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She arrived at the East Front of the Capitol at not quite 20 minutes past 10 a.m. in a pantsuit of the softest cream, smiling gamely and waving to onlookers. She ignored a reporter’s shouted question about how it felt to be there, but off camera, some among the panelists and anchors on CNN could be heard chuckling at the excruciating obviousness of the query.
And just a half hour later, Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared at the top of the passageway leading to the inaugural platform, a mute witness to a moment of history she had prayed would never happen. As she and her husband made their way through the VIP crowd to their seats, still smiling, someone called out, “We’re here for you!”
If it was Clinton’s unhappy task to sit just behind and to the left of Donald Trump as he took the oath of office as the 45th president, she bore it with her usual stoicism and cast-iron discipline, despite a smattering of boos when her name was announced. “I am here today to honor our democracy and its enduring values,” her Twitter account declared. “I will never stop believing in our country & its future.”
Clinton may have been relegated to the mere status of “The Honorable” former secretary of state and senator, while Trump took what she had hoped would be her place as the leader of the free world. But she was far from the only loser in presidential history forced to stand by as the winner was sworn in. Just 24 years ago today, George H.W. Bush surrendered his office to Bill Clinton, who had won only a plurality of the vote after a hard-fought and often bitter campaign.
It was a measure of the cycles of history, and of the strange bedfellows that politics can make, that the friendliest faces on the platform for Bill and Hillary Clinton on Friday may well have been their seatmates: George and Laura Bush, the two couples united not only by the mystic bonds of the former presidents’ club but by their families’ mutual and well-established disdain for Trump. The affection between them was visible in small gestures: Bill Clinton’s hand on Laura’s shoulder as they walked through the Capitol, Hillary’s arm around George’s back.
As rain spattered the platform, Hillary Clinton joined the comparatively small and sad ranks of vanquished candidates in open presidential races in modern times who have been compelled to stand by as their rivals took power: Richard Nixon in 1961, Hubert Humphrey in 1969, Al Gore in 2001. Nixon alone had experienced both sides of the equation, watching John F. Kennedy take the oath in 1961, and taking the job that Humphrey wanted eight years later.
“I think maybe you should deliver my address today, Hubert,” Nixon told Humphrey as he arrived at the White House for the ceremonial ride to Capitol Hill with Lyndon Johnson, trying to “keep the mood light,” he remembered.
“That’s what I had planned to do, Dick,” Humphrey replied.
In his memoirs, Nixon would recall, “I remembered from 1961 how painful this ceremony could be for a man who had lost a close election, and I was touched by Humphrey’s graceful show of good humor.”
Graceful good humor was not always the order of business on Friday. At least one stray shout of “Lock her up!” could be heard on television after Vice President Mike Pence took the oath.
But by the standards of history, the ceremonial ritual was civil enough. After all, John Adams and Andrew Johnson boycotted their successors’ inaugurals altogether. In 1953, Dwight Eisenhower refused even to get out of his car as he met Harry Truman at the White House, and in 1981, the younger Ron Reagan told reporters he would refuse to shake Jimmy Carter’s hand because the outgoing president had “the morals of a snake.”
If the look on Clinton’s face sometimes suggested she might rather be taking a walk in the woods in Chappaqua, she endured the scrutiny of the pool cameras with resolute dignity all the same. If Trump did not take a page from such past winners as Carter and George W. Bush by paying tribute to his vanquished opponent in his inaugural address, Clinton was at least spared the inevitable reaction shot, which could have forced her to look grateful, whether she felt so or not.
In advance of the ceremony, Clinton loyalists made no secret of the discomfort and sense of dislocation she still feels at her loss. Some wondered whether they should live-Tweet critical commentary of Trump’s speech. In the end, they settled for silence, which itself spoke volumes.
As the ceremony ended, and Trump made his way down the front row of the platform, shaking hands with Barack Obama and justices of the Supreme Court, he came within inches of Clinton herself. But they never made contact or shook hands; a massive Secret Service agent stood guard between them. It seemed a missed opportunity, but perhaps a fitting image for a deeply divided day.
But later, at the congressional luncheon in Statuary Hall, Trump could be seen vigorously pumping Clinton's hand, and mouthing the words, "Thank you," repeatedly. It was surely the least he could do.
In an unabashedly populist inaugural address, President Donald Trump hammered the established Washington order and sold himself as the voice of the “forgotten men and women,” and a redeemer to a country he described in strikingly dark tones.
His promise: “This American carnage stops right here and right now.”
As he stood among members of Congress, past presidents and Supreme Court justices, Trump differentiated himself from his new peers. The first man to become president without previously holding elected office or high military rank, Trump said his inauguration would be remembered as “the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”
It was a scorching 16-minute speech that offered a distilled vision of the radical departure from tradition that he promised voters. “The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country,” Trump said. “Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs, and while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes, starting right here and right now.”
There were brief moments of rhetorical flourish—“a new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights and heal our divisions”—but more common throughout was Trump using the red-hot rhetoric he was known for on the campaign trail. He even ended it the same way he concluded nearly all of his rallies, with a crescendo that led to his slogan, “We will ‘Make America Great Again.’”
Trump, who at times struggled during the campaign to stick to prepared text scrolling on teleprompters, hewed closely to a script on Friday that described a struggling country in almost apocalyptic terms. He delivered the speech slowly and with deliberate hand gestures.
Trump spoke of “mothers and children trapped in poverty,” “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones,” “the crime and the gangs and the drugs” and a state of infrastructure in “disrepair and decay.” “The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world,” he said.
The ominous descriptions of the state of the union don’t line up with the reality lived by many Americans after years of steady, if slow, economic growth and a low unemployment rate that has dipped below 5 percent. But those same words helped Trump tap into the unease and anxiety of working-class voters that propelled him to a surprise victory in November.
With Trump’s swearing-in, Republicans now control both the legislative and executive branches of government. But his opening speech was notably short on promises of traditional small-government conservatism.
Trump spoke of few policy specifics—he left unmentioned entirely President Obama’s signature health care law that he has vowed to unravel in his first months—and he was particularly impassioned about investing in infrastructure.
“We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels, and railways, all across our wonderful nation,” Trump said, a Democratic priority more than a Republican one. “What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people,” Trump said.
The speech was unapologetically anti-globalist and inward-looking, another break from the GOP tradition of a more muscular and international vision of American power. And it had the fingerprints of Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, and Steven Miller, his top speechwriter and senior policy adviser, all over it.
“We will follow two simple rules: buy American, and hire American,” Trump said at one point. “We've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military,” he said at another.
“This day forward it’s going to be America First,” he said, repeating another campaign-trail slogan. “America First.”
Democrats girded to form a resistance to Trump from the very start, as Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) delivered a quasi-prebuttal to Trump’s inaugural from the same microphone. “Every day we stand up for core democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution—the rule of law, equal protection for all under law, the fredom of speech, press, religion. The things that make America America.”
At the stroke of noon, as Trump finished the oath of office, sworn with his hand on two Bibles—one from his childhood and one from Abraham Lincoln—Trump’s team took control of the federal government. Trump, fittingly, had kicked off Inauguration Day with an all-caps tweet, “THE MOVEMENT CONTINUES - THE WORK BEGINS!”
In his speech, Trump did not directly address constructing a wall along America’s southern border—the linchpin promise of his nationalist campaign—but he did say the days when America “defended other nation's borders while refusing to defend our own” were now over.
And he sought to define the border in terms of both immigration and the economy.
“We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” Trump said. “Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”
Trump, who has record-low approval ratings for a new president, tied himself to some non-ideological and more broadly shared goals: “Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.”
But he also used some violent language that is unusual for such a national address. He cited “radical Islamic terrorism,” which he declared “we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.” And he said, “We all bleed the same red blood of patriots.”
After his speech, Trump retreated for the West front of the Capitol inside to formally sign the paperwork to nominate his Cabinet—which will be filled with more billionaires and multi-millionaires than any before it. But in his speech, Trump promised his government would be all about those struggling and left behind. “We are transferring power from Washington D.C. and giving it back to you the people,” Trump declared.
President Donald Trump's full inaugural address remarks.
Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans, and people of the world, thank you. We the citizens of America are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people. Together we will determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come. We will face challenges. We will confront hardships, but we will get the job done.
Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent. Thank you.
Today's ceremony, however, has very special meaning, because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.
For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government, while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs, and while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes, starting right here and right now, because this moment is your moment --- it belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today, and everyone watching, all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration, and this, the United States of America, is your country.
What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country, will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction, that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public, but for too many of our citizens a different reality exists. Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories, scattered like tombstones across the across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge, and the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
We are one nation and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny. The oath of office, I take today, is an oath of allegiance to all Americans. For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We've defended other nation's borders while refusing to defend our own. And spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas, while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We've made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon. One by one, the factories shuddered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.
But that is the past, and now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today our issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power, from this day forward: a new vision will govern our land, from this day forward, it's going to be only America first. America first.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never, ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before. We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth, and we will bring back our dreams. We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels, and railways, all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
We will follow two simple rules: buy American, and hire American. We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones, and you unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us, how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear. We are protected, and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.
Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving. We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action. Do not allow anyone to tell you that it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.
We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease and to harness the industries and technologies of tomorrow. A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights and heal our divisions. It's time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black, or brown, or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots. We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same, great American flag. And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.
So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean, hear these words. You will never be ignored again. Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love, will forever guide us along the way. Together, we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again We will make America safe again, And yes, together, we will make we will make America great again. Thank you. God bless you. And god bless America. Thank you. God bless America.
The Donald Trump era might be unpredictable, but it’s tailor-made for Americans with short attention spans.
Under a gray sky that opened up into rain as he began to speak, Donald Trump’s first words to the American people as President of the United States were delivered in a punchy, populist, 16-minute-short campaign rallying cry-turned-inaugural address that wrapped up as he pumped his fist in the air in victory and vowed to “Make America Great Again."
If it was short on policy, the address was long on gloomy motifs like "American carnage"—a stark contrast to President Obama's first inaugural address eight years ago, when he told the huge crowd: "We gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."
Trump was relying on the same broad-stroke, fear-based ideas and staccato delivery that got him to the White House—a sign that Americans are actually getting the showman they voted for.
Trump's personal Twitter feed immediately filled up with highlights from the speech (“BUY AMERICAN & HIRE AMERICAN") while his new, government @POTUS account remained silent and bare—an early sign that Trump plans to keep being himself even as he occupies the role of commander-in-chief.
His son Donald Trump Jr. promised that Trump is taking in all the gravity of the day, and the duty he now carries. “He’s been humbled by the whole process,” Trump Jr. told MSNBC. “And you know, whether he shows that outwardly or not is, you know, is one thing."
Here are five takeaways from Trump’s sui generis Inauguration Day.
There is no pivot. He didn’t become “more presidential” when he clinched the Republican nomination. And he didn’t discover an off-ramp to the high road after he won the election last November in the upset of a lifetime. If you punched him during the transition, the president-elect still punched back. But what happened on Friday makes it official: vintage Trump is presidential Trump.
The goal of an inauguration speech, particularly after a divisive election like the bleak one of 2016, is typically to unite the country. But there was nothing in Trump’s address to appeal to the majority of Americans who voted against him—just one utterance of the word “unity” and nothing about “coming together.” His comments about “the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential” were ripped from his campaign playbook, and a reaffirmation of his core message, which has been heavily based in fear.
Trump may moderate some positions (see: famed wall becoming possible fence; a vow to create “insurance for everybody”). But there should be no more doubts that the 70-year-old—who famously trusts his gut and has turned himself into a success story even when he has failed—is going to keep being the only person he knows how to be.
Trump is still saying he’ll drain the swamp. Trump framed his inaugural address in us-against-them terms, pitting hardworking Americans versus the Washington establishment. “For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government, while the people have borne the cost,” Trump said. “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.”
He vowed: “That all changes, starting right here and right now.”
In reality, Trump’s cabinet is made up of millionaires and billionaires, many of them poached from the top ranks and alumni lists at Goldman Sachs. These individuals have benefited from the system Trump’s pledged to overturn, and some are already vowing to cut the corporate tax rate.
Trump's power comes from the fact that Republican members of Congress are afraid of his angry base. The question is how long Trump’s base will stick with him if his policies don’t produce a dramatic improvement in their daily lives.
Crowd Size: Small. On Friday, the sea of red caps on the Mall celebrating Trump’s swearing-in didn’t stretch past the Smithsonian. Bleachers along the parade route from the Capitol to the White House sat empty. Despite Trump’s bragging that all the ball gowns in Washington, D.C. were sold out there were, in fact, dresses on the racks available, and there were plenty of vacant hotel rooms in the nation’s capital.
The 10,000-person crowd that came out for Thursday night’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial was a drop in the 400,000-person bucket that came out for President Obama’s concert eight years ago.
Size matters to Trump. And he’s back down to his most loyal base. The incoming president is entering office with a historically low approval rating—53 percent of Americans view him unfavorably, a troubling stat that Trump summarily dismissed on Twitter as “rigged.”
What he needs, badly, is a political win. “A win on the Hill will be enough to galvanize support,” said political strategist Stu Loeser, onetime press secretary to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “But the real precedent for bringing people together is leading with conviction after an attack on Americans. We should pray that Trump's chance looks more like Reagan's Grenada than Bush's 9/11.”
In the end, the most powerful Democrats showed up. Trump's Martin Luther King Day weekend disparagement on Twitter of civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who boycotted the inauguration, gave permission to many of Lewis' colleagues in Congress to follow suit. More than 60 Democratic House members stayed home.
But at the end of the day, the big names showed. Trump’s defeated Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was grinning and bearing the experience in her seat next to former President Bill Clinton. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and former DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) all showed up to support the peaceful transition of power and try to project a brave face of unity.
The only signs of dissent? A pin Pelosi wore on her lapel with the hashtag, #ProtectOurCare, a small, silent political message to the incoming president to save the Affordable Care Act. And a workmanlike speech from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, framing himself as a protector of Democratic values.
He bought the car. He owns it now. Reality comes at you fast. President Trump sat down Friday afternoon to sign three bills: he signed into law a bill that will allow retired Gen. James Mattis to serve as Defense Secretary; a proclamation for a national day of patriotism; as well as official documents sealing the deal that he is now president.
He might not stop talking about it anytime soon, but bragging about how he got the job will now have to come second to actually doing the job. And winning it might have been the fun part. Trump now occupies the most difficult job on earth, with no experience in governing.
But winning a campaign — essentially an 18-month long competitive reality show — bears little resemblance to actually being the president. Freestyling in front of an adoring stadium-sized crowd of supporters is a lot more fun than what’s on his plate now: North Korea close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could target America with a nuclear weapon abroad; the ambitious goal of repealing and replacing Obamacare at home. Inaugurations are about pomp and pageantry, peaceful transfers of power and celebration.
After the balls, the party's over. He's in that office alone, with a heavier burden to carry than he’s used to.
An alarm rang in the hangar at Joint Base Andrews as the giant doors started sliding open. Behind them was the distinctive blue and white 747, now no longer Air Force One. Barack Obama and Michelle Obama finished their hugs and walked up the stairs together, now no longer president and first lady.
“Michelle and I have really been milking this goodbye thing,” Obama had acknowledged a few minutes earlier, to the 1,800 staffers and their families, including most former members of his Cabinet, who’d leapt to their feet as soon as the helicopter briefly known as Executive One appeared in the sky and a woman in the bleachers called out, “There he is!”
“It behooves me to be very brief,” the former president said.
“No!” shouted the crowd.
“Yes, yes,” Obama said.
Looking out for the last time at the faces of the people who’d been working for him every day at the White House, at the precise moment that President Donald Trump was signing his first executive orders, Obama urged them not to lose the hope they’d had in him.
“This is just a little pit stop. This is not a period, this is a comma in the continuing story of building America,” he said.
They’d been waiting for hours. There were no television screens to watch the inauguration. A few watched on their phones and started a short “Yes We Can” cheer at the moment Trump took the oath of office. “It’ll all be OK — eventually,” one young staffer said to another.
About 10 minutes into Trump’s inaugural address, a man suddenly appeared on the stage and led the crowd in singing the national anthem. “Louder!” he called out as they reached, “Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave …”
“Our democracy is not the buildings. It’s not the monuments. It’s you,” Obama said when he arrived, not speaking from prepared remarks, he and his wife still in their overcoats, as he briefly recalled the people who’d been with him since 2008 and made certain that his campaign “was infused with a sense of hope.”
“We could not be prouder of you. I could not be prouder,” Obama said. “And we look forward to continuing this journey with all of you. And I can’t wait to see what you do next. I promise you, I’ll be right there with you.”
A lot had changed in the four hours since Obama walked out of the Oval Office for the last time, acknowledging some nostalgia, leaving some papers on the desk which seemed to include the traditional letter each president leaves for the next. He’d walked back along the colonnade one last time and headed to the State Dining Room, where White House chief usher Angella Reid and White House curator Bill Allman did the traditional presentation of the flags that flew over the White House the first day the Obamas arrived in 2009 and on Thursday, Obama’s last full day as president.
Reid, according to people present, joked that they’d now be entitled to their security deposit back.
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, arrived, and the two couples stayed talking for a few minutes, until Trump and Vice President Mike Pence arrived with their wives, then headed out to greet their successors.
Before they left for the inaugural ceremony, the Obamas and the Bidens slipped upstairs one last time to the residence on the second floor for a few minutes, just the four of them.
Back downstairs, they said their goodbyes to the house staff, and stepped into their limousines for Obama’s final ride as president.
Obama listened as Trump gave an inaugural address that was in large part an indictment of his presidency, eyes closed at one point, but staring intently forward for most of it. He walked with Trump out of the Capitol and down to the helicopter waiting to take him to Andrews and shook his successor’s hand. As Obama turned to first lady Melania Trump, the new president gave Michelle Obama — whose facial expressions through the day, from when she received the Trumps’ gift in a Tiffany blue box, to her reactions at the ceremony, quickly launched a thousand internet memes — a kiss on both cheeks, pulling her in twice for last things to say.
On Thursday, those Obama aides who were left at the White House spent their day on a scavenger hunt organized by chief of staff Denis McDonough. It included finding the scorch marks left from when the British burned the building in the war of 1812 and writing their names in permanent marker on the leftover tiles of the swimming pool that lies under what is now the White House briefing room.
Thursday night, the Obamas invited the couple of dozen staffers who remained to a final champagne toast in the State Dining Room to say thanks. The outgoing president spoke there, too, talking about the existential debate of whether individuals change history, or whether history happens and carries people along for the ride.
Teams change history, he told them he’s concluded, according to people in the room.
He turned to McDonough, calling him the team captain and thanking him for the culture he’d built in the White House, and started choking up. He thanked Tina Tchen, the outgoing first lady’s chief of staff, and Susan Rice, who ran his national security team.
He called the staff gathered there with him his family, people who’ve seen him and his wife in moments that were not their best, during moments of stress.
Then the Obamas led the staff up the stairs to the family residence, a part of the White House where few of even the closest aides have ever been. They let the staffers visit the the Treaty Room, the Yellow Oval and the Lincoln Bedroom. They got to walk out on the Truman Balcony and take photos.
Both Obamas stayed with them, talking for hours.
By the time it was all over Friday afternoon, Obama walked quickly to the stage at Joint Base Andrews, giving a quick high five to the son of press secretary Josh Earnest before taking his spot behind a lectern that for the first time in eight years didn’t bear the seal of the president of the United States.
He spoke for seven minutes, then joined his wife in shaking hands with the people pressed toward the front. He turned to the section where his senior staff was, grabbing his friend and former attorney general Eric Holder in a soul hug, giving another child one last fist bump and “blowing it up,” as he likes to do. Valerie Jarrett, his friend and closest aide, headed for the plane to join the Obamas on their brief vacation in California. One last hug for McDonough made the whole crowd cheer. Rice, another of Obama’s longest-serving aides and the one responsible for the nuclear briefing that was last handover of the national security apparatus to Trump on Friday morning, was in tears watching him go.
Representatives from all four branches of the military lined a red carpet laid out to the plane that for this one last flight has its call sign switched to Special Air Mission 28000.
Obama took his wife by the hand as they walked to the stairs. As they neared, he put his hand on the small of her back and led her up.
They turned for one final wave together.
Within minutes, the plane slowly pulled away.
Across Washington, people for days had asked a question: Would Donald J. Trump upend the usual inaugural process, bringing in a stunt or ploy in his typically unorthodox style? Would his team, which suffered a rocky transition and hasn't filled thousands of key jobs, be ready for an inauguration?
Trump basically hewed to the generations of traditions, while others in Washington misbehaved and wreaked chaos. And while there were long lines and fewer volunteers than four years ago, with a parade that seemed tame and anti-climactic after the campaign, the inauguration largely went off without a hitch.
While delivering a speech that was fiery and divisive — the words "American carnage" have never before been said in the inauguration address, along with a hodgepodge of other apocalyptic terms — he was often soft-spoken, quieter than normal and seemed in awe of the situation, according to people around him.
Like he played a billionaire on TV, he also seemed to be in script as a president from central casting — marching through the political orders with a confident stride, attending to the ceremonial functions, and seeming happier than usual, though the trademark scowl often persisted.
Trump showed up on time to church and sat through the service, flipping through the prayer book and mouthing along. Later, at the White House, the traditional tea between the outgoing and incoming presidents was cordial and friendly, by all accounts. His tweets were not incendiary; in fact, they weren't even written by him.
