This Week in Trump: Conspiracy Theories and Policy Disappointments

Accusations of wiretapping, and a health care bill no one likes.

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President Donald Trump points to child in the crowd as he surprises visitors during the official reopening of public tours at the White House on Tuesday.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

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Welcome to This Week in Trump, Slate’s weekly look at Donald Trump’s presidency. Every week, we’ll catch you up on the events of the past seven days, point you to further reading, and keep an eye on the @realDonaldTrump Twitter feed.

Wiretap explosion

Days after pundits fawned over Trump’s newly “presidential” speech to Congress, the president went on a bizarre Twitter rant in which he accused former President Obama of wiretapping communications in Trump Tower. He provided zero evidence for the explosive claims.

Through a spokesman, Obama denied the allegations, which likely originated from a Breitbart article that had been making the rounds in the White House before Trump’s Shabbat tweetstorm. (The White House later sent reporters five articles that it said supported Trump’s claims. They don’t.)

Press Secretary Sean Spicer took to Twitter the next day to demand Congress look into whether “executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.” Spicer subsequently played down the explosive claims even further, saying Trump wants Congress to find out whether wiretapping occurred in the first place.

Everyone hates Trumpcare

After much talk, House Republicans finally unveiled their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The problem? Pretty much everyone hates it.

Trump warned that failing to repeal and replace Obamacare could translate into a “bloodbath” in the 2018 midterms. But conservative Republicans and groups representing doctors and seniors came out against the legislation.

Slate’s Jordan Weissman described the plan as “an awful lot like Obamacare, but with stingier benefits and weaker incentives.” Conservative media wasn’t much more positive.

The White House adopted a surprising tactic to persuade voters and representatives of the merits of Trumpcare. “Look at the size,” Spicer said at a news conference, juxtaposing two stacks of paper representing the Affordable Care Act and the new measure. “This is the Democrats,” he said, pointing at the bigger stack. “This is us.”

Muslim ban: take two

Trump introduced a revised version of the controversial travel ban that prompted dramatic airport protests before being blocked by the courts. The new document bans travelers from six Muslim-majority countries and again bans all refugees for 120 days. The new order includes exceptions for visa holders and drops an indefinite halt on Syrian refugees. Iraq was removed from the original list after a lobbying effort by Baghdad. In another change, the new order won’t give priority to members of religious minorities.

The White House took pains to emphasize that the policy isn’t a ban on Muslims—but in a fundraising email, Trump said the order would help fight “radical Islamic terrorism.” A new round of litigation seems inevitable. The ban will take effect on March 16.

Also this week:

What to read

In the New York Review of Books, Masha Gessen warns against falling into the Russia conspiracy trap:

Given that the story has been driven by the intelligence community and the media, it is perhaps unsurprising that each subsequent revelation creates the sense of pieces falling into place. It builds like an old-fashioned television series, dispensed in weekly episodes with no binge-watching allowed.

Some wondered if Trump was shooting himself in the foot by calling attention to the Russia investigation with his tweets accusing Obama of wiretapping. But in the Atlantic, Peter Beinart wonders if we’re missing the bigger picture:

Trump isn’t distracting from the investigation; he’s seeking to discredit it. By alleging that Obama personally ordered his wiretapping, Trump is claiming that partisanship motivates the investigation into his campaign’s Russian ties. The law enforcement agencies conducting that investigation, therefore, aren’t independent and apolitical; they’re Democratic plants. And by sowing doubt about their motives, Trump’s lays the groundwork for discounting their findings, particularly if they ultimately implicate Trump or any of his associates.

Trump’s travel ban isn’t really about protecting the country from terrorism, explains Slate’s Jamelle Bouie:

There’s another way to view the measure: As the centerpiece of an agenda rooted in the Manichean racial views of its key architects, Stephen Miller and Stephen Bannon.

The travel ban, like the sudden explosion of deportation—wielded indiscriminately against all undocumented immigrants, “bad hombres” or otherwise—is one piece in a larger effort to reshape the demographics of the country through force. To single out those who belong and those who—according to Trump and his backers—do not. To “make America great again” by making it white again, or more accurately, raising the political premium of whiteness.

This week in @realDonaldTrump

Shortly after defending Attorney General Jeff Sessions and putting forward claims that Obama wiretapped his phones, the president hit out at a familiar target: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s poor ratings.

Trump praised Exxon Mobil Corp. in four separate tweets for an investment plan the oil giant launched four years ago.

The commander in chief once again used his Twitter account to riff about what he was watching on Fox News.

Last take

Alec Baldwin says he may not be playing Trump for much longer on Saturday Night Live. Why? The president is acting worse than even he thought was possible. “His policies aside, which you can hate, I thought he would have just relaxed,” Baldwin said. “The maliciousness of this White House has people worried. … That’s why I’m not going to do it much longer, the impersonation, I don’t know how much more people can take it.”

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