On April 12, Day 83 of the Donald Trump presidency, the biggest story was the meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow. The meeting came after a week of increased tensions between the U.S. and Russia after the U.S. carried out a missile strike on a Syrian military base in Homs following substantiated reports that the Syrian army had used sarin gas on civilians in the city of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria. The Russian government retaliated to the strike on its ally by ending air cooperation with the U.S. air force, which means they will no longer coordinate on their use of airspace The two discussed a range of issues, including Tillerson’s attempt to convince Putin to abandon his support of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria, Tillerson likely suggested that backing the Assad regime was a useless and unnecessary fight. On the same day that the two met, Russia also voted against a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a gesture of defiance against the U.S.. However, China, typically the other main opponent to the U.S. on the U.N. Security council, abstained from the vote, thereby leaving Russia isolated on the issue.
In other news on Russia, the Associated Press reported that between 2007 and 2009, the lobbying firm run by Paul Manafort, Trump’s ex-campaign chairman, received $1.2 million from unspecified sources, but most likely the payments come from Ukraine, where Manafort worked as a political advisor for some time. This lends credence to a handwritten ledger that was found in Ukraine last year, which listed Manafort’s name next to a list of dates and dollars. The ledger suggested that Manafort had received a series of black money payments from unknown sources in Eastern Europe. The money wired to Manafort reported by AP was also found in the ledger. This once again aggravates concerns for many about the Trump administration’s ties to the Russian government–even though Manafort is no longer involved with the administration, his involvement at one point still casts doubts.
Back in the U.S., Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recalled two memorandums sent by the Obama administration last year urging the Federal Student Aid office to do more to help students pay off their student loan debts. DeVos claimed the actions taken by the previous administration were inconsistent and full of shortcomings, but did not go into detail as to what those shortcomings and inconsistencies were.
In other news, the Trump administration announced yesterday that it was going to lift its federal hiring freeze. This freeze started on Trump’s third day in office, and blocked the hiring of any new federal employees, except those in the military sector. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, stated that the freeze would soon be lifted and replaced with a more strategic plan, however, he did not go into specifics on this new plan.
Finally, Trump affirmed his support and commitment to NATO, stating that he no longer views the alliance as obsolete. This marks a change from Trump’s previous statements on NATO during his campaign, which were heavily critical of the organization as ineffectual and a ploy to drain U.S. funding. This change is perhaps a signal of Trump adopting a more establishment tone, however, he has yet to take significant action regarding U.S. participation in NATO, so we will still have to wait and see.
The events of Day 83 reinforced the view that Trump’s administration will increasingly drag the President towards a mainstream strand of conservatism characterized by openness to foreign intervention and cooperation as well as focus on reducing the size of the federal government. Both Tillerson and DeVos showcased their ability to increasingly make Trump an establishment figure as they began to push a classic conservative agenda. DeVos showcased classic small-government ideals with the roll-back of Obama-era attempts to alleviate student debt through the government. Tillerson showed a typical conservative willingness to engage with other nations in his immediate work at restoring ties with Russia, something that contradicts Trump’s isolationist message during his campaign. If anything, I would expect this trend to continue as Trump begins to grow comfortable in his position as President and becomes more willing to delegate policy issues and actions to the rest of his cabinet, which is mostly made up of archetypally establishment conservatives. Trump is now looking like more of an insider than ever before!