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At a White House in crisis, Trump Looks Increasingly Isolated
U.S. President Donald Trump departs past National Economic Director Gary Cohn (L), Vice President Mike Pence (C) and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) at the conclusion of a joint news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the White House (REUTERS)
Washington: In the Trump White House, it’s getting lonely at the top.
President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress are showing signs of going their own way, both on politics and policy, determined to salvage what they can of their agenda on healthcare and tax reform in the wake of one of the most difficult weeks of any American presidency.
The result is problems on multiple fronts: a government whose bonds with Congress, federal agencies and the public look increasingly fractured; an ambitious but stalled program of reforms; and a president whose low approval ratings threaten his party’s control of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections.
Since Tuesday, when leaked excerpts of a purported memo by Comey detailing his conversations with Trump were made public, few Republicans beyond the White House have rushed to the airwaves to push back against suggestions that the president may have obstructed justice in asking Comey to end the probe into the conduct of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
As the Russia probe entered a new phase on Wednesday with the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel in the investigation, a move that will likely place the White House under even stronger scrutiny, some Republicans expressed surprise that the White House had not done more to recruit them to backstop the president.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on this story. Trump left on Friday for his first foreign trip as president. The 10-day trip will take him to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Europe.
The administration has continued to struggle to fill the hundreds of open positions at senior levels of government that remain open, leaving the White House alone to grapple with one challenge after another.
At the Department of Homeland Security, the chiefs of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Transportation Security Administration, have yet to be confirmed.
“Nobody knows when or if they will be filled anytime soon,” said the official, who declined to be identified by name. The department did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump has frequently complained that Senate Democrats have stalled the approval process for his nominees. But the White House has also been slower to send nominees to the Senate than previous administrations.
State Department and intelligence officials say that as power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few Trump loyalists in the White House, the roles of professional Foreign Service, intelligence and civil service officers have shrunk compared to past administrations.
For instance, said two U.S. diplomats, no one from the State Department attended Trump’s Feb. 15 meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - a sharp contrast from past administrations which would typically staff such a high-profile meeting with high-level State Department officials.
"As the president has repeatedly noted, Middle East peace is a top priority for this administration," a department spokesperson said. "This is an effort supported by both the White House and the State Department. Claims that the State Department has not been involved have no basis in facts."
Overall, more than 500 of the 557 federal government positions requiring Senate confirmation remain vacant. Only 33 nominees have been confirmed, and only 57 other positions now have a nominee, according to the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in Washington.
CAPITOL HILL FRUSTRATIONS
A lack of communication from the White House left many Republicans on Capitol Hill frustrated as a sense of crisis mushroomed over the past week. One, Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own Russia probe, publicly complained about the situation.
“Maybe they’re busy,” he said.
Some Republicans said the constant focus on responding to allegations concerning the Russia probe was draining their caucus of focus and energy to push through their agenda.
Absent guidance, Republican staff members in Congress were beginning to devise their own strategy about how to respond to the gusher of bad news, one aide told Reuters.
And at the White House, with lines of communication to Congress seemingly frayed at times, a narrowing circle of people has come to the president's defence, as senior staff grapple not only with the cascade of revelations but with a president who at times contradicts on Twitter their talking points.
“Everyone is just tired,” said one White House aide.
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