The two families were seen laughing throughout the day, even though Michelle Obama looked less than happy after the speech that repudiated much of her husband's legacy. Trump called the Obamas "magnificent" and stood for a while on the steps of the Capitol, waving earnestly for their helicopter to leave.
He led a round of applause and standing ovation for Hillary and Bill Clinton at a congressional lunch. "I have a lot of respect for those two people," Trump said. On the campaign trail, he had promised to throw Clinton in jail. He joked with Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who he has deemed the "head clown" on Twitter but privately likes.
"He knows how to play the role," one person close to him said. "He knows what his people want to hear, and he knows how to act."
There were some snafus along the way, and Trump's impulse to fire off a tweet may be tested by constant scrutiny of the crowd size. The National Mall was noticeably more empty than four years ago, with former President Barack Obama drawing far more people. Along the route, many of the parade stands were also largely empty. At times, it seemed more people were marching in the parade than watching it.
His preferred parade announcer got the names of the Supreme Court justices wrong. The microphone cut out on several occasions. His team had checkered contact with the Secret Service, according to several sources.
Yet his supporters often seemed to not be the ones causing problems. While some made lewd comments and carried signs calling for crude, inappropriate things -- one said "now grab your p---y and go home," a likening to Trump's infamous remark on tape, most were friendly and well-behaved. One Capitol police officer said he'd never received so many thank-yous.
Hundreds of protesters swarmed the Trump International Hotel, causing a stir all day, while others smashed windows in Northwest D.C., clogged an interstate and flipped over newspaper boxes and trash cans. A limousine was set on fire. Protesters tore up bike racks and threw bricks in the street.
It left a number of Democrats, who have actively opposed Trump, aghast that protesters would likely be lambasted on the national news — and that opposition to Trump would look violent and fiery, while he seemed calm and cerebral. About 100 people had been arrested by 5 p.m. according to the police department.
Trump, who stoked the protests with rhetoric that mischaracterized many of America's cities as horrible ruins, called for Muslims to be banned, and for Mexicans to be deported, surely delivered a fiery speech. His team promised to overhaul the government in the days to come in ways that are likely to spark fierce backlash.
Whether he is ready for the job is an open question that still troubles Democrats and Republicans alike, with his shifting positions, mercurial tendencies, governmental inexperience and organizational chaos.
But on his big day, he was the quiet one who caused little trouble. The "American carnage" in a largely quiet city had been caused by others, giving him an actual, real example of what he says happens all over.
After perhaps the most bruising presidential campaign in American history, one in which President Donald Trump labeled his opponent “crooked” and a “nasty woman,” the newly sworn-in commander in chief asked those in attendance at his inaugural luncheon on Friday to give Hillary Clinton a standing ovation.
“I was very honored — very, very honored — when I heard that President Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton was coming today and I think it’s appropriate to say and I’d like you to stand up. I’d like you to stand up,” he said, prompting a standing ovation for his 2016 rival.
“And honestly, there's nothing more I can say because I have a lot of respect for those two people, so thank you all for being here,” Trump added after a roughly 30-second standing ovation at the congressional luncheon in the Capitol building’s Statuary Hall.
Trump also chided Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) over the deliberate pace with which the incoming Cabinet secretaries have been confirmed. Many of Trump’s nominees, including Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos, Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Tom Price and Treasury Secretary-designate Steve Mnuchin, have been the subject of pointed questions from Senate Democrats during confirmation hearings, and Schumer said Friday that his caucus will not be a rubber stamp for Trump’s Cabinet.
“Even Chuck likes Gen. Mattis and Gen. Kelly,” Trump said, referring to James Mattis and John Kelly, retired generals whom the president has nominated to be his secretaries of defense and homeland security, respectively. “And we had a very interesting talk. Kiddingly, he thinks we're doing great at the Cabinet level but we're going to do just fine. We're going to do just fine.”
“We’ll be working very, very hard. Our Cabinet’s lined up and ready. I know eventually, Chuck’s going to approve them, I’m sure,” Trump said later, eliciting laughter from the room. “I really believe that. And we're all dealing together. We all want the same thing. We’re all good people, whether you're a Republican or Democrat, doesn't make any difference, we're going to get along.”
NEW YORK — Wall Street did not exactly celebrate President Donald Trump’s deeply populist inaugural address on Friday, with the stock market losing some of its early gains as the 45th president spoke darkly of “American carnage” and promised a new era of trade protectionism.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose about 100 points before Trump took the oath of office but began slipping as the new president promised to protect the country from foreign trade. That was a signal to investors that harsh rhetoric from the campaign trail could soon be policy reality.
“We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” Trump said. “Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”
The direct invocation of protectionism surprised some on Wall Street who expected a more uplifting message from the new president. Big companies that make up major stock market indices tend to benefit from free trade and could see their profits hurt by significant import tariffs.
More broadly, some analysts said Trump sounded more like he did during the campaign rather than as a unifying figure eager to start his tenure in the White House with a positive message.
“Overall, that was a more protectionist and nationalist speech than I expected,” said Megan Greene, chief economist at Manulife Asset Management. “Rather than unifying the country after one of the most divisive elections in U.S. history, he highlighted how bad things are in the U.S. economy and engaged in scaremongering, which was consistent with his campaign.
"Analysts have shuddered at countries using an ‘America First’ type slogan in Europe in the past, but in this new age it has become acceptable.”
The Dow was up about 80 points in late afternoon trading. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq were also just marginally higher.
Stocks initially soared after Trump’s surprise win in November on hopes for big tax cuts for companies and individuals and a fresh round of stimulus spending.
Industries likely to see significant regulatory relief under Trump, notably the banking and energy sectors, fared especially well. The dollar also initially soared following Trump’s win.
But those gains have slowed in recent days with the Dow staying stubbornly below the psychologically important 20,000 level. The dollar was little changed after the speech. Trump recently broke with longstanding tradition in which presidents decline to comment on the currency and said the dollar had gotten too strong.
Trump has also unnerved some in corporate America by singling out companies for attack on Twitter. He has taken on Lockheed Martin, General Motors and others over the costs of projects and movement of jobs, rocking their stock prices and leaving executives in fear of being targeted by the new president. Traders now closely follow the new president’s tweets, sensing both opportunities and risks.
The Mexican peso, which plunged on Trump’s election over fears of new tariffs on Mexican goods, rose around 1.5 percent by midday Friday. Traders said that was probably because Trump did not mention Mexico directly during the speech, something he has done in the past.
Some investors thought Trump’s address could help boost the Dow over 20,000, but that did not initially materialize as Trump painted a dark picture of a broken America that does not comport with official statistics showing a 4.9 percent jobless rate, rising wages and third-quarter growth of over 3 percent.
“Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,” Trump said in laying out his vision of hellscape America. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
The message mirrored the one Trump used while campaigning, which helped him capture surprising wins in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, driving him to 306 electoral votes and the White House despite losing the popular vote by almost 3 million.
But it was not the kind of address some investors hoped to hear.
There was also a lack of detail on policy agenda items like corporate tax cuts, though Trump did refer to the need to rebuild American infrastructure.
“Typically, you think of inaugural addresses as uplifting, big picture speeches,” said Jack Ablin of BMO Private Bank. “Investors came into it worried about specific mentions of America first and confrontational rhetoric, and that’s exactly what they saw."
"It was confrontational both domestically and internationally. And there were not a whole lot of specifics that investors could sink their teeth into.”
Others gave Trump at least some credit for dismissing prejudice in the speech.
“When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice,” Trump said. “Whether we are black, or brown, or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.”
“There were some unifying statements he made,” said Stephen Massocca of Wedbush Equity Management. “But people are not going to like the protectionist rhetoric. We’ve got a lot of experience and data on trade protectionist policies and they never work. They lead to slower and worse economies.”
For someone preoccupied with the size of his audiences, President Donald Trump appeared to draw an anemic one on Friday.
In the run-up to the inauguration, Trump had promised an "unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout," but early evidence suggests the festivities in Washington fell far short of that mark.
A side-by-side NPR comparison of aerial photos from the National Mall during Trump's inauguration and former President Barack Obama's 2009 swearing in, one of many shared on social media on Friday, showed Obama drawing a far larger audience. Television networks also noted the size discrepancy, although aides to the famously competitive incoming president have yet to offer projections of their own.
An estimated 1.8 million people attended Obama's first inauguration, and D.C. officials initially forecast upward of 800,000 would be on hand for Trump's swearing-in and subsequent celebrations. However, there will be no formal count from the National Park Service, which stopped publicly gauging the size of Mall events after dueling forecasts for the 1995 Million Man March sparked a lawsuit threat.
That makes any potential attendance claims from Trump and his team troublesome to verify, particularly in the age of “fake news.”
Steve Doig, an Arizona State University journalism professor who has tracked crowd estimates for more than 20 years, predicted that a dispute over Trump’s inaugural crowd size is “certain to happen, given that a high number has always been a token of importance.”
“Unlike some of the claims the president-elect has made, where there has been a way to measure the claim against a metric, this one will be easier for him,” Doig said. “There isn’t going to be an easy way to check it.”
While aerial photos offer a common method to project the size of crowds on the mall, the total inaugural head count becomes trickier given that Washington is still swelling with demonstrators planning to attend one or more of the 21 protests that were granted Park Service permits for inauguration weekend — or some of the unsanctioned events that erupted on the sidelines Friday. Several isolated skirmishes between protesters and police had resulted in more than 90 arrests as of press time, according to law enforcement officials.
Attendance at Obama's second inauguration in 2013 was pegged at 1 million after initial projections of 800,000, about double the number estimated for George W. Bush's second inauguration in 2005. D.C. officials' record-high estimate for Obama's first swearing-in was not contested by NPS at the time.
Trump’s propensity for celebrating the perceived size of crowds at his campaign rallies reached a peak on the eve of his election, when he claimed that he got “far bigger crowds” than Beyoncé and Jay-Z — two pop stars who endorsed his opponent, Hillary Clinton. (PolitiFact rated the claim False.)
To promote the inauguration, Trump and his aides have lately turned to social media, including Facebook ads and a video with the president-elect personally inviting supporters to a Thursday “welcome concert” in his honor. Attendance at the Thursday concert also appeared to fall short of Obama's 2009 pre-inauguration show based on visual comparisons, with reports circulating that estimated a crowd of 10,000 at Trump's affair versus 400,000 for Obama’s.
Rain was forecast for Trump’s inauguration, but showers ended up being spotty throughout the day. The inaugural parade on Friday afternoon drew crowds that were four to five people deep, according to pool reports.
The biggest of the inauguration weekend’s planned protests, the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, said in its NPS permit application that 200,000 people would attend. But the burgeoning House Democratic boycott of the inauguration may yet drive up attendance at the protest march, where Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is among the scheduled speakers.
Other demonstrations held Friday included a Bikers for Trump gathering, which its leader has said could end up providing a “wall of meat” to protect the incoming president. Trump himself has tweeted to welcome the group, which estimated to NPS that 5,000 people would attend its rally.
The Park Service makes its own advance forecast of crowds for planning, spokesman Mike Litterst said, but otherwise looks to groups that stage events to provide their own numbers.
“Due to the difficulty in accurately assessing crowd estimates for large events, most notably following 1995’s Million Man March, the National Park Service no longer makes it a practice to provide crowd estimates for permitted events,” Litterst wrote in an email.
“While we make internal estimates for staffing, security and emergency response purposes, it is left to the discretion of event organizers to make a determination of the event attendance.”
In a room filled with the country's most powerful people, for 15 minutes only two of them mattered: Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.
The Senate majority leader and newly sworn-in president engaged in an animated and close conversation — with the often subdued McConnell doing most of the talking. McConnell even booted Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) from his seat next to Trump to secure face time at the opulent post-inaugural lunch of lobster, steak and chocolate souffle.
“Our president has surmounted a remarkable challenge getting to this moment. He’s been underestimated often but he never let it stop him,” McConnell (R-Ky.), flashing a rare grin, said later of Trump.
The serious-looking one-on-one showed that business was already underway on a day filled with pageantry, protests and bipartisan glad-handing. McConnell’s Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), also spent an extended period of time speaking to Trump, though the talk occurred in a larger group that included Melania Trump and Blunt’s wife, Abby.
Schumer needled Trump for nominating a conservative Cabinet, singling out Rep. Mick Mulvaney as the pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget and Rep. Tom Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a source familiar with the exchange.
It was a surreal atmosphere Friday in the Capitol, where Rudy Giuliani sat next to liberal firebrand Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) for lunch, and Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton exchanged a brusque greeting.
"Hi, Bernie,” Clinton said before quickly moving on. It was a warmer interaction than Clinton had with Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire GOP donor, who walked by her without batting an eyelash.
Trump acknowledged Clinton during the lunch, prompting the crowd to give the Democratic presidential candidate a standing ovation. (The nod came after Trump did not mention his rival during his inaugural address.) And Clinton mingled with Republicans who strongly opposed her just three months ago.
“She did talk to me a little about hoping our politics would end up being less divisive and more consensus building ... it doesn’t have to be personal, it doesn’t have to be poisonous,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “I thought she was right.”
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) warmly greeted Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) — after having beaten her out for Trump’s interior secretary nominee. Former President Bill Clinton held court with Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander, John Boozman and Rob Portman. And Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) spent several minutes trying to snap the perfect photo of Hillary Clinton.
For members of Congress, it was a day filled with emotion — from elation to depression.
“I wept numerous times… just so overcome with emotion,” said Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa), who said he’s cried off and on since attending the inauguration concert Thursday night. “I’m just overcome with pride in my country.”
Then there was Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). Asked after the inauguration why he was sulking back to his office, the Congressional Black Caucus member said he was “very, very disappointed.” He thought Trump would apologize for his campaign rhetoric, but instead heard “a campaign speech,” Cleaver grumbled.
“I was hoping we’d hear soaring rhetoric about the things that we can all do together. I was also hoping he’d say, ‘Gee, I might have said a lot of things and hurt a lot of feelings, but I’m sorry,” Cleaver said. “I would have stood up and started cheering and sent him a note of thanks. ... I thought a sincere apology would go a long way in reducing the fear and hostility.”
Lawmakers filed into their inauguration seats around 10:30 a.m., snapping pictures and waving to the crowd below. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), whom Trump considered for treasury secretary, scanned the horizon toward the Washington Monument next to Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), one of just a couple dozen black lawmakers who participated in the festivities.
Half of the Congressional Black Caucus decided to stay home, joining dozens of other Democrats who boycotted the event because they said Trump is not a “legitimate” president. Some Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), protested quietly by wearing pins protesting the repeal of Obamacare that read “save our care.”
But for the most part, party lines seemed to dissolve as Republicans and Democrats chatted across the aisle and took in the historic scene. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a plastic poncho over his suit and a wide-brim sable fedora on his head, mingled with GOP colleagues like Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), a Trump loyalist who was one of the first members to embrace the president’s candidacy, wore a red “Make America Great” hat during the inauguration and was smiling from ear to ear when he walked in. Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) wore an American flag-printed scarf, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) donned a Green Bay Packers hat.
On the level below, ex-Rep. Michael Grimm was shooting video of the U.S. Marine Band and and snapping pictures of his old colleagues, sitting above him, with his phone. The New York Republican resigned from Congress after being convicted of tax and wire fraud, then served seven months in prison.
Recently defeated Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) was also in attendance. He opposed Trump’s candidacy, but he stood from his wheelchair as Trump was sworn in, singing along jovially at times to the band.
The festivities were spotted with partisan moments. During his speech before Trump was sworn in, Schumer drew a chorus of boos that turned to cheers as it became clear that he was wrapping up.
At one point in his address, Trump also seemed to chide the very lawmakers filling the seats around him: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”
But later, during the lunch in his honor, Trump chatted with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, as Schumer occasionally chimed in. Members of Trump’s inner circle were mobbed everywhere they went, including his son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner.
Before entering the lunch, Trump signed a flurry of documents in his first official act as president, handing out pens as mementos to the congressional leaders huddled around him.
First, Trump signed into law the bill granting retired Army Gen. James Mattis a waiver to serve as defense secretary, after joking that he had thought it was the health care repeal.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) then informed the new president about the ritual of using several different pens to sign sometimes just one document, with the intention of giving away the writing tools as mementos.
After the Mattis waiver, Trump signed several documents officially nominating his Cabinet picks.
“This is for Rex [Tillerson]. I assume he was approved today?” Trump said as he signed the secretary of State nomination, eyeballing Schumer.
“Not yet,” Schumer replied as the lawmakers laughed. The Senate minority leader has resisted a Republican push to quickly confirm some of Trump’s most controversial nominees, including the former ExxonMobil chief.
“It’s coming though, right Chuck?” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said.
Trump then handed Pelosi his pen after signing Elaine Chao’s nomination to lead the Transportation Department. Chao, McConnell's wife, is one of Trump’s least controversial nominees and is supported by most Democrats.
“You want Elaine, right?” Trump asked Pelosi.
Pelosi interjected: “Wait, Mr. President, Mr. President, the leader wants Elaine.”
“The leader should have Elaine,” Trump agreed, passing the pen to McConnell.
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.
Steve Mnuchin, Donald Trump’s pick to be treasury Secretary, failed to list $100 million in assets on his federal disclosure forms. Vincent Viola, nominated to be Army secretary, punched a man in the face at a horse race last summer.
The ex-wife of Andrew Puzder, the labor secretary nominee, once appeared incognito on “Oprah” to raise domestic abuse allegations, which Puzder has denied. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s choice for education secretary, struggled to demonstrate a basic comprehension of department policy and basic education terms during her hearing this week. Two nominees didn’t pay taxes on their household employees.
This string of startling revelations over the past two weeks caught senior members of Trump’s staff by surprise, and they didn’t know some of the potential for problems before Senate confirmation hearings began, sources said. A person involved in preparing several nominees said, “They nominated these people first, and then they sort of vetted them. It’s exactly the reverse way you’re supposed to do it, and now you see the consequences.”
Ted Newton, a consultant who vetted potential nominees for Mitt Romney in 2012, said the best way to vet candidates is through repeated personal questions. “You want to see forms, you want to see their records,” he said. “But you really want to know, is there someone who would say something damaging about you, do you have any dark secrets, is there anything that will come out? You have a lot of questions that are unanswerable from paper.”
A transition official, who declined to provide an on-the-record quote, said Trump’s nominees were “thoroughly vetted” and predicted that all the nominees will be confirmed by the Senate. “They are prepared to serve on Day One in order to implement President-elect Trump’s pro-America policies,” the transition aide said.
Trump’s transition aides say there are “vet files” on each of the nominees and contend that some problems wouldn’t have been uncovered by transition officials no matter how thorough the background checks — which has been true of Cabinet nominees under previous presidents.
The team did take steps to prepare nominees for their appearances on Capitol Hill. The nominees were subjected to “murder boards,” three-hour mock hearings where they were grilled by volunteers standing in for senators.
The nominees collectively took thousands of questions from almost 200 participants, according to the transition team. A person who worked on DeVos’ panel said she was extensively questioned on education issues, and the team was privately disconcerted that she seemed to flub answers.
One attorney running the murder boards for the transition team had been confident about secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson, based on his unflappable demeanor in multiple practice sessions. Yet Tillerson's hearing was messy, as his waffling answers on his approach to dealing with Russia drew scorn from Democrats and Republicans alike.
Less was done to help uncover the potentially embarrassing or damaging information that’s come out. According to a person involved in the process, a team led by Gov. Chris Christie initially provided a cursory vetting of more than 200 proposed nominees before the election.
That list included a number of people Trump eventually picked to join his Cabinet. But the review was based on publicly available documents, rather than questionnaires or interviews, because the team didn’t want the names of those under consideration to leak, this person said. “Many of the Cabinet members were on the list,” this person said.
Amid the shock and jubilation at Trump Tower in the days that followed the election, a transition operation was re-established under the control of Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
The office, based in Washington while the president-elect remained in New York, was staffed by a number of attorneys with experience overseeing transitions and preparing nominees for their congressional hearings. Several of them were new to the Trump operation. “No one thought they were going to win, so they didn’t have a lot of people,” said one source close to the campaign.
The process bore little resemblance to the one conducted in 2012 by Romney, who wanted FBI background checks and other reviews conducted to unearth red flags before the press or opposition researchers could. Trump told his aides to not conduct a background check on him.
After the election, Trump's team took a largely dismissive approach to paperwork in the weeks after the election, two people involved said. A growing backlog of Cabinet nominees and other positions developed in the D.C. office, one person involved in the process said. Assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the prevailing spirit of broader Republican unity and pragmatism gave Trump Tower confidence that all of its nominees would be likely to win confirmation.
Many of the nominees weren’t deeply questioned on their business histories until they began preparing in earnest in recent weeks for their nomination hearings, though some were, according to the people involved with the process. Friends, former employees and others who might speak out against the nominees weren’t interviewed. Trump has mused to others that the media will vet nominees.
The less-than-aggressive vetting was in part the result of having a very wealthy group of Cabinet nominees without previous government experience, who were unfamiliar with and resistant to disclosure requirements — as well as public scrutiny. Some took steps to prepare themselves, including DeVos, who essentially vetted herself, according to the person who helped with her preparation.
So far, it seems that Trump’s bet has paid off. None of the details that have emerged about Trump’s nominees seem to have created serious obstacles to their confirmation. “It’s almost like all of the old rules don’t exist anymore,” said Newton, who vetted potential nominees for Mitt Romney in 2012. “In the past, nominees would have been disqualified for a tax issue or an illegal immigrant issue. It’s not necessarily in this environment going to sink someone. It seems people have a much higher tolerance for what used to be a scandal.”
