'To hell with it': Trump increasingly weary of staff advice
WASHINGTON (AP) — The speech was written. A cast of relatable Americans with emotional stories was standing by to reinforce the message. But President Donald Trump was in no mood to play along.
"The hell with it," Trump said, recounting the scene with his aides to a West Virginia crowd last week. Trump tossed the staff-prepared remarks on tax cuts in the air and ducked as the paper fluttered to the floor. "I said, 'This is boring, come on.' Tell it like it is."
This president has never been one to stick to a script, but that abandoned speech illustrates a new phase in Trump's presidency. He is increasingly at odds with his staff – and growing wise to their tactics.
One favored staff strategy: Guide the president to the right decision by making the conventional choice seem like the only realistic option. Except now, 14 months into his administration, Trump is on to them, and he's making clear he won't be boxed in.
That was the message that an irritated Trump delivered to his national security team last week in a classified meeting about U.S. involvement in Syria.
Trump's advisers, among them Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, were advocating for an ongoing U.S. military presence to provide stability. They aimed to rely on the same playbook they used last year in persuading Trump to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. They would paint a dire picture of a pullout, of regional chaos benefiting Russia and Iran, and the potential resurgence of the Islamic State group.
But even before they could begin their pitch in that meeting Tuesday, Trump headed them off, saying he wanted to remove U.S. troops immediately. The ensuing heated argument put new distance between the president and his team and left the military with a mandate, if not a formal order, to remove U.S. troops from Syria within six months.