It’s Friday night. A Category 4 hurricane is about to slam the Texas coastline, and President Trump just directed the Pentagon to ban transgender people from joining the military and pardoned a politically radioactive convicted former sheriff. News also broke that one of his more controversial advisers, Sebastian Gorka, is leaving the White House.
This isn’t your average sleepy Friday news dump — a trick newsmakers use to bury unpopular news by releasing it when most people aren’t reading news. This is a flagrant attempt to hide a series of politically fraught (but base-pleasing) moves under the cover of an August Friday night hurricane.
In other words, it’s transparent Trump is doing controversial things he knowsare controversial, and he and the White House would prefer the public and the media not focus on it.
Of course, the irony for Trump is the exact opposite is happening. In so obviously trying to downplay this news, he’s framing it in neon flashing signs.
The contrast of a president making not one but two major decisions — and suffering more White House staffing turmoil — as the strongest hurricane to hit the United States in more than a decade is making landfall is stark. Oh, and North Korea just fired short-range missiles. Oh, and NBC News reports special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team have issued subpoenas for officials with ties to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to testify to a grand jury.
That’s news to fill an entire week, let alone the span of a few hours on a weather-dominated Friday night.
Is it possible Trump and his team had always planned to formalize a major policy change to military recruits and pardon former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff Joe Arpaio after the president had dinner on Friday, Aug. 25? Maybe. Trump hinted both were coming over the past month. (Arpaio was convicted in 2017 of contempt of court for failing to stop racially profiling illegal immigrants after a judge ordered him to stop.)
“Do people in this room like Sheriff Joe?,” Trump asked at a Phoenix rally on Tuesday. “I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine, okay?”
President Trump spoke about possibly pardoning former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff Joe Arpaio during a rally in Phoenix on Aug. 22. Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt in July.(The Washington Post)
But that doesn’t explain why Trump went ahead and signed those orders as a massive, news-dominating hurricane is about to make landfall. Why the urgency?
Pouring unpopular news out like this is an extremely politically risky decision for Trump. Hurricane Harvey is his first major test as emergency commander in chief. Earlier in the day, top Republicans had urged him to stop tweeting insults to them and focus on keeping people safe in Texas and Louisiana.
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) August 25, 2017
Trump risks looking like he’s using this potentially deadly hurricane as political cover.
As GOP strategist Alex Conant pointed out, by breaking all this news now, Trump also risks fomenting outrage by giving even the appearance of hiding this underneath a hurricane. And he catches any potential supporters flat-footed.
President Obama tried to dump unpopular news on Friday nights. But it rarely worked. News cycles don't work like they used to. 1/
— Alex Conant (@AlexConant) August 26, 2017
If you're going to do something unpopular, you're now often better off selling it & owning it. 3/
— Alex Conant (@AlexConant) August 26, 2017
Sure enough, Democrats in Congress quickly jumped on Twitter and called up reporters to express their outrage.
“President Trump is a coward,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who represents much of the area where Arpaio was sheriff, told The Washington Post’s David Weigel. “He waited until a Friday evening, as a hurricane hits, to pardon a racist ex-sheriff. Trump should at least have the decency to explain to the American public why he is undermining our justice system.”
Arizona Republican congressmen Trent Franks and Andy Biggs issued statements supporting Trump’s decision.
The president did the right thing — Joe Arpaio lived an honorable life serving our country, and he deserves an honorable retirement.
— Rep. Trent Franks (@RepTrentFranks) August 26, 2017
While Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), tweeted this:
Regarding the Arpaio pardon, I would have preferred that the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course.
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) August 26, 2017
Here’s Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.):
Then he ran to Camp David.
The only reason to do these right now is to use the cover of Hurricane Harvey to avoid scrutiny 4/
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) August 26, 2017