Trump gives new meaning to the Friday night news dump, enraging his critics – Washington Post
President Trump, in the space of four hours, made official a ban on transgender people serving in the military, pardoned a controversial sheriff accused of racial profiling and parted ways with polarizing aide and conservative media darling Sebastian Gorka.
The announcements were made in the evening hours as the nation focused on Hurricane Harvey, which threatened catastrophic damage to areas along the Gulf Coast, giving new meaning to the Friday night news dump strategy that has long been a staple for Washington politicians looking to bury controversial decisions.
“It was very risky, because if the hurricane is as bad as the experts were predicting, then he’s opening himself up to a lot of potential criticism,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former aide to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “But very little that Trump does surprises me any longer. He’s proven to be very unpredictable and to not act within the norms of other politicians.”
Like most aspects of Trump’s presidency, the perceived news dump enraged his detractors and buoyed his most ardent supporters, while leaving open the question of how it will be received by voters who don’t fit neatly into either camp.
Some Republicans said the timing of the announcements reflected the current state of the White House — new Chief of Staff John F. Kelly trying to instill more order even as the president remains the most disruptive force.
One Republican close to the White House said Kelly appeared to be trying to quietly clean up Trump’s policy move on transgender troops, which had been left in limbo for weeks after the president announced his decision on Twitter to the surprise of the military and with no formal plan ready to be released. While the policy was formally released Friday, it did not provide certainty on the most pressing question: the fate of transgender people currently serving. The presidential memorandum left it to the Pentagon to commission a report on how to deal with the service members’ fate, keeping open the possibility they may be permitted to remain on active duty.
Gorka’s ouster had been expected for weeks following Kelly’s hiring, especially after the departure of his ally, former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, despite Trump’s fondness for Gorka’s willingness to go on television and criticize the media. Gorka’s credentials as a counterterrorism expert have long been in question, and he was criticized inside and outside the White House for having no concrete responsibilities beyond serving as a surrogate for Trump on the airwaves. But the move was still expected to draw criticism from Trump’s allies, who view it as the death knell for the populist wing in the White House, making the leak of the news late Friday advantageous for the administration.
Kelly was probably aware there was little he could do to stop Trump from pardoning Arpaio despite — and perhaps because of — the likely backlash.
“Kelly is really strong right now,” said the Republican close to the White House. “He gives his best advice, but he wasn’t going to stop the Sheriff Joe thing. Everything else was textbook what a really good chief of staff would do: dump a whole bunch of stuff when there’s a hurricane coming.”
Democrats and activist groups saw a cynical motive and play, and accused Trump of using a natural disaster as cover for unpalatable moves that were aimed mostly at rousing his base and that sent clear messages to the LGBT community and Hispanic Americans that he condoned discrimination.
“As millions of people in TX and LA are prepping for the hurricane, the President is using the cover of the storm to pardon a man who violated a court’s order to stop discriminating against Latinos and ban courageous transgender men and women from serving our nation’s Armed Forces,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) posted on Twitter. “So sad, so weak.”