Donald Trump's inaugural address had all the trappings of his classic campaign speeches — filled with the defiant, populist themes he rode to victory but that previous presidents have typically eschewed to foster a moment of unity.
Trump also set the bar extremely high for himself, vowing to wipe away Islamic terrorism, revive U.S. manufacturing and enrich a lagging middle class — all under the protectionist “America first” banner.
Now it’s up to Trump to translate his promises into policy and usher his agenda through a Republican Congress at odds philosophically with much of his approach.
Here’s a look at some of the key passages from Trump's speech and what to make of them:
Trump painted a dark picture of the country as he embraced a protectionist ideology that’s been relegated mostly to the far left in recent decades.
Some economists say automation is a bigger cause of U.S. manufacturing job losses than China and Mexico — and worry Trump’s plans could spark a trade war. And congressional Republicans are almost certain to push back, though they’ve already signaled their openness to an alternative to Trump’s proposed tariffs known as a “border adjustments” tax.
Trump suggested, though, this issue will be a top priority — using some version of the word “protect” seven times in his address.
Infrastructure was a major theme of Trump’s address — which is odd, given that Republican leaders have signaled it isn’t a top priority for them.
During the campaign, Trump pitched a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, a move that raised some eyebrows among Republicans who opposed President Barack Obama’s stimulus program.
The real-estate mogul, though, has repeatedly emphasized infrastructure as a major part of his plan to revitalize the U.S. economy — leading to some speculation he could seek to go around GOP leaders and work with more receptive Democrats.
Trump made his boldest promise yet when it comes to the war on terrorism, pledging to eradicate radical Islamic terror.
This is at odds with many national security experts, who have come to view the war on terror as an ongoing struggle that could last decades or more.
Trump has often framed his strategy for fighting terrorism as an ideological war between radical Islam and the West — harkening back to the Cold War-era ideological battle with Soviet communism.
At the same time, though, he once again signaled he would stop pouring money into foreign wars, saying the country has “spent trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.”
Trump was widely criticized on the campaign trail for his negative, broad-brush portrayal of U.S. inner cities, including when he said in August that African Americans should vote for him because "we will make your streets safe so when you walk down the street, you don't get shot."
He reprised his apocalyptic rhetoric on Friday, vowing to stop the “American carnage.”
There is much economic data indicating the country is in better shape than it was eight years ago when Obama took office amid the Great Recession. But Trump’s gloom-and-doom portrayal of America is central to his core narrative — that the country is in need of a political outsider promising a major departure from the status quo.
Since Election Day, Trump has been trying to make nice with the GOP establishment he used as a foil on the campaign trail.
But his address put establishment Republicans on notice that he still isn’t one of them. He made a direct appeal to “the people,” blasting the Washington establishment and laying blame for America’s problems on both political parties.
The speech was yet another reminder of Trump’s uneasy truce with GOP leaders such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, who would not campaign with Trump during the election.
What was notable in this brief discussion of policy was that Trump did not mention “Obamacare,” “the Affordable Care Act” or even health care in general.
This was a glaring omission given that dismantling Obamacare was one of Trump’s top campaign pledges — and that the GOP’s efforts ttouchtoucho repeal and replace Obama’s signature achievement have dominated discussions in Washington in recent weeks.
Trump’s decision not to mention health care may be a sign that he’s looking to cool expectations about immediate action, after raising them with his promise to provide “insurance for all” and to release a full Obamacare replacement soon after he takes office.
President Donald Trump’s inaugural address focused on an “America First” approach that downgrades the value of America’s global leadership and traditional alliances—a sharp break with the internationalist vision of nearly every U.S. president of the past 100 years that troubled veteran foreign policy experts.
“We defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own, and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay,” Trump said.
Trump campaigned as a skeptic of American military alliances and adventures abroad. But any faint hope in foreign capitals and among U.S. foreign policy elites that Trump, as president, would embrace a more traditional view of America’s post-World War II global commitments was dashed by his address.
“An extremely disappointing speech,” said Nicholas Burns, who served as a foreign policy aide and senior diplomat under both Republican and Democratic presidents. “I fear this speech spells retreat from American openness to the world and inspired and hopeful American leadership around the world.”
Trump’s decision not to make a strong case for the role of American power in shaping the outside world was a departure from the inaugural addresses of recent Republican presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. All of them described America as an indispensable defender of freedom and democracy around the world and extended warm hands to U.S. allies abroad.
“We honor your friendship; we rely on your counsel; and we depend on your help,” George W. Bush said in his 2001 inaugural speech, addressing American allies. “Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom’s enemies. The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies’ defeat.”
Trump did nod to the value of foreign partnerships—but only with a brief phrase: “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones,” Trump said, seemingly in specific reference to the fight against Islamic terrorism.
But even that line might trouble some American allies, particularly in Europe, who might equate of “new” alliances with Trump’s controversial vision of a new partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has menaced Eastern Europe. (U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Putin also interfered with the 2016 election in support of Trump, casting a shadow over his inauguration.)
Trump has long offered a transactional view of the world, one that questions longtime diplomatic commitments and notions of a values-based foreign policy. He often characterizes key U.S. allies like Japan, Saudi Arabia and members of the NATO alliance as free riders enjoying the benefits of American military protection without paying what Trump calls “their fair share.”
Trump first unveiled his “America First” theme in an April speech arguing that America’s post-Cold War foreign policy had “veered badly off course,” leading to wrongheaded Middle East interventions.
On Friday, Trump vowed to “eradicate completely from the face of the earth” what he called “radical Islamic terrorism,” a phrase both Bush and Obama avoided using—to the fury of many Trump supporters—for fear of alienating moderate Muslims.
Those themes remain powerful to many Americans as well as to critics of Washington’s bipartisan foreign policy establishment, which largely disdains Trump.
“President Trump delivered a powerful message to Americans and the world when he said he will put America first,” said Paul Saunders, executive director of the Center for the National Interest, which hosted Trump’s April foreign policy speech.
“He committed to giving priority to US interests while acknowledging that other governments will do the same for their people—an essential foundation for enduring cooperation with others,” Saunders added.
But many listeners focused on Trump’s muted reassurance to American allies nervous about both global instability and Trump’s own intentions.
“We have allies who depend on us and who strengthen us. NATO and the East Asian allies are the great power difference between the U.S. and Russia and the U.S. and China,” Burns said. “There was no emphasis on them in the speech.”
Even Barack Obama, who took office in January 2009 amid an economic crisis and with a promise to end foreign wars, struck robust notes about American global leadership unheard in Trump’s speech.
“To all the other peoples and governments who are watching today… know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And we are ready to lead once more,” Obama said after taking his first oath of office.
Trump, by contrast, announced on Friday “a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power."
“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land,” he said. “From this moment on, it’s going to be America First."
And where Obama said in 2009 that “earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions,” Trump complained the U.S. has “subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.”
A hint of the uncertainty about Trump’s plans overseas may have been evident in a congratulatory statement he receieved on Friday from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“[T]he security environment of the [Asia-Pacific] region is becoming severer,” Abe’s statement warned, adding that he “would like to further strengthen the unwavering tie between the Japan and the United States.”
How Trump will actually implement his foreign policy vision remains unclear, particularly given that several of his top cabinet appointees hold markedly different views about the value of NATO and befriending Russia.
But Trump’s address suggested that an American internationalist version that has prevailed for the better part of a century is, at best, on hold.
“We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow,” Trump said.
On Twitter, the conservative foreign policy commentator Walter Russell Mead called that perhaps “the most consequential line in the speech.
“Woodrow Wilson goes under the bus,” Mead added.
Wilson, America’s 28th president, was a staunch internationalist who believed it was America’s responsibility to help foreign people achieve freedom and democracy.
Invoking another 20th-century president, Burns cited a line from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fourth inaugural in 1945.
“We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away,” Roosevelt declared.
“FDR learned through 12 years of depression and war this wisdom,” Burns said. “Trump's speech today refuted this important lesson from our history.”
From its damp gray dawn, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, has been a historic and disorienting day — a day marked by split screens revealing the dignity of the country's peaceful transfer of power and the unavoidable truth that America’s democracy is being strained by deep divisions.
As the Trumps and the Obamas smiled for the cameras beneath the North Portico of the White House on inauguration morning, protesters were smashing in the windows of a Starbucks blocks away. When Hillary Clinton arrived at the Capitol for President Donald Trump’s swearing in, cable news anchors spoke of her grace — but as the ceremony got underway, a loud shout from the crowd of “Lock her up!” pierced a momentary quiet. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s speech about his belief in the American people met with boos. President Donald Trump, moments after finishing a dark inaugural address that lamented “American carnage,” showed respect by walking his predecessor to the helicopter that would carry him into private life.
A literal — and stunning — split screen then took place.
Live footage showed Trump, seated in a high-backed armchair before a wooden table, making small talk with Speaker Paul Ryan and even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as he signed official documents in what looked like a real-life scene from “The Apprentice.” With only clicking shutters audible in a hushed room, Trump joked about his Cabinet appointees that Democrats and some Republicans have been stridently questioning for the past two weeks, and gave away his pens as souvenirs. On television, the scene played out beside footage from Joint Base Andrews, where former President Barack Obama thanked staff and supporters one final time and took stock of the work they did over the past eight years, some of which Trump plans to quickly unwind.
Later, as Trump joined senators for lunch, networks cut away to live shots of the intersection of 12th and K streets, less than a mile away from the Capitol, where riot police used pepper spray and detonated flash bangs to turn back protesters. At 2:30 p.m., dumpsters were literally on fire in the street.
But nothing quite encapsulated the jarring dichotomy of the day like Trump’s own words.
His dark, dystopian imagery made little pretense about America being a unified country, even as he called for Americans to come together. For this political outsider, who so often mocked the artificiality of American politics on the stump, there was little deference to the magnitude of a moment that is marked in history books by soaring, inspirational and unifying rhetoric.
In Trump’s speech, America is a country that has been wronged by its leaders in Washington, not a shining city on a hill. He spoke of “children trapped in poverty,” “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation” and of crime, gangs and drugs.
“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” Trump said.
There were few overtures to those who don’t already share his vision. As Trump walked onto the dais, he shook hands with several former presidents and kissed Michelle Obama on the cheek but did not acknowledge Hillary Clinton, nor, in his speech, did he recognize her or her supporters (a noticeably humbler Trump did express his appreciation for her attendance at his inauguration, and his respect for her and former President Bill Clinton later during the Capitol luncheon that far fewer Americans were likely watching). Behind Trump on the rostrum sat four of the five living former presidents, none of whom voted for him, in a show of respect for the office.
More than 400 members of Congress — minus roughly 60 House Democrats who boycotted the inauguration — listened as Trump blamed Washington for screwing over the American people. Ryan and Mitch McConnell listened as he promised that billions of dollars will be spent on infrastructure projects they are reluctant to support. One seat on the dais was reserved for Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who sat quietly as the new president claimed his inauguration marked a transfer of power not just from one administration to the next, but “from Washington, D.C. ... back to you, the people.”
The unrestrained and unapologetic populism of Trump’s inaugural speech belies the fact that a majority of the population hasn’t signed on. With an approval rating around 40 percent, Trump is the least popular incoming president of the modern era. The new president’s unpopularity was reflected in the dearth of A-list musicians performing at his inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday night, the rising popularity of Obama and even Obamacare and, most vividly, in the aerial shots of Friday’s crowd, which grew sparse as it spread from the Capitol up the National Mall. Similarly, there was no avoiding the rows of unfilled bleacher seats along Trump’s inaugural parade route.
Even amid their smiles and back slaps, Trump and Obama marched stoically through the rituals of Friday’s transition, emblematic of — and heroes to — separate Americas. And an undercurrent of the cultural divide flowed as Trump and Obama subtly extended the feud between the new president and Democratic Rep. John Lewis, the civil-rights icon who riled Trump and galvanized Democrats by questioning the incoming president’s legitimacy as president and opting not to attend Friday's inauguration. Trump didn’t mention Lewis by name in his inaugural speech but applied the same insult he tweeted at Lewis, “all talk, no action,” to Washington politicians more generally. Obama, for his part, selected as part of his final tweet from the official White House account a picture of himself and the former first lady hand in hand with Lewis during their 2015 march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where Lewis had been beaten 50 years earlier. “Yes we can. Yes we did,” the tweet read. Of course, the fact that the country’s first black president ceded his office to the man who spent years questioning his citizenship is also part of Obama's legacy.
Trump, in outlining his “America First” approach to his presidency, did call for greater unity. “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice,” he said. In defining patriotism so narrowly, Trump’s voice has resonated with a broad swath of disaffected blue-collar voters who find real hope in his election. But Trump has also awakened another kind of patriotism — dissent — that will accompany his presidency.
After Donald Trump took the oath of office on Friday, a protest broke out near the president’s scheduled parade route, and a massed force of police in riot gear used pepper spray and flash-bang grenades to try and disperse the crowd.
The police appeared to be responding to protesters who were throwing rocks and other objects. It was not clear exactly how many people were involved in the protests, though a fire had been lit on one of the city's main streets. And the president's parade did not seem to be effected or delayed by the conflict.
Later in the afternoon, as Trump's parade was concluding, protesters set a limousine on fire that had been ransacked earlier. A short while later, police moved in to disperse the crowd and extinguish the fire.
The violent clashes stood in contrast to earlier in the day when throngs of the president's supporters exchanged shouts and insults with protesters during encounters that often got heated, but mostly remained peaceful.
However, earlier in the morning, police said a single group of organized protesters vandalized local businesses during a pre-inauguration march.
At a press conference alongside DC Mayor Muriel Bowser on Friday evening, the city’s Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters that 217 arrests had been made, mostly resulting from early morning acts of vandalism and attempted assault on police officers.
He described the perpetrators as a “small group” that came to the city with the intent to cause harm, compared to “thousands” that had demonstrated peacefully. He said the perpetrators of the violence were charged with “rioting.”
“This was not a spontaneous event,” he said.
Newsham said the group of “400 to 500 persons” wielded hammer sand crowbars, destroying storefront windows and damaging vehicles before police converged. He said six officers were injured in attempting to apprehend the suspects but that their injuries were not life-threatening.
He added that “several groups” were still being monitored into the evening.
In some areas of the city, hundreds of protesters dramatically outnumbered Trump allies, wielding signs and wearing costumes that called Trump a puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin and drawing howls of disapproval from Trump supporters as protesters chanted for impeachment.
"Respect the office," yelled one Trump supporter amid chants of "not my president" on 7th street.
"Protesting is respect," responded a woman in the crowd.
"And now you can all go get a job," another Trump supporter retorted. "He's our president."
Several shouting matches broke out by the National Archives as the post-inauguration crowd filled the streets.
As the protests escalated, the Trump administration posted new policy positions on the White House website, including a law enforcement policy that declared the administrations job is "not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter or the violent disruptor."
There were several attempts by protesters to jam up gates allowing protesters to enter and exit secure areas of the parade routes and National Mall.
Ahead of the official inauguration, protesters broke windows at a bank branch in the city, and a Starbucks was vandalized, according to several Tweets.
Alongside thousands of Trump fans in “Make America Great Again” apparel, clusters of protesters dotted the edges of the National Mall in the morning amid a steady, light rain. Some demonstrators launched chants urging action on climate change, others for Black Lives Matter, with a vocal contingent decrying racism and what they said were pro-Trump white nationalists. Dozens of vendors hawked memorabilia to the crowds headed for Trump’s inaugural ceremony, from T-shirts to flags to fake money with the new president’s face printed on it.
Still, for all the confrontations, Metro reported that ridership was down significantly from previous inaugurations, suggesting the overall crowd may be smaller as well. As of 11 a.m., ridership on the city's rail system stood at 193,000 trips. At the same time during Barack Obama's second inauguration, ridership was 317,000 trips — and it was 513,000 trips during his first.
Umbrellas and ponchos were more visible than protest signs, but activists deployed in greater numbers as Trump’s swearing-in neared — in several cases, locking arms in large groups to block inauguration ticket-holders from entering gates to the Mall.
“We’ve got a human wall coming,” one National Guardsman said as several dozen demonstrators trooped to an access gate at 3rd Street NW and unfurled a red, white, and blue banner that read “Resist Trump Climate Justice.”
A Trump supporter quickly attempted to pry the banner from their hands as "de-escalators” wearing blue duct-tape armbands and working with anti-Trump groups offered to help escort inauguration revelers to other access gates. The effort was organized by Disrupt J20, which had planned to send different issue-related protesters to snarl traffic at specific gates.
Disrupt J20 was among the groups behind a protest outside the pro-Trump “DeploraBall” on Thursday night at the National Press Club. Some of the protesters chanting “F--- Trump,” at that event, who hurled water bottles and other objects at guests as they exited, were pepper-sprayed by police.
Over the past several years, environmentalist protesters focused much of their energy on opposing the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which Trump is expected to greenlight after taking office despite the outgoing Obama administration’s move to delay its permit. A few dozen activists sought to block an entrance to the parade route chanting “water is life,” a common refrain among opponents of the oil pipeline, and were quickly encircled by police who allowed them to remain.
Before the afternoon's clashes, scattered verbal confrontations were a common sight along the parade route. One black Trump supporter attempted to engage the dissenters, defending the incoming president’s interest in minority communities based on his meetings with Kanye West and Steve Harvey.
“Sour grapes!” a Trump booster clad in Republican red shouted at activists gathering on 1st St NW to slam the new president for ignoring Palestinian rights.
Trump won’t be without favorable demonstrations on his swearing-in day. A large “Bikers for Trump” rally will give voice to the president-elect’s allies shortly after he takes the oath on Friday.
One protester remained noticeably unmolested and uninterested in chanting on busy Indiana Ave NW: a man with a handmade sign that read “Putin Won.”
Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this report.
LONDON—President Donald Trump has launched his presidency with an “America first” inaugural address that will leave the United States’ European allies stunned and China and Russia for the most part delighted.
It is no exaggeration to consider Trump’s first presidential speech as an announcement that Washington has decided to abdicate its leadership of the Western world, a status the United States proudly accepted for more than seven decades. In other words, at least for the next four years, the phrase “leader of the free world,” or any other similar variant, no longer applies to the American president.
Friday’s speech may constitute the most protectionist presentation of American foreign and economic policy a president has promulgated in the modern era. Even during the period between World War I and World War II, free trade was at least mentioned as a desirable objective. But President Trump never even mentioned the key words “free trade,” let alone its more palatable cousin, “free and fair trade.” Worse yet, the president seems to think international trade is a zero-sum game, always generating a winner and a loser.
“The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world,” Trump said—an hysterical exaggeration that ignores mountains of evidence that technological change is the real villain. Past American presidents from both parties were convinced that free trade promotes prosperity for all, and if done right allows both sides to benefit. If there were exceptions—think George W. Bush’s imposition of steel tariffs—it was almost always tactical and temporary, not strategic.
Trump also alleged that his predecessors “subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military … defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.”
This kind of talk not only falsely indicts Democratic and Republican presidents alike, it denigrates and jeopardizes America’s military alliances. When Trump looks across the Atlantic at Europe, he sees only dollars and cents, not friends and allies. His international calculus is a mercantilism from the Middle Ages. In Trump’s world, the risk of conflict is not relevant, the proliferation of dangerous weapons is not discussed, regional hostilities are overlooked. The only thing that matters is who makes more money.
Some of Trump’s rhetoric sounds similar to that of Barack Obama, who campaigned on getting the United States out of “dumb wars” and mostly kept his promise. Both would follow the path laid by President John Quincy Adams, who declared, “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” Indeed, after the failure of Iraq, who can fault Trump’s homage to Ronald Reagan’s vision of America as a “shining city upon a hill” — “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.”
The problem is the America that Trump describes is an unrecognizable land of misery and horror, dominated by urban blight, shuttered factories and an education system that leaves Americans “deprived of all knowledge.” That is an example that won’t shine very much at all.
We can only hope—and pray—that Trump’s new secretary of defense, James Mattis, will explain that America’s leadership of NATO has been one of the most successful enterprises in diplomatic history. It not only protected Western Europe from the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but has more recently been responsible for promoting and protecting a Europe that is whole, free and at peace for the only time in recorded history. And given the re-emergence of Russia as a threat to its neighbors, NATO’s deterrence value is incalculable. Assuming President Trump doesn’t undermine the alliance’s promise of collective defense, NATO is a bargain, compared with the astronomical costs of a war in Europe—as the Russian invasion of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine has already demonstrated.
In his one nod to allies, Trump promised to “unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.” European leaders abhor terrorism as much as anyone (their populations have suffered more attacks in recent years than we have). But it is hard to imagine senior officials here signing up to an unachievable mission objective—eradicating all terrorism—with an administration practicing insult diplomacy rather than alliance management.
Unfortunately, what most of America’s friends will take away from Trump’s inaugural address is its dark, nationalistic tone and its myopic focus on “protection” rather than the quest for shared peace and prosperity, based on Western values, that has driven every American president for generations. That is damage that cannot be undone.
James P. Rubin is a former assistant secretary of state in the Bill Clinton administration.
Not every culture crowns kings and queens, but most do. And where they don’t, as is the case with the United States of America, they make certain to crib as many royal vestiges as they can on their leaders without directly conveying divinity. The pomp and ritual behind the inauguration of the president of the United States, as we are seeing, consummates the symbolic process by which one king is killed, mourned, and made immortal, and a new one is enshrined.
