Eye on 45

CN&R’s biweekly rundown of news items out of the Trump White House and Congress

In this third installment of Eye on 45, we pick up on the one-month anniversary of Trump’s presidency. That’s the day POTUS responded to pressure from Jewish groups calling for him to denounce a recent wave of anti-Semitism, including vandalism at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, and bomb threats directed at a reported 54 community centers in 27 states. Here are the highlights of the last two weeks:

Feb. 21: During an interview with MSNBC’s Craig Melvin at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Trump says: “Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop and it has to stop.” That stance came too late for many Jewish organizations, including the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, whose executive director called his comments a “Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration” and a “pathetic asterisk of condescension.” The nonprofit noted how the president had the week before cut off a Jewish journalist trying to ask a question about the rise in anti-Semitism.

Based on Department of Homeland Security documents, the New York Times reports POTUS’ new immigration policies, and specifically his intention to ramp up deportation of undocumented immigrants irrespective of their criminal history or lack thereof. The effort is to include new detention facilities, the cooperation of local law enforcement officials, hiring thousands of additional border patrol agents, among other tactics.

Based on its Fact Checker project, the Washington Post reports that, on the 33rd day of the administration, Trump “has averaged four falsehoods or misleading statements a day(!)”

Feb. 22: Trump administration sends letters to public schools reversing course on a directive that they allow transgender students to use the locker rooms and restrooms of their choice, federal anti-discrimination policy put into place by the Obama administration that has been stuck in court.

Feb. 23: CNN reports the Trump White House requested that the FBI make a public statement dismissing media reports about the president’s staff and close allies having communicated with Russian intelligence operatives during the presidential campaign—a contest U.S. intelligence agencies say the Kremlin meddled in to Trump’s benefit.

Info hacked from a cellphone belonging to Paul Manafort’s daughter suggests that the one-time Trump campaign chairman was the victim of attempted blackmail related to his alleged financial ties to Ukraine’s former pro-Russia president and Trump’s alleged meeting in 2012 with an associate of that president, Politico reports.

Feb. 24: White House press secretary Sean Spicer bans several big players in the media world—The New York Times, CNN, Politico and the Los Angeles Times, among others—from a press briefing. The Washington Post was quick to refer to comments Spicer had made months earlier calling press access “what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.”

The same day, the Post reports developments on Trump’s further efforts to tamp down news coverage of his associates’ connections to Russia. This time, the administration tasked high-ranking members of Congress and the intelligence community with disputing the validity of such news organizations’ stories.

Feb. 25: POTUS announces he won’t attend the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, which makes him the first commander in chief to do so in 36 years. In 1981, then-President Reagan missed the affair while recovering from an assassination attempt.

During his appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s newly confirmed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, speaks about his imminent plans to slash climate change and water pollution regulations.

Feb. 26: POTUS plans to cut the budget of the EPA and other federal agencies by billions and increase defense spending by $54 billion, reports the Washington Post.

George W. Bush tells NBC’s Matt Lauer that the press is “indispensable to democracy.” In an interview with the Today Show host, the 43rd president seemed to repudiate Trump’s recent criticism of media: “Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”

The same day, Republicans kill a Democratic House resolution that sought disclosure of a decade’s worth of Trump’s tax returns. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) toes the party line.

Feb. 26: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is roundly criticized after releasing a statement referring to then-legally segregated colleges as “pioneers” in “school choice.”

CNN reports that Spicer started checking aides’ cellphones to make sure they weren’t leaking info to reporters.

POTUS throws his generals under the bus during a Fox News interview in which he refers to a recent raid in Yemen—a mission that ended with dozens of civilian casualties, including women and children, as well as the death of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens—as having been planned prior to the start of his presidency. “[T]hey lost Ryan,” Trump says, in reference to the generals.

Feb. 27: The Washington Post reveals that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had spoken with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., including in a private conversation during the peak of Russia’s efforts to influence the outcome of the presidential contest, despite Sessions’ testimony to the contrary during his Senate confirmation hearing. Sessions’ camp parses words, saying the attorney general was asked by the Senate about conversations between Russia and the Trump campaign, and that he had actually met with the ambassador as a member of the Armed Services Committee.

March 1: The embattled Sessions recuses himself from investigations into Russia’s campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election.

Politico reports that two additional members of the Trump campaign—son-in-law Jared Kushner and former adviser Carter Page—met with Russians prior to the election.

Vice President Mike Pence used his personal email for state affairs during his role as Indiana governor, USA Today reports.

Ben Carson, a one-time presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon with no experience in government, is confirmed as the administrator of the Housing & Urban Development Department.

March 2: Financial records indicate Sessions used campaign funds for travel expenses to Cleveland, which is one of the places he met with the Russian ambassador he claims to have met with exclusively in his role as a member of the Armed Services Committee.

March 4: Trump blasts off a series of tweets accusing President Obama of wire-tapping his residence of Trump Tower shortly before the election. He offers no evidence to support the allegation.

March 5: During an interview on Meet the Press, James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, denies Trump’s charges that communications at Trump Tower had been wiretapped.

March 6: POTUS signs a newly drafted travel ban that calls for a 90-day ban on new visas. It applies to six majority-Muslim countries, excluding Iraq, which was included in the previous ban that was suspended by a federal court. The new order bars refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days and calls for the entry of no more than 50,000 in the next year, a sharp decline from Obama’s ceiling of 110,000. It goes into effect March 16.

House Republican leaders release legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) with the so-called American Health Care Act. Among other things, it would repeal penalties for individuals and certain employers who refuse to get coverage or offer it to employees, respectively, and would also eliminate most taxes that allowed more than 20 million Americans to become insured.