The Russia story roars back to life — Reviewing Week 4 of the Trump saga

Eight years ago today, President Obama signed the economic stimulus bill into law, marking a major legislative triumph for his new administration. 

Eight years ago today, President Obama signed the economic stimulus bill into law, marking a major legislative triumph for his new administration. 

Sixteen years ago at this point, President George W. Bush had submitted his tax cut plan to Congress and was negotiating what would become the No Child Left Behind law.

President Trump has had his main initiative — a temporary travel ban on visits from seven mostly Muslim countries — blocked by federal courts, has been forced to fire his national security advisor and had to withdraw his nominee for secretary of Labor, who faced rejection by senators of his own party. Legislative proposals are nowhere in sight.

Good afternoon, I'm David Lauter, Washington bureau chief. Welcome to the Friday edition of our Essential Politics newsletter, in which we look at the events of the week in Washington and elsewhere in national politics and highlight some particularly insightful stories.

Congressional Republicans increasingly worry about where the new administration is headed, as Lisa Mascaro wrote. Some are starting to distance themselves from Trump, not wanting to be too close in case his troubles worsen.

That’s why Republicans on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are slowly starting to back away from their previous reluctance to conduct a full-scale investigation of what Russia was up to and whether Trump aides were involved.

In the meantime, Republicans have been racing to help favored industries, moving to undo Obama-era regulations on pollution from mines, background checks for gun purchases by people with mental disabilities and requirements that U.S. companies disclose payments to officials overseas.

Bigger GOP priorities, including repeal of Obamacare and an overhaul of corporate taxes, appear stalled. 

As Noam Levey wrote, the administration took some steps this week to stabilize the Obamacare marketplaces, in the process making them less friendly to consumers. That hasn’t been enough to keep all insurers on board, however — at least one major company has already announced it’s pulling out.

All that comes as the latest numbers point to considerable success for Obama’s healthcare law: Fewer Americans are going uninsured than at any point in history.

DYSFUNCTION DOESN’T EQUAL DISASTER

Even with all its problems, the administration is still  getting the basics in place. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin won confirmation this week. So did Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. And Environmental Protection Agency nominee Scott Pruitt is also expected to prevail, likely this afternoon. 

Longer term, the question will be what course corrections Trump is willing to make. As Noah Bierman and Brian Bennett reported, even before the Flynn firing, Trump was hearing calls to change his approach and reshape a White House that leading Republicans call “dysfunctional.”

One problem for the White House, as Mike Memoli identified: Trump resists taking responsibility for his administration’s problems.

By Thursday, the situation was bad enough that Trump decided to take matters into his own hands and return to the free-swinging style of his campaign in a full-dress news conference.

Unlike the carefully controlled, short availabilities he held in the last few weeks, in which he took questions almost entirely from outlets the administration considers friendly, this time Trump mixed things up. The result was sometimes raucous, always interesting. Here’s a transcript.

As Cathy Decker wrote, Trump used the news conference as a way to break out of the White House bubble and communicate directly with supporters. He’s scheduled to do more of that Saturday at a rally (paid for by his campaign committee) in Melbourne, Fla.

DEPORTATIONS WITHOUT TRUMP’S FINGERPRINTS

Trump offered up some news at the news conference, mostly on immigration.

He revealed that his administration will release a new executive order on travel next week. It’s expected to be considerably more narrow than the current travel ban, “tailored,” as Trump put it, to the court decisions he dislikes. In a court filing, administration officials said the original executive order, which was placed on hold by a federal court, would be repealed when the new one is issued.

Trump also talked about his dilemma on what to do about so-called Dreamers — people who came to the U.S. illegally as children. In his campaign, he pledged to repeal the Obama administration program, known as DACA, which shields them from deportation. So far, Trump has not acted on the issue. 

“DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me,” he said, expressing sympathy for the Dreamers.

But, as Brian Bennett reported in an exclusive story, Trump’s aides have found ways he could eliminate DACA’s protections without his fingerprints being on the action. 

Already, raids are spreading fear in many immigrant communities. Federal officials insist they have not broadened the scope of immigration enforcement, but the anxiety serves its own purpose for immigration hard-liners, making the U.S. seem like a less desirable destination for others who might be contemplating illegal entry.

Not everyone opposes a crackdown, of course. For many Trump supporters, it’s a key issue.

And the private-prison industry stands to gain a lot, Jennie Jarvie reported. In some poor U.S. counties, that’s seen as a boon for jobs.

CLARIFYING A NEW FOREIGN POLICY — OR NOT

The shape and tone of the Trump administration’s foreign policy continues to be hotly fought over, both within the administration and in Congress.

As Bill Hennigan and Tracy Wilkinson wrote, even as Trump talked about his desire to work out a deal with Russia, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all made public statements appearing cold to the idea. 

The administration also sent mixed signals on the Middle East. After a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump sidestepped the longstanding U.S. policy of supporting a “two-state solution” for Israel and the Palestinians. He would support one state or two, whichever the parties preferred, he said.

The next day, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said in New York, "we absolutely support a two-state solution."

"That's never wavered," Haley added.

TWO OTHER STORIES OF NOTE

On Sunday, a top aide to Trump, Stephen Miller, tried to revive the president’s false accusation of widespread illegal voting, insisting in a television interview that Massachusetts residents had been bused into New Hampshire to vote illegally there. Senior New Hampshire Republicans called his charge false and “shameful.”

Lots of powerful companies don’t want Trump to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement on combatting global warming, Evan Halper reported.

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S TWEETS

Twitter has long been Trump’s favored means of pushing his message. We’re compiling all of Trump’s tweets. It’s a great resource. Take a look. 

And here’s a compilation of major events in Week 4 of the Trump presidency. 

LOGISTICS

That wraps up this week. My colleague Sarah Wire will be back Monday with the weekday edition of Essential Politics. Until then, keep track of all the developments in national politics and the Trump administration with our Essential Washington blog, at our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.

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