By the end of today’s festivities the only thing differentiating the president from a king will be a crown. That could soon change: Donald J. Trump’s imperial ambitions have shown transparent over the past month with his jawboning of Carrier, GM and Ford; his deliberate ignorance of the constitutional limits on his presidential power; and his contradictory views about nuclear weapons. It’s a sure bet that he will convert his figurative kingship into a real one by commissioning a jewel-laden bonnet for wearing at future official ceremonies.
Trump revealed his messianic core in his inaugural speech, invoking God, God’s will, and all but posing as his messenger of national renewal and rebirth at several junctures. And who could blame him for his big head? The oath of office could be given in a simple, unadorned venue and followed by a short Uber ride to his new home. Instead, the inauguration ceremony encourages the president to think himself as not just powerful but regal. We set Inauguration Day aside like a special Sabbath; we stage processions in its honor; we squeeze all the president’s loyal subjects into the sacred West-facing space on Capitol Hill; we hang a bounty of bunting; we arrange for a surplus of clergy to hoist God’s blessing upon his reign; we blow trumpets, bang drums and strike up the choirs; we hold a parade whose terminus is his royal palace; and we celebrate his elevation at receptions and balls. Placed in those cross hairs and carrying the nuclear codes in your hip pocket, you’d feel special yourself.
The president wasn’t always a king. In the beginning, the Jeffersonians sought to tamp down the royalist urge, as Wilfred E. Binkley wrote in his 1952 article, “The President as National Symbol.” At first, they succeeded. The president was granted no title, no honorific like “your honor.” Mr. President was all he got. Thomas Jefferson wanted to treat the presidency as a job, not a symbol. President James Madison was “completely a prisoner of Congress,” according to Binkley.
But human propensity for kingmaking could not be suppressed forever. “Unquestionably the person that can get lowest down in cringing before royalty and nobility, and can get most satisfaction out of crawling on his belly before them, is an American,” as Mark Twain once wrote. By the time Trump’s fellow populist Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1828, the presidency was starting to become hallowed and worshiped, and with every new administration has become more so. Binkley tracks this evolution smartly in his piece, noting that by the time of Theodore Roosevelt, the president’s family had become bundled into the royal package. The president became the patriarch of a pattern-setting “first family,” whose every move was charted by the press as if they were of royal lineage. With Franklin Roosevelt, the imperial presidency expanded, acquiring and grabbing power from Congress. His wife, Eleanor, became a sort of queen to his king. And much of the nation accepted his transformation into a democratic dear leader because they associated his actions with the recovery from the Great Depression. As every president has followed FDR’s example, stacking layer after layer of imperial power on the office, it’s a wonder that the awestruck masses don’t sacrifice animals in the town square in the new president’s honor as our ancestors did for their kings. King Obama is dead. Long live King Trump!
Unlike many sovereigns who reigned before him, Trump longs not to expand his power across borders or overseas, but consolidate his power domestically upon his subjects, thus his “America First” proclamation in his Jacksonian speech. Coming in the one ear, America First sounds patriotic. But several sentences later, his call for “total allegiance to the United States of America” lands with the putrid thug of totalitarianism. What is total allegiance if not total? And to whose United States would he have us make this pledge? Obama’s? Trump’s? Our own? Our neighbors’?
Religion scholar Mircea Eliade wrote that we shouldn’t confuse the sacred time and sacred space of a coronation of a king at the cathedral with profane life. The two realms intersect and inform one another, but modern people live in a civilian world where the worship and unquestioning fealty to another mortal is repugnant. No matter what the red and gilded trappings you dress the president up in, the president is just another human doing a human job. And we don’t work for him. He works for us.
Trump’s speech was scarily deficient on paeans to liberty and democracy, not an accident, I think. It will be up to him how much of the imperial ambition expressed in his speech will be translated into action and how much will be window dressing. Like all things Trumpian, we won’t know what he’ll do until he does it.
Now that Trump is being feted like Washington royalty, though, I suspect he’ll indulge his natural tendencies and do everything in his power to avoid a Jeffersonian presidency. Remember, in his previous incarnation the guy was a powerful man who lived in a high golden castle.
It is God’s will that POLITICO should institute the serial comma. Send punctuation advice to [email protected]. My email alerts have moved to Newfoundland to birdwatch. My Twitter feed has gone underground. And my RSS feed has said to hell with everything and ordered a burger to go.
The official Twitter accounts for the president, vice president, first lady and press secretary may have changed hands on Inauguration Day, but at least one official government account is seemingly stuck in the Obama era.
The verified Twitter account for the National Park Service retweeted a post from New York Times reporter Binyamin Applebaum showing side by side images of the crowds at Trump’s inauguration and at President Barack Obama’s record-setting 2009 swearing-in. Obama’s, on the left, shows a jam-packed National Mall while Trump’s, on the right, is more sparsely populated.
It's unclear if the pictures were taken at comparable times.
The photos are stark evidence that Trump’s prediction of an “unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout” did not come to fruition.
The retweet is particularly notable given that the NPS stopped providing official crowd estimates for events on the Mall, including inagurations, after a dispute over counts at the Million Man March in 1995 prompted a lawsuit threat.
The National Park Service account also retweeted another post noting that “civil rights, climate change, and health care scrubbed clean from White House website. Not a trace.”
— Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) January 20, 2017
President Donald Trump’s first tweets as commander in chief Friday captured key elements of the 16-minute inaugural address he just delivered.
Less than hour after being sworn in as president at the U.S. Capitol — and roughly a half-hour after addressing the nation for the first time as president — Trump returned to his favorite platform, blasting a series of tweets to his 20 million-plus followers from his personal @realDonaldTrump account.
“Today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People,” he wrote in the first pair of tweets.
Trump inherited the White House’s @POTUS account after he was sworn in Friday afternoon. The handle, which has not yet sent any tweets, has more than 4.5 million followers as of 1:30 p.m., while his personal account boasts nearly 21 million followers.
It’s unclear, however, if Trump will use his new handle at all. In the past week, Trump has said he doesn’t like tweeting, blaming the media for his proclivity to fire off messages in 140 characters or less. But he also told the Times of London last weekend that he would prefer to build up his personal account and “keep it at @realDonaldTrump.”
In seven additional tweets, Trump highlighted other excerpts from his speech, including his proclamation that “January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again” and that the forgotten men and women of America will no longer be forgotten because Trump’s administration will put “#AmericaFirst.”
He also pledged to bring back jobs, as well as protect the nation’s borders, wealth and even Americans’ dreams.
“It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots!” Trump wrote in the last of two tweets, both linking to Facebook posts. His last message concluded with a message to every American. “[I]n every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again!”
His first tweets as president were each sent from an iPhone. In the past, tweets sent from an Android device usually indicated that the messages were coming from Trump himself, but The New York Times has reported that the president has swapped his Android with a new secure, encrypted, Secret Service-approved device.
Donald J. Trump on Friday was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, ushering in an era of uncertainty for a nation still divided by a bruising election. In his address, Trump promised to take care of "forgotten" Americans and pledged to make "America first."
Minutes after reciting the Oath of Office on Friday afternoon, Trump delivered a brief, forceful and unconventional inaugural address. After thanking now-former President Barack Obama for his help during the transition, he proceeded to paint a dark view of the state of the country, describing it as descending into poverty and danger at home and flashing weakness on the foreign stage.
The people suffered, Trump said, while "elites" in Washington prospered. “Their victories have not been your victories,” he said. “Their triumphs have not been your triumphs and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment. It belongs to you.” He also made a promise: "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now."
Trump pledged to improve the nation by putting America and its people first. “From this day forward,” he said, “it’s going to be only America first.” The address was a return to the language of his presidential campaign, promising America will "win again."
Without offering specific plans details, he pledges his administration will bring back jobs, borders, dreams and wealth. He promised new infrastructure and to get Americans off of welfare. “I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never, ever let you down,” he said. “America will start winning again. Winning like never before.”
Obama departed from the Capitol following Trump's address.
His tenure in the White House ended, former President Barack Obama made his way down the steps of the Capitol’s east front, accompanied by his wife and his successor, President Donald Trump, to a waiting helicopter that would carry him to Joint Base Andrews.
The Obamas and Trump, who was also accompanied by his wife, first said goodbye to former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, who entered a limousine and drove away. The Bidens will take the former vice president’s preferred mode of transportation, Amtrak, home to Delaware later Friday. The Bidens were also seen off by their successors, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence.
The president then walked the Obamas to their waiting helicopter and exchanged from final words before the former first family boarded. The Trumps returned to the steps of the Capitol, where they stood and waved as the Obamas’ helicopter took off.
Once airborne, the Obamas’ helicopter turned West, seemingly making one more pass past the White House before turning towards Andrews Air Force Base, where the former president would participate in a farewell ceremony before boarding a plane to Palm Spring, California, where he will enjoy a vacation.
Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and their families took their places on the inauguration stage, alongside Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and their families.
Trump and Pence were greeted with loud cheers from the crowd, which also chanted Trump’s name as after Obama’s entrance and as he shook hands with former presidents and other dignitaries on stage.
Sen. Roy Blount (R-Mo.), the chairman of the Joint Inaugural Committee, offered introductory remarks, quoting former Presidents Ronald Reagan, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.
The three living former presidents who are in attendance at Friday's swearing-in made their way onto the inaugural stage as Obama and Trump arrived at the Capitol.
The moment made for particularly compelling split-screen viewing, as former President Bill Clinton and his wife, 2016 Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton arrived in the Capitol Crypt at the same time that Obama and Trump entered their limousine.
Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush were also in attendance at Friday’s inauguration. Only former President George H.W. Bush, who is currently hospitalized in Texas along with his wife, is absent from the festivities.
Clinton, wearing white to the inauguration, wrote on Twitter that “I'm here today to honor our democracy & its enduring values. I will never stop believing in our country & its future. #Inauguration”
Obama left the White House for the last time at 10:50 am, emerging from the traditional pre-inaugural tea at the White House with the Trumps.
Their conversation wasn’t exactly intimate: in addition to the vice presidents and their wives, top Congressional leaders from both parties (and their spouses) also attended, bringing the party attendance up to 20. But Obama did offer a more private message to Trump, in keeping with tradition: a note in the Oval Office.
The current and future president took their seats in the Beast and headed toward the Capitol.
The Trumps brought a gift for the first family: a blue box with a white ribbon in the style of high-end jeweler Tiffany.
“Mr. President-elect, how are you?” Obama said. Melania Trump followed her husband out of the car, greeting the president and the Michelle Obama. The future first lady reached out a robin’s egg blue-gloved hand to Michelle Obama, but the latter pulled her into a double-air-kiss.
The gift caused a brief moment of confusion as the president and First Lady Michelle Obama greeted the incoming first family beneath the north portico of the White House. The four greeted one another warmly and Obama turned to quickly drop the gift off inside the White House before returning so that all four could pose briefly for press cameras.
The Trumps were preceded in their arrival by Vice President-elect Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, who were greeted by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.
— POLITICO (@politico) January 20, 2017
White House residence staff presented the Obamas with the American flags that flew above the White House on the first and final days of their occupancy there.
Presenting the outgoing president with the two flags that bookend his administration is a relatively new tradition, according to The Washington Post. It began in 1989 when Gary Walters, then the chief usher at the White House, presented the two flags to outgoing President Ronald Reagan.
Valerie Jarrett, a longtime confidante of both Obamas and one of the president’s most senior advisers, chronicled the family’s final rituals at the White House on Friday, posting on Twitter a photo of the first couple receiving their flags and other last moments.
She and Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, Tina Tchen, posed for shot together shortly before leaving.
Trump began his day by attending a church service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, located just across Lafayette Square from the White House.
He was joined at the service by Melania as well as his children and grandchildren. Pence and his wife were in attendance as well, as were Pence’s two children. Absent from the ceremony, according to a press pool report, was Trump’s 10-year-old son Barron, who was also not in attendance at Thursday evening’s inaugural concert.
Pool reporters following Trump noted that members of his cabinet, both confirmed and designates, attended the service, along with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a longtime supporter of Trump’s, and several of his senior aides.
He marked the day, as he has so many others, with a tweet. Obama followed suit.
“It all begins today! I will see you at 11:00 A.M. for the swearing-in. THE MOVEMENT CONTINUES - THE WORK BEGINS!” Trump wrote on Twitter just after 7:30 a.m. Friday morning. The tweet was sent via a phone using the Android operating system, the type known to be used by Trump himself. The New York Times reported this week that Trump had been forced to exchange his personal phone for an encrypted, secure one.
Trump wasn't the only one tweeting: President Barack Obama sent perhaps his final messages to his followers via the @POTUS Twitter account Friday morning before it is turned over to the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.
“It's been the honor of my life to serve you. You made me a better leader and a better man,” a post to the account read, although it was not signed “-bo,” the typical indicator that the president himself had personally written the message.
“I won't stop; I'll be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by your voices of truth and justice, good humor, and love,” he continued in a subsequent post, encouraging followers to visit Obama.org to “share your thoughts” because “as we look forward, I want our first steps to reflect what matters most to you.”
“I'm still asking you to believe - not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours. I believe in change because I believe in you,” Obama wrote in the last of his four-post flurry.
Shortly after those messages appeared online, Obama could be seen by pool reporters in the Oval Office, presumably leaving the traditional note from the outgoing president to the incoming one on the desk. He then walked along the White House colonnade for a brief pool spray, where he was asked if he was feeling nostalgic. Obama replied “of course” and was then asked if he had a message for the American people, to which the president said “thank you.”
Alongside thousands of Trump fans in “Make America Great Again” apparel, clusters of protesters dotted the edges of the National Mall amid a steady, light rain.
Some demonstrators launched chants urging action on climate change, others for Black Lives Matter, with a vocal contingent decrying racism and what they said were pro-Trump white nationalists. Dozens of vendors hawked memorabilia to the crowds headed for Trump’s inaugural ceremony, from T-shirts to flags to fake money with the new president’s face printed on it.
Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting.
Minutes after reciting the Oath of Office on Friday afternoon, Donald Trump introduced himself to the world as the 45th president of the United States with a brief, forceful and unconventional inaugural address. Below are key moments from the speech.
Trump thanks now-former President Barack Obama and now-former First Lady Michelle Obama for their help in the transition, also offering a nod to the other former presidents present: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. It was an inclusive, formal and polite note to open the address, and it was followed by...
Trump slams Obama's performance as president. The new president bemoaned the state of the nation, describing a nation descending into poverty and danger at home and flashing weakness on the foreign stage. The people suffered, Trump said, while "elites" in Washington prospered. “Their victories have not been your victories,” he said. “Their triumphs have not been your triumphs and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment. It belongs to you.” He also made a promise: "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now."
Trump pivots to offer “a new vision will govern our land.” Speaking in grim terms about the current state of affairs in America, Trump pledged to improve the nation by putting America and its people first. “From this day forward,” he said, “it’s going to be only America first.”
Trump returns to the language of his campaign, promising America will "win again." Without offering specific plans details, he pledges his administration will bring back jobs, borders, dreams and wealth. He promised new infrastructure and to get Americans off of welfare. “I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never, ever let you down,” he said. “America will start winning again. Winning like never before.”
Trump promises “empty talk is over,” saying: “We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action constantly complaining but never doing anything about it,” Trump said. “The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.” He urged Americans not to allow anyone to convince them that something can’t be done and vowed that the U.S. “will not fail.” Rather, “our country will thrive and prosper again,” he said.
And then, 16 minutes after he began, Trump finished. After a campaign of long speeches and an inaugural address best measured in hours, Trump delivered an inaugural address far shorter than those of most of his predecessors. Following the address, the 45th President of the United States — flanked by a smiling Obama, trailed by new Vice President Mike Pence and now-former Vice President Joe Biden — down the Capitol Steps and toward a White House that is his new home.
Just over an hour after Donald Trump’s swearing-in, former President Barack Obama briefly upstaged his successor with a speech thanking his supporters and extolling his own political accomplishments.
In his first public remarks post-presidency early Friday afternoon, Obama gave a short speech at Joint Base Andrews, in which he recalled his successful campaigns for the Senate and the presidency, as well as his work in office.
As Obama was talking, Trump began signing orders back in Washington, and cable news networks initially carried video of both events with split screens before dropping away from Obama and fully onto the new president.
It is highly unusual for an outgoing president to give a televised speech so quickly after leaving office, and Obama had already delivered what was billed as his farewell address, last week in Chicago.
Obama seemed to acknowledge this on Friday. At the start of his remarks, Obama promised brevity and said he and his wife Michelle Obama had “really been milking this good-bye thing.”
The speech was mostly nostalgic. As he has previously, Obama described serving as president as “the privilege of my life” and said his run for office was inspired by an “abiding faith in the American people and their ability, our ability, to join together and change the country in ways that would make life better for our kids and our grandkids, that change didn't happen from the top-down, but it happened from the bottom-up.”
Sounding a note of optimism at a time when his supporters are despondent over Trump’s election, Obama also argued that his campaigns had “proved the power of hope.”
“It wasn't willful ignorance to all the challenges that America faces,” he continued. “It was hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty. You proved the power of hope and throughout this process, Michelle and I, we’ve just been your frontmen and women.”
President Donald Trump's campaign slogan and a biography touting his election victory now lead the relaunched White House website, which is also collecting email addresses from visitors on a splash page launched as Trump took office Friday afternoon.
Visitors to the site during the inauguration were greeted by a landing page collecting email addresses and zip codes, urging them to "Sign up for updates from President Donald J. Trump!"
Outgoing President Barack Obama's biography has been archived and replaced with Trump's, which touts his business acumen and calls his election a "landslide."
"Donald J. Trump is the very definition of the American success story," Trump's biography page reads. "Throughout his life he has continually set the standards of business and entrepreneurial excellence, especially with his interests in real estate, sports, and entertainment. Likewise, his entry into politics and public service resulted in the Presidential victory in, miraculously, his first ever run for office."
Trump has talked almost incessantly since his victory about how he won, and his official biography is no different.
"Mr. Trump won the election on November 8 of 2016 in the largest electoral college landslide for a Republican in 30 years," his biography page reads — rounding up slightly from the 28 years since former President George H.W. Bush won 426 electoral votes.
"He also won 306 electoral votes, the most for a Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988," the page reads.
"Let's Make America Great Again, Together," the top of whitehouse.gov now reads. "'The Movement Continues - The Work Begins' - President Donald J. Trump."
Trump's transition is delaying a major, full overhaul of whitehouse.gov for later in the year, and the site is less full than the Obama-era one that was up until 12:01 p.m. on Friday. Clicking on the "Jobs in the Administration" link directs visitors to a page with the presidential seal that reads, "We're moving in! Please check back later to submit your application."
There is no Spanish-language of the website at the moment, as there was under Obama. The page for submitted petitions to the White House still has Obama's name on it. And other federal government websites have yet to be changed. The Office of the United States Trade Representative, for instance, is still touting the benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed trade deal that Trump excoriated on the campaign trail.
The new White House website, though, reaffirms Trump’s campaign pledge to scrap the TPP and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Other policy sections on the new site include more Trump campaign pledges, including building a border wall, creating 25 million new jobs, expanding the military, scrapping the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan and improving care for veterans.
While Obama's White House site highlighted 23 issue areas by the time he left office, the new Trump White House site includes six broader issue headings: America First Energy Plan, America First Foreign Policy, Bringing Back Jobs And Growth, Making Our Military Strong Again, Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community and Trade Deals Working for All Americans. It is silent, for the moment, on some of Trump’s pledges during the campaign.
The site doesn’t mention anything about repealing Obamacare — or about health care at all. Nor is there a section about education or getting rid of the Common Core standards, another Trump campaign pledge.
The Senate Friday overwhelmingly confirmed retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to be President Donald Trump's Defense secretary.
The vote was 98-1. Only Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) voted no.
A four-star general who retired in 2013, Mattis required a waiver to take the top Pentagon job since he hasn’t been out of uniform for at least seven years.
Congress, though, approved legislation exempting him from the requirement last week, and Trump signed it into law as one of his first acts as president.
The Senate Friday overwhelmingly confirmed retired Marine Gen. John Kelly to be President Donald Trump's secretary of Homeland Security.
The vote was 88 to 11.
Kelly, a four-star general who had been head of the U.S. Southern Command, retired from the Marines in 2016.
For about an hour on Friday afternoon, TV networks’ coverage turned from the inauguration of President Donald Trump to clashes between police and protesters in downtown Washington, D.C., just blocks away from the inaugural festivities.
Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins had to abandon his live shot as riot police began charging protesters in downtown Washington in midafternoon.
“We’re media! We’re media!” Jenkins repeated during the encounter, as his camera operator turned the lens toward the pavement.
“We are OK,” Jenkins assured viewers after the ordeal was over and he had crossed the police line. “Part of what that was, which was dramatic, but we just got ourselves caught.”
The tense moment, which was aired on the cable news channel, was part of a largely improvised stretch of coverage for television networks and other news organizations, who rushed to cover the protests that occasionally became violent. MSNBC and NBC had correspondent Jacob Rascon on the scene to capture riot police storming protesters and setting off flash bangs and pepper spray, but a crewmember in charge of the audio was hit with pepper spray, causing problems with the audio feed, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said on the air.
Vehicles being used by the media were affected as well. Former CNN host Larry King said on Twitter that his limo was vandalized.
