Donald Trump during a non–Executive Time moment.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
During his morning Executive Time, President Trump took a well-deserved break from his long hours of document study to watch Fox News. The segment featured one of the talking heads urging Trump to oppose the House bill reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The president immediately tweeted out his alarmed confusion that the House was apparently on the verge of approving the very law the sinister Deep State had used to “tapp” his phones:
Why, yes, it is that bill. Ideally, Trump would be posing questions like this to his own advisers, rather than to the entire world. The president’s alarm was unfortunate, since the Trump administration strongly supports reauthorization of this law. It has sent its highest-ranking security officials to lobby Congress for reauthorization, and reiterated its endorsement of the law as recently as last night.
The source of Trump’s confusion may be that he has taken seriously the Republican talking points about the Deep State, failing to realize that it’s disingenuous propaganda designed to cover up misdeeds by his campaign. Republicans don’t actually object to the counterintelligence functions of the government as a whole. They merely want to discredit their specific application to the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. They don’t want the president blowing up the bill right before the vote they labored carefully to assemble.
What’s more, the Executive Time snafu comes at a delicate moment in his presidency. The news media has turned its attention to the question of Trump’s mental capacity. Trump staged a meeting with Congress to discuss immigration policy. Other than an unfortunate moment where he endorsed a Democratic proposal that’s totally at odds with his own putative stance and completely unacceptable to his party, Trump completed the occasion without further embarrassment. The conservative media proclaimed the event proof of the president’s absolute mastery.
“It was a brilliantly conceived and flawlessly executed rebuttal to this stupid Wolff book,” concludes Rush Limbaugh. “[Trump]’s in total command of over 45 minutes of televised meeting on immigration. He is totally informed on the issues.” Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger coos, “Mr. Trump presided over this meeting like some previously undiscovered Buddha. He talked but didn’t dominate. He methodically elicited views from Republicans (among them Lindsey Graham, Kevin McCarthy, David Perdue, and Carlos Curbelo ) and Democrats … a grudging consensus formed that Mr. Trump had confounded critics of his basic competence.”
As impressive as it may have been for Trump to sit upright and participate in a discussion of public policy while only subverting his administration’s position one time, an immediate Executive Time relapse has revealed that Trump does not understand his own administration’s policy.
Update: Apparently somebody has explained the administration’s position to the president, who has followed up his old tweet opposing the House bill with a new one supporting it:
“Get smart!” is an especially apt coda.