© 2024 South Carolina Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

White House Staff Hurries To Fill In Details After Trump Makes Policy Announcements


In recent weeks, President Trump has made a number of policy pronouncements that sent his administration scrambling. As NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports, there's a growing sense the president is getting out ahead of his planners.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: On Easter Sunday, President Trump started tweeting about immigration a lot. He was raising concerns about a jump in border crossings and calling for Congress to pass legislation. What legislation? Senior administration officials held a conference call with reporters the next afternoon and said they were putting a bill package together. It hasn't yet been released. Then on Tuesday, President Trump said this during impromptu remarks to reporters.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military.

KEITH: This seemed to come out of nowhere. At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, a reporter asked Trump for details.


TRUMP: We are preparing for the military to secure our border between Mexico and the United States. We have a meeting on it in a little while with General Mattis and everybody. And I think that it's something we have to do.

KEITH: Hours later, the White House put out a statement explaining that the president had been talking about mobilizing National Guard troops, not active-duty military. The next day, President Trump signed a memorandum authorizing the action. But based on the way Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen responded to reporters' questions, it's not clear how much groundwork had been laid in advance.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: For how long have you been working on this plan? For how long have you personally been...

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: We - you know, it's always on the table to have been done before, as you know. So it's not a new concept. It's nothing new. It's one of many things that we have looked at. We're in continuing conversations with the governors. This is a partnership, as you know. So it's not new.

KEITH: Governors of border states would have to agree to calling up the National Guard and would have a say in how many troops were deployed on the border. Yesterday, Nielsen still didn't have an answer about which states were on board or how many Guard troops would be involved.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: How many could will go? Do you have that number yet?

NIELSEN: We don't. And that's just because we take each mission set, each location and then work with the governor on how many people. So we'll let you know that as soon as we can.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Do you know when you'll know that number?

NIELSEN: I'm going to go get on phone calls right now.

KEITH: There was a similar dance with President Trump's apparent decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria. This was him at a speech about infrastructure in Ohio last week.


TRUMP: And, by the way, we're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now - very soon.

KEITH: On Tuesday of this week, Trump met with his national security team to talk about Syria options. And Wednesday morning, the White House put out a statement explaining that the U.S. remains committed to eliminating ISIS - in other words, no timeline for a U.S. troop withdrawal. Similarly, Trump announced meetings with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin before any plans for those meetings were in place. In a more traditional White House, policy rollouts would go in a different sequence with plans fully crafted and vetted before announcements are made. Asked about this, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders snapped back.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that's a perception of completely - people that don't understand, I guess, how civics works. The only person elected to make those decisions and actually outline what policy should look like is the president. So when he makes an announcement, he's the only one that has the authority to do so.

KEITH: She suggested this was part of Trump's mandate to change Washington. But is it the kind of change that will lead to better results? Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.