During an event at Ford’s Theatre in D.C. on Sunday night, President Trump made a pledge to the American people.
Saying that terrorist attacks like the one in London on Saturday have “gone on too long,” Trump promised that “[a]s president, I will do what is necessary to prevent this threat from spreading to our shores and work every single day to protect the safety and security of our country, our communities and our people.”
Trump spent the single day since the attack in London like this:
• On Saturday night, Trump tweeted three times about it: Retweeting a Drudge Report headline speculating about terrorism, declaring that his ban on immigration should be approved and, third, expressing his condolences to the British. That third tweet came one minute before British authorities identified the attack as terrorism.
• On Sunday, starting at 7:19 a.m., Trump tweeted three more times: Arguing that political correctness was inhibiting the fight against terror, misrepresenting a statement from the mayor of London and suggesting that, since no guns were used in London, gun control arguments were hollow.
• Later in the day Sunday, he spent four hours playing golf and dining with Sen. Bob Corker and former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning at his club in Virginia. It was the second day in a row he’d golfed and, by our count, the 22nd time he’s played golf since he was elected president. He was back in the White House by 2:30 p.m.
We don’t know what Trump was doing during the hours not accounted for on that timeline. Some time was spent sleeping certainly, and perhaps the rest of the time was spent developing plans in the fight against terror. But this was the person who, in August of last year, pledged that he was “not going to have time to go play golf” because he was going to be working for the American people. He found time to golf less than 24 hours after “the horrific terrorist attack on the people of London,” as he described it at Ford’s Theatre.
Trump’s comments about how he will work every single day to protect Americans must also be viewed in light of the efforts he’s made in that regard so far in his presidency.
He trails other recent administrations significantly in the number of appointees to key government positions that he’s had filled. By May 20, he’d only put forward 94 people to fill 559 positions requiring Senate confirmation. Among the positions for which the White House has put forward no nominees are:
• Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Office of the Director National Intelligence
• Principal deputy director, Office of the Director National Intelligence
• Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
• Assistant attorney general for the national security division, Department of Justice
• Coordinator for counterterrorism, State Department
• Deputy secretary, Department of Defense
• Undersecretary for intelligence, Department of Defense
• Assistant secretary for Transportation Security Administration
• Associate director for national security and international affairs, Office of Science and Technology Policy
And, of course, Trump promised to fill the country’s top crime-fighting position — the FBI director position, left vacant by his firing last month of James B. Comey — before he left on his overseas trip at the end of May. That deadline came and went. He’s now spent a fifth of his presidency with no director of the FBI.
(He’s also got several significant positions still awaiting confirmation from the Republican-led Senate: undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Treasury Department; assistant secretary for terrorist financing, Treasury Department; director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; and commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.)
The travel ban — the one concrete policy mentioned by Trump after London — was born of his December 2015 campaign demand for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” After introducing an executive order in January aimed at curtailing immigration from several Muslim-majority countries, Trump saw it (and a slightly revised second version) blocked by the courts. But it’s fair to ask: What happened to the part about trying to “figure out” what’s going on?
On Sunday, The Post’s Paige Cunningham reported on several members of Congress who were wondering the same thing.
Pointing to the administration’s claim that the initial ban would only last about three months, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) noted on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that, “[i]f the president wanted 90 days to re-examine how individuals from certain countries would enter the United States, he’s had more than 90 days.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) pointed out on Fox News that the administration had also blown past the four months he figured it would have taken to implement its plan for “extreme vetting” — a campaign pledge that was never more robustly defined than with that phrase alone. Cunningham noted that the administration’s acting solicitor general told a court that this effort was on hiatus thanks to one of the legal holds on the ban. (Trump’s official nominee for the solicitor general position has not yet been approved.) The administration has implemented a policy that would add a review of social media posts for visa applicants.
Trump also repeatedly promised to deal with the Islamic State with a heavy hand, promising both that he would “bomb the hell” out of them (a pledge his son says he’s kept) and that he had a secret plan to eradicate the group quickly.
“All I can tell you it is a foolproof way of winning, and I’m not talking about what some people would say, but it is a foolproof way of winning the war with ISIS,” Trump said in May 2015, using a common acronym to refer to the Islamic State. By September of last year, though, the plan was revealed in more detail: He would ask generals to develop a plan within the first 30 days of his presidency.
They did. That plan reportedly mirrored Barack Obama’s. There is an important footnote, though. One Obama administration effort to partner with Kurdish forces in an assault on the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa was delayed by incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn. That partnership ran contrary to the interests of Turkey; Flynn, coincidentally or not, had been paid by Turkey to lobby the U.S. government, but didn’t report it.
“ISIS will be gone if I’m elected president. And they’ll be gone quickly,” Trump said in April 2016. The Islamic State still exists.
In his recently released budget proposal, Trump proposed slashing a fund that bolstered counterterrorism partnerships with foreign nations. In 2017, that fund received $1.8 billion. Trump’s proposal would cut that funding to $40 million — a 98 percent reduction. Representatives of the New York City Police Department responded to Trump’s budget by suggesting that other proposed cuts would eliminate funding that is “the backbone of our entire counterterrorism apparatus.” On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) released a statement opposing other proposed cuts in light of the London attacks, including a 25 percent cut to the Urban Areas Security Initiative.
Happily, the United States has not faced a major terrorist attack in months. We are not privy to all of the quiet machinations of the government’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies, so it’s possible that dramatic changes within them since Jan. 20 have been instrumental in assuring the public’s safety. But that’s a generous assumption to make. A more realistic assumption to make is that Trump vastly overpromised the solutions he could offer and overstated the threat of terrorist attacks in the United States for political purposes.
He tweets like someone who finds great urgency in the threat of international terror. He doesn’t govern that way.