Comey, Unsettled by Trump, Is Said to Have Wanted Him Kept at a Distance

Michael S. Schmidt, reporting in the New York Times:

President Trump called the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, weeks after he took office and asked him when federal authorities were going to put out word that Mr. Trump was not personally under investigation, according to two people briefed on the call.

Mr. Comey told the president that if he wanted to know details about the bureau’s investigations, he should not contact him directly but instead follow the proper procedures and have the White House counsel send any inquiries to the Justice Department, according to those people.

After explaining to Mr. Trump how communications with the F.B.I. should work, Mr. Comey believed he had effectively drawn the line after a series of encounters he had with the president and other White House officials that he felt jeopardized the F.B.I.’s independence. At the time, Mr. Comey was overseeing the investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.

Those interactions included a dinner in which associates of Mr. Comey say Mr. Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty and a meeting in the Oval Office at which Mr. Trump told him he hoped Mr. Comey would shut down an investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. Mr. Trump has denied making the request.

The day after the Flynn conversation, Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, asked Mr. Comey to help push back on reports in the news media that Mr. Trump’s associates had been in contact with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign.

Mr. Comey described all of his contacts with the president and the White House — including the phone call from Mr. Trump — in detailed memos he wrote at the time and gave to his aides. Congressional investigators have requested copies of the memos, which, according to two people who have read them, provide snapshots of a fraught relationship between a president trying to win over and influence an F.B.I. director and someone who had built his reputation on asserting his independence, sometimes in a dramatic way.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in a statement on Thursday that “the sworn testimony” of both Mr. Comey and Andrew G. McCabe, the F.B.I.’s acting director, “make clear that there was never any attempt to interfere in this investigation. As the president previously stated, he respects the ongoing investigations and will continue working to fulfill his promises to the American people.”

It is not clear whether in all their interactions Mr. Comey answered Mr. Trump’s question or if he ever told him whether he was under investigation. In the letter Mr. Trump sent to Mr. Comey last week in which he informed him that he had been fired, Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”

The F.B.I.’s longest-serving director, J. Edgar Hoover, had close relationships with several presidents. But in the modern F.B.I., directors have sought an arm’s length relationship with the presidents they serve and have followed Justice Department guidelines outlining how the White House should have limited contact with the F.B.I.

Those guidelines, which also cover the F.B.I., prohibit conversations with the White House about active criminal investigations unless they are “important for the performance of the president’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.” When such conversations are necessary, only the attorney general or the deputy attorney general can initiate those discussions.

Mr. Comey has spoken privately of his concerns that the contacts from Mr. Trump and his aides were inappropriate, and how he felt compelled to resist them.

Much more here.

At a Besieged White House, Tempers Flare and Confusion Swirls

Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, reporting for the New York Times:

The bad-news stories slammed into the White House in pitiless succession on Tuesday, leaving President Trump’s battle-scarred West Wing aides staring at their flat screens in glassy-eyed shock.

The disclosure that Mr. Trump divulged classified intelligence to Russian officials that had been provided by Israel was another blow to a besieged White House staff recovering from the mishandled firing of James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director.

And the day was capped by the even more stunning revelation that the president had prodded Mr. Comey to drop an investigation into Michael T. Flynn, his former national security adviser. That prompted a stampede of reporters from the White House briefing room into the lower press gallery of the White House, where Mr. Trump’s first-line defenders had few answers but an abundance of anxieties about their job security.

The president’s appetite for chaos, coupled with his disregard for the self-protective conventions of the presidency, has left his staff confused and squabbling. And his own mood, according to two advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has become sour and dark, and he has turned against most of his aides — even his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — describing them in a fury as “incompetent,” according to one of those advisers.

As the maelstrom raged around the staff, reports swirled inside the White House that the president was about to embark on a major shake-up, probably starting with the dismissal or reassignment of Sean Spicer, the press secretary.

Mr. Trump’s rattled staff kept close tabs on a meeting early Monday in which the president summoned Mr. Spicer; the deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders; and the communications director, Michael Dubke, to lecture them on the need “to get on the same page,” according to a person briefed on the meeting.

