Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Trump on the ropes

US President Donald Trump had a terrible week, with the White House in total chaos and ties with Russia reaching new lows, reports Khaled Dawoud


Trump on the ropes
Trump on the ropes

Hardly 10 days after his appointment amid much fanfare as the one who will clean up the mess in the Trump White House, Communications Chief Anthony Scaramucci on Monday was fired over an obscene tirade.

The decision was latest staff upheaval for the six-month-old administration, of which several key officials have been fired but a few weeks after their appointment, raising serious questions on Trump’s ability to run the world’s main superpower.

While hardly dealing with the chaos in his administration, the US Congress  — both Senate and the House — united against Trump in imposing new and expanded sanctions against Russia, bringing an end to his pledge to build better ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, for whom Trump had repeatedly expressed admiration. Putin swiftly announced his patience was over and decided to expel nearly half of the US embassy’s staff in Russia.

The move to fire Scaramucci took place on the first day of work for Trump’s new chief of staff, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, who sources said was seeking to impose order on a White House riven with factions and backbiting.

“There’s a new sheriff in town,” said Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign adviser. A Republican close to Trump said the president fretted on the weekend over what to do about Scaramucci, calling his advisers to ask their opinions, all of whom told him the tough-talking aide had to go.

Trump was annoyed by Scaramucci’s lewd comments to The New Yorker magazine published last Thursday and at how the abrasive New York financier appeared to inflate the strength of their friendship since he had started the 2016 presidential election cycle as a fundraiser for two Trump rivals, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush.

Kelly, who also wanted him removed, summoned Scaramucci to his office on Monday morning and fired him on the spot, the official said. It was one of Kelly’s first acts as chief of staff. “A great day at the White House!” Trump tweeted Monday evening.

The departure of Scaramucci followed one of the rockiest weeks of Trump’s presidency in which a major Republican effort to overhaul the US healthcare system failed in Congress and both his spokesman and previous chief of staff left their jobs as White House infighting burst into the open.

Scaramucci’s comments to The New Yorker included a profanity-laced attack against then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon. “The president certainly felt that Anthony’s comments were inappropriate for a person in that position,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.

In a change from previous procedure, all staff will now report to Kelly, including Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Sanders said. A Republican official close to the White House said Kelly had been given wide authority to impose order on the unruly Trump White House.

Tensions in Trump’s inner circle erupted last week when Scaramucci assailed Priebus and Bannon, two of the West Wing’s most senior figures. He accused Priebus of leaking information to the media. Priebus later resigned.

Republicans fear that staff chaos at the White House could derail any attempt to revive efforts to repeal and replace the Obamacare healthcare law and a plan to overhaul the US tax system.

On top of the healthcare debacle, Trump came under fire for banning transgender people from the military, and was pilloried for politicising a speech he made to the Boy Scouts.

In his first six months in office, Trump has upended White House convention with a loose decision-making style and an open-door policy to his Oval Office for advisers, both internal and external. Infighting among his senior staff has become bitter and public.

“He’s going to have to reduce the drama, reduce both the sniping within and reduce the leaks, and bring some discipline to the relationships,” Karl Rove, a Republican strategist and former White House adviser to George W Bush, said on Fox News Sunday.

“He (Trump) is in a lot of trouble. This week was the most tumultuous week we’ve seen in a tumultuous presidency,” Rove added.

The US dollar hit a more than 2-1/2-year low against the euro Monday on month-end portfolio adjustments and uncertainty over the US political outlook after Scaramucci’s departure.

Aside from domestic challenges, Trump is weighing how to respond to North Korea’s latest missile test — a sore point between Washington and Beijing. Trump has been critical of China, North Korea’s closest ally, saying it should do more to rein in Pyongyang.

He is also dealing with several investigations into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, and has been frustrated that the probes are also looking into potential collusion by his campaign. Moscow rejects the charge it tried to swing the election in Trump’s favour, while Trump denies his campaign had anything to do with such interference.

To make things worse for Trump, Russian President Putin said the United States would have to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by 755 people and that Moscow could consider additional measures against Washington as a response to new US sanctions approved by Congress.

Moscow also ordered the seizure of two US diplomatic properties after the US House of Representatives and the Senate overwhelmingly approved new sanctions on Russia. The White House said Friday that US President Donald Trump would sign the sanctions bill.

The new US sanctions were partly a response to conclusions by US intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election, and to punish Russia further for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Russia’s response suggested it had set aside initial hopes of better ties with Washington under Trump, something the Republican president, before he was elected, had said he wanted to achieve.

A State Department official called Russia’s action “a regrettable and uncalled-for act”.

Putin said Russia could take more measures against the United States, but not at the moment. “I am against it as of today,” Putin said in the interview with Vesti TV.

He repeated that the US sanctions were a step to worsening relations between the two countries. “We were waiting for quite a long time that maybe something would change for the better; were holding out hope that the situation would change somehow. But it appears that even if it changes someday it will not change soon,” Putin said.

He added that Moscow and Washington were achieving results on cooperation, nonetheless, even “in this quite difficult situation”. The creation of the southern de-escalation zone in Syria was one such concrete result of joint work, Putin said.

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