Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He summoned the entire Senate to the White House for a secret briefing on public information.

Trump invited senators to hear administration officials present supposedly secure information about North Korea in the White House auditorium--an insecure room that had to be temporarily hardened against surveillance. Senators routinely receive classified briefings at the Capitol, which has a number of Secure Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIF) designed to hold large numbers of people. (Trump himself has not always felt quite so strongly about the need to use SCIFs when dealing with North Korea.) 

But Republican and Democratic members of the Senate agreed: the briefing was routine and contained "nothing you couldn't read in the newspaper," according to Sen. Jeff Merkeley (D-OR). Asked if the trip was worthwhile, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) replied, "I'm not sure." Some senators expressed concern that, if anything, the briefing demonstrated an alarming lack of direction on North Korea. 

Many commentators assumed that the briefing was being done at the White House for publicity purposes--a high-profile chance for Trump to convey seriousness, or at least camouflage the fact that he is essentially continuing the Obama administration's policy. As expected, Trump himself did make a cameo appearance, doing what one senator called "his ridiculous adjective bit" to "eye-rolling" from those in attendance.

Why should anyone care?

  • It's a bad idea for a president to try to engineer drama on matters of national security.
  • A president who has not been able to get any of his legislative agenda through a Congress his own party controls probably shouldn't annoy senators.