President Trump signs a “letter of initiative” Tuesday to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system during an event staged to resemble an official signing ceremony.
Donald Trump, you may have noticed, is not terribly good at being president. Nearly five months into his term, the White House seems stymied by its own ineptitude and a Congress that Trump has found more difficult to command than the underlings he bossed around for the past 40 years. Naturally that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to make moribund promises—Bloomberg’s Toluse Olorunnipa writes this morning that the administration reliably misses its self-imposed deadlines on just about everything it sets out to do—or shifting blame. On Monday, for instance, Trump attacked Democrats for stalling his nominations. “Dems are taking forever to approve my people, including Ambassadors,” he tweeted. “They are nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS!” For the most part, Democrats haven’t even been sent nominations to obstruct. The administration has yet to nominate candidates for hundreds of key positions, and, as Politico’s Seung Min Kim writes, the administration frequently takes weeks to formally submit the nominations of the candidates it does name:
Trump tapped Kevin McAleenan on March 30 to lead Customs and Border Protection, a critical position for his drive to revamp U.S. immigration policy. But the White House didn’t formally submit his nomination to the Senate for confirmation until May 22, nearly eight weeks later.
And McAleenan’s nomination is far from alone in taking weeks to be sent to the Senate, where Republicans are growing impatient and bewildered with the Trump White House’s historic lag in filling administration posts.
[…]It’s unclear exactly why the Trump White House has been so slow to officially submit some nominees’ paperwork, but it comes amid broader struggles by the new president to vet senior officials and staff his administration.
Of course, Trump’s woes in office thus far aren’t purely the consequence of inexperience. “The president’s inability to meet his own deadlines highlights his struggle adjusting to the pace of Washington,” Olorunnipa writes. That’s only partially true—his record thus far also highlights his craven dishonesty. Trump has, after all, spent many years jilting, shortchanging, and letting down parties ranging from contractors to his own wives. Relatedly, two recent stories suggest that the administration might be leaning more heavily on one of its favored strategies for overcoming its lack of progress: faking it.
On Monday, the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Riedel reported that according to defense industry and congressional contacts, the $110 billion arms deal reportedly struck between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia is largely illusory. From Brookings:
There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday. So far nothing has been notified to the Senate for review. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arms sales wing of the Pentagon, calls them “intended sales.” None of the deals identified so far are new, all began in the Obama administration.
According to Riedel, the Saudis and the Trump administration compiled a list of potential deals either considered or approved by the Obama administration and presented them as a new deal. “Moreover, it’s unlikely that the Saudis could pay for a $110 billion deal any longer, due to low oil prices and the two-plus years old war in Yemen,” he writes. “What is coming soon is a billion-dollars deal for more munitions for the war in Yemen. The Royal Saudi Air Force needs more munitions to continue the air bombardment of the Arab world’s poorest country.”
Also on Monday, the New York Times’ Julie Hirschfield Davis noted that Trump’s unveiling of his plan to privatize the nation’s air traffic control had been staged to resemble signing ceremonies for actual legislation:
At an East Room event that was choreographed like the elaborate ceremonies for enacting major legislation, Mr. Trump signed a memo and letter to Congress outlining his principles for overhauling the nation’s air traffic control system. He handed out pens to lawmakers who had been invited to attend, and reveled in several rounds of applause. But Mr. Trump’s announcement did not have any binding effect, and Democrats quickly denounced the proposal.
This kind of stagecraft and deception, of course, isn’t new. But these charades are and will continue to be particularly useful for a shambolic administration that has few achievements thus far. Useful, that is, as long as the media covers his non-events and empty pronouncements as though Trump isn’t fundamentally a huckster.