“Protestors in DC smashed the windows of my hired SUV & many other cars. I was working in-studio & am ok, but my driver is a bit rattled,” King tweeted.
A BuzzFeed livestream appeared to show a Fox News truck being vandalized as well.
All the networks were in the process of covering the inaugural festivities when the clashes between police and protesters broke out.
MSNBC and NBC were among the first to switch their coverage, followed by CNN and Fox News. The other networks followed suit. Nearly 100 people were arrested in the ongoing protests.
At one point, around a burning trash can outside of the offices of The Washington Post, reporters seemed to outnumber the protesters.
Jenkins’ ordeal wasn’t the only tense moment between police and journalists during the day. Washington Post reporter Dalton Bennett was pushed to the ground by police earlier Friday, and a photographer for ABC affiliate WJLA was injured during a scuffle between protesters and police Friday morning.
A federal-class action lawsuit filed Friday accuses police of using unconstitutional tactics against demonstrators who descended on downtown Washington to protest the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
The suit, filed on behalf of Colorado defense attorney Benjamin Carraway claims that officers of the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Park Police confined peaceful protesters and sprayed them with chemicals.
"Around the time of Trump’s swearing in, John Doe MPD Officers and John Doe Park Police officers surrounded individuals who were at or near 12th & L St., NW....Without warning and without any dispersal order, the police officers kettled all of the plaintiffs," the complaint says. "Defendants included in the kettle not only protesters who had engaged in no criminal conduct, but also members of the media, attorneys, legal observers, and medics....Defendants proceeded to indiscriminately and repeatedly deploy chemical irritants, attack the individuals with batons, and throw flash-bang grenades at the kettled individuals."
"The use of chemical irritants against Plaintiffs, the use of the batons against Plaintiffs, and the deployment of flash-bang grenades under the circumstances constituted unreasonable and excessive force," Washington attorney Jeffrey Light argued in the complaint.
Spokespeople for the D.C. police and the Park Police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
D.C. police officials handling of a 2002 protest against an International Monetary Fund meeting led to at least three lawsuits that cost the city more than $12 million to settle. The allegations were similar: that protesters were confined unnecessarily or arrested without cause.
President Donald Trump’s team is inserting itself into a local battle for state party chair — the second time it has done so in just a matter of weeks.
On Thursday, two of Trump’s top advisers, chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon, wrote a letter announcing their support of Ron Weiser, a major GOP donor who is running for Michigan Republican Party chairman.
“Our task now is to keep Michigan a red state, and Ron Weiser is the right choice to lead that charge as Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party,” Priebus and Bannon wrote in the letter, which was addressed to members of the state GOP, who hold the chair election next month.
The letter was first reported by The Detroit News.
Trump has shown little reluctance to play political hardball in the kind of local races that typically don't capture the attention of presidents. Earlier this month, he personally made phone calls to Ohio party officials in an effort to voice his support for Jane Timken, a Trump supporter who successfully ousted state GOP chair Matt Borges. Trump’s inner circle viewed Borges, who had been critical of Trump during the 2016 campaign, as disloyal.
What makes the Michigan move particularly striking is that Weiser is running against Scott Hagerstrom, who directed Trump’s successful Michigan campaign. Priebus and Bannon do not address Hagerstrom by name in the letter, choosing only to lavish praise on Weiser, who has held the Michigan GOP chairmanship before and is now looking to reclaim it. Weiser was supportive of Trump’s 2016 bid and was one of his top fundraisers.
Weiser and Hagerstrom are running to replace Ronna Romney McDaniel, who this week replaced Priebus as Republican National Committee chair.
The watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington greeted President Donald Trump's inauguration by filing a complaint over his ownership interest in the new Trump International Hotel, which sits on federal property and operates under a lease from the General Services Administration.
The group is urging GSA to declare that as of the time Trump was sworn in today he's in violation of a clause in the 60-year, $180 million lease that restricts the ability of government officials to benefit from it.
“Unless GSA has received new information demonstrating President Trump no longer owns Trump Old Post Office LLC, and there is no evidence it has, it is now time for GSA to initiate the process for establishing that President Trump’s company has breached the lease and is in default,” CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder wrote. “CREW requests that GSA initiate this process by immediately notifying Old Post Office LLC that it is in breach of the ground lease.”
Trump advisers say the lease provision is aimed at officials who are in office when the lease is being negotiated, not someone who becomes an official once the lease is already in place.
A GSA spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As President Donald Trump was being inaugurated, lawyers asked a military judge to dismiss desertion charges against Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl because of a slew of comments Trump made during the presidential campaign blasting Bergdahl as a traitor who deserved to be executed.
Trump is now the commander in chief, giving him direct authority over the judge assigned to Bergdahl's cases as well as the servicemembers selected to serve on his court martial.
Bergdahl's attorneys say Trump's rhetoric and his new military role inevitably create "unlawful command influence" that has eliminated any possibility that their client can get a fair shake in the military justice system.
"President Trump has made it impossible for SGT Bergdahl to obtain a fair trial," Bergdahl's lawyers wrote in the motion filed Friday. "President Trump transformed his rallies into a televised traveling lynch mob. Justice cannot be done and public confidence in military justice cannot be maintained under these circumstances."
Trump pilloried Bergdahl on more than 40 occasions during the presidential campaign, often referring to him publicly as a "dirty, rotten traitor."
As a candidate, Trump often vividly suggested that Bergdahl be executed and sometimes "pantomimed executions by rifle and pistol shot, complete with sound effects." (The defense sent the judge a video splicing together many of the comments and the visuals.)
Bergdahl's legal team is also raising the possibility of calling Trump as a witness, if military prosecutors are unwilling to agree to the accuracy of the videos and press reports depicting Trump's comments.
Bergdahl went missing from his base in Afghanistan in 2009. He spent five years as a prisoner of the Taliban before being released in a prisoner swap negotiated by the Obama administration, involving the release of five Taliban fighters long held at Guantanamo Bay. Trump was among many Republicans who denounced the trade as unwise and who questioned Bergdahl's loyalty to the U.S.
In 2015, Bergdahl was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. A military lawyer who conducted a preliminary hearing recommended that Bergdahl be sent to a special court martial and receive no jail time, but an Army general ordered that the soldier face a general court martial on the two serious charges, with a possible sentence of up to life in prison.
On some occasions during the campaign, Trump proposed returning Bergdahl to his Taliban captors or executing him in an unconventional fashion.
"Let's fly him over. We'll dump him right in the middle. Throw him out of the plane. Should we give him a parachute or not?" Trump asked a crowd at a Dec. 5, 2015 rally in Spencer, Iowa. "I say no. Don't give him a parachute. Why would we want to waste a parachute?"
Bergdahl's lawyers say that in addition to presuming their client's guilt, Trump spread misinformation about as many as a half a dozen American soldiers being killed searching for him. Pentagon officials have said they could not find evidence to back up such claims.
President Barack Obama faced similar criticism in 2011 when he declared that Army Pvt. Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning "broke the law" in connection with the leak of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and military reports to WikiLeaks. Lawyers for Manning, who was facing a potential court martial, argued that the remarks undermined the presumption of innocence. They also asked that Obama be called as a witness at a preliminary hearing, something that did not come to pass.
Obama's comments ultimately did little to derail the case against Manning, who was convicted on most of the charges. Manning received a 35-year sentence, although Obama commuted that to just under seven years, setting her release for May.
Bergdahl's attorneys say Trump's statements are more extreme and pervasive than other instances where presidents made one-off comments about a case and often withdrew those remarks. Bergdahl's lawyers also say the fact that Trump made his comments as a candidate and not as president hardly cures the problem.
"It would exalt form over substance to treat those statements as immune from apparent [unlawful command influence] concerns because he wasn't President when he made them. They cannot be scrubbed from the record as if he had simply put on a clean shirt for the Inauguration," the defense motion says.
The next motions hearing in Bergdahl's case is set for Feb. 13 at Fort Bragg, N.C. The trial is scheduled to open there on April 18.
Newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump quickly got two members of his national security team confirmed Friday, but another key security official will have to wait until next week due to objections from Democrats.
Senators formally installed retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to lead the Pentagon with a 98-1 vote, with only Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) voting no. The Senate voted to confirm, 88-11, another retired Marine general, John Kelly, to become the next Homeland Security secretary.
After an hour of back-and-forth negotiations on the Senate floor Friday evening, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Senate would hold six hours of debate on Rep. Mike Pompeo's (R-Kan.) nomination on Monday, and then a confirmation vote after that.
Republicans had demanded a quick vote on Friday for Pompeo, a key member of President Donald Trump’s national security team. But some liberal Senate Democrats had objected due to their concerns about Pompeo’s views on government surveillance and complaints that Pompeo had not sufficiently answered questions.
“This would ensure there would be a debate about the CIA and its future director in the light of day,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who had objected to holding a confirmation vote for Pompeo on Friday.
Earlier Friday, the Democratic resistance to swiftly confirming Pompeo to lead the Central Intelligence Agency was so strong that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) personally reached out to Vice President Mike Pence to keep on John Brennan, former President Barack Obama’s CIA director, through the weekend, Schumer spokesman Matt House said.
Brennan has now officially stepped down, as has the agency’s deputy director — and Republicans used the vacancies atop the nation’s intelligence agency to pressure Democrats to relent quickly on giving Pompeo a vote.
"It makes no sense to leave the post open, not for another week, not for another day, not for another hour," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Friday. "America's enemies will not pause in plotting, planning and training simply because the Democrats refuse to vote."
Senate Democrats can’t stop Trump’s nominees from getting confirmed without Republican defections, since most nominations need just a simple majority to be confirmed. But they can wield significant leverage by objecting to swift consideration of Cabinet nominees, even those who face little opposition among senators.
"I would say from a security standpoint our country is most vulnerable to our adversaries around the world during a time of transition like this," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said as he left the inaugural lunch with Trump. "To not give the president his team, particularly his national security team on the first day of office, is reckless and irresponsible."
Though Obama got seven nominees confirmed in rapid-fire sequence on Jan. 20, 2009, Senate Democrats this year were willing to allow a vote for only two non-controversial Trump nominees, Mattis and Kelly. "That's not enough," McConnell said.
But Pompeo has becoming a growing concern for several liberal Senate Democrats.
Wyden officially objected to holding a Friday vote for the Kansas lawmaker, raising alarms about Pompeo’s support for an intelligence database that would collect a broad array of information on Americans, including financial data and social media postings. Joined by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.), Wyden is insisting on more time to debate Pompeo's nomination.
The trio of senators released a statement Friday afternoon noting that no CIA director in history had been confirmed on Inauguration Day and that the position deserved more thorough vetting and debate.
The CIA is “capable of protecting the nation and serving the president under the leadership of its senior professional personnel. Certainly the incoming administration acknowledges that this would be consistent with their decision to hold over 50 current administration national security appointees,” Wyden, Leahy and Blumenthal said in the joint statement. “Our constituents expect Congress to be a check and balance on the incoming administration, not a rubber stamp.”
Pompeo, who had his confirmation hearing last week, has not yet been taken up by the Senate Intelligence Committee — though the Senate can circumvent panel action and bring the nomination straight to the floor as long as all 100 senators agree. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said Friday that Republicans believed they had a deal with Schumer on Pompeo, which is why he didn't schedule Pompeo for a committee vote this week.
A large group of Democratic senators, including Schumer and Wyden, huddled on the floor to strategize as McConnell pushed forward, with several shaking their heads and taking the urgent-appearing conversation into the Democratic cloakroom.
But some Democrats said that there's little to debate. Leahy said Pompeo is "not gonna happen."
Responding to GOP criticism that Democrats were risking national security by holding up Pompeo, Wyden said career officials at the CIA are more than equipped to handle any potential crisis situation. And the Oregon senator seemed to think Republicans, eager to celebrate Trump and attend inaugural balls, would ultimately agree to kick Pompeo's vote to next week.
"Picture tonight. There’s not gonna be anybody around for debate," Wyden told reporters. "People are going to be tucking into their tuxes."
President Donald Trump’s staff started arriving at the White House less than two hours after their boss took the oath of office.
Raj Shah, a new deputy communications director, showed reporters his teal-blue badge (in contrast to the Obama administration’s royal blue hard passes) and said he was on hand “literally to hit ‘send’ on things.” Indeed, the prepared text of Trump’s inaugural speech and the first White House pool report landed in inboxes from a White House press address labeled “OCIO.”
It’s unclear how many others will make it onto the White House campus on Friday, Shah said. Vans have been carrying staffers over from the transition offices, “a bunch of NSC staff, primarily,” he said, referring to the National Security Council.
Asked whether Trump would make more executive moves during his first hours in office beyond those he signed at the Capitol, Shah said, “Stay tuned for that.”
He added: “Don’t start drinking yet.”
Shah, a former research director for the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee, said much of the communications staff will be in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
It’s unclear whether Trump will house all of his communications team — which is distinct from the press shop that talks regularly and directly with reporters — in the EEOB, or if some will be in the West Wing. In the Obama White House, some senior communications aides were based in “Upper Press,” a part of the West Wing to which reporters had access and where the press secretary’s office is located, with others in the EEOB. (Reporters do not have access to the EEOB without an appointment.)
Reporters also traditionally have free access to “Lower Press,” a set of offices for the deputy and assistant press secretaries just off the Brady Briefing Room. Some time after Obama and Trump departed the White House, the door to “Lower Press” was locked. Zeke Miller, a Time correspondent and board member of the White House Correspondents’ Association, asked Shah to have the door unlocked. Shah was unfamiliar with the setup — but the sliding door was unlocked within 15 minutes of the conversation.
President Donald Trump will tap Ajit Pai as his pick to lead the FCC in the new administration, elevating the sitting GOP commissioner to the top spot overseeing the nation's communications industry, according to four industry sources familiar with the decision.
The announcement could come as soon as this afternoon, the sources said. Pai, a Barack Obama nominee who has served as the senior FCC Republican for more than three years, could take the new role immediately and wouldn't require approval by the Senate because he was already confirmed to serve at the agency.
A spokesman for Pai declined to comment and the Trump transition team did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Pai, who met with Trump in New York on Monday, had been seen by many as a top contender for the job given his reputation as a telecom law expert who’s comfortable in front of the camera. But his selection is also somewhat of a departure for the incoming administration, which has tapped people outside of Washington for many top positions.
By contrast, Pai is already a familiar name in tech and telecom policy debates. He’s a fierce and vocal critic of many regulations passed by the commission's Democratic majority, including the 2015 net neutrality rules that require internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally and are opposed by the major broadband companies. As chairman, Pai will be able to start the process of undoing the net neutrality order and pursuing other deregulatory efforts.
Pai was widely assumed to be taking the agency’s gavel at least temporarily as an acting chairman at the beginning of Trump’s tenure. But Trump’s decision to make him a more permanent chairman affords the Kansas-bred Republican a bigger mandate to make his mark on the agency and its rules.
Pai and fellow GOP Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, for example, said last month that they will “seek to revisit” the net neutrality rules “as soon as possible,” and Pai said in a December speech he believes 2017 is the best opportunity in the last decade to advance conservative principles. In September, he outlined a “Digital Empowerment Agenda” — a four-point plan he says will help spur investment in internet networks and close the digital divide between rich and poor. The approach seeks to expand access to mobile broadband and reduce regulatory barriers to broadband deployment.
The head of an advocacy group that promotes net neutrality and opposes media consolidation criticized Pai as the next FCC head.
“Ajit Pai has been on the wrong side of just about every major issue that has come before the FCC during his tenure," Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. "He’s never met a mega-merger he didn’t like or a public safeguard he didn’t try to undermine. He’s been an inveterate opponent of net neutrality, expanded broadband access for low-income families, broadband privacy, media diversity and more."
Pai, who turned 44 earlier this month, has spent much of his 18 years in Washington in public service with the DOJ, Senate Judiciary Committee and the FCC. He also worked for two years as a lawyer for Verizon, and spent another year representing telecommunications clients at Jenner & Block.
His FCC term technically expired last year, but agency rules allow him to continue serving through 2017. He would need to be reconfirmed by the Senate this year if he were to continue serving as chairman.
-Margaret Harding McGill contributed to this report.
Betsy DeVos has agreed to sever ties to several companies that provide services to schools and colleges, as well as a debt collection agency that collects student loans on behalf of the Education Department, according to government ethics paperwork released Friday.
DeVos, a Michigan billionaire with a complicated web of financial holdings, reached an agreement on Thursday with government ethics officials that will require her to divest from 102 of those assets that could potentially pose a conflict for her as Education secretary.
DeVos listed on her financial paperwork a holding company that invests in Performant Business Services, Inc., which the Education Department hires to collect defaulted federal student loans.
The holding company, from which DeVos has agreed to divest, also has investments in T2 Systems Inc., which provides parking payment services to colleges and universities, and in U.S. Retirement Partners, Inc., a financial services company that “specializes in public school and governmental employee benefit plans,” according to the disclosure statement.
DeVos listed an investment between $500,001 and $1 million in KinderCare Education, formerly Knowledge Universe Education, which is a provider of day care and early childhood education programs. She agreed to divest from the company.
In addition, DeVos has agreed to divest from an “early stage venture fund” that invests in Varsity News Network, Inc., a software developer for school athletics, and Flip Learning, which develops interactive digital textbooks for college students. She will also divest her interest, through a holding company, in N2Y, LLC, which “provides cloud-based learning services for special education,” and in a company, Caldwell and Gregory, Inc., which provides laundry equipment for colleges and universities and apartments.
DeVos’ financial disclosure statement also lists Dick DeVos as a co-borrower on a more than $1 million loan from PNC Financial Services Group for West Michigan Aviation Academy, the charter school that the DeVos’ founded and have funded.
The ethics agreement reached by DeVos and government ethics officials outlines the 102 entities from which she will divest within 90 days of her confirmation as Education secretary.
According to the agreement, the Education Department’s top ethics official determined that it wasn’t necessary for DeVos to divest from her remaining assets because of the “remote” chance she’ll have to make an official decision that affects them. “However,” DeVos wrote, “I will remain vigilant in identifying any particular matters involving the interests of these entities and their holdings …”
DeVos agreed to resign her position from her family’s investment firms, RDV Corporation and the Windquest Group, but will keep her financial interest in those companies.
The release Friday of the long-awaited documents meets a deadline set by Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) earlier this week. Alexander said he would hold a committee vote on DeVos’ nomination next Tuesday as long as her ethics paperwork was completed by the end of this week.
A spokesman for Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the committee, said Murray was still reviewing DeVos’ financial disclosure statement. The spokesman said Murray had not yet received answers to information she requested of DeVos about her confidential Senate financial questionnaire.
Among her hundreds of holdings, DeVos listed a stake in the embattled blood-testing company Theranos, valued at more than $1 million. Federal prosecutors launched a probe into the company last year about allegations it misled investors about its technology. The company has also drawn scrutiny from the FDA and CMS, and it has been the focus of multiple federal lawsuits over faulty blood tests.
DeVos lists the income from her stake in Theranos as none or less than $201.
DeVos also lists a stake in OSI Group, LLC, valued at $250,000 to $500,000. The company was fined $3.6 million by regulators in China last year for selling expired meat that was repackaged with newer expiration dates in a 2014 fast food safety scandal.
DeVos also lists the income in OSI Group, LLC, as none or less than $201.
Caitlin Emma contributed to this report.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote Monday on President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the State Department, the panel announced Friday afternoon.
The committee will vote on Rex Tillerson’s nomination at 4:30 p.m. in Dirksen 419.
“Dark." “Radical.” “Not strong.” “A call to arms.”
The television anchors, reporters and analysts covering President Donald Trump’s inaugural speech may have appeared on different networks, but they were united in their depictions of Trump’s speech.
“A speech that, in the early 1960s, gave us ‘ask not,’ today gave us ‘American carnage,’” said MSNBC anchor Brian Williams.
“One of the most radical inauguration speeches we’ve ever heard ... Pure populism,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said.
“This was Donald Trump seizing power, in the sense that there is a new sheriff in town,” Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said. "The American carnage must stop right here, right now. … This was the speech of an insurgent, the leader of a revolt that has won and taken control of Washington.”
Even the more charitable descriptions of the speech noted the darkness of his rhetoric.
"I thought the speech was not poetic, but quite strong. It was very much Trump. While it wasn’t soaring he had many lines that were quite memorable,” said Fox News’ Brit Hume. “He painted this dark landscape of circumstances in this country, and promised to fix it all, basically.”
Some fact-checked Trump’s speech, which mentioned crime rates and Americans out of work.
“It was a dark, even pessimistic view of where we are at the moment,” said CNN’s John King. "The statistics will tell you illegal border crossings are down; didn’t sound like that from the speech. The statistics would tell you we have 4.7 percent unemployment. He talked about how terrible things are and how horrible they are in the country ... this is trademark Trump. This is how he campaigned; it’s his brand of populism."
Many noted that Trump did not focus his speech on bipartisanship or unity. Instead, he continued the themes from his campaign.
"I thought this speech was a call to arms rather than an appeal for unity. It was a populous message that got him to the presidency, tough language about eliminating the American carnage, talking about eliminating from the face of the Earth radical Islamic extremism. It was a call to arms,” CBS’ Charlie Rose said.
"What you saw there today, in that inaugural address, is why he won this election,” Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts said.
