One of the most striking aspects of Donald Trump’s petty decision to cancel House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Afghanistan is the degree to which it was lacking in any sense of proportionality. The president and his team were bothered that the California Democrat had raised security concerns about the upcoming State of the Union address.
In response, Trump decided to scrap a long-planned secret trip in which congressional leaders – including the chairs of the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees – who were set to visit with American troops stationed abroad, while receiving briefings on the status of an ongoing war.
It’s hard to imagine any fair-minded observer making the case that these are two comparable.
So why did this happen? According to a striking New York Times report, the West Wing wanted to put Pelosi “in her place.”
White House officials – including Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff – had been irked by Ms. Pelosi’s invocation of security concerns as her premise for urging Mr. Trump to move his speech, and sought to put her in her place after she had emphasized that she represented a coequal branch in governing, according to aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
Depriving Ms. Pelosi of an aircraft was the easiest way to remind her, they said. So Mr. Trump made a play for dominance and one-upmanship…. White House aides were tickled by the move, even as some acknowledged that Republican House members might fear for their own trips going forward.
It’s as if a group of far-right online trolls took control of the executive branch of a global superpower.
I’m especially fascinated by the idea that the White House wanted to put the House Speaker “in her place.” Does anyone seriously believe Nancy Pelosi will feel intimidated by the amateur president’s sophomoric antics? Is it realistic to think she’ll shy away from confrontations with the White House because Trump threw another tantrum and needlessly cancelled her trip to a warzone the president hasn’t yet visited himself?
Complicating matters, the president’s spiteful overreaction didn’t just affect Pelosi. The Daily Beast had a good report on the broader logistics:
For more than three weeks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her staff had quietly planned an international trip to Brussels and Afghanistan to check in on America’s longest war. Like most congressional delegations – “CODELs” – it was time-consuming work, involving coordination between numerous agencies, stakeholders, and international officials along with extra security briefings because of the danger of the destination.
Pelosi’s chief of staff worked with a liaison from the U.S. Air Force who was the lead in setting up travel arrangements and the itinerary for the trip. Senior officials at the Pentagon also had been read in on the speaker’s plans, especially those regarding her visit to war-torn Afghanistan, where extra security was needed for her time in Kabul. Two senior officials on the ground in Afghanistan said they received the itinerary for the trip, as they do other congressional trips, weeks in advance and held it close to the chest. Fellow members of Congress made similar accommodations as they prepared to accompany the Speaker on the CODEL.
According to the report, officials at the Pentagon were blindsided by Trump’s move.
“We’re still gathering information just like you,” one official said. “We are trying to figure out what is going on.”
This isn’t the first time the president made a decision affecting the Pentagon without coordinating with anyone at the Pentagon.
In the Trump administration, amateur hour lasts a lot longer than an hour.