Feedback
Politics

Trump’s Shifts Shine a Light on West Wing Sparring

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

Are we seeing a major shift in the White House? 8:14

Trump's Flip-Flop Whirlwind

Phew. For folks keeping score on Trump's policy flip-flops, it's been a busy week. First, there was the Trump administration's mixed messages on Syria and its rapid shifts on Russia. And yesterday? About-faces on China and the Ex-Im Bank and NATO and Janet Yellen, all in one day:

On China as a currency manipulator

  • Gettysburg speech, October 22, 2016: "I will direct my secretary of the treasury to label China a currency manipulator. China is a currency manipulator. What they have done to us by playing currency is very sad."
  • Financial Times, April 2, 2017: "When you talk about currency manipulation, when you talk about devaluations, they are world champions."
  • Wall Street Journal interview, April 12, 2017: "They're not currency manipulators."

On the Ex-Im bank

  • Interview with Bloomberg, August 4, 2015: "It's sort of a featherbedding for politicians and others, and a few companies … So I don't like it. I think it's a lot of excess baggage. I think it's unnecessary. And when you think about free enterprise it's really not free enterprise. I'd be against it."
  • Wall Street Journal interview, April 12, 2017: "It turns out that, first of all, lots of small companies are really helped, the vendor companies…. Instinctively, you would say, 'Isn't that a ridiculous thing?' But actually, it's a very good thing. And it actually makes money, it could make a lot of money."

On NATO

  • Tweet, March 27, 2016: "My statement on NATO being obsolete and disproportionately too expensive (and unfair) for the U.S. are now, finally, receiving plaudits!"
  • Press conference, April 12, 2017: "The Secretary General and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete; it's no longer obsolete."

On Yellen

  • Interview on CNBC, September 12, 2016: "She's keeping (rates) artificially low to get Obama retired. Watch what is going to happen afterwards. It is a very serious problem, and I think it is very political. I think she is very political and to a certain extent, I think she should be ashamed of herself because it is not supposed to be that way."
  • Wall Street Journal interview, April 12, 2017: "I do like a low-interest rate policy, I must be honest with you… [On whether he she is "toast"] "No, not toast .. I like her, I respect her. It's very early."
Trump reverses his stances on Russia, China, NATO 2:34

That's just in one day! Consider more of his flips-flops over the last few months

  • On Medicaid (He promised no cuts during the campaign, then backed the House Republican health care plan that would change its financing)
  • On unemployment numbers (He once consistently called them "a complete fraud"; now he cites them favorably)
  • On the "One-China" policy (He said he was a skeptic, then told President Xi he would honor the policy)
  • On Putin (He frequently praised the Russian president during the campaign but has lately taken a much harsher tone)
  • On the stock market (He previously warned of a "big bubble" and now lauds the market's show of "confidence" in him)
  • On a federal hiring freeze (he implemented but then lifted it)
  • On a border adjustment tax
  • The numerous changes to his travel ban
  • On whether Congress should tackle health care or tax reform first

And that's just a sample. Almost all of these policy changes are going in the same direction: from a more hard-line conservative agenda to a more pragmatic and centrist (or at least more traditionally Republican) one. In other words, it's a shift from the bomb-throwing nationalist Bannon faction towards the moderate wing represented by Jared Kushner and Trump's Wall Street allies. This is why palace intrigue stories matter right now. When the president is so self-admittedly "flexible," there are real and dramatic consequences to who's up and who's down in the West Wing, and we've seen them in stark relief this week.

Who rises if Bannon goes?

After Trump distanced himself from Bannon earlier this week, Washington remains on high alert to see if the strategist can survive in his job. A source close to Bannon tells our White House team that the "infighting has stopped — simple." But despite the happy talk, Bannon is still left in a very precarious position after getting involved in an unwinnable fight against the president's son-in-law, and we're already seeing the effects of his diminished influence (see above). NBC's Katy Tur also reports that two much more moderate voices — deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and chief economic advisor Gary Cohn — are quickly amassing influence.