"I have to say, it was surprisingly divisive for an inaugural address, and I say it this way. We said it was a challenge when you're elected as an outsider. You're elected as a populace, and you’re channeling what was real anger out there with his supporters. It is tough to be both a unifier and that populace carrier,” said NBC’s Chuck Todd. "He went with populism, and I think that it is going to play well with his folks, but that was not the type of inaugural address that was intended to bring this country together."
The Trump administration has suspended a fee cut on mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration.
"FHA is committed to ensuring its mortgage insurance program remains viable and effective in the long term for all parties involved, especially our taxpayers," the Department of Housing and Urban Development told lenders in a letter today. "As such, more analysis and research are deemed necessary to assess future adjustments while also considering potential market conditions in an ever-changing global economy that could impact our efforts."
Earlier this month, the Obama administration moved to lower mortgage fees beginning Jan. 27, a week after Donald Trump's inauguration. Mortgage lenders, builders and real estate agents endorsed the move, saying it would help first-time and lower-income borrowers.
Today, the industry was left to wonder if the Trump move was a routine review of Obama policy or an outright rejection of it.
"Based on the prior administration’s lack of communication on the FHA premium reduction, we believe the decision to review such action prior to implementation is prudent," said Scott Olson, executive director of the Community Home Lenders Association. "We are confident the review will support a premium cut."
The National Association of Realtors said the Trump administration's reversal could keep as many as 40,000 would-be homebuyers out of the market this year.
No one knows.
Everything in Washington is a question—what kind of bills are going to come through Congress, how radically Republicanism and conservatism are going to be reshaped, what the Democratic Party is going to do in an attempt to be relevant again, how much is going to be dictated by the president’s mood on any given day, what would constitute everything going right, what will happen when something inevitably goes wrong, how much America is going to change with each day, with each minute.
The clock’s going to tick over to 12:01, Donald Trump will be the president, and no one knows the answers.
A billion-dollar bank account. Twitter. No set allegiance to party or ideology. The acumen of a developer and reality show star. Warm feelings about Vladimir Putin. Support from a populist movement unlike anything in American history. The factors that make this new presidency unlike any other are endless.
There’s no model, no guide, but every reason to think that the candidate who was powered by disgust at the status quo will be the president who blows the status quo to pieces in way people can’t yet start to comprehend.
“The great unknown,” said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who said he’s spent weeks trying to get in touch with the transition team to learn what its agenda might mean for his state, and still hasn’t heard back.
“It's the most unpredictable new president that I can remember,” said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, a Republican and the current president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“When you’re hanging out in the members’ gym and talking on a bipartisan basis, the one thing we can all agree,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), “is that none of us knows what is going to happen over the next two and four years—over the next two or four days.”
“We’ve been trying to adjust to that since the morning of Nov. 9, and I think that most of America hasn’t yet absorbed the magnitude of what that means, most of Congress has not,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).
Unpredictability is Trump’s favorite weapon, and he seems as eager to use it as president as he did as president-elect and as a presidential candidate.
Trump, coming in with zero government experience, will effectively have three White House chiefs of staff, with a total of zero days of government experience between them. He’ll be surrounded by aides still getting to know each other, as members of skeletal campaign staff are joined by newcomers to fill the administration.
Like the new president, those who’ve come over from the campaign are suspicious of all who weren’t with them, and have been keeping careful track of everyone who was against them. They carry grudges. They want apologies. From the Oval Office and throughout the West Wing, people who have learned to live with the idea that they never win are about to get hit with the whiplash of being in charge.
And all of this in an atmosphere where, though none of the most extreme or salacious claims about Trump and Russia have been proven true, Trump clearly has opened up the space for people who want to believe them to insist they must be.
He’s historically unpopular for an incoming president. Nine million more people voted for candidates other than him. And the wound that the 2016 campaign left on America is deep, jagged, feverish, swollen and infected—and nowhere near healing.
Americans face whatever comes next without trust in elected leaders, in law enforcement, in the media, in almost any institution that used to ground them, but a bewildering sense that fiction has become reality and reality has become fiction.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the majority whip, said that as far as he’s concerned, the crisis of confidence is about to give way to confidence in Trump.
“I think the best indication is the quality of the people that he’s nominated to his cabinet and who he’s selected as his vice president,” Cornyn said. “They understand both the political and the practical challenges of getting things done, and I’m very optimistic.”
But to Cornett, the presence of so many unconventional, untested cabinet nominees adds another layer of mystery for what’s ahead.
“He's chosen a cabinet that is a little bit out of the mainstream,” he said. “Not questioning the quality of the people, I'm just saying they have a little bit different résumés than the people who've held these positions before.”
Still, most Republicans shrug, chuckle, shake their heads at Trump. They’re happy with his cabinet appointments, at least. Publicly, they express a level of hope and certainty, what King calls the “huge, über euphoria” that’s going to rush over the country as soon as Trump swears the oath.
King said he knows what’s coming: not just in Obamacare and the Mexican border wall. The changes are going to go deep into Americans’ spines, literally—“the confidence that Donald Trump exudes—they will be able to tell us by our walk.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said that he’s been up late at night since the election, brushing up on a wide range of policy issues that now seem up for grabs, trying to reconcile his own fiscal conservatism with Trump’s agenda. It’s not easy to come up with a conservative way to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure that would make him comfortable with what Trump’s floated as his first big goal, Meadows said.
But Meadows insisted that people will be amazed at how much they’ll get done on repealing and replacing Obamacare, starting the border wall and sparking new job growth.
“The first 200 days will really be much more than tweaks around the edges. There will be fundamentally large and robust debates that happen around real policy,” he said.
On foreign policy, all over the world, allies are past holding their breaths and onto breathing into brown paper bags. The order that America’s helped enshrine, not just under Barack Obama’s 21st century globalism or since the end of the Cold War or the end of World War II, but going all the way back to Woodrow Wilson, is certainly going to be different, but no one quite knows how.
“There are not any assurances that this administration has made to foreign leaders about what the incoming administration will do,” Obama’s press secretary Josh Earnest said on Tuesday at his final White House briefing.
Trump’s comments about NATO being obsolete, tilting toward Russia and reorienting priorities in Asia have the whole globe on edge.
And meanwhile, Democrats waver between hoping for a Trump train wreck and worrying about a Trump trampling.
“I suspect that given his leadership style and the controversies surrounding him that it’s going to be a very rocky year,” said Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), who joined the Democratic boycott of the inauguration. “I’m grateful for separation of powers, I’m grateful for checks and balances. If this were a monarchy, we’d be in a lot more trouble than we are now.”
Seung Min Kim and Laura Nahmias contributed reporting.
Former President Barack Obama tweeted for the first time as a former president, returning to his @BarackObama handle after primarily using @POTUS since May 2015.
“Hi everybody! Back to the original handle. Is this thing still on? Michelle and I are off on a quick vacation, then we’ll get back to work,” Obama tweeted.
Donald Trump took over the @POTUS account after his inauguration Friday, with Obama’s tweets as president being archived @POTUS44. Obama’s @POTUS44 has 14 million followers, while his @BarackObama handle has 80.9 million. By comparison, Trump’s @realDonaldTrump handle has 20.8 million followers. Trump’s @POTUS account, which launched with 0 followers after the inauguration, has 10.4 million followers as of 4:15 on Friday.
Obama also tweeted a link to a video of him and former First Lady Michelle Obama discussing the upcoming Obama Presidential Center on the south side of Chicago. In the video, former President Obama describes the center as “more than a library or a museum”, saying it will be a “living, working center for citizenship.”
“In the meantime, I want to hear what you're thinking about the road ahead. So share your ideas with me here: https://www.obama.org/,” he tweeted shortly after his first post-presidential tweet.
Donald Trump’s presidency will ultimately be measured by whether he can transform the bombastic, details-free campaign style that propelled him to victory into substantive policy actions that look like success to the American people.
The obstacles are already piling up: Building the U.S.-Mexico wall requires money that isn’t there. Repealing Obamacare is an easy vote, but Republicans are thoroughly divided about how to replace it. Pulling out of a trade deal takes little more than a signature. But negotiating new ones — on Trump’s terms — will require more diplomatic skill and compromise than Trump has shown at any point during his remarkable run for the presidency.
The barriers to real policy success are innumerable and unpredictable. From tax reform to national security challenges to economic uncertainties, Trump’s campaign promises have run into trouble with his own party — even his own Cabinet members — before he even takes the oath of office.
One hundred days is an arbitrary period of time to assess a new presidency — blame FDR and the New Deal for that one. Nonetheless, POLITICO assigned its policy reporting teams to handicap the road ahead for the first 100 days of the Trump administration, identifying the policy ideas, the leaders and the obstacles that will be used to define success or failure of the new White House.
The vision: Trump has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which he has repeatedly called a “disaster.” He says he’ll replace it with cheaper and better insurance for “everybody.” But Trump splits with congressional Republicans who want to overhaul Medicare by partially privatizing it. He sides with Republicans on proposals to turn Medicaid, the health care program geared to the poor, into lump-sum state payments — an idea that Democrats abhor. He also wants to allow government health programs to negotiate drug prices, a stance sure to alienate Republicans and the powerful drug lobby.
Key leaders: Trump; Vice President Mike Pence; House Speaker Paul Ryan; Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary; Seema Verma, Trump’s pick to head the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Outlook for the first 100 days: Trump has promised executive actions on Day One to begin rolling back Obama’s health law. Many health officials also expect action in the near term to prop up the Obamacare exchanges so they don’t implode during the transition period. The timeline for congressional action on repeal-and-replace legislation is extremely iffy: Trump has indicated his administration would submit its own plan “almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter” when his pick for secretary of Health and Human Services is confirmed.
Obstacles: Devising a plan that satisfies conservative Republicans implacably opposed to a major federal role (or expense) in health care, while winning over at least eight Senate Democrats needed to pass legislation, will be daunting — especially without upending his own base by taking health coverage away from 20 million people, including many of his voters.
The vision: Trump has promised to revive the U.S. manufacturing sector, beef up the enforcement of existing trade deals and punish companies that move jobs overseas. His top priorities include pulling out of trade agreements like the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Obama administration negotiated and hoped to get ratified before leaving office, and renegotiating NAFTA. Trump and members of his incoming Cabinet say they’re not against trade but see a need for stronger deals, preferably bilateral agreements.
With a triumvirate of China hawks leading his trade policy, Trump is pledging to challenge China’s use of tariffs, subsidies and other barriers to gain an unfair trade advantage. Trump also says he wants to cut the U.S. trade deficit by boosting exports and reducing imports, and he wants to slap hefty tariffs on imports of products from companies that move factories elsewhere.
Key leaders: Leading Trump’s trade policy will be trade attorney Robert Lighthizer as U.S. trade representative, economics professor Peter Navarro as head of the newly formed National Trade Council and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as Commerce secretary. While USTR traditionally takes the lead in negotiating trade policy, Trump has said that Ross, at Commerce, will be the chief architect of his agenda.
Trump has named Jason Greenblatt, his longtime attorney, to serve as “special representative for international negotiations,” a role the president-elect said would include helping negotiate trade deals around the world. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is also expected to focus on trade deals in his role as senior adviser.
Outlook for the first 100 days: Trump says his Day One agenda includes dropping out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Tight on its heels will come the renegotiation of NAFTA, though Trump and his trade advisers have yet to get specific on what exactly they would like to change about the pact.
The president-elect has also expressed strong interest in pursuing a bilateral trade agreement with the United Kingdom, though the U.K. can’t begin negotiations on new agreements until it finishes its exit from the European Union.
Trump could also instruct his pick for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, to label China a currency manipulator. Mnuchin and others have tempered the claim more recently.
Trump’s pledges to implement “a big border tax” have also picked up steam, and he could move early in his term to impose a 35 percent tariff on imports of goods from companies that move production offshore.
Obstacles: The executive branch has an extraordinary amount of authority over trade policy, a setup that will allow Trump to carry out, at least initially, much of what he has pledged to do. But he’s not the only one who has a say.
Some members of Congress could explore ways to check Trump’s trade moves by reasserting Congress’ constitutional authority over tariffs and trade.
International reaction is likely to be another obstacle, with other countries moving to retaliate against punitive tariffs. The renegotiation of NAFTA, for example, will be limited by what Canada and Mexico agree to — though Trump has threatened to pull out of the deal entirely if he does not get the terms he wants.
The vision: Republicans who have long wanted corporate tax reform have full control in Washington and quickly laid out a plan for overhauling the tax code through the budget resolution adopted earlier this month.
Trump and congressional Republicans broadly share the same goals — lowering tax rates for individuals, corporations and businesses that pay taxes as individual; boosting production in the United States; and scrapping many of the incentives currently in the tax code.
Key leaders: Trump; Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s choice for Treasury secretary; Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council; House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.); House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas); Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
Outlook for the first 100 days: Trump advisers initially talked a big game on taxes, floating the idea that reform could be taken care of by spring. But it’s pretty clear now that Republicans won’t be able to focus their full energies on tax reform until after their work is done on Obamacare — and the timeline there remains pretty cloudy.
Obstacles: Trump and House GOP leaders started squabbling about perhaps the central plank in the House tax reform plan — a “border adjustability” framework that taxes imports but exempts exports — before Trump even took the oath of office. As the old saying goes, there are always winners and losers in tax reform. So expect to hear more from potential losers if and when the administration and the Hill work out more of the tax reform details.
The vision: Trump campaigned as a champion of the working class and repeatedly promised to bring manufacturing and coal jobs back to the U.S. His campaign platform promised 25 million new jobs in the next decade. Since his election, he’s touted announcements by various companies, including United Technologies Corp., and most recently General Motors, as evidence that major firms into creating or keeping jobs in the U.S. Trump has threatened corporate America with a 35 percent border tax on any company that moves production outside the U.S. and then tries to ship goods back to the country.
Key leaders: Andrew Puzder, Trump’s pick to lead the Labor Department, is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. Puzder opposed the Labor Department’s overtime rule (now blocked by a federal court), and has been reluctant to raise the hourly minimum wage, currently $7.25, even as high as $10.10. His confirmation hearing before the Senate HELP committee is slated for Feb. 2.
Outlook for the first 100 days: Trump will likely focus first on the low-hanging fruit of tax cuts and deregulation, both of which will enjoy strong support from the GOP Congress. Trump aides have also been making the rounds on Capitol Hill to discuss maternity leave and child care proposals.
Obstacles: Puzder could face difficulties getting confirmed as labor groups, women’s groups and Democrats hit him on a variety of fronts. Rumors swelled in mid-January that Puzder might be getting cold feet, but these quieted after Puzder tweeted that he looked forward to his confirmation. Trump’s anti-trade policies and even, to some extent, his anti-immigration policies don’t go down well with many congressional Republicans.
The vision: Nothing lit the Trump movement’s fire like his calls to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Yet these promises will be the hardest to deliver. His proposed wall along the Mexican border has a price tag in the billions or tens of billions, and he’s even had trouble rounding up support from Republicans. His pledge to deport up to 3 million immigrants with criminal records is another tall order. His pledge to eliminate President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides deportation relief to more than 752,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age, may no longer be operative.
Key leaders: House Speaker Paul Ryan will need to marshal support for whatever immigration plan Trump ultimately settles on, if only to procure funding. Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, will oversee immigration enforcement efforts. During his confirmation hearing, Kelly broke with past Trump statements, staking out less extreme positions about the southern border, about deportations, and about admitting Muslim visitors to the U.S. If confirmed, the president-elect’s choice for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, will wield power over the immigration courts. That will be particularly significant if Trump ramps up deportations.
Outlook for the first 100 days: Trump could use the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which called for Congress to build 700 miles of reinforced fence along the southern border, but never set a ceiling on the total number of miles. DHS says it’s already constructed 700 miles of fencing or vehicle barriers, but Congress is already authorized to fund extension, repair, or replacement of existing barriers. On the first day of his administration, Trump could roll back Obama-era immigration enforcement policies that prioritize rounding up serious criminals over corralling undocumented immigrants who’ve committed petty crimes or have no criminal record at all. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents could arrest and detain undocumented immigrants en masse. Trump is also under pressure to decide the future of Obama’s signature deportation relief program, DACA, as soon as he takes office. The hundreds of thousands of people approved for DACA have access to work permits and hold jobs in a range of professional settings, from the courtroom to the classroom.
Obstacles: Trump can come out swinging: Increased border security and deportations could begin quickly, as could DACA repeal (should Trump revert to his earlier opposition). But addressing larger immigration problems legislatively would require a vision that extended beyond fences and deportations. Trump has not publicly discussed such a vision.
The vision: Trump has promised to achieve "peace through strength" by pursuing a massive military buildup. That would include expanding the Army to 540,000 active duty soldiers, the Navy to 350 ships, the Air Force to 1,200 fighters and the Marines to 36 battalions. That's in addition to modernizing the nation's nuclear arsenal. Trump has also said he wants military leaders to formulate a plan within 30 days of his inauguration for defeating the Islamic State, and has talked up the advantages of closer cooperation with Russia in fighting terrorism.
Key leaders: Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's choice for national security adviser, was an early supporter and adviser to Trump — but has faced scrutiny for his ties to foreign countries through his consulting firm, his closeness to Russia and his habit of promoting conspiracy theories on social media. Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, tapped to be Defense secretary, has appeared to split with Trump on Russia and on whether to scrap Obama's Iranian nuclear deal. Former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson is Trump's pick to be secretary of State, but both Democrats and some Republicans have questioned his lack of government or diplomatic experience and his close ties to Russia.
Outlook for the first 100 days: The Trump administration will give two major indications of its plans for defense spending, starting with a defense budget supplemental request it will probably submit to Capitol Hill soon after taking office. Following that will be Trump's budget proposal for fiscal 2018. He also still needs to fill scores of high-level national security vacancies.
Obstacles: Pentagon spending caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act represent the most direct obstacle to Trump's proposed buildup. Repealing the caps will require 60 votes in the Senate, where Democrats have presented a united front demanding equal increases in domestic spending. Trump will also continue to face intense scrutiny from both parties related to any proposed reset with Russia.
The vision: Trump has made clear his disdain for mainstream climate change science, at times calling it "a hoax." Incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus recently said Trump still believes that when it comes to climate research, "most of it is a bunch of bunk."
Key leaders: Scott Pruitt, who has clashed with the Environmental Protection Agency as Oklahoma's attorney general, is Trump's choice to run the EPA, whose regulations make up the heart of the Obama administration's climate agenda. As secretary of State, Tillerson will be an important voice in in determining whether the U.S. remains a part of 2015's Paris global climate agreement and future negotiations. Rick Perry, the former Texas governor tapped to run the Energy Department, has accused climate scientists of manipulating their research and once pledged to dismantle the agency, though he now says he regrets that.
Outlook for the first 100 days: Trump is expected to start unraveling Obama's environmental legacy as early as his first day. EPA could begin the administrative process to withdraw its carbon rules for power plants, while many conservatives would like to see Trump pull the U.S. out of global climate pacts, including Paris, as soon as possible. Trump could also eliminate the Obama administration's methods of calculating the economic benefits of greenhouse-gas reductions, as well as efforts to cut carbon pollution from the federal government's operations.
Obstacles: Trump may not believe in climate change, but his inner circle does not appear to have consensus on the issue, and much could depend on whether Ivanka Trump’s concerns sway her father. It could take years for EPA to go through the full administrative process needed to kill its major Obama-era carbon rules. And while Trump said in May that he would "cancel" the Paris deal, he expressed an "open mind" on the topic after the election.
The vision: Trump and his advisers have talked about proposing a legislative package that would unlock $1 trillion in investments in roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure to spur economic growth and create jobs — with an intense focus on using American-made products.
Key leaders: Transportation Secretary-designate Elaine Chao, House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
Outlook for the first 100 days: Though Trump often pledged that infrastructure would be a cornerstone of his first 100 days in office, Congress is embroiled in bigger priorities like health care, and both House and Senate leaders have indicated that infrastructure is in the second tranche of their agenda, at best. Even if Trump fleshes out more of his proposal in the few months, substantial action on the Hill probably won't come that quickly.
Obstacles: Trump has yet to offer any concrete plan. The $1 trillion figure has already provoked sticker-shock among fiscal conservatives, even though his advisers' rhetoric suggests that the proposal will lean heavily on incentives to unlock private-sector capital, through bonds, tax credits, public-private partnerships and similar programs — as opposed to a huge burst of direct federal spending. Trump's "Buy American" focus could alienate some Republicans, especially because the GOP typically supports letting the market make such decisions.
Jeremy Herb, Gregory Hellman, Eric Wolff, Joanne Kenen, Paul Demko, Rachana Pradhan and Kathryn A. Wolfe contributed to this story.
Donald Trump’s shock win came with a post-election bump, as the number of Americans who viewed him favorably ticked up for a little over a month, reaching a high of about 45 percent.
But after 80 days of upending diplomatic norms, taunting his skeptics and picking fights on Twitter, Trump is entering the White House on Friday with historically low approval ratings and real questions about whether he can mend a country still reeling from the divisive election.
While pledging to follow through on his plan to actually build a border wall, Trump hasn’t bothered building bridges beyond his base, and instead has deepened the nation’s political and cultural divides.
December’s victory tour took him back to the states he won, where he basked in adulation from those who’ve been with him all along. He took a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan, tossing aside decades of diplomatic protocol, and he met with Nigel Farage but not Hillary Clinton.
His mixed messages, constant contradictions and open-ended statements, however hyperbolic, have left Republican allies, would-be administration appointees, and the public unclear about his true intentions for the presidency.
