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Trump's Tweet-And-Switch On Shutdown And Flynn

President Trump weighed back in on Twitter, apparently trying to switch subjects, from the troubles of his former national security adviser to raising the possibility of a government shutdown.
NurPhoto via Getty Images
President Trump weighed back in on Twitter, apparently trying to switch subjects, from the troubles of his former national security adviser to raising the possibility of a government shutdown.

The president went on a tweetstorm Thursday hyping the idea of a potential shutdown and blaming Democrats on a variety of issues:

But Congress isn't likely headed for a shutdown. It is likely to vote on a spending measure Thursday or Friday that would keep the government open for another week. And negotiators are working on a plan to fund the government for the rest of the year.

So what's going on?

At the same time as Trump's tweets, Democrats were plastered on cable news in a press conference talking about the trouble that Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn could be in.

First, about the shutdown accusations: This is some hard spin from the president, especially since the likelihood of a shutdown is virtually nil now that a short-term stopgap funding bill was unveiled Wednesday night.

If anyone made a shutdown more likely this week, it was Trump. He leveled demands earlier in the past few days — ahead of a Friday midnight deadline — for border wall funding (!) and the potential removal of subsidies for the Affordable Care Act (!) to be included in the next wave of funding for the government authorized by Congress.

Neither made the cut.

Republican and Democratic negotiators are back to where they were — making progress toward funding the government for the rest of the year.

And if there were a shutdown, let's remember this: Republicans control all levels of power in Washington, the House, Senate and White House.

They would likely be blamed.

Past shutdowns have happened when there was divided government. That's not the case now.

But let's realize what's going on here: At the same exact time Trump began his tweetstorm, these were the banners on cable news (at least the ones he has accused of being against him):

CNN: "Cummings: 'No evidence, zilch' Flynn reported payments."

MSNBC: "Rep. Cummings: 'Unacceptable' that White House is saying take a hike to Oversight Committee."

This president is a cable-news junkie, something that was profiled here and here.

That was happening while the cables were taking Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, live railing against the White House for not being more forthcoming about former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The committee wants to interview Flynn, because the committee revealed Tuesday that there was no evidence he complied with the law when he took thousands of dollars in payments from Russia Today, a Kremlin-backed TV outlet. He was supposed to clear and report them, and it appears he didn't.

Reporters asked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and White House press secretary Sean Spicer about Flynn on Wednesday.

"Do you think softwood lumber might get Michael Flynn's name off the front pages?" one reporter asked.

Ross responded: "Is Michael Flynn now a trade issue? I wasn't aware that he was."

Spicer jumped in. "Thank you, Mr. Secretary."

But then Spicer was the one put on the defensive.

He was asked if the transition team could have done more. "Everything that the White House has been asked to do we have," he said. "The only documents that were made available to them that they asked for were the ones that the Department of Defense had."

Should the Trump administration release Flynn's contacts? "To ask for every call or contact that the a national security adviser made is pretty outlandish."

What's more... "We started this administration on Jan. 20th. All the information that they are talking about occurred prior to him being at the White House."

That, of course, was when Flynn was working for the transition, and he was a close adviser during the campaign. "Not at the White House," Spicer said. "Everything that is being questioned occurred prior to January 20th."

But do the White House and the president consider what Flynn did taking money from a foreign government? "I don't know. That was — again, all of that occurred prior to his service... for us to determine someone else's thing as a consultant — ...."

Maybe was there a problem with the vetting? Spicer: "I'm not saying it's a problem with the vetting. I'm saying that every single person who comes to work in here at a certain level is required to fill out the same form. ... And that background check is adjudicated. You rely on that person when they sign their name, and then investigators pick it up. But there's always going to be, in the case of people who had a prior clearance, that between the time that they filled it out and had it adjudicated they could have engaged in something. And whether or not they updated that or not is always the onus is on the individual."

Translation: Not really our problem.

But there are four investigations related to this. It will continue to be something that nags at the White House.

And when those questions come up, and the narrative turns toward it, you can expect something else — Trump tweets.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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