Here's the question our White House reporters are asking, though: Bannon has long been portrayed as the north star for Trump's most devoted "America First" fans, so if he's sidelined, does anyone fill that void in the White House? Former Jeff Sessions aide Stephen Miller is the next in line from the Bannon wing, but plenty of folks doubt he has the chops to fill a Bannon-sized vacuum. And there are also concerns from Team Trump about what could happen if the president turns the Breitbart mastermind loose. After all, who's to say Bannon goes quietly rather than using his media influence to lob bombs at the Kushner wing he's so recently derided as "West Wing Democrats" ? Bannon is in a bad place right now, but a bigger question may be what will come next if he is exiled from the White House entirely.

Trump's health care threat

Don't miss this excerpt from Trump's newsy interview with the Wall Street Journal: He suggests he's weighing whether to strong-arm Democrats into Obamacare negotiations by scrapping a subsidy program that would deal a body blow to the law. "[I]f Congress doesn't approve it, or if I don't approve it, that would mean that Obamacare doesn't have enough money so it dies immediately as opposed to over a period of time," he said. It's a very risky strategy, to say the least. One reason why? Trump is calculating that voters would blame Democrats, not him or his party, for the bill's collapse. (He even told the Wall Street Journal that "right now, we don't own it at all.") But recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that:

  • 61 percent of all Americans say Trump and Republicans are responsible for problems with the ACA going forward
  • 75 percent of all Americans say Trump and his administration "should do what they can to make ACA work"
  • Only 37 percent of Trump's OWN voters say he should try to make the law fail in order to replace it later

Trump's Day

Trump meets with responders to the I-85 bridge first respondersand then departs for another weekend at Mar-a-Lago.

What were other presidents doing on April 13?

Trump's Flip-Flop Whirlwind Phew.For folks keeping score on Trump's policy flip-flops, it's been abusy week. First, there was the Trump administration's mixed messages on Syria and its rapid shifts on Russia. And yesterday? About-faces on China and the Ex-Im Bank and NATO and Janet Yellen, all in one day:

On China as a currency manipulator

· Gettysburg speech, October 22, 2016: "I will direct my secretary of the treasury to label China a currency manipulator. China is a currency manipulator. What they have done to us by playing currency is very sad."

· Financial Times, April 2, 2017: "When you talk about currency manipulation, when you talk about devaluations, they are world champions."

· Wall Street Journal interview, April 12, 2017: "They're not currency manipulators."

On the Ex-Im bank

· Interview with Bloomberg, August 4, 2015: "It's sort of a featherbedding for politicians and others, and a few companies … So I don't like it. I think it's a lot of excess baggage. I think it's unnecessary. And when you think about free enterprise it's really not free enterprise. I'd be against it."

· Wall Street Journal interview, April 12, 2017: "It turns out that, first of all, lots of small companies are really helped, the vendor companies…. Instinctively, you would say, 'Isn't that a ridiculous thing?' But actually, it's a very good thing. And it actually makes money, it could make a lot of money."

On NATO

· Tweet, March 27, 2016: "My statement on NATO being obsolete and disproportionately too expensive (and unfair) for the U.S. are now, finally, receiving plaudits!"

· Press conference, April 12, 2017: "The Secretary General and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete; it's no longer obsolete."

On Yellen

· Interview on CNBC, September 12, 2016: "She's keeping (rates) artificially low to get Obama retired. Watch what is going to happen afterwards. It is a very serious problem, and I think it is very political. I think she is very political and to a certain extent, I think she should be ashamed of herself because it is not supposed to be that way."

· Wall Street Journal interview, April 12, 2017: "I do like a low-interest rate policy, I must be honest with you… [On whether he she is "toast"] "No, not toast .. I like her, I respect her. It's very early."

