Political News

What's the message? Trump's theme week fumbles

Posted July 27

The White House has a new communications director in Anthony Scaramucci, but the man who drives the administration's messaging has always worked from the Oval Office.

President Donald Trump has undermined all manner of Washington norms during his six months on the job. Often it's by design. He was elected on a promise to upend (and upset) the ruling class. But the strategy has its setbacks. Presidential tweetstorms have a way of washing out even the most carefully choreographed policy campaigns.

When the White House communications shop began unveiling theme weeks in the spring, the idea was to draw attention to broad economic issues like jobs and infrastructure. And, perhaps just as importantly, they would draw attention away from the Russia probes that have consumed Trump and so many news cycles.

But these familiar ploys -- which look more and more like anachronisms in the social media era -- have wilted in the shadow of the President and his Twitter account.

American Heroes Week

On Wednesday morning, the President turned "American Heroes Week" (happening now) into a punchline with a series of unusually official-sounding tweets asking that Americans "please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow ... Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military."

The decision to ban transgender Americans from serving in the armed forces -- between 1,320 and 6,630 already do, according to a recent study -- caught congressional defense committees by surprise. That it came during a week the White House said was dedicated to "celebrating and honoring our brave military service members and veterans, law enforcement officers, first responders, and workers" only amplified the controversy.

As it stands, here are this week's dominant headlines -- from before Wednesday morning's bombshell.

Trump keeps up attacks on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, usually via Twitter: Trump rips Sessions, even as AG attends White House meeting ... Trump 'disappointed' in Sessions, won't say if he wants him out The Russia probe hits home as son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner goes to Capitol Hill: Kushner contradicts Trump team's denials of Russia contacts Senate Republicans successfully push ahead with their controversial (and mysterious) health care overhaul plan: Health care debate: Senate votes on full Obamacare repeal ... John McCain returns to Senate, casts vote to advance health care bill

Made in America Week

How the White House summed it up: "The President dedicated this week to highlighting and engaging businesses across the country, expanding partnerships and products made within our borders. 'Made in America Week' demonstrated President Trump's commitment to better the shared American experience, and to unite a common pride in our country."

And here are the headlines that actually defined the week:

Trump does a long interview with The New York Times, covering everything from his frustrations with Sessions to just how much French president Emmanuel Macron "loves holding my hand": President Trump's 35 most eye-popping quotes in his interview with the New York Times With Senate Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare on the ropes, Trump offers a variety of conflicting prescriptions: Trump: 'We'll let Obamacare fail' ... Trump to GOP senators: 'Inaction is not an option' ... Donald Trump just tweeted 2 totally contradictory solutions to the health care collapse Sean Spicer resigns as White House press secretary after Trump hires Anthony Scaramucci to be the new communications director: Trump's staff shakeup signals a White House ready for battle

Energy Week

On June 27, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry previewed the week to come: "The Trump administration will bring together state, tribal, business, labor -- all together, one room -- happily sitting down and discussing how we're going to go forward, what the path forward is for US energy dominance."

This also happened (before and after Perry's remarks):

Not to be outdone by his predecessor, Trump reminds Fox News he was the first one to describe the House health care bill, which he celebrated upon passage, as "mean." Senate GOP fails to reach a deal on their version before July 4 recess as the CBO score lands with a thud: Trump confirms he called health care bill 'mean' ... No GOP deal on health care expected this week as Senate leaves town ... 22 million fewer Americans insured under Senate GOP bill A request for detailed voter information by Trump's fraud commission sets off fierce backlash from the states ("They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico," was the response from Mississippi's Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann): Pence-Kobach voting commission alarms states with info request Trump launches an attack against MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski: Trump tweets shocking assault on Brzezinski, Scarborough ... Delegitimizing his presidency, one tweet at a time

Technology Week

The White House blog's recap begins: "This week was Technology Week at the White House, and the Trump Administration held events focusing on modernizing government technology and stimulating the technology sector."

Here's what else you might remember:

The Senate GOP plan to gut Obamacare, written in secret, gets its debut. A couple days later, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller takes a stand -- temporarily, at least -- against it, calling any suggestion the bill would lower premiums a "lie": Senate GOP finally unveils secret health care bill; currently lacks votes to pass ... Heller won't back Senate GOP health care bill

More than a month after first suggesting in a tweet that he had secret "tapes" of fired former FBI director James Comey, Trump reveals that, nope, he never did: Trump: I did not make recordings of Comey ... Trump ends his self-made crisis where it started: Twitter

The President puts pen to paper on a bipartisan measure empowering the Department of Veterans Affairs more leeway to dismiss employees for misconduct while offering new protections for whistleblowers: Trump signs VA reform bill, making good on a campaign promise

Workforce Development Week

Another round of scrappy political drama came to a grinding halt on the morning of June 14, when a gunman opened fire on the Republican congressional baseball team as it practiced in Alexandria, Virginia. Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, was shot and nearly died. One staffer, a lobbyist, and two Capitol Police officers were also wounded.

The alleged shooter, identified as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois, was killed on the scene following a shootout with authorities. Trump visited the hospital that night and, 24 hours later, there was bipartisan baseball at Nationals Stadium in Washington.

Two days before the shooting, the White House welcomed what was supposed to be "Workforce Development Week" with a brief statement touting the involvement of "Secretaries Alexander Acosta and Betsy DeVos, along with the President's daughter Ivanka Trump and Reed Cordish with the Office of American Innovation," and a push to expand apprenticeships.

But the plan was quickly overtaken by a pair of Russia-related developments:

Trump pal Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax Media, tells "PBS NewsHour" on Monday night that Trump might sack Robert Mueller, the special counsel in charge of the Russia investigation. The White House denies this, but Ruddy tells CNN, "My quote is accurate.": Trump's friend Christopher Ruddy says President 'considering' firing Mueller ... Why Chris Ruddy floated the idea of firing Bob Mueller ... Trump friend: Mueller 'illegitimate as special counsel' Attorney General Jeff Sessions gets grilled for details at a Senate intelligence committee hearing on the Trump campaign's alleged Russia ties. Republicans there kick off a separate furor by interrupting California Sen. Kamala Harris mid-question, again.: Jeff Sessions: Russia collusion claim 'detestable lie' ... Once again, senators try to cut off Kamala Harris

Infrastructure Week

By the time Trump cut the tape on Infrastructure Week in early June, by announcing plans to privatize the nation's air traffic control control system and open up "a great new era in American aviation," the White House narrative had already been overwhelmed by the President's tweets:

On the evening of Saturday, June 3, three attackers targeted pedestrians on London Bridge, and then at a nearby market, in the British capital. Eight people would die from their wounds and nearly 50 others were injured. Trump responds almost immediately by criticizing London Mayor Sadiq Khan and railing against the US courts for holding up his travel ban: Trump's terror tweets make a statement ... Trump never forgets a slight. Now his team is trolling the mayor of London. ... Trump says he's calling it a 'travel ban' And then there was James Comey. The fired former FBI director testified about his dismissal and interactions with Trump during a Senate intelligence committee hearing that Thursday. In the tense run-up an outside pro-Trump group attacks Comey and Eric Trump says Democrats in DC are "not even people." Comey's opening remarks are released a day ahead of time at his request, guaranteeing nearly two straight days of coverage. Once sworn in, he repeatedly calls the President a "liar" as Donald Trump Jr. attacks him on Twitter: Blockbuster Capitol Hill hearings that made the whole country stop ... James Comey hoped leak would lead to special counsel on Russia ... James Comey has called Donald Trump a liar 5 times today ... His father quiet, Donald Trump Jr. live-tweets Comey

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