toward Russia isn’t softening much. It’s now calling for Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine — something Russia has absolutely no intention of doing. [Reuters / Ayesha Rascoe]
  • Russia, for its part, is sending Atlantic spy ships farther north and closer to the US than ever before. [CNN / Ryan Browne and Barbara Starr]