Mar 29, 2019

Trump, the tormentor

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

After 24 hours of brutal coverage of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' defense of scrapping funding for the Special Olympics, President Trump stepped in to claim he was saving a program his own budget had threatened.

Driving the news: "I heard about it this morning," Trump told reporters as he left the White House. "I have overridden my people. We're funding the Special Olympics." It was a bad look for DeVos, but standard operating procedure for Trump.

  • It's a reminder of why his team can never feel safe: He loves to put aides in their place.
  • And it's why at home and abroad, no one is really sure that anyone besides Trump — even a Cabinet member — is speaking for the administration.

Administration officials past and present have told us that Trump savors news coverage that shows him acting unilaterally.

  • Even — one source said especially — when it involved overriding members of his own administration.
  • When Rex Tillerson ran the State Department, Trump used to enjoy telling people to ignore Tillerson and that he — the president — was the only one who mattered.
  • We see this play out on many fronts, from his impulsive use of pardons — often ignoring the usual process — to his zeal for executive orders.

He has shown throughout his presidency that he has no hesitation about countermanding his appointees:

  • Trump is plunging ahead with plans to undo "Obamacare," despite a Politico report that the move came over the opposition of HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General William Barr.
  • In Year 1, he embarrassed Tillerson for trying to negotiate with North Korea: "Save your energy, Rex, we'll do what has to be done."
  • Trump talks about "My generals," as if the nation's command structure were his personal retainers.
  • Then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned after clashing with Trump over withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria.
  • Trump has constantly and publicly tormented his Fed chair, Jay Powell.
  • Ditto Jeff Sessions when he was A.G.
  • Ditto the intelligence community.

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