May 15, 2019

DONALD WHO?:

Ignoring Trump's Orders, Hoping He'll Forget: Slow-walking or flat-out disobeying Trump's fleeting obsessions has become common practice across various sectors of government. (ELAINA PLOTT, 5/15/19, The Atlantic)

On March 29, during a weekend jaunt to Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump announced a major policy decision that surprised top-ranking officials within several government agencies. The United States was cutting off aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, the president said. Never mind that Trump lacked the authority to unilaterally scrap and redirect the funds in question; his decision was sure to please supporters such as Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who had previously argued that one of the only ways to stop the "border crush" is to threaten a "foreign aid cut-off."

Stunned State Department officials hurried to put together a statement that evening. The letter promised to "[carry] out the president's direction and [end] FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle. We will be engaging Congress as part of this process." A similar situation played out in January 2017, when U.S. Customs and Border Protection was sent into a frenzy trying to implement Trump's Muslim ban seven days after he took office.

A month and a half has passed since the president's Central America announcement, and according to lawmakers and aides, the administration is not advancing the issue. Senator Patrick Leahy, who serves as the ranking member of the subcommittee that funds foreign aid, told me that this was the inevitable result of an "impulsive and illogical" decision by the president. "It caught the State Department and USAID by surprise, and they have been scrambling to figure out how to limit the damage it would cause," Leahy said.

"We have heard nothing so far," a senior Democratic official on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which must sign off on any funds that State wants to reallocate, told me. "What money are we talking about? For what purposes? What's the timeline for this? It's been weeks now, and we've asked multiple times, and we know nothing." (The State Department did not respond to my request for comment.)

In the Trump White House a month and a-half is more like a lifetime, meaning that many officials, voters, and reporters--not to mention Trump himself--have long since moved on from the momentary chaos. (Indeed, one outside adviser to the president's 2020 campaign told me he didn't even recall that Trump had pledged to cut off the aid.)

This routine has both drawbacks and benefits for the president. But for American taxpayers and citizens of other countries, the effects can be devastating. By impulsively announcing a policy, Trump often harms his chances of actually seeing it brought to life, given a directive's typical lack of vetting. But because so much of the news cycle is driven by Trump's off-the-cuff statements and tweets--and not necessarily the follow-through--his supporters are often left with the image of a president who has, in fact, slashed aid to Central America, even if the money is still flowing into the three countries in question. (It is.) As one senior Trump-campaign official told me last week, the president's appeal is about "the fight," not "the resolution."

It's the best of both worlds; the Trumpbots are satisfied that he's done stuff while the Deep State renders him a nullity.

Posted by at May 15, 2019 4:20 AM

  

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