By the end of the day Tuesday, it seemed that Mr. Spicer had, for the moment, survived. People close to the president said Mr. Trump was considering the firing of several lower-level staff members, including several hired by Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, while weighing a plan to hand most day-to-day briefing responsibilities to Ms. Sanders.

Even as Mr. Trump reassured advisers like Mr. Spicer that their jobs were safe on Monday, he told other advisers that he knew he needed to make big changes but did not know which direction to go, or whom to select.

In the meantime, the White House hunkered down for what staff members now realize will be an extended siege, not a one- or two-day bad news cycle.

The stress was taking its toll. Late Monday, reporters could hear senior aides shouting from behind closed doors as they discussed how to respond after Washington Post reporters informed them of an article they were writing that first reported the news about the president’s divulging of intelligence.

As they struggled to limit the fallout on Monday, Mr. Spicer and other Trump aides decided to send Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, to serve as a surrogate.

They realized that selecting such a high-ranking official would in some ways validate the story, but they wanted to establish a credible witness account exonerating the president from wrongdoing — before the barrage of Twitter posts they knew would be coming from Mr. Trump on Tuesday morning.

Much more here.

Health Law Repeal Will Miss Trump’s 100-Day Target Date

Thomas Kaplan and Robert Pear, reporting for the New York Times:

An 11th-hour White House push to give President Trump a major legislative victory in his first 100 days in office broke down late Thursday as House Republican leaders failed to round up enough votes for their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Some White House officials had hoped for a vote on Friday on a measure to prove that Mr. Trump was making good on his promise to undo the sweeping health law — President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement — in his first 100 days in office.

But seesawing commitments and the reservations from numerous lawmakers throughout Thursday laid bare the difficulty that Republican leaders faced in trying to push through a repeal bill. While revisions to their bill won over conservative hard-liners in the Freedom Caucus this week, those same changes threatened to drive away other members, even some who supported the first version.

A senior House aide said late Thursday that there would not be a vote on the health bill this week. At least 18 House Republicans oppose the latest version of the bill, the American Health Care Act, and leaders can lose no more than 22 to win passage if all members vote.

“We’re going to try and measure three times and saw once,” Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas and the chairman of the House Rules Committee, said late Thursday. “A lot of people around this town have tried their best to try and rush it, rush it, rush it.”

He urged patience, saying the health bill “will find its time.”

The lost opportunity was perhaps the biggest blow to the future prospects of Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, who has a long relationship with Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin. Mr. Priebus had pushed aggressively for the House to schedule a vote this week, according to several people who spoke with him within the West Wing and on Capitol Hill.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr. Ryan appeared to shy away from pushing for a fast vote. “We’re going to go when we have the votes,” he said, adding that Republicans would not be constrained by “some artificial deadline.”

House Democrats, sensing an advantage, pressured Republicans to once again back away from the bill, just as they did a month ago in an embarrassing defeat for Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan. Democratic leaders threatened to withhold votes from a stopgap spending measure to keep the government open past Friday if Republicans insisted on trying to jam the health care bill through the House on Friday or Saturday, which is Mr. Trump’s 100th day as president.

The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, said Mr. Trump was “really making fools of the members of Congress of his own party” by asking them to support a health bill that is unpopular with the public.

“If they vote on it, the minute they cast that vote, they put doo-doo on their shoe,” she said.

Republican leaders in both chambers plan to pass the stopgap measure to give lawmakers another week to work out a spending package to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The longer-term spending deal is expected to provide more funding for the military and for border security, although Mr. Trump backed off his demand that lawmakers provide money for the wall he wants to build along the border with Mexico.

Mr. Ryan brushed off the threat from Democrats. “I would be shocked that they would want to see a government shutdown,” he said.

But Mr. Trump was not so dismissive. He unleashed a torrent of Twitter posts on Thursday accusing Democrats of wanting to shut down the government. The posts accused Democrats of putting the needs of health insurance companies, Puerto Rico and undocumented immigrants over the military, visitors to national parks and coal miners — claims that Democrats called absurd.