“On Election Night, he said he was going to be a president for everyone,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “Since that time, that outreach has been shattered by Russian hacking, the bullying of the news media and the constant controversies. He would meet with people like Al Gore on climate change, and then a day later, he’d pick a climate-denier.”
Trump has fought publicly with his critics, from an actress to a civil rights icon, and offered an ad hoc, mercantilist approach to foreign policy that is already destabilizing the world order — talking tough toward America’s longstanding allies and its intelligence community tasked with keeping the nation safe, while praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose cyberattacks last year aimed to tip America’s election toward the president-elect.
The confirmation chances of Trump’s secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, hit a snag after Tillerson aligned himself with Trump’s stance on Russia; other appointees have made headlines by clearly contradicting the president-elect’s positions on policies toward Russia, the use of torture and a proposed ban on Muslim immigrants. Only one of his Cabinet appointees has cleared committee; and vacancies abound for dozens of top positions at the departments of State, Defense and others.
“There are just millions of Americans who aren’t able to imagine a Trump presidency,” Brinkley said. “People are just worried. He has to start somewhere, and the opening salvo of trying to generate goodwill with the American people is the inaugural speech. The words won't convince his detractors but might show a bit of decorum that has been lacking in the transition.”
For better or worse, Trump has continued to captivate America and the world with his unpredictable, outsized media presence—even though he has spent almost all of the time secluded in his 26th floor office at Trump Tower or behind the walls of other residences.
He has cleverly staged news conferences and taken credit for private companies’ decisions to expand jobs in the U.S., offering at least visual proof that he can deliver on his campaign’s central promise of creating jobs. Trump’s team engineered a factory tour and photo-op at Carrier’s Indianapolis plant weeks after winning the election to celebrate an unprecedented intervention by the president-elect, who helped engineer a deal to reward the air conditioner manufacture with $7 million in tax incentives for reversing a plan to move 1,000 jobs from the plant to Mexico—a symbolic victory that played big in the news media but had little impact on the larger economy.
“His use of the bully pulpit, taking credit for the little guy on the manufacturing jobs, it's great politics for him,” said Steve Schmidt, a GOP strategist. “I just don’t think it’s durable. I don’t think it’s going to work a year from now.”
He has continued to placate the media with platitudes and regular photo-ops of the parade of job seekers he greeted at the door of his Bedminster estate before a phalanx of cameras in November and the daily feed of comings and goings in the Trump Tower lobby. But he also challenged the authenticity of news organizations and reporters he deemed too aggressive, exciting the base of supporters who cheered his media bashing throughout his campaign.
Trump has done little to put to rest lingering questions about his campaign’s knowledge of and capitalization on Russia’s election-related cyberattacks last year, reacting with scorn for America’s intelligence community and the media for their role in publishing information that might raise questions about the legitimacy of his electoral victory. The president-elect’s apparent disregard for foreign counterparts has left world leaders uncertain about America’s commitment toward honoring long-cherished alliances.
“I think he thinks he knows more than he knows,” said former Ambassador Christopher Hill, a lifelong diplomat who served Republican and Democratic administrations in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. “He trashes [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, who is our greatest trans-Atlantic ally at the moment. He talks tough with China and wants to relitigate its One China policy—that’s a no-no in diplomacy. If something’s settled, you don’t put it back on the table.”
Trump’s tweet promising that North Korea will “never” get nuclear weapons also concerns Hill. “Any time you're not clear in your signals, there's a danger. I don't like this kind of gamesmanship with North Korea, especially if he threatens something and doesn't fulfill it. In business, if you threaten and it doesn't happen, fine. But I think he's extrapolating too much from real estate negotiations to geopolitics, where the consequences are so much greater.”
There is also uncertainty on the domestic front. Already, the GOP’s post-election honeymoon and pragmatic spirit of collaboration shared by Republican leaders at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is showing signs of strain, as Trump continues to create headaches by outlining policy goals in interviews that differ from those he and advisers have signaled support for in private meetings on Capitol Hill.
In just the past week, the president-elect has zigzagged away from House Spealer Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by promising health care for all Americans (the GOP plan offers only “access” for all) and expressing reservations about the border adjustment that is a keystone of Ryan’s tax reform package. “That drives us nuts,” one senior GOP hill staffer admitted. “But with him, you also don’t know what his statements really mean.”
On the whole, Trump has done little over the past two-plus months to ease the broader fears that he will be a de-stabilizing presence in the Oval Office—fears shared by foreign leaders, intelligence officers, Wall Street analysts, journalists and First Amendment advocates, corporate CEOs and even Republican politicians, all of whom face a more uncertain future in the dawning Trump era. If anything, he’s exacerbated those fears.
“This is not going to be a typical presidency,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and a Trump ally. “I think the only thing you can compare it to is [former British Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher. The left hated her, and for the first 2½ years, she was under constant siege.
“He is going to be in a constant running fight for his entire presidency, surrounded by chaos and controversies. It will be very different from any other presidency. He is surrounded by people who do not want him to succeed, and he will have a very hard time getting a positive message across. But he just doesn't need to flinch. He ran against these people, and he needs to carry out his agenda. The biggest thing is he doesn't need to flinch.”
Flinching, of course, has never been Trump’s problem. Even after promising to “drain the swamp” in Washington and castigating greedy “global elites” on Wall Street, he has filled his Cabinet and administration with billionaires and millionaires, including several alumni of Goldman Sachs.
After stoking racial division throughout his campaign, Trump has spent the final week of his transition attacking civil rights icon John Lewis, calling the congressman who was nearly beaten to death trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on “Bloody Sunday” in 1965, “all talk, no action” and mischaracterizing his prosperous Atlanta district as being “in horrible shape and falling apart.”
That the nation’s first African-American president is leaving office after eight years with a remarkable 60 percent approval rating is, at least in part, a reflection of the antipathy many Americans feel for his predecessor. And yet, Trump, who won the election despite never raising his approval rating above the mid-forties, can accomplish much of his agenda—including his reelection in four years—if he delivers on what he has promised.
Gingrich thinks Trump’s success will ultimately come down to two simple questions: “Is America safe, and can he create jobs?” he said. “If those two turn out to be yes, he’ll get reelected.”
In the two months since Donald Trump won the most coveted office in the United States, his aides have quietly jostled for the next most valuable workspace—the short corridor just down the hall from the Oval Office.
Reince Priebus will occupy the corner suite at the hallway’s end that is traditionally reserved for the chief of staff. In between, Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, will work in one of the handful of coveted corridor offices, as will Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and his most trusted confidante, according to three officials familiar with the office assignments.
Around the corner is the space where soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence, the designated point man for Trump’s legislative agenda, will sit when he’s in the West Wing. Upstairs will be Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s old campaign manager and incoming counselor, in a suite occupied by Karl Rove under President George W. Bush and then Valerie Jarrett under President Barack Obama.
Those five—Priebus, Bannon, Kushner, Conway and Pence—will all be competing for Trump’s ear and his support on both policy and strategy. The twist under Trump is that proximity is both everything, and nothing. Trump is often swayed most by the last person he spoke with—but sometimes acts impulsively, part of a lifelong rebellion against too much structure.
The stakes aren’t just sway inside the West Wing but the agenda for a Republican Party that now controls the White House and both chambers of Congress. After years of internecine primary battles, the fight for what modern Republicanism stands for has largely moved inside the White House, with Trump perched as the ultimate decider.
And that’s just the way Trump likes it.
“Trump’s history is he doesn’t like everyone agreeing all the time and he doesn’t like unanimity. He’s doesn’t even like consensus,” said longtime Trump friend Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax. “He likes the competing argument to be made and a real fight for what is the best idea to come out.”
Added into the influence mix are two top allies and former aides to Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions, who advised Trump closely during the campaign: Rick Dearborn, the deputy chief of staff for overseeing legislative and cabinet affairs, and Stephen Miller, Trump’s top policy adviser.
Also in line for spots in the corridor in the shadow of the Oval are Katie Walsh, Priebus’ chief of staff at the Republican National Committee and a deputy chief of staff for the White House, and Hope Hicks, Trump’s loyal and longtime campaign press secretary and his incoming director of strategic communications, a quiet power player in the new administration.
Throughout Trump’s career, there has been a consistent management structure: Him at the top, and everyone else in the fray below competing for the attention of a man set to become perhaps the most improvisational, if not impetuous, chief executive in American history. “We have no formal chain of command around here,” Trump proudly advertised to tech titans who gathered at Trump Tower last month.
Sam Nunberg, an adviser who laid the groundwork for Trump’s 2016 campaign but was fired soon after the launch, offered a different take: “There is a chain of command. But, at the end of the day, it starts and ends with Donald Trump.”
It’s almost become a trope to compare Trumpworld to various reality TV shows, complete with warring factions, shifting alliances and occasional offings of key characters.
But Paul Manafort, who led Trump’s campaign part of last summer, said Trump’s division of responsibilities in the West Wing reflects a Trump’s longtime management style. “It’s not that Trump sets up competing channels. He sets up congenial channels. He likes everybody to participate in the process,” said Manafort, who resigned from the campaign in August but has stayed in touch with Trump.
In recent days, a copy of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet, has sat on Trump’s 26th floor office desk at Trump Tower. The book was a gift for Trump, but a person familiar with the matter said the president-elect wasn’t currently reading it.
There are some key working partnerships among the rival factions. Bannon and Miller—Trump likes to call them “my two Steves”—are often aligned in pursuit of the most populist and aggressive parts of Trump’s agenda. Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, has maintained his close relationships with Breitbart and other outlets that cheerlead for Trump.
Two senior transition officials said the “two Steves” have pushed for Trump to use a “shock and awe” strategy of issued multiple executive orders on Day One, but lost out to other factions pushing for meting out a “drip drip drip” of executive actions almost daily over the first month.
Priebus and Pence represent the Washington GOP establishment, pushing for discipline and traditional conservatism in the new administration. “It’s going to be a combination of Reince and Pence’s job to figure out the policy pieces that fit,” said a senior Trump adviser, “and Bannon and Miller making sure the campaign’s promises are in the bills.”
Conway, as a former Pence strategist, is close with his camp, but she also frequently sided with Bannon against Priebus. Both Bannon and Conway had pushed for the chief of staff job themselves after the election. “Reince is underestimated,” Conway said. “He has delivered and works nonstop.”
Then there is Kushner, who as Ivanka Trump’s husband will have unparalleled and unprecedented access to the president in both the family residence of the East Wing and the working West Wing. “He’s the important guy to have on your side,” the same adviser said understatedly.
Almost everyone is solicitous of Kushner. Bannon, who rarely speaks publicly, gushed aloud about Kushner in a recent New York profile, saying, “For a guy who was a progressive, he really gets this grassroots populist movement in a huge way.”
The toughest task, by far, in the new White House falls to Priebus, who as chief of staff is supposed to bring order to the days of a president who chafes at structure. “I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure,” Trump wrote on the first page of The Art of the Deal, his 1987 bestseller. “I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.”
Priebus has proved himself a superlative bureaucratic infighter. In August, as Trump’s campaign appeared to be sputtering, he still appeared to have overwhelming support for a record fifth term as RNC chairman.
Trump loyalists view Priebus skeptically as the guardian of the Republican brand, not the Trump brand. And Trump himself has not been shy about repeating that Priebus suggested he withdraw for the good of the party when a 2005 Access Hollywood tape that emerged in October revealed Trump bragging about grabbing women by the genitals.
He’s also remained close to House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Wisconsinite. Already, Ryan has leaned on Priebus to help solve internal House Republican matters—a somewhat unusual role for a presidential chief of staff. As POLITICO reported in early December, Ryan contacted Priebus urging him to snuff out a push from House conservative to impeach Obama’s IRS commissioner.
Trump seems pleased with Priebus so far. Two senior transition officials said Trump had recently asked Priebus jokingly at a staff meeting if he would stay on as chief—for all eight years of a two-term presidency.
For now, everyone is getting along. Earlier this month, nearly every faction of Trumpland was represented at a meeting in the speaker’s office over spaghetti to talk tax reform: Priebus, Bannon, Kushner, Miller and Dearborn, plus Marc Short, a Pence adviser who will serve as Trump’s legislative affairs director, and Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president who is the incoming director of the National Economic Council.
But Priebus and Bannon are seen as headed for an inevitable clash. Bannon headed Breitbart when it tried to end the careers of more traditional Republicans, including Ryan. They’ve pushed different Cabinet picks and are expected to maneuver over how aggressively to unwind Obama-era executive actions and regulations, and what should be included in a 2017 tax-and-infrastructure package.
Bannon has backed big spending on infrastructure, and Kushner pointedly told a group of New York real estate-types last month that Trump was closer to Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer than Republicans on that issue. Priebus, Ryan, and Pence have focused first on the tax-reform side. There are also unanswered questions about business tax cuts or slashing individual tax rates get priority for Trump in 2017.
While titles and proximity to the Oval Office are the typical metrics of White House power, it’s not clear that they’ll be reliable guides to whose advice Trump will take. “Office space is irrelevant to him,” said another senior transition official, who added that the better question for Trump is: “Who has an army?”
When Dwight Eisenhower was elected president in 1952, outgoing president Harry Truman informed him of an important secret: Days before the election the United States had tested the world’s first hydrogen bomb in the Pacific. The nation now possessed a weapon roughly a hundred times as powerful as any before—and almost nobody else knew.
Eight years later, when Eisenhower handed the keys to John F. Kennedy, his administration passed along its own secret: America had a covert plan underway to invade Cuba. Kennedy let the Bay of Pigs mission proceed, and the result was a fiasco that would take the world to the brink of nuclear war.
The president of the United States has more access to official secrets than any other human being in the country—and the potential to know more about the world than anyone else on the planet. And on January 20, the person being handed access to all of those secrets will be Donald J. Trump.
While much attention has been focused on Trump’s access to the nuclear launch codes and the President’s Daily Brief—the classified intelligence report delivered inside a locked briefcase each morning to the Oval Office—those represent only a tiny sliver of the massive top-secret universe that Trump personally will suddenly be privy to. He will have the ability to see inside the most sensitive and covert programs run by the United States and its allies around the world; he will have access to surveillance tools, covert payrolls and personal secrets about foreign leaders. He will know about blacked-out special forces raids and UFO-like spy planes, the next-generation cyberattacks that would come in the opening minutes of a new war, and the dozens of secret classified procedures and laws written down by his presidential predecessors. He’ll even be first in line for some mundane but important things: As president, Trump will be one of just four senior officials to learn sensitive market-moving economic data from the Labor Department up to 12 hours before it is released publicly.
The United States has invested trillions of dollars to ensure that its president can know more than anyone else on Earth—knowledge meant to be deployed to the country’s advantage in trade negotiations, military posturing and a thousand other ways big and small. Given Trump’s behavior so far, it seems almost assured that he will deploy and weaponize those same secrets in “unpresidented” ways, to win personal fights and minor PR battles. Already, before taking office, he has tweeted out claims about his meetings with intel agencies, asserted that he knows information the rest of the government doesn’t and tried to embarrass and undermine rivals or critics through insinuation. And that’s all before he has learned any of what President George W. Bush once called “the good stuff.”
What is the good stuff, and how might Trump use it? Many of the specifics are cloaked in deep shadow—that’s obviously the point—but thanks to decades of dogged reporting, lawsuits and historical archives, we do know a significant amount about the types of secrets a president learns. It’s anyone’s guess what Trump might do to embarrass intransigent foreign leaders, or what late-night or early-morning tweetstorms might erupt from the White House if he senses hypocrisy from an ally—or what will happen when a president whose family will still control his complex business empire has access to important geopolitical developments or early market data.
The Kill List
One of the relatively new powers of the presidency is the ability to sign off on strikes from Predator and Reaper drones run by the CIA and the Pentagon. While political assassination is forbidden by Executive Order 12333, Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush have enjoyed wide latitude in designating suspected terrorists for lethal strikes in areas like Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan. The exact process for such “kinetic” attacks, never publicly revealed in depth and not beholden to any judicial oversight, will be explained carefully to the new president. We’ll never know who exactly will be named to the new administration’s “kill list,” and we may never know what happens to them. But Trump will: After such attacks, the president and vice president are also among the select group of government officials who can, if they choose, watch the high-tech videos of the drone strikes themselves. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney regularly watched such “kill videos” during their morning intelligence briefings. As president, Trump will also have sway over the opaque process itself, so he could well tweak or expand the lethal authorities of the commander in chief without any public disclosure that the rules have changed.
Whereas most people tend to think of classified information as broad categories like Confidential, Secret and Top Secret—the three levels of security clearance that individuals are typically granted—the nation’s most sensitive secrets occupy their own category of “Special Access Programs” of “Sensitive Compartmented Information,” labels colloquially known as “beyond top secret.” These SAPs include information like specific National Security Agency technological surveillance and hacking capabilities, as well as ongoing intelligence projects and joint operations with allies. In one of his early such briefings, Obama was told of the joint U.S.-Israeli efforts to disable the Iranian nuclear program through cyberattacks like the Stuxnet malware. Eight years later, the NSA’s elite hacking unit, as well as its British and Israeli counterparts, has an even broader suite of tools and operations underway, both spying and sabotage. And the United States doesn’t spy on just its enemies: Leaks from Edward Snowden revealed that U.S. intelligence regularly listened to the telephone calls and read emails of foreign officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and top overseas business leaders—transcripts and documents that Trump could routinely access if he so desired.
Those beyond-top-secret files would also include details about which foreign officials are on the payroll of agencies like the CIA or the Drug Enforcement Administration. These payments can run into the millions and last for years; President Jimmy Carter was shocked to discover that the CIA had been paying King Hussein of Jordan six and seven figures annually for nearly two decades to ensure his cooperation with American interests. Presidents have traditionally refrained from asking the identities of specific sources, but that’s just a custom: If Trump asks for a briefing on the clandestine payroll, the agency would almost certainly comply. The DEA, whose drug-fighting efforts give it a broad global footprint, also works closely with foreign governments and deploys its own powerful surveillance tools. WikiLeaks, for instance, exposed how Panama’s leader pressured the agency in 2009 to use its wiretapping program, codenamed Matador, to uncover who was “sleeping with his wife.” (The agency demurred.)
In addition to the “nuclear football”—the briefcase carried close to the president by a military aide that contains the nation’s nuclear war plans—the president will automatically gain access to what’s known as “Q clearance” information from the Department of Energy. This includes the operational details of the nation’s nuclear weapons program: its weapons stockpiles, damage estimates, technological specifications and the procedures for securing and launching the nation’s nuclear triad—the bombers, submarines and silo-based ICBMs that can rain nuclear destruction on the nation’s enemies in as little as 30 minutes.
Spy Satellites and Secret Aircraft
Beyond the secrets buried in missile silos, Trump will also receive briefings—if requested—on the constellation of spy satellites and detection technologies that watch the Earth from above, many of which are run by the National Reconnaissance Office, an intelligence agency so secretive that its very name and existence were classified from its creation in 1960 until 1992. According to people who have been briefed on such technologies, the nation’s spy satellite capabilities, while not quite at the read-the-newspaper-over-your-shoulder level implied by movies like Enemy of the State, are vastly more advanced than the public realizes. There are also a number of classified aircraft with unique capabilities (including a growing number of drones) whose existence has never been acknowledged; one such helicopter, a stealth version of the Black Hawk, was only made public when it crashed during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Such aircraft are often tested at Nevada’s Area 51—where conspiracy theorists claim the government holds its fleet of captured UFOs—and experts estimate that there are upward of a dozen aircraft that the United States has never publicly acknowledged, the modern successors of earlier secret programs like the U-2, the SR-71 spy plane and the B-2 stealth bomber. (And, if the government does have a secret set of UFOs captured from Roswell and other close encounters, Trump might be soon learning that, too.)
In 2015, when Obama released his new hostage policy—known as Presidential Policy Directive No. 30—close watchers of the administration realized the last publicly announced PPD had been No. 28, which meant that sometime between January 17, 2014, and June 24, 2015, he had signed yet another directive whose very existence was classified. Whatever it is, PPD 29 is one of dozens of secret presidential national security orders, some of which stretch back decades. Each president has called these documents something slightly different, but collectively they deal with high-level strategic and policy decisions around national security and, more recently, homeland security. While the subject matter or title of most such documents are made public upon signing, or declassified rather quickly, dozens remain classified even years or decades later. From the titles, we know that most classified directives appear to deal with nuclear weapons, continuity of government, the war on terror or relationships with foreign countries, but we have no idea what some of these documents are even about. Together, these represent an increasingly broad body of “secret law” opaque to the outside world, including Congress. The whole point of these laws and procedures is to grant the president power the public doesn’t even know he has—and might not know until it’s unveiled to us in the midst of a crisis, either real or invented.
The two most recent occupants of the Oval Office received regular briefings on unfolding domestic terror threats and potential suspects; in the wake of 9/11, Bush met every morning with FBI Director Robert Mueller to review an Excel-like spreadsheet of possible plots known as the “threat matrix.” Obama, for his part, often devoted Tuesday afternoons to what the White House called “Terror Tuesdays,” reviewing unfolding investigations and larger strategic questions. Both presidents were regularly informed about individual terror plots; Bush even tracked individual suspects day to day. Given Trump’s campaign obsession with the Islamic State, terrorism and immigration—and his habit of self-congratulation when horrific attacks unfold around the world—it’s not hard to imagine him personally dictating raids and arrests and then announcing them via Twitter.
