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U.S. economy off to slow start in 2017 under Trump

U.S. economy off to slow start in 2017 under Trump

In the first quarter of 2017, America's GDP only grew 0.7 percent, running counter to President Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric. | AP Photo


Trump's Executive Orders Are Mostly Theater

Trump's Executive Orders Are Mostly TheaterPresident Donald Trump signed his first executive order on his first day in the White House, taking aim at his predecessor’s signature achievement. “Trump Signs Executive Order to Roll Back Obamacare,” Forbes reported. He’s gone on to sign more executive orders in his first 100 days than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his aides, his critics, and the media alike have portrayed them as dramatic assaults on the status quo. “Trump Moves to Roll Back Obama-Era Financial Regulations,” the New York Times declared after one. “Trump Executive Order Will Undo Obama’s Clean Power Plan,” USA Today reported after another.

But 99 days into his presidency, Trump’s high-profile orders have not actually undone Obama’s health reforms, financial regulations, or carbon restrictions. They’ve merely allowed him to announce his intentions to undo those policies in official documents. Trump’s first 30 executive orders will create a lot of federal reviews and reports, along with some new task forces and commissions, but not a lot of substantive change. So far, they’ve been more about messaging than governing, proclaiming his priorities without really advancing his priorities.

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The White House is making Trump’s flurry of executive orders the centerpiece of his 100-day legacy, in part because he hasn’t yet signed any major new laws or made much specific progress on his Make America Great Again policy agenda. And his orders have echoed his rhetoric about trade, regulations, crime, and other policy issues, which has given them the appearance of promises kept. But a close look at the language of his orders shows that most of them are basically press releases with presidential signatures, plus instructions to his Cabinet secretaries to look into the issues at hand.

Trump’s order on reorganizing the government simply directed his budget director to devise a plan for reorganizing the government. His order on the opioid crisis set up a commission. His orders on rebuilding the military, streamlining permits for manufacturers, and preventing violence against law enforcement instructed Cabinet secretaries to devise plans to achieve those goals—which they were presumably supposed to do anyway. His orders on trade deficits, drug cartels and burdensome tax regulations called for reports on those issues, essentially homework assignments issued on national television. Yesterday, as he signed an order regarding aluminum imports, he complained that foreign dumping was destroying the U.S. industry. But his order—like a similar one he signed last week about steel imports—did not impose any retaliatory duties; it just called for expediting an ongoing investigation of the issue.

This has become a predictable pattern, especially as the 100-day milestone has approached and the White House has been on the prowl for quick victories. On Wednesday, Trump held an Oval Office ceremony to sign an order he hailed as a blow against federal control of education, even though it merely directed his education secretary to make sure her department’s regulations comply with existing laws prohibiting federal control of education. That same day, Trump signed an order that he declared would


Lewandowski’s firm appears to offer Trump meetings

A firm co-founded by Donald Trump’s original campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appears to have been pitching clients around the world by offering not only policy and political advice, but also face time with President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and senior members of their administration, according to documents and interviews.

A document provided to an Eastern European politician by an international consulting firm that Lewandowski co-founded this year promises to arrange “meetings with well-established figures,” including Trump, Pence, “key members of the U.S. Administration” and outside Trump allies.

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The previously unreported firm, Washington East West Political Strategies, was created by Lewandowski and fellow Trump campaign veteran Barry Bennett — as well as an Azerbaijani oil executive and an American political consultant who works extensively in Russia — to prospect for political business in Eastern Europe. And Lewandowski and Bennett have created different firms with other partners to prospect in the Middle East, Canada and Central America, Bennett said.

The Washington East West Political Strategies document boasts that its clients will benefit from its partners’ ability to “leverage” their “trusted relations with the U.S. Administration,” as well as European parliamentarians and leading Western journalists.

Lewandowski did not respond to requests for comment.

Bennett, in an interview, said that he hadn’t seen the Washington East West Political Strategies document. He acknowledged, though, that he and Lewandowski started the firm. And he explained it was one of several international recruitment vehicles that would allow business partners around the world to earn commissions by enlisting international clients for another firm that he co-founded with Lewandowski in the weeks after the election called Avenue Strategies.

But Bennett stressed that the firms have yet to sign any international clients, and predicted that most of the firm’s work domestically and internationally would be political or policy consulting — not lobbying or arranging meetings or calls with elected officials.

However, people who are familiar with Lewandowski’s pitch to potential clients say he has pledged that he would personally call Trump or his cabinet members if necessary on behalf of prospective Avenue Strategies’ clients.

Yet Lewandowski has not formally registered as a lobbyist.

The lack of any such registration by Lewandowski to date — combined with his boasts about his Trump connections — is irking competing lobbyists and ethics watchdogs. They say Lewandowski is flouting the spirit of the lobbying rules, and abusing his access to the Trump White House. Meanwhile, White House officials worry that Lewandowski’s efforts to market his access — which are brazen even by K Street’s unbashful standards — are an influence-peddling scandal waiting to happen for a President who pledged to end the dominance of lobbyists and special interests in Washington.

