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‘Everyone is just tired’: Trump increasingly isolated in beleaguered, crisis-weary White House

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In the Trump White House, it’s getting lonely at the top.

President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress are showing signs of going their own way, both on politics and policy, determined to salvage what they can of their agenda on healthcare and tax reform in the wake of one of the most difficult weeks of any American presidency.

At the same time, Trump’s failure to fill senior roles at federal agencies means he does not have a cadre of loyalists who can help rein in a bureaucracy that many in Trump’s orbit believe are out to leak information intended to damage the president. That has worsened the isolation of the White House in a city that relies on friends and allies to shake off a crisis.

The result is problems on multiple fronts: a government whose bonds with Congress, federal agencies and the public look increasingly fractured; an ambitious but stalled program of reforms; and a president whose low approval ratings threaten his party’s control of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections.

Trump and his beleaguered staff, some White House aides told Reuters, feel besieged by a parade of negative stories and abandoned by fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill, as the furor over the firing of FBI Director James Comey and allegations that Trump tried to influence the probe into Russian meddling in last year’s election show little sign of abating.

Since Tuesday, when leaked excerpts of a purported memo by Comey detailing his conversations with Trump were made public, few Republicans beyond the White House have rushed to the airwaves to push back against suggestions that the president may have obstructed justice in asking Comey to end the probe into the conduct of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

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As the Russia probe entered a new phase on Wednesday with the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel in the investigation, a move that will likely place the White House under even stronger scrutiny, some Republicans expressed surprise that the White House had not done more to recruit them to backstop the president.

“It’s kind of funny. The answer is no,” said Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, when asked by Reuters whether the White House had reached out to him to come to Trump’s defense. “I don’t know anyone else that has been contacted.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on this story. Trump left on Friday for his first foreign trip as president. The 10-day trip will take him to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Europe.

STAFF VACANCIES

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The administration has continued to struggle to fill the hundreds of open positions at senior levels of government that remain open, leaving the White House alone to grapple with one challenge after another.

For example, the Justice Department still lacks senior officials in place to head up the anti-trust, civil rights, criminal, and civil divisions, as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to its website.

At the Department of Homeland Security, the chiefs of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Transportation Security Administration, have yet to be confirmed.

And at the Department of Education, a sprawling bureaucracy of 4,400 employees with a $68 billion budget, “all the key roles except for the secretary remain empty or filled with people in an acting capacity,” said a Department of Education official.

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“Nobody knows when or if they will be filled anytime soon,” said the official, who declined to be identified by name. The department did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has frequently complained that Senate Democrats have stalled the approval process for his nominees. But the White House has also been slower to send nominees to the Senate than previous administrations.

Many top State Department posts also remain vacant. One consequence, say several officials, is that department experts played little role in briefing Trump for his telephone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin or his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, where officials say he disclosed highly classified intelligence.

State Department and intelligence officials say that as power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few Trump loyalists in the White House, the roles of professional Foreign Service, intelligence and civil service officers have shrunk compared to past administrations.

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For instance, said two U.S. diplomats, no one from the State Department attended Trump’s Feb. 15 meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – a sharp contrast from past administrations which would typically staff such a high-profile meeting with high-level State Department officials.

Asked for comment, the State Department would not address the circumstances of the meeting with the Russian officials in the Oval Office, but did speak to the efforts involving Netanyahu and the Middle East.

“As the president has repeatedly noted, Middle East peace is a top priority for this administration,” a department spokesperson said. “This is an effort supported by both the White House and the State Department. Claims that the State Department has not been involved have no basis in facts.”

Overall, more than 500 of the 557 federal government positions requiring Senate confirmation remain vacant. Only 33 nominees have been confirmed, and only 57 other positions now have a nominee, according to the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in Washington.

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CAPITOL HILL FRUSTRATIONS

A lack of communication from the White House left many Republicans on Capitol Hill frustrated as a sense of crisis mushroomed over the past week. One, Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own Russia probe, publicly complained about the situation.

Tuesday morning, after news broke the previous evening that Trump had shared classified information with Russian officials, Burr said he couldn’t get through to the White House, as the story lit up television news programs and buzzed online.

“Maybe they’re busy,” he said.

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Some Republicans said the constant focus on responding to allegations concerning the Russia probe was draining their caucus of focus and energy to push through their agenda.

Absent guidance, Republican staff members in Congress were beginning to devise their own strategy about how to respond to the gusher of bad news, one aide told Reuters.

And at the White House, with lines of communication to Congress seemingly frayed at times, a narrowing circle of people has come to the president’s defense, as senior staff grapple not only with the cascade of revelations but with a president who at times contradicts on Twitter their talking points.

“Everyone is just tired,” said one White House aide.

(Additional reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb, Julia Edwards Ainsley, Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, Timothy Gardner, Julia Harte, Steve Holland, Jeff Mason, Arshad Mohammed, David Morgan, and John Walcott; Editing by Jason Szep and Ross Colvin)

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
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Pentagon gives senators classified briefing on UFOs reported by the Navy

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While it might sound like something out of "The X-Files," Navy pilots have been seeing UFOs, and U.S. Senators now want to know what's happening.

According to Politico, three more senators met with Pentagon officials for a classified briefing Wednesday about encounters pilots are having with unidentified aircraft. It seems the Pentagon is getting more and more requests by officials with high clearances to figure out what's happening.

The crafts are, at their most basic, nothing more than "unidentified aircraft," and while it isn't likely they're little green men, there are some senators who might have concerns about whether these UFOs are actually a foreign adversary.

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Wall Street Journal issues blistering editorial asking Trump what the point is of a second term

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In a blistering editorial, the Wall Street Journal is asking President Donald Trump what the point of a second term is since he hasn't done anything in his first term.

During his rally in Orlando Tuesday, Trump repeated the same tired lines and same tired policies from 2016. The "Promises Made, Promises Kept" slogan shown over the crowd, yet the supporters didn't understand the irony.

"The most striking fact of his speech was how backward looking it was," the editorial board said. "Every incumbent needs to remind voters of his record, Mr. Trump more than most because the media are so hostile."

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‘Crosses a line’: New York Times publisher unleashes on Trump for accusing paper of ‘treason’

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On Wednesday, New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger wrote a blistering editorial in the Wall Street Journal, saying that President Donald Trump's latest attack on his paper "crosses a line."

First it was the "the failing New York Times." Then "fake news." Then "enemy of the people," wrote Sulzberger. "President Trump's escalating attacks on The New York Times have paralleled his broader barrage on American media. He's gone from misrepresenting our business, to assaulting our integrity, to demonizing our journalists with a phrase that’s been used by generations of demagogues. Now the president has escalated his attacks even further, accusing the Times of a crime so grave it is punishable by death.

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