Heading into a crucial week for his presidency, Donald Trump seized on the deadly London terrorist attacks to settle scores and promote his own agenda, pushing his original travel ban and not what he called the “politically correct” version submitted for review to the Supreme Court.
“People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” Trump said in a series of messages starting at 6:25 a.m. New York time Monday. “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.”
Trump’s push for a travel ban renews a tactic that helped him get elected but has shown no benefit so far in helping him govern. The ban targeting residents of mostly Muslim nations was to last only 90 days, but it’s been suspended by federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii and the Justice Department filed emergency applications last week with the Supreme Court.
Trump’s Twitter messages — plus those over the weekend criticizing the London mayor’s reaction to Saturday night’s attacks; calling on the courts to restore his travel ban; and linking the incident to the U.S. debate over gun control — came days before former FBI Director James Comey is set to testify about his investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
Trump’s comments drew harsh criticism from U.K. leaders, adding to fissures opened by his recent trip to Europe and withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. If the tweets were an attempt to cause a distraction ahead of Comey’s appearance, which could be a turning point for the Trump administration, they served only to draw attention from a White House-choreographed roll-out of the president’s own infrastructure plan this week.
Some in the Trump administration are worried that his presidency will forever carry an asterisk, even if no one in his campaign is ever found to have colluded with Russians to meddle in the 2016 election, one official said. The Russian government’s interference in the election, and its connections to Trump figures including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have cast a shadow on his White House.
Trump took on his own Justice Department — and the courts — in his Twitter tirade Monday.
“The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down Travel Ban before the Supreme Court – & seek much tougher version!” Trump said. “In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!”
Trump began his statements on the London attack — issued from his personal @realDonaldTrump Twitter account — at 7:17 p.m. New York time on Saturday, shortly after U.S. reports of the London attack. All were sent using the Twitter for iPhone app.
“We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!” he tweeted.
His next tweet, seven minutes later, was sympathetic. “Whatever the United States can do to help out in London and the U. K., we will be there – WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!” he said.
The account was silent for nearly 12 hours. Then, at 7:19 a.m., he said, “We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don’t get smart it will only get worse”.
At 7:31 a.m., he attacked the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!”’
The tweet took Khan’s remark out of context. He had assured his citizens not to be alarmed about an increased police presence on London’s streets after the attack. Trump’s social-media director, Dan Scavino, later tweeted at Khan himself, telling him, “WAKE UP!!!”
Finally, at 7:43 a.m., Trump said, “Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck!”
British laws regulating private gun ownership are much more strict than in the U.S.
In the U.K. and the U.S., the blowback began.
“Cheap nasty & unbecoming of a national leader,” David Lindon Lammy, a member of the British Parliament and the Labour Party, said on Twitter. “Sort of thing that makes me want to quit politics on a day like this.”
He added in a separate message, “Put your phone down.”
“President Trump’s tweets were inappropriate and do not reflect the views of most Americans,” Representative Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement on Sunday. “These attackers did not strike London because of ‘political correctness.’ They did not sow violence and hatred because Britons, Americans, and many others insist on acknowledging the equal dignity of every person among us.”
It has been a frustrating presidency so far for Trump. He looks to be dogged for the forseeable future by the Russia investigation, which has been taken over by a special counsel. He meanwhile has no legislative victories of note. Time is running short to score any in the near term, with health-care legislation stalled in the Senate and no agreement, much less movement, on a tax overhaul.
Congress will leave town in August for its annual summer recess, and soon after that lawmakers will begin worrying in earnest about the 2018 election. With every controversial tweet, alienating allies and further driving off any Democrats that might have been inclined to cross the aisle, Trump makes his job more difficult.