Even those who expect little from Donald Trump found yesterday morning’s developments jarring. As the Republican-led House was preparing to vote on a controversial surveillance measure, the president decided to weigh in on the debate by criticizing a policy his administration supports and has spent months fighting for.
As we discussed yesterday, the drama unfolded when Trump watched a Fox News segment he apparently misunderstood, which led the president to contradict his own White House’s agenda, all in service of an anti-Obama conspiracy theory that’s never made any sense.
The Washington Post had an interesting behind-the-scenes report on what happened after Trump’s errant tweet.
The presidential decree – a mere 40 words – set off a mad scramble across Washington.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) spent 30 minutes on the phone with the president explaining the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance, as many fellow Republicans reacted in disbelief and befuddlement. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly also directly intervened with Trump, reiterating the program’s importance before traveling to the Capitol, where he parried questions from confused lawmakers.
Evidently, the scramble had the intended effect: Trump published a new tweet endorsing his own position and 702 policy passed the House a few hours later.
But it’s nevertheless amazing that the Speaker of the House had to spend a half-hour with the president, tutoring him on surveillance law. Not to put too fine a point on this, but Trump was a candidate for the nation’s highest office for a year and a half. He’s been in the Oval Office, receiving daily intelligence briefings, for nearly 12 months.
How is it that the president still needs a member of Congress to explain to him the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance?
Postscript: TPM noted yesterday that Ryan seemed eager to cover for the president at a Capitol Hill press conference, held after Trump’s follow-up tweet.
Insisting that “everybody knows” that Trump has concerns with “other parts” of FISA than what the House voted to renew Thursday, Ryan defended Trump’s familiarity with FISA despite the President’s contradictory tweets.
“It is well-known that he has concerns about the domestic FISA law. That’s not what we’re doing today. Today was 702, a different part,” he said during a press conference Thursday. “Today has to do with foreign terrorists on foreign soil. He knows that and he put out something that I think clarified that. His administration’s position has been clear from day one, which is 702 is really important, it’s gotta be renewed.”
I wonder if Trump fully appreciates Ryan’s persistent efforts to cover for him.