Trump's Bad Day: Stone Arrest, Airport Chaos, Shutdown Surrender
(Bloomberg) -- Roger Stone got indicted. LaGuardia Airport was briefly disrupted. And for Donald Trump, the wall suddenly became expendable.
The president faced a day of setbacks on Friday, culminating with his capitulation to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the 35-day government shutdown. His agreement to reopen the government until Feb. 15 without any guarantee of money for his proposed border wall left some of his allies furious.
But events earlier in the day could prove even more consequential for his presidency. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of Stone, following his pre-dawn arrest, illustrated further connections between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian effort to influence the 2016 election.
A brief halt on landings at LaGuardia due to a lack of air traffic controllers and cascading flight delays across the East Coast may have driven Trump to fold on the shutdown. But his Rose Garden announcement of a deal also served to distract from the morning’s headlines about Stone, yet another former close Trump associate to fall to Mueller’s probe.
Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, insisted to reporters that Stone’s troubles had nothing to do with the White House. But Mueller said that a senior Trump campaign official -- likely campaign chairman Paul Manafort or his deputy Rick Gates -- “was directed” to contact Stone to learn about damaging information WikiLeaks had obtained about Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton. The special counsel didn’t say who did the directing.
Video of FBI agents in ballistic vests raiding Stone’s house threatened to dominate morning cable news coverage, with analysts poring over an indictment that offered some of the strongest hints yet that Mueller is narrowing in on connections between Trump’s campaign and the release of emails stolen from Clinton’s campaign by Russian hackers.
Inside the White House, aides worried about what might come next in the special counsel’s investigation.
But the 9 a.m. hour offered a new jolt for Trump, courtesy of one of the nation’s most notorious airports. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop at LaGuardia, citing an increase in sick leave at air traffic control facilities that coincided with federal workers’ second missed paychecks. Airports in Philadelphia and Newark, major hubs respectively for American Airlines Group Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc., were also impacted by the staffing shortage, roiling air traffic across the country.
Democratic lawmakers seized on the news to call again on Trump to end the shutdown. The White House said only that the president had been briefed on the developments. Trump had discussed with advisers earlier in the week whether the shutdown would be sustainable if it began to affect air travel, according to a person familiar with the talks.
By lunchtime, there were signals Trump was ready to end the standoff.
In discussions with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the White House signaled it would be open to a proposal – first pitched Thursday night by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – to reopen the government without a guarantee of new wall funding. The reversal was striking, particularly after the president had said Thursday he would only consider such a measure with a “pro-rated down-payment” on the wall.
“We will not Cave!” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.
On Friday, a new survey by the Washington Post and ABC News showed that just 37 percent of Americans approved of how Trump’s handling his job as president, while some 53 percent blame him and congressional Republicans for the shutdown. By contrast, only a third blamed Pelosi and congressional Democrats.
The deal to reopen the government is little different from Democratic proposals the White House has rejected for weeks. The spending bill he threatened to veto before Christmas, causing the shutdown, would have only kept the government running until Feb. 8.
Battered by plunging polls and the air travel difficulties, Trump could do little more than express hope Democrats and Republicans will now work in “good faith” toward a border security deal that includes funding to build new sections of wall.
He sought to depict his political defeat as an opportunity to rise above partisan politics in a lengthy, partly ad-libbed address to the White House press corps. He reiterated many of his arguments for a border wall, promising without evidence that it would reduce crime and drug smuggling. He emphasized the government would reopen “fast.”
“In a short while, I will sign a bill to open our government for three weeks, until February 15th,” Trump said. “I will make sure that all employees receive their back pay very quickly, or as soon as possible.”
He left the Rose Garden without taking questions on the shutdown deal, on Stone, or on anything else.
Even hard-right conservatives opposed to immigration or additional government spending and far-left liberals who campaigned on abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement were unwilling to throw procedural wrenches into a deal to get federal workers back on the job.
That illustrates the difficulty Trump will face in the next several weeks as he seeks to force lawmakers to send him some sort of face-saving legislation with money for the wall. The president closed his remarks with a threat: if lawmakers are unable to produce a satisfactory border-security bill, he’ll force another government shutdown, or seek to circumvent Congress with an emergency declaration he believes would allow him to shift money from elsewhere in the government to build the wall.
Gloating Democrats, however, made clear that Trump is likely to once again be disappointed.
“Hopefully now the president has learned his lesson,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference.
Trump was back on Twitter on Saturday morning, though, vowing to “build the Wall!” and repeating his assertion that the barrier would cut the U.S. crime rate and squelch attempts by Central American migrants to enter the U.S.
“If we had a powerful Wall, they wouldn’t even try to make the long and dangerous journey,” he said. “Build the Wall and Crime will Fall!”
(An earlier version corrected the reference to Trump’s December veto threat.)
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.