The latest House plan to repeal and replace the health law would include an amendment drafted by Representative Tom MacArthur, Republican of New Jersey and a leader of a centrist bloc of lawmakers called the Tuesday Group.

Mr. MacArthur’s amendment would allow states to opt out of certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including one that requires insurers to provide a minimum set of health benefits and another that prohibits insurers from charging higher premiums based on a person’s health status.

Republicans say the federal mandates drive up costs, but Democrats say they provide important protections for consumers.

Under Mr. MacArthur’s amendment, states could obtain waivers letting them redefine the “essential health benefits,” which now include maternity care, emergency services, mental health care and drug addiction treatment.

More here.

And Now, the Dreaded Trump Curse

Gail Collins, writing in the New York Times:

These days, the last thing you want is to be known as a Friend of Trump. He’s doing great — he’s president, for heaven’s sake. His kids are getting jobs, his hotels are getting promoted 24/7. He goes golfing more than your average Palm Beach retiree. Meanwhile, the people he hangs around with are watching their reputations crumble into smithereens.

This has an impact on congressional politics. If you’re a swing vote in the House or the Senate, the idea of getting a hug in the Oval Office might seem more like a threat than an opportunity. Let’s consider some of the F.O.T.s who’ve already been undone:

Devin Nunes

Nunes is now famous as the guy who was sneaking around the White House lawn in the middle of the night. He says it was still daylight, which will have no bearing whatsoever on the legend. There’s a lot of stuff on his résumé — eight-term congressman, father of three, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. But wherever he goes for the rest of his life, people are going to say, “Oh yeah, he was the one sneaking around the White House lawn in the middle of the night.” It’ll be the lead in his obituary.

Paul Ryan

Until recently, Ryan was regarded as the Republican idea man, whose riff on cutting entitlements made conservative intellectuals swoon. When Trump came along Ryan was leery at first, then thrilled with his party’s total control of the government. Finally he could take the knife to Medicaid!

“We’ve been dreaming of this since you and I were drinking out of a keg,” Ryan told National Review editor Rich Lowry in an onstage interview. Lowry immediately protested that he had not been fantasizing about health care for the poor when he was chugging beer in college. It was a preview of all that was to come. Ryan was not only going to lose the big health care battle, he was going to look like an idiot doing it.

He’ll go down in history as the first big congressional power to get rolled over by the Trump bus. Maybe with a footnote about his passion for pulling catfish out of the water with his bare hands.

Reince Priebus

Not too long ago, Priebus was laboring in happy obscurity. Now he’s chief of staff at a White House where everything is a mess. “Reince doesn’t have a magic wand,” one Republican National Committee apparatchik told The Associated Press. Nobody wants to get to the point where the best argument in your favor is wand shortage.

Chris Christie

Chris (Still the Governor) Christie was at the White House this week in his new role as head of a commission on drug addiction. How could anything bad happen? Well, just as Christie was being photographed grasping the president’s hand, two of his former associates were sentenced to jail for their roles in the famous bridge-jamming episode. Not Trump’s fault, but he did seem to mess with Christie’s karma when he kept treating him like a well-dressed fast-food clerk during the campaign.

Coal Miners

Trump recently signed an executive order trashing the Obama initiatives to combat global warming. He was surrounded by happy-looking men from coal country, helping continue the grand new White House tradition of male-only photo sessions.

“You’re going back to work,” the president told them gleefully. In reality, the guys in the room already had jobs, some as coal company executives. And Trump’s order won’t fix their region’s unemployment problems. However, the administration has indeed changed the world for some residents of Appalachia, greatly improving their chances of living near a stream filled with mining debris.

* * *

Sean Spicer

Oh my God, poor Sean Spicer. You wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

Russia

Russians worked hard to get Donald Trump elected president. And what did they get out of it? Multiple high-level investigations. Enormous rancor in Congress. Plus a drought of free food — no sane politician is going to want to be seen having dinner with a Russian diplomat.

Really, these days in Washington you’d be much better off being a Mexican.

