- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2017

President Trump’s first week in office was so packed with action, friction and stumbles that his first press conference was downright uneventful by comparison.

From issuing a flurry of 17 executive actions on everything from building oil pipelines to blocking refugees from predominantly Muslim countries to waging fights with the media and the president of Mexico, Mr. Trump kicked off his presidency in an atmosphere of America-first urgency and tumult.

Donald Trump was elected to make massive changes in America, in an election when 75 percent of the people wanted the country to go in a different direction,” said Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary to President George W. Bush. “Trump has been very heavily action-oriented in his first week.”

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Mr. Trump is “definitely going to be unconventional.”

“He has a different style. We all know that,” the Wisconsin Republican said Friday in a forum hosted by Politico. “What I love about it is that he is just convinced that he can be transformative and that he really wants to deliver. The guy never stops working. I mean, he has just endless energy.”

In his first weekly address, Mr. Trump said his administration “has hit the ground running at a record pace” with actions to end Obamacare, cut government regulation, withdraw from an Obama administration trade deal, crack down on “sanctuary” cities for illegal immigrants and suspend refugee admissions — the last move touching off a firestorm of criticism from human rights groups and foreign governments.

“Everybody is talking about it,” the president said Saturday of his initial blitz. “We are doing it with speed and we are doing it with intelligence, and we will never, ever stop fighting on behalf of the American people.”

Along with the whirlwind start, however, there were signs that the new administration was struggling to control its own message.

“One of the challenges for President Trump is he needs to avoid distractions,” said Rep. Charles W. Dent of Pennsylvania, a seven-term Republican. “There seems to be a lack of message discipline coming out of the White House right now.”

In the first week, self-inflicted distractions competed with the new president’s efforts to begin fulfilling his campaign promises.

Mr. Trump seethed at the media for underreporting, in his view, the size of his inauguration crowd.

He hosted top business executives and labor leaders at the White House to show determination and know-how for job growth.

He complained to the acting director of the National Park Service in a phone call about the agency retweeting photos that compared his inaugural crowd size unfavorably to the audience for Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

He conferred on the phone with world leaders from Israel, Egypt, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea, Germany, France, Australia, United Arab Emirates and Mexico (twice, pre-spat and post-spat). Noticeably absent from that list was China.

He renewed accusations, over four consecutive days, of voter fraud in the November election that enabled Hillary Clinton to win the popular vote.

He met with congressional leaders of both parties at the White House, and huddled with Republican lawmakers about his agenda for economic growth and security at their retreat in Philadelphia.

He proposed to tax Mexican products to pay for a border wall, inadvertently undermining bipartisan support in Congress for his own goal of tax reform.

His supporters on social media praised Mr. Trump, saying he’d done more in one week than President Obama had done in eight years. Democratic reactions to Mr. Trump’s first week ranged from bemused to horrified.

“I t was at turns dark and chaotic — dominated by lies, half-truths and conspiracy theories that have no basis in fact,” said Democratic operative Jim Manley. “I have never, ever seen anything like it. But of course there is more to come.”

Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway said it was a case of the Washington establishment being unprepared for a new way of doing business.

“Get used to it,” she said on Twitter, calling Mr. Trump “a man of action and impact.”

“Promises made, promises kept,” Ms. Conway said. “Shock to the system. And he’s just getting started.”

By the time of Mr. Trump’s initial news conference with the White House press corps on Friday, a joint appearance with British Prime Minister Theresa May, the president seemed determined not to drop any more bombshells — at least not during their friendly meeting. The result was a relatively drama-free session in which he appeared statesmanlike, unruffled and even turned on a bit of charm with the prime minister.

“I’m not as brash as you might think,” Mr. Trump told a British journalist. “I am a people person.”

The president will need to use his people skills with Congress, where Democrats are unified in reflexive opposition, and some Republicans are concerned by what they view as Mr. Trump’s early fixation with defending the legitimacy of his victory.

“A big chunk of the week was debating crowd size — and by the way, crowd size does not matter — and voter fraud,” Mr. Dent said. “He won the election. The election is over. It’s time to move on. These distractions undermine their message on the things that they really want to talk about, like getting their Cabinet secretaries confirmed or approving the Keystone pipeline. Those important and positive messages will get lost in all this noise.”

In the first week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer reminded reporters daily about the Senate’s failure to confirm Trump nominees, but those complaints were largely obscured by coverage of the president’s airing of voter fraud and media bias.

The sheer scope of executive actions by Mr. Trump signaled a vastly different approach from previous administrations. Even though President Obama’s first year in 2009 was dominated by anti-recession efforts, and he issued 16 executive orders and memoranda in his first week, much of his initial executive actions were devoted to subjects such as ensuring the rights of terrorism detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

Mr. Bush devoted much of his first week in 2001 to meeting with lawmakers and community leaders; his first executive order was issued nine days after his inauguration, creating a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Mr. Fleischer said it was a “totally different time” 16 years ago.

“Our nation had totally different needs,” he said. “George Bush was very heavily outreach-oriented in his first week, reflecting different needs of a different era. To me, that’s the biggest difference.”

Mr. Bush, the last Republican president, feuded with the press occasionally, but nothing like the gleeful fight that the Trump administration has embraced. Mr. Trump has branded journalists as “dishonest,” while Mr. Spicer delivered a tongue-lashing to reporters on the administration’s first full day, and presidential strategist Stephen Bannon advised the press to “keep its mouth shut.”

Richard Benedetto, a former White House reporter who teaches political science at American University, said the Trump administration has declared a new era in media relations after eight years of a progressive President Obama and a mostly liberal press corps.

“The White House press corps got a wake-up call this first week,” Mr. Benedetto said. “Covering President Trump is going to put as much pressure on them as they put pressure on him. They have had it relatively easy for the past eight years. Now they will have to work, and work hard.”

One of the roughest patches for the White House came on Thursday, when Mr. Trump spoke to Republican lawmakers at their retreat in Philadelphia. Just as he was arriving, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced he had canceled a scheduled meeting with Mr. Trump, objecting to his plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and force Mexico to pay for it.

On the return flight to Washington, Mr. Spicer revealed a plan to pay for the wall by imposing a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports, making it part of Republicans’ proposed sweeping overhaul of corporate taxes. The proposal raised alarms among Republican lawmakers, who said the revenue from border taxes was intended to offset reductions in corporate taxes, and worried that linking the wall to tax reform guaranteed Democratic opposition.

“It surprised a lot of us; it certainly surprised me,” Mr. Dent said.

Two hours later, back at the White House again, Mr. Spicer backed off the proposal, saying it was merely “one idea” to raise money for the wall.

Whether Mr. Trump and his team can sustain the pace, official Washington was reeling after the first week.

“It’s been a real shock to the system,” said Republican strategist John Feehery. “Trump is a unique figure in American history, and we are all trying figure out what it all means for the future.”

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