“Whether Corey Lewandowski is just engaging in business as usual or actually going further, it definitely has a pervading swampiness to it that has become the new normal in Trump’s Washington,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for the government watchdog group Public Citizen.

The White House did


What the Press Still Doesn’t Get About Trump

What the Press Still Doesn’t Get About Trump

There was lots of hand-wringing after the election about how the media had messed up. Were we too quick to believe the polls? Did we have any idea what real Americans actually thought? Did we give Donald Trump too much attention—or not enough? Now that journalists have spent a few months covering President Trump, we asked a range of media critics, political operatives, historians and more: What does the press still get wrong about Trump, and what do we just not get at all?

1. We forget what has always driven Trump.
Gwenda Blair , author of The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a President

Too often, the press forgets the very lessons Trump himself has taught us about how he operates and why it often works. For example, journalists often imply that Trump’s reliance on cable news is a liability because it leaves him ill-informed. And so it does—but it also leaves him highly attuned to that medium and able to respond to what he sees there with immediate, pitch-perfect tweets or other comments that come across as direct, authentic and trustworthy.

Another example: the power of repetition. Frequently, reporters assume that because they have already responded to a Trump assertion, the issue is settled. But then he repeats the same misinformation, as he did in defending the size of his inauguration crowds. In part, this is because he’s incapable of acknowledging loss or error. More important, it’s because one of his highest priorities is the construction of an alternate narrative and the delegitimization of the mainstream media, traditional authorities, and the primacy of facts.

Likewise, the press seems to have forgotten the power of distraction. Coverage of the Trump-ordered missile attack in Syria made little reference to how conveniently it deflected attention from Russia-gate, Trump’s conflicts of interest, his draconian budget cuts, etc. The media also understate Trump’s reliance on bullying, which works surprisingly well for him. With the recent exception of the House Freedom Caucus’ refusal to knuckle under and vote for the GOP’s health care act, most people (e.g., the other Republican presidential candidates and many TV commentators) back down.

Illustration by Ben Wiseman

Trump has also mastered the power of grievance and continues to use it. When an issue gets too sticky, he reverts to self-pity—fashioning himself as the victim of Barack Obama’s supposed wiretapping, for instance. The media might call such behavior weak or petty, but it also re-cements Trump’s bond with his followers as fellow victims of the Washington elite.

Finally, the press tends to forget how much Trump needs to keep experiencing the act of winning—and how much this drives his behavior. The likeliest reason for his charge that Obama wiretapped him is that Trump wants to feel as if he’s continuing to beat the biggest competitor he can find. And what bigger target than Obama?

2. Trump. Won’t. Change.
Kurt Bardella , president and CEO of Endeavor Strategies

Anyone who thought Trump would pivot and become a more conventional political


The White House’s invisible man

The White House’s invisible manIn the first 99 days of Donald Trump’s drama-filled presidency, one prominent administration official seems to have done the impossible.

Vice President Mike Pence has delicately sidestepped the infighting, scandals and staff shakeups that have dragged down many of Trump’s aides, instead taking his cues from the president as he shapes one of the most consequential jobs in the world.

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While many vice presidents angle for power inside the West Wing, Pence has defined his role narrowly. His thinking, according to those close to him, is that the vice president has only two constitutional duties — to serve as president of the Senate and to be prepared in case of the worst. The rest is up to Trump.

“I think that Mike has said many times that he serves at the pleasure of the president and that he looks to support the president and help the president get the job accomplished,” said Marc Short, a former Pence aide who now serves as the White House’s director of legislative affairs.

Pence’s approach has allowed him to artfully navigate the warring fiefdoms that have emerged in the West Wing and stay in Trump’s good graces — even if it means he’s hasn't amassed the influence, as many had hoped, to pull the president in a more conservative direction.

The former Indiana governor speaks with Trump multiple times a day and is a regular presence in the Oval Office, senior administration officials say. He has cultivated good relationships with Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, remains close with chief-of-staff Reince Priebus and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, has developed a bond with economic adviser Gary Cohn, and even has a good rapport with Steve Bannon, the combative chief strategist who has alienated many in Trump’s inner circle.

“He’s so calm and low-key he doesn’t become one of the soap opera stars,” said former House speaker and Trump confidant Newt Gingrich. “He hasn’t gotten any scars in the first 100 days. … In a place this controversial, I’d say that’s pretty good.”

Or, as one person close to Pence put it: “He hasn’t stepped in it.”

But staying above the fray has come at a cost. Interviews with more than half a dozen current and former senior Pence aides as well as several administration officials and friends of Pence who spoke on the condition of anonymity offer a portrait of a vice president who has earned the president’s trust, but hasn’t yet capitalized on it inside the West Wing — and who has thus far racked up few tangible accomplishments.

Indeed, some close to him say he has hung back intentionally, modeling himself more like a loyal staffer than a first among equals in the Trump cabinet. By contrast, Vice President Dick Cheney — on whose tenure Pence has said he wanted to model his own — angled to be the last person to speak to the president before he made a consequential decision, never shielding him from uncomfortable facts.

Pence is

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