Michael Flynn

Of all the American influence-peddlers who’ve been on the payroll of Russian oligarchs, only one is currently seeking immunity before he testifies at a congressional hearing. Remember when Flynn kept yelling “Lock her up!” during the Republican convention? Hehehehehe.

What a Failed Trump Administration Looks Like

David Brooks, writing in the New York Times:

I still have trouble seeing how the Trump administration survives a full term. Judging by his Thursday press conference, President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued.

Trump’s White House staff is at war with itself. His poll ratings are falling at unprecedented speed. His policy agenda is stalled. F.B.I. investigations are just beginning. This does not feel like a sustainable operation.

On the other hand, I have trouble seeing exactly how this administration ends. Many of the institutions that would normally ease out or remove a failing president no longer exist.

There are no longer moral arbiters in Congress like Howard Baker and Sam Ervin to lead a resignation or impeachment process. There is no longer a single media establishment that shapes how the country sees the president. This is no longer a country in which everybody experiences the same reality.

Everything about Trump that appalls 65 percent of America strengthens him with the other 35 percent, and he can ride that group for a while. Even after these horrible four weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill are not close to abandoning their man.

The likelihood is this: We’re going to have an administration that has morally and politically collapsed, without actually going away.

What does that look like?

First, it means an administration that is passive, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. To get anything done, a president depends on the vast machinery of the U.S. government. But Trump doesn’t mesh with that machinery. He is personality-based while it is rule-based. Furthermore, he’s declared war on it. And when you declare war on the establishment, it declares war on you.

The Civil Service has a thousand ways to ignore or sit on any presidential order. The court system has given itself carte blanche to overturn any Trump initiative, even on the flimsiest legal grounds. The intelligence community has only just begun to undermine this president.

President Trump can push all the pretty buttons on the command deck of the Starship Enterprise, but don’t expect anything to actually happen, because they are not attached.

Second, this will probably become a more insular administration. Usually when administrations stumble, they fire a few people and bring in the grown-ups — the James Baker or the David Gergen types. But Trump is anti-grown-up, so it’s hard to imagine Chief of Staff Haley Barbour. Instead, the circle of trust seems to be shrinking to his daughter, her husband and Stephen Bannon.

Bannon has a coherent worldview, which is a huge advantage when all is chaos. It’s interesting how many of Bannon’s rivals have woken up with knives in their backs. Michael Flynn is gone. Reince Priebus has been unmanned by a thousand White House leaks. Rex Tillerson had the potential to be an effective secretary of state, but Bannon neutered him last week by denying him the ability to even select his own deputy.

In an administration in which “promoted beyond his capacity” takes on new meaning, Bannon looms. With each passing day, Trump talks more like Bannon without the background reading.

Third, we are about to enter a decentralized world. For the past 70 years most nations have instinctively looked to the U.S. for leadership, either to follow or oppose. But in capitals around the world, intelligence agencies are drafting memos with advice on how to play Donald Trump.

The first conclusion is obvious. This administration is more like a medieval monarchy than a modern nation-state. It’s more “The Madness of King George” than “The Missiles of October.” The key currency is not power, it’s flattery.

The corollary is that Trump is ripe to be played. Give the boy a lollipop and he won’t notice if you steal his lunch. The Japanese gave Trump a new jobs announcement he could take to the Midwest, and in return they got presidential attention and coddling that other governments would have died for.

If you want to roll the Trump administration, you’ve got to get in line. The Israelis got a possible one-state solution. The Chinese got Trump to flip-flop on the “One China” policy. The Europeans got him to do a 180 on undoing the Iran nuclear deal.

More here.

Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles

Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, writing in the New York Times:

President Trump loves to set the day’s narrative at dawn, but the deeper story of his White House is best told at night.

Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate the light switches in the cabinet room. Visitors conclude their meetings and then wander around, testing doorknobs until finding one that leads to an exit. In a darkened, mostly empty West Wing, Mr. Trump’s provocative chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, finishes another 16-hour day planning new lines of attack.