*** And that's just in one day! Consider more of his flips-flops over the last few months:

· On Medicaid (He promised no cuts during the campaign, then backed the House Republican health care plan that would change its financing)

· On unemployment numbers (He once consistently called them "a complete fraud"; now he cites them favorably)

· On the "One-China" policy (He said he was a skeptic, then told President Xi he would honor the policy)

· On Putin (He frequently praised the Russian president during the campaign but has lately taken a much harsher tone)

· On the stock market (He previously warned of a "big bubble" and now lauds the market's show of "confidence" in him)

· On a federal hiring freeze (he implemented but then lifted it)

· On a border adjustment tax

· The numerous changes to his travel ban

· On whether Congress should tackle health care or tax reform first

And that's just a sample. Almost all of these policy changes are going in the same direction: from a more hard-line conservative agenda to a more pragmatic and centrist (or at least more traditionally Republican) one. In other words, it's a shift from the bomb-throwing nationalist Bannon faction towards the moderate wing represented by Jared Kushner and Trump's Wall Street allies. This is why palace intrigue stories matter right now. When the president is so self-admittedly "flexible," there are real and dramatic consequences to who's up and who's down in the West Wing, and we've seen them in stark relief this week.

*** Who rises if Bannon goes? After Trump distanced himself from Bannon earlier this week, Washington remains on high alert to see if the strategist can survive in his job. A source close to Bannon tells our White House team that the "infighting has stopped — simple." But despite the happy talk, Bannon is still left in a very precarious position after getting involved in an unwinnable fight against the president's son-in-law, and we're already seeing the effects of his diminished influence (see above). NBC's Katy Tur also reports that two much more moderate voices — deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and chief economic advisor Gary Cohn — are quickly amassing influence. Here's the question our White House reporters are asking, though: Bannon has long been portrayed as the north star for Trump's most devoted "America First" fans, so if he's sidelined, does anyone fill that void in the White House? Former Jeff Sessions aide Stephen Miller is the next in line from the Bannon wing, but plenty of folks doubt he has the chops to fill a Bannon-sized vacuum. And there are also concerns from Team Trump about what could happen if the president turns the Breitbart mastermind loose. After all, who's to say Bannon goes quietly rather than using his media influence to lob bombs at the Kushner wing he's so recently derided as "West Wing Democrats" ? Bannon is in a bad place right now, but a bigger question may be what will come next if he is exiled from the White House entirely.

*** Trump's health care threat: Don't miss this excerpt from Trump's newsy interview with the Wall Street Journal: He suggests he's weighing whether to strong-arm Democrats into Obamacare negotiations by scrapping a subsidy program that would deal a body blow to the law. "[I]f Congress doesn't approve it, or if I don't approve it, that would mean that Obamacare doesn't have enough money so it dies immediately as opposed to over a period of time," he said. It's a very risky strategy, to say the least. One reason why? Trump is calculating that voters would blame Democrats, not him or his party, for the bill's collapse. (He even told the Wall Street Journal that "right now, we don't own it at all.") But recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that:

· 61 percent of all Americans say Trump and Republicans are responsible for problems with the ACA going forward

· 75 percent of all Americans say Trump and his administration "should do what they can to make ACA work"

· Only 37 percent of Trump's OWN voters say he should try to make the law fail in order to replace it later

*** Trump's Day: Trump meets with responders to the I-85 bridge first respondersand then departs for another weekend at Mar-a-Lago.

*** What were other presidents doing on April 13?

- Barack Obama hosts the White House Easter Egg Roll

- George W. Bush rolls back energy efficiency standards for air conditioners and heat pumps

- Bill Clinton's White House steps up its campaign to pass a $16.3 billion jobs bill

- George H.W. Bush urges a "partial deregulation of education"

- Ronald Reagan says he won't budge on his tax plan since the American people "do not want it watered down."

- Jimmy Carter's son, Chip, travels with a U.S. congressional delegation to China