World Leaders’ (and Americans’) Personal Lives
One of the favorite presidential perks in decades past was reading the FBI surveillance reports on other politicians and prominent Americans, collected and delivered to the White House by an eager-to-please J. Edgar Hoover. While, in theory, the FBI no longer serves up personal secrets for prurient entertainment or political blackmail, presidential aides do get to review the results of background investigations for classified clearances. Moreover, intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA regularly provide the White House and high-level diplomats with information on the drug habits, sexual preferences, financial shenanigans, criminal associations, allegations of corruption or family squabbles of other world leaders, foreign business figures or other prominent individuals. WikiLeaks, for example, made public a U.S. diplomatic cable hinting at Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi’s relationship with his “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse.
These reports lead to interesting moments across the negotiating tables: For instance, the president will know whether, the night before an Oval Office grip-and-grin, a Middle Eastern prince spent the previous evening carousing with call girls in Georgetown (a frequent enough occurrence in Washington). Historically, such information has been kept tightly held, but given Trump’s flair for the theatrical and his proclivity for scorched-earth tactics with his opponents—to say nothing of his friendship with National Enquirer publisher David Pecker—perhaps we’ll soon be learning a lot more about our allies and foes around the world.
He was the first reporter who took Donald Trump seriously. An old-school, pen-and-paper, document-driven, sourced-up investigative ace for the Village Voice in New York, Wayne Barrett nailed the aspiring real estate developer 38 years ago. “Donald Trump,” he wrote, in January of 1979, “is a user of other users.” Barrett’s unflagging work on Trump in the intervening years never disproved his initial read. He remained the most influential of Trump’s chroniclers right up until Thursday—one day before Trump was sworn in as president—when Barrett died, at 71, of complications from interstitial lung disease.
No small amount of the best, most discerning, hardest-hitting reporting on Trump in the last few decades, and especially throughout this incomprehensible past year, literally started with calls to Barrett. Barrett, unfailingly magnanimous, would invite reporters to his townhouse in Brooklyn, where they would descend a creaky set of stairs into his basement to discover shelves and shelves and cabinets and boxes and stacks of pack-rat records compiled over a lifetime of telling the truth about the nation’s biggest city and some of its scammiest citizens. His Trump trove was peerless.
Nearly a year ago, when I contacted Barrett to ask if he could join fellow Trump biographers for a recorded conversation over lunch at Trump Grille at Trump Tower, he said he wasn’t well. He came anyway, though, in a wheelchair and with a nurse. His mind was still sharp as a scythe. From the others there that day—Tim O’Brien and Michael D’Antonio, Harry Hurt and Gwenda Blair, whose books followed Barrett’s—I saw deference, admiration and love.
“He was the first person to take a close look, the first person to realize that a close look needed to be taken,” Blair said Thursday when I called and told her our friend had died.
“The first person to deal with him head-on, and to do it so scrupulously,” D’Antonio said.
“It provided everyone with a roadmap,” O’Brien said.
Barrett was the son of a nuclear physicist and a librarian. A Goldwater Republican from Lynchburg, Virginia, in his teens and early ‘20s who flipped ideologically in the late 1960s as a graduate student at the Columbia School of Journalism, he was a community organizer and a public school teacher before he became a reporter. He once told his son’s elementary school classmates that his job was to be “a detective for the people.” He called his long line of devoted interns his “soldiers of detail.” He taught journalism classes at Columbia, Hunter College and Long Island University. The credo of the indefatigable Barrett: “the exposure of the plunderers, the steerers, the wirepullers, the bosses, the brokers, the campaign fixers and takers. … Stew, percolate, pester, track, burrow, besiege, confront, damage, level. Care.”
Barrett started looking into Trump in 1977. Trump had been sued by the federal government for racial bias in renting apartments in Brooklyn and Queens and at the time was renovating what would become Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt hotel thanks to tax breaks of historic proportions. Before network television made his name synonymous with being a boss, before his divorces and his affairs and the bankruptcies at his casinos, before Trump Tower was erected as the hub of his vanity and ambition, Barrett sat in a spare room at the offices of the State Urban Development Corporation and scoured for hours thousands of pages of public records. He was 33, and Trump was 32. “I was a rookie, he was a rookie,” Barrett would say. And one day, a nearby phone rang. “Wayne!” said the voice on the other end. “It’s Donald! I hear you’re doing a story on me!” Someone at the UDC had tipped off Trump to what Barrett was up to. And when Trump eventually saw that Barrett saw through him—that he was focused on the sham, not the show—first he tried to bribe Barrett with a new apartment, and then he threatened to sue, invoking the name of Roy Cohn, his pugnacious and politically connected mentor. What Barrett nonetheless published in the Voice made him, forever, the original authority on Trump.
“We’ve been looking into a world where only the greed is magnified,” he wrote at the end of his foundational two-part series. “The actors are pretty small and venal. Their ideas are small, never transcending profit. In it, however, are the men elected to lead us and those who buy them. And in it, unhappily, are the processes and decisions that shape our city and our lives.”
He didn’t stop reporting on Trump. On his entrance into Atlantic City. On his illustrative relationship with Cohn. On his ties to the mob. The resulting book, Trump: The Deals and the Downfall, came out in 1991, when Trump was all but done, swamped by debt racked up through recklessness and a blithe sense of invincibility—as beholden to the banks as the banks were to him, which was the chief reason, along with his family’s wealth, he was even able to contemplate a comeback.
But Barrett was unsparing in his assessment, and what he wrote back then still crackles with earned authority.
“He had prided himself on never having met a public official, a banker, a lawyer, a reporter, or a prosecutor he couldn’t seduce,” Barrett wrote. “Some he owned, and others he merely manipulated. As he saw it, it was not just that everyone had a price, it was that he knew what the price was. He believed he could look across a table and compute the price, then move on to another table and borrow the money to pay it. ‘Everybody tries to get some money’ was his assessment in one unpublished interview of what motivates the people he dealt with. It was his one-sentence summary of human nature.”
He concluded: “Somewhere on this odyssey of his, the image had devoured the man, and Donald had become the commercially useful personality he had helped invent. To some of those who watched him closely, he no longer behaved as if he believed he was merely living; he was now, in his own mind, portraying himself in a thrilling daily drama he scripted.”
Barrett worked exhaustively on far more than just Trump. He wrote an “investigative biography” of Rudy Giuliani, one of the mayors and governors he trained his eye on. His 1988 book, City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York, is “a seminal work,” according to O’Brien. “I’m not an angry guy,” Barrett once said. “There’s just a lot to be outraged about.” But Trump was a particular and recurring target. He knew precisely who and what he was before most people outside of New York even knew his name.
And throughout this last year, as he was sick and getting sicker but kept letting into his house reporters from all over the country, from all over the world, he was with me the way he has been with so many others over so many years—welcoming and wise, generous with his insight and time, sharing with me this meaningful piece of his life’s work. I went to Brooklyn. I went into the basement. I sat on the chair by his bed. I called often.
“He’s the consummate example of what his voters rail against,” Barrett said last March, identifying the central paradox of what would become Trump’s surprising, unprecedented rise.
In October, in the aftermath of the lascivious comments in which Trump discussed his pattern of behavior toward women that sounded like sexual assault, drawing on decades of reporting on his power-hungry habits of subjugation, Barrett called him “a predator.”
“Shamelessness is a skill,” he said the day after Trump was elected president.
The last time we spoke, he told me he was going to try his best to join me and O’Brien, Blair and D’Antonio for another conversation—“I’ve been sick lately (more than usual),” he told us in an email, “but I’m even better on Trump when I have a fever”—but he told me on the phone he was getting worse. His wife of 48 years, the former Frances Marie McGettigan, with whom he raised their beloved son, Mac, wanted him to go to the hospital, he said. That was only a week and a half ago.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a not infrequent subject of Barrett’s critical, clear-eyed reporting as well, has called Barrett “a tenacious reporter” motivated by “a deep sense of moral purpose.” Governor Andrew Cuomo has called him “a lion in the field of journalism” who “did his job without malice and with an absolute dedication to the facts.” Current mayor Bill de Blasio has said he “inspired generations of journalists” and “held the powerful accountable.” Trump, through the years, has called Barrett “a very bad writer,” “a second-rate writer” and “a jerk.”
I was reporting at the Capitol in Washington Thursday afternoon when I heard he had died. After leaving and heading out into the cold, I walked to Union Station, past the fences and barricades and police force in place for what was to come, past vendor after vendor hawking Trump hats and Trump pins and Trump shirts and Trump dolls and Trump flags. The surreal juxtaposition of Barrett’s death and the beginning of the administration of President Trump, an event Barrett had thought impossible given Trump’s damning past, left me blinking back tears and grasping for words.
“He was the most Christian, in the best sense of the word, of any journalist I ever met,” D’Antonio told me Thursday night. “He believed in comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. You were OK with Wayne if you were doing good, honest work.”
“He planted a flag on the history of Donald Trump that can’t be ignored,” O’Brien said. “And given the fact that Trump is now a historical figure, his work will ride along with that.”
“We are all,” Blair said, “in his debt.”
If anyone was thinking that President Donald Trump would break with the central themes of his campaign, they were quickly disabused of that by the first words he spoke as the 45th president of the United States.
Yes, there were the now-traditional gracious words to the departing First Family (though none for his defeated rival). There was inclusive rhetoric that “whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.”
But the most striking aspect of the address was how fully it echoed the animating themes of his campaign. Inaugural addresses often mark a sharp shift in tone from campaigning to governing, from revving up followers to reaching out to skeptics. Trump instead delivered a stump speech: A populist-nationalist blend of grievance and line-in-the-sand promises to upend business as usual, root and branch.
Where John Kennedy had said “we celebrate not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom,” Trump declared that we are marking not just a transfer of power from one party to another, but that “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people. ... What matters is not which party controls the government, but whether government is controlled by the people.”
In words that might have easily been spoken by Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, Trump said, “for too long, a small group in Washington has reaped the benefits. … Washington has flourished, but the people did not share … the establishment protected itself, but not the people of this country.” When Trump’s people suggested in recent days that the speech would be “Jacksonian,” they were understating the case: just as Andrew Jackson was the first outsider to come to the White House, Trump defined himself as clearly outside the inside-the-Beltway crowd.
Even more striking—and Jacksonian—was the nationalist tone of the speech. Just as he denounced Washington insiders for reaping benefits the people did not share, he said we’ve defended other nations’ borders but refused to defend our own, sent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen in disrepair and decay.
“America first! America first!” he declared. “Buy American and hire American!”
If you’re a leader of a nation abroad, you heard the equivalent not of an outstretched hand, but a clenched fist. (Which, indeed, he delivered at the end of the speech, arm raised.) You’re just like our establishment, was the message sent overseas. You’ve picked our pockets, but that’s over.
Fundamentally, Trump’s speech was another reminder that he came to power as something America has never seen before: an independent, “third party” candidate who figured out that the way to power was to seize control of one of the two major parties. From the moment he announced, virtually every political “expert” of every ideology was sure it was a doomed venture. After his election, the “wisdom” was that he would simply be the tool of the Republican congressional wing, blithely signing laws in the spirit of Mel Brooks in “Blazing Saddles.” If there’s one key takeaway from this speech, it’s that this notion—and the very idea of a pivot, or the office changing the man—is at complete odds with Trump’s entire adult life.
Trump intends to do what he said he would do—exhilarating, delusional, or alarming as that prospect may be to the Americans listening to his words.
All presidents lie. Richard Nixon said he was not a crook, yet he orchestrated the most shamelessly crooked act in the modern presidency. Ronald Reagan said he wasn’t aware of the Iran-Contra deal; there’s evidence he was. Bill Clinton said he did not have sex with that woman; he did, or close enough. Lying in politics transcends political party and era. It is, in some ways, an inherent part of the profession of politicking.
But Donald Trump is in a different category. The sheer frequency, spontaneity and seeming irrelevance of his lies have no precedent. Nixon, Reagan and Clinton were protecting their reputations; Trump seems to lie for the pure joy of it. A whopping 70 percent of Trump’s statements that PolitiFact checked during the campaign were false, while only 4 percent were completely true, and 11 percent mostly true. (Compare that to the politician Trump dubbed “crooked,” Hillary Clinton: Just 26 percent of her statements were deemed false.)
Those who have followed Trump’s career say his lying isn’t just a tactic, but an ingrained habit. New York tabloid writers who covered Trump as a mogul on the rise in the 1980s and ’90s found him categorically different from the other self-promoting celebrities in just how often, and pointlessly, he would lie to them. In his own autobiography, Trump used the phrase “truthful hyperbole,” a term coined by his ghostwriter referring to the flagrant truth-stretching that Trump employed, over and over, to help close sales. Trump apparently loved the wording, and went on to adopt it as his own.
On January 20, Trump’s truthful hyperboles will no longer be relegated to the world of dealmaking or campaigning. Donald Trump will become the chief executive of the most powerful nation in the world, the man charged with representing that nation globally—and, most importantly, telling the story of America back to Americans. He has the megaphone of the White House press office, his popular Twitter account and a loyal new right-wing media army that will not just parrot his version of the truth but actively argue against attempts to knock it down with verifiable facts. Unless Trump dramatically transforms himself, Americans are going to start living in a new reality, one in which their leader is a manifestly unreliable source.
What does this mean for the country—and for the Americans on the receiving end of Trump’s constantly twisting version of reality? It’s both a cultural question and a psychological one. For decades, researchers have been wrestling with the nature of falsehood: How does it arise? How does it affect our brains? Can we choose to combat it? The answers aren’t encouraging for those who worry about the national impact of a reign of untruth over the next four, or eight, years. Lies are exhausting to fight, pernicious in their effects and, perhaps worst of all, almost impossible to correct if their content resonates strongly enough with people’s sense of themselves, which Trump’s clearly do.
What happens when a lie hits your brain? The now-standard model was first proposed by Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert more than 20 years ago. Gilbert argues that people see the world in two steps. First, even just briefly, we hold the lie as true: We must accept something in order to understand it. For instance, if someone were to tell us—hypothetically, of course—that there had been serious voter fraud in Virginia during the presidential election, we must for a fraction of a second accept that fraud did, in fact, take place. Only then do we take the second step, either completing the mental certification process (yes, fraud!) or rejecting it (what? no way). Unfortunately, while the first step is a natural part of thinking—it happens automatically and effortlessly—the second step can be easily disrupted. It takes work: We must actively choose to accept or reject each statement we hear. In certain circumstances, that verification simply fails to take place. As Gilbert writes, human minds, “when faced with shortages of time, energy, or conclusive evidence, may fail to unaccept the ideas that they involuntarily accept during comprehension.”
Our brains are particularly ill-equipped to deal with lies when they come not singly but in a constant stream, and Trump, we know, lies constantly, about matters as serious as the election results and as trivial as the tiles at Mar-a-Lago. (According to his butler, Anthony Senecal, Trump once said the tiles in a nursery at the West Palm Beach club had been made by Walt Disney himself; when Senecal protested, Trump had a single response: “Who cares?”) When we are overwhelmed with false, or potentially false, statements, our brains pretty quickly become so overworked that we stop trying to sift through everything. It’s called cognitive load—our limited cognitive resources are overburdened. It doesn’t matter how implausible the statements are; throw out enough of them, and people will inevitably absorb some. Eventually, without quite realizing it, our brains just give up trying to figure out what is true.
But Trump goes a step further. If he has a particular untruth he wants to propagate—not just an undifferentiated barrage—he simply states it, over and over. As it turns out, sheer repetition of the same lie can eventually mark it as true in our heads. It’s an effect known as illusory truth, first discovered in the ’70s and most recently demonstrated with the rise of fake news. In its original demonstration, a group of psychologists had people rate statements as true or false on three different occasions over a two-week period. Some of the statements appeared only once, while others were repeated. The repeated statements were far more likely to be judged as true the second and third time they appeared—regardless of their actual validity. Keep repeating that there was serious voter fraud, and the idea begins to seep into people’s heads. Repeat enough times that you were against the war in Iraq, and your actual record on it somehow disappears.
Here’s the really bad news for all of those fact-checkers and publications hoping to counter Trump’s false claims: Repetition of any kind—even to refute the statement in question—only serves to solidify it. For instance, if you say, “It is not true that there was voter fraud,” or try to refute the claim with evidence, you often perversely accomplish the opposite of what you want. Later on, when the brain goes to recall the information, the first part of the sentence often gets lost, leaving only the second. In a 2002 study, Colleen Seifert, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, found that even retracted information—that we acknowledge has been retracted—can continue to influence our judgments and decisions. Even after people were told that a fire was not caused by paint and gas cylinders left in a closet, they continued to use that information—for instance, saying the fire was particularly intense because of the volatile materials present—even as they acknowledged that the correction had taken place. When presented with the contradictions in their responses, they said things like, “At first, the cylinders and cans were in the closet and then they weren’t”—in effect creating a new fact to explain their continued reliance on false information. This means that when the New York Times, or any other publication, runs a headline like “Trump Claims, With No Evidence, That ‘Millions of People Voted Illegally,’” it perversely reinforces the very claim it means to debunk.
In politics, false information has a special power. If false information comports with preexisting beliefs—something that is often true in partisan arguments—attempts to refute it can actually backfire, planting it even more firmly in a person’s mind. Trump won over Republican voters, as well as alienated Democrats, by declaring himself opposed to “Washington,” “the establishment” and “political correctness,” and by stoking fears about the Islamic State, immigrants and crime. Leda Cosmides at the University of California, Santa Barbara, points to her work with her colleague John Tooby on the use of outrage to mobilize people: “The campaign was more about outrage than about policies,” she says. And when a politician can create a sense of moral outrage, truth ceases to matter. People will go along with the emotion, support the cause and retrench into their own core group identities. The actual substance stops being of any relevance.
Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth University who studies false beliefs, has found that when false information is specifically political in nature, part of our political identity, it becomes almost impossible to correct lies. When people read an article beginning with George W. Bush’s assertion that Iraq may pass weapons to terrorist networks, which later contained the fact that Iraq didn’t actually possess any WMDs at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the initial misperception persisted among Republicans—and, indeed, was frequently strengthened. In the face of a seeming assault on their identity, they didn’t change their minds to conform with the truth: Instead, amazingly, they doubled down on the exact views that were explained to be wrong.
With regard to Trump specifically, Nyhan points out that claims related to ethno-nationalism—Trump’s declaration early in the campaign that Mexico was sending “rapists” across the border, for instance—get at the very core of who we are as humans, which “may make people less willing or able to evaluate the statement empirically.” If you already believe immigrants put your job at risk, who’s to say the chastity of your daughters isn’t in danger, too? Or as Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker puts it, once Trump makes that emotional connection, “He could say what he wants, and they’ll follow him.”
So what can we do in the face of a flagrant liar-in-chief? Here, alas, the news is not particularly promising. Consider a 2013 paper aimed at correcting political misperceptions, specifically. In the study, a group of people around the country were first asked about their knowledge of several government policies: For instance, how familiar were they with how electronic health records were handled? They also were asked about their attitudes toward the issues: Were they in favor, or opposed? Everyone next read a news article crafted specifically for the study that described the policy: how electronic health records work, what the objectives of using them are and how widely they are, in fact, used. Next, each participant saw a correction to the article, stating that it contained a number of factual errors, alongside an explanation of what was wrong. But the only people who actually changed their incorrect beliefs as a result were those whose political ideology was aligned with the correct information already. Those whose beliefs ran counter to the correction? They changed their belief in the accuracy of the publication that could possibly publish such an obviously bogus correction. It’s easy enough to correct minor false facts, the color of a label, say, if they aren’t crucial to your sense of self. Alas, nothing political fits into that bucket.
Scarier still for those who have never supported Trump is that he just might colonize their brains, too. When we are in an environment headed by someone who lies, so often, something frightening happens: We stop reacting to the liar as a liar. His lying becomes normalized. We might even become more likely to lie ourselves. Trump is creating a highly politicized landscape where everyone is on the defensive: You’re either for me, or against me; if you win, I lose, and vice versa. Fiery Cushman, a moral psychologist at Harvard University, put it this way when I asked him about Trump: “Our moral intuitions are warped by the games we play.” Place us in an environment where it’s zero-sum, dog-eat-dog, party-eats-party, and we become, in game theory terms, “intuitive defectors,” meaning our first instinct is not to cooperate with others but to act in our own self-interest—which could mean disseminating lies ourselves.
The dynamic we are seeing unfurled in the United States is not merely hypothetical. We already have a model of this process—a country regressing when its leader goes from progressive to deceptive: Russia under Vladimir Putin. “This worldview”—a zero-sum, I win-you lose one—“is relatively more prevalent in Russia and other cultures with weak rule of law, high corruption and low generalized trust, as compared with Western democracies,” Cushman says. But when Western democracies start looking like those cultures, the norms can quickly shift.
The distressing reality is that our sense of truth is far more fragile than we would like to think it is—especially in the political arena, and especially when that sense of truth is twisted by a figure in power. As the 19th-century Scottish philosopher Alexander Bain put it, “The great master fallacy of the human mind is believing too much.” False beliefs, once established, are incredibly tricky to correct. A leader who lies constantly creates a new landscape, and a citizenry whose sense of reality may end up swaying far more than they think possible. It’s little wonder that authoritarian regimes with sophisticated propaganda operations can warp the worldviews of entire populations. “You are annihilated, exhausted, you can’t control yourself or remember what you said two minutes before. You feel that all is lost,” as one man who had been subject to Mao Zedong’s “reeducation” campaign in China put it to the psychiatrist Robert Lifton. “You accept anything he says.”