Usually around 6:30 p.m., or sometimes later, Mr. Trump retires upstairs to the residence to recharge, vent and intermittently use Twitter. With his wife, Melania, and young son, Barron, staying in New York, he is almost always by himself, sometimes in the protective presence of his imposing longtime aide and former security chief, Keith Schiller. When Mr. Trump is not watching television in his bathrobe or on his phone reaching out to old campaign hands and advisers, he will sometimes set off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings of his new home.

During his first two dizzying weeks in office, Mr. Trump, an outsider president working with a surprisingly small crew of no more than a half-dozen empowered aides with virtually no familiarity with the workings of the White House or federal government, sent shock waves at home and overseas with a succession of executive orders designed to fulfill campaign promises and taunt foreign leaders.

“We are moving big and we are moving fast,” Mr. Bannon said, when asked about the upheaval of the first two weeks. “We didn’t come here to do small things.”

But one thing has become apparent to both his allies and his opponents: When it comes to governing, speed does not always guarantee success.

The bungled rollout of his executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a flurry of other miscues and embarrassments, and an approval rating lower than that of any comparable first-term president in the history of polling have Mr. Trump and his top staff rethinking an improvisational approach to governing that mirrors his chaotic presidential campaign, administration officials and Trump insiders said.

Chris Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and an old friend of the president’s, said: “I think, in his mind, the success of this is going to be the poll numbers. If they continue to be weak or go lower, then somebody’s going to have to bear some responsibility for that.”

“I personally think that they’re missing the big picture here,” Mr. Ruddy said of Mr. Trump’s staff. “Now he’s so caught up, the administration is so caught up in turmoil, perceived chaos, that the Democrats smell blood, the protesters, the media smell blood.”

One former staff member likened the aggressive approach of the first two weeks to D-Day, but said the president’s team had stormed the beaches without any plan for a longer war.

Clashes among staff are common in the opening days of every administration, but they have seldom been so public and so pronounced this early. “This is a president who came to Washington vowing to shake up the establishment, and this is what it looks like. It’s going to be a little sloppy, there are going to be conflicts,” said Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush’s first press secretary.

All this is happening as Mr. Trump, a man of flexible ideology but fixed habits, adjusts to a new job, life and city.

Cloistered in the White House, he now has little access to his fans and supporters — an important source of feedback and validation — and feels increasingly pinched by the pressures of the job and the constant presence of protests, one of the reasons he was forced to scrap a planned trip to Milwaukee last week. For a sense of what is happening outside, he watches cable, both at night and during the day — too much in the eyes of some aides — often offering a bitter play-by-play of critics like CNN’s Don Lemon.

Until the past few days, Mr. Trump was telling his friends and advisers that he believed the opening stages of his presidency were going well. “Did you hear that, this guy thinks it’s been terrible!” Mr. Trump said mockingly to other aides when one dissenting view was voiced last week during a West Wing meeting.

But his opinion has begun to change with a relentless parade of bad headlines.

Mr. Trump got away from the White House this weekend for the first time since his inauguration, spending it in Palm Beach, Fla., at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, posting Twitter messages angrily — and in personal terms — about the federal judge who put a nationwide halt on the travel ban. Mr. Bannon and Reince Priebus, the two clashing power centers, traveled with him.

By then, the president, for whom chains of command and policy minutiae rarely meant much, was demanding that Mr. Priebus begin to put in effect a much more conventional White House protocol that had been taken for granted in previous administrations: From now on, Mr. Trump would be looped in on the drafting of executive orders much earlier in the process.

Another change will be a new set of checks on the previously unfettered power enjoyed by Mr. Bannon and the White House policy director, Stephen Miller, who oversees the implementation of the orders and who received the brunt of the internal and public criticism for the rollout of the travel ban.

Mr. Priebus has told Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon that the administration needs to rethink its policy and communications operation in the wake of embarrassing revelations that key details of the orders were withheld from agencies, White House staff and Republican congressional leaders like Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

Mr. Priebus has also created a 10-point checklist for the release of any new initiatives that includes signoff from the communications department and the White House staff secretary, Robert Porter, according to several aides familiar with the process.

The entire article is worth a full and careful read.

