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Trump faces doubts over who controls White House as travel ban mess continues

US president Donald Trump is pushing back against implausible reports that not he but his chief strategist Steven Bannon is driving the White House.

world Updated: Feb 07, 2017 01:52 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald Trump,Steve Bannon,travel ban
News reports and spoofs (such as the last episode of Saturday Night Live) have suggested US President Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steven Bannon is the real power behind the Resolute Desk.(Reuters file)

As US President Donald Trump continues to deal with his messy travel ban, the challenge to which has been now joined by around 100 tech companies including Apple, Facebook and Google, he is pushing back against implausible reports that not he but his chief strategist Stephen Bannon is driving the White House.

An appeals court in San Francisco, roughly the equivalent of a high court in India, was expected to consider on Monday petitions supporting and challenging the travel ban imposed by Trump in his first week in office that has been mired in lawsuits and slammed by critics and protestors.

The order was a “significant departure from the principles of fairness and predictability” of the US immigration system, the tech companies argued in a joint filing on Sunday, and it “inflicts considerable harm on American business, growth and innovation”.

The appeals court will also hear from the US justice department, which is challenging the temporary stay on the order by a federal court in Seattle, Washington, that has allowed visa-holders from seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Libya — to continue coming to the US.

The order polled poorly — though not too poorly — with 53% of those polled by CNN/ORC opposing it (44% backed it), but Trump, an avid consumer of poll and ratings, found it disturbing enough to hit back. “Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting,” he tweeted, in a message that was greeted with usual derision.

But he followed that up with another tweet. “I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it. Some FAKE NEWS media, in order to marginalize, lies!” Trump wrote, alluding to news reports and spoofs (such as the last episode of Saturday Night Live) suggesting Bannon is the real power behind the Resolute Desk.

No one really believes Trump is the kind of president who will yield leadership to anyone, but a narrative has taken shape in recent days, aided by cover stories and news reports, that Bannon, the chief strategist is driving this presidency.

Bannon, a former chief executive of conservative news outlet Breitbart News, has emerged as the leading voice on policy in the Trump White House — he was the chief architect and most enthusiastic backer of the travel ban, according to reports.

Most significantly, he was named to the National Security Council’s principals committee, the top interagency team for national security, by an executive order that Trump signed without fully grasping what it meant or did.

The president has felt more frustrated by it than the bungled travel order ban, according to The New York Times in a detailed account of the first days of the Trump presidency and behind-the-scene jockeying for power among senior aides.

But talk about the real power behind the Resolute Desk has gained traction in part because there is precedence for it. Vice-president Dick Cheney was rumored to wield real power in President George W Bush’s White House, for the first term at least.

Bush never