Power Struggles, Intrigue & Changes at The White House!

On April 6,  The New York Times ran excerpts from Donald Trump’s interview with reporters Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush in the Oval Office.  His first interview had taken place at the Times offices early in his administration with the publisher and reporters asking a broad range of provocative questions. It had been available verbatim on tape for readers to pursue  The second setting gave the president a chance to be in charge, sitting behind the massive desk where he has  been signing  his raft of executive orders for weeks.  Flanked by his favorite gold drapes , Trump’s demeanor was described by Haberman on cable news as  “at ease, comfortable and in good spirits.”

Every interested citizen knows the president’s habits: Watching very early morning TV on Fox News. Scanning certain newspapers for headlines that catch his eye.  Responding by Twitter to pertinent subjects  without advisers’ feedback .  Some of his tweets have brought long lasting coverage by the news media.  Perhaps the most startling tweets came on March 4 when he accused President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower.  A month later, those unproven and widely denounced tweets still have not been withdrawn nor apologized for by the White House.

Trump’s current approval rating has sunk to 35 percent according to the latest Quinnipac poll.  He has suffered two major defeats: In the courts, where his Muslim Travel Bans are stalled, and in Congress, where The  House of Representatives failed to Repeal and Replace ObamaCare.  Perhaps, that’s why he agreed to the interview in the Oval Office, to project confidence and authority in the majestic setting.  Another reason may be the latest stories about chaos, power struggles and intrigue within the White House. For months,  reporters and cable TV panels discussed who was in and who was out among the Inner Circle.  Who had immediate access to the Oval Office: Vice President Pence.  Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff.  Stephen Bannon, chief strategist,  Jared Kushner, son-in-law and daughter Ivanka Trump.  Both family members have been elevated to ‘senior adviser’ and ‘assistant’ respectively with offices in the West Wing.  In the early weeks, it was evident that Trump wanted  Ivanka to be present when foreign leaders met with him for policy discussions.  His latest decision that Jared Kushner head key areas was a stunning assignment for a 36 year old man without government experience.  When Kushner joined the mission to Iraq this past week before Secretary of State Tillerson, it showed how much trust Trump placed in him.  He had already chosen Kushner to solve the deadlock between the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as supervising Veterans Affairs and other important challenges.

On March 4,  “Breaking News” was the removal of Stephen Bannon from the National Security Council, and the cabinet level “principals committee”.  Bannon had written himself onto the Council in the early weeks after the Inauguration.  He had also removed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence from the N.S.C. , demoted to sitting in when issues involved them.  When Lt. General H.R. McMaster became National Security Adviser after Mike Flynn was fired, he made the decision to remove Stephen Bannon and restore the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and director of national intelligence.

Bannon has been a controversial figure since he joined the Trump White House during the campaign.  He is known as Svengali with his combative alt-right style and Breitbart history of advocating “deconstruction of the administrative state”.   Bannon has been instrumental in selecting cabinet secretaries whose aim is to “destroy their departments”.  These included The Environmental Protection Agency,  Health and Human Services, Education, and Housing and Urban Development.   Bannon’s aim is to reduce or eliminate federal regulations in all agencies. He would liberate Wall Street from Dodd Frank regulations that protect American consumers, and The E.P.A. from clean air and clean water regulations that date back to the Federal Acts that established these protections decades ago.

Leaks from the White House revealed that Trump held Bannon responsible for the two Muslim Bans breakdowns in federal courts, and the collapse of the Health Care Repeal and Replace bill in the House of Representatives. When he sent Bannon to the House to rally the Freedom Caucus, Bannon threatened them to “Vote Yes or you will be stuck with Obamacare!”  That approach resulted in Speaker Paul Ryan coming to the White House the next day to persuade Trump to pull the bill rather than face the public embarrassment of a large negative vote. There had been another person allied to Bannon that General Mc Master had wanted to remove from office,  Ezra Cohen-Watnik, 30 year old senior director for intelligence programs.  That has not happened. Also close to Bannon is Sebastian Gorka, counterterrorism adviser, who founded an extreme right-wing party In Hungary in 2007.

Epilogue: When Trump decided to launch the”proportional” Tomahawk missile strike on Syria as punishment for President Assad gassing  Syrian men, women and children,  he and his top advisers were shown gathered at a long table at the southern White House in Florida.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other cabinet members were there as well as certain key advisors.  Jared Kushner was there.  Behind the table, in a corner sat a few others.  Among them was Stephen Bannon.

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Joyce S. Anderson

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