The Republican Fausts

David Brooks, writing in The New York Times:

Many Republican members of Congress have made a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump. They don’t particularly admire him as a man, they don’t trust him as an administrator, they don’t agree with him on major issues, but they respect the grip he has on their voters, they hope he’ll sign their legislation and they certainly don’t want to be seen siding with the inflamed progressives or the hyperventilating media.

Their position was at least comprehensible: How many times in a lifetime does your party control all levers of power? When that happens you’re willing to tolerate a little Trumpian circus behavior in order to get things done.

But if the last 10 days have made anything clear, it’s this: The Republican Fausts are in an untenable position. The deal they’ve struck with the devil comes at too high a price. It really will cost them their soul.

In the first place, the Trump administration is not a Republican administration; it is an ethnic nationalist administration. Trump insulted both parties equally in his Inaugural Address. The Bannonites are utterly crushing the Republican regulars when it comes to actual policy making.

The administration has swung sharply antitrade. Trump’s economic instincts are corporatist, not free market. If Barack Obama tried to lead from behind, Trump’s foreign policy involves actively running away from global engagement. Outspoken critics of Paul Ryan are being given White House jobs, and at the same time, if Reince Priebus has a pulse it is not externally evident.

Second, even if Trump’s ideology were not noxious, his incompetence is a threat to all around him. To say that it is amateur hour at the White House is to slander amateurs. The recent executive orders were drafted and signed without any normal agency review or even semicoherent legal advice, filled with elemental errors that any nursery school student would have caught.

It seems that the Trump administration is less a government than a small clique of bloggers and tweeters who are incommunicado with the people who actually help them get things done. Things will get really hairy when the world’s problems are incoming.

More here.

Possible retreat on aspects of Trump’s immigration order

Via The New York Times:

A top White House official appeared to reverse a key part of President Trump’s immigration order on Sunday, saying that people from the affected countries who hold green cards will not be prevented from returning to the United States.

But the official, Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, also said that border agents had “discretionary authority” to detain and question suspicious travelers from certain countries. That statement seemed to add to the uncertainty over how the executive order will be interpreted and enforced in the days ahead.

Mr. Priebus defended Mr. Trump’s order on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, saying it had been carried out smoothly and was protecting Americans from terrorist threats. On Saturday, a day after the order was issued, airports were marked by scenes of confusion and protest as officials tried to interpret the order, including how to handle green card holders.

On Sunday, Mr. Priebus appeared to announce a dramatic change in those policies, saying that “as far as green card holders, moving forward, it doesn’t affect them.”

Around the globe on Saturday, legal residents of the United States who hold valid green cards and approved visas were blocked from boarding planes overseas or detained for hours in American airports.

More here.

Clearly, the Trump Administration screwed up, big time.  The entire world is watching and waiting.

Paul Ryan flips on Muslim ban

Via The Washington Post:

“This is not conservatism.”

In just four words, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan made clear in December 2015 that then-candidate Donald Trump’s suggestion to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States has no place in the Republican Party.

A little more than a year later, President Trump has signed an executive ordertemporarily halting admission of all refugees — with an indefinite pause on Syrian refugees — and a pause on all visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 120 days. Trump has promised priority for Christians. The order is meant to give U.S. agencies more time to come up with a more stringent vetting system.

Ryan (R-Wis.) appears to have a completely different perspective on Trump’s executive order. Here’s what he said in a statement released Friday (my emphasis added in bold):

Our number one responsibility is to protect the homeland. We are a compassionate nation, and I support the refugee resettlement program, but it’s time to reevaluate and strengthen the visa vetting process. This is why we passed bipartisan legislation in the wake of the Paris attacks to pause the intake of refugees. President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country.

Some recent historical context here: When Trump proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, he had been leading the GOP presidential primary for four consecutive months and counting. When he suggested the ban, Republican leaders already wary of Trump’s penchant for controversy quickly pushed to distance themselves and their party from his more controversial proposals.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus (now Trump’s chief of staff) said: “I don’t agree.” He added: “We need to aggressively take on radical Islamic terrorism but not at the expense of our American values.

“Trump is wrong,” tweeted then-Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.).

Much more here.

The Washington Post Editorial Board slams Trump

The Washington Post has been extremely effective in covering Donald Trump’s numerous outrages. Here is an excerpt from the Washington Post Editorial Board from yesterday:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan correctly described Donald Trump’s 2005 taped sexually predatory conversation as “sickening,” but anyone interested in the health of the Republican Party should focus on the next part of Mr. Ryan’s statement. The sentence that counts — the statement that reveals the amoral, abject corruption at the heart of the Republican Party in this sad season — is this: “I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests.”

Thus did the Republican Party once again initiate the same pathetic little dance it has performed with its party’s nominee from the beginning. Claim the moral high ground; insist on improvement, as if improvement were a relevant concept in this situation; and then, when nothing improves, pronounce yourself satisfied nonetheless. It’s true that this time some Republicans are jumping ship, including (finally) former presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Sen. John Thune (S.D.), part of the GOP Senate leadership. But vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Republican Chairman Reince Priebus and most other office-holders continue to join Mr. Ryan in pretending that Mr. Trump is not what we all know him to be. Are they fooling themselves, or just fearful of offending the Trump supporters whose votes they need in other races? Either way, the effect is the same.

Let’s ponder Mr. Ryan’s advice that Mr. Trump demonstrate a “greater respect for women than this clip suggests.” Certainly, that should not be difficult. What the clip shows is disgusting: an insecure braggart who, at the age of nearly 60, needs to boast of how he uses his celebrity to prey on women, and all the better if he can break his vows of marriage or theirs. Mr. Trump could be a caveman in one of those “Mad Men”-era cartoons dragging a woman back to his lair by her hair and still demonstrate a “greater respect for women than this clip suggests.” The idea that some pronouncement, any pronouncement, from Mr. Trump now could or should reassure voters is ludicrous.

Much, much more here.

Tensions are high between Trump campaign and RNC

Via The New York Times:

The Republican National Committee had high hopes that Donald J. Trump would deliver a compassionate and measured speech about immigration on Wednesday, and prepared to lavish praise on the candidate on the party’s Twitter account.

So when Mr. Trump instead offered a fiery denunciation of migrant criminals and suggested deporting Hillary Clinton, Reince Priebus, the party chairman, signaled that aides should scrap the plan, and the committee made no statement at all.

The evening tore a painful new wound in Mr. Trump’s relationship with the Republican National Committee, imperiling his most important remaining political alliance.

Mr. Priebus and his organization have been steadfastly supportive of Mr. Trump, defending him in public and spending millions of dollars to aid him. But the collaboration between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Mr. Priebus’s committee has grown strained over the last month, according to six senior Republicans with detailed knowledge of both groups, some of whom asked to speak anonymously for fear of exacerbating tensions.

There is no prospect of a full public breach between the Trump campaign and the R.N.C. because both sides rely on a joint fund-raising arrangement crucial to their election efforts.

But tensions have grown to such a point that they threaten to diminish the party’s ability to work smoothly with Mr. Trump during the most critical post-Labor Day phase of the race, when the committee traditionally helps supervise an extensive voter turnout effort.

Sucks to be Trump. He continues his erratic campaign behaviors, and eventually the RNC will have to act.

Political quote of the day

Our job as a national party is to elect Republicans, and it generally means House, Senate, presidential. We’re viewed at in a presidential year as the presidential committee that is responsible for helping elect the president, but at the same time, we have a responsibility to help pay for the ground operation in every targeted U.S. Senate races and the targeted Congressional races as well, so it is our job to do all three.

However, I think that we have become, unfortunately, a midterm party that doesn’t lose and a presidential party that’s had a really hard time winning. We’re seeing more and more that if you don’t hold the White House, it’s very difficult to govern in this country — especially in Washington D.C.

So I think that — I do think that we’re cooked as a party for quite a while as a party if we don’t win in 2016. So I do think that it’s going to be hard to dig out of something like that.I don’t anticipate that. I think … history is on our side.

— Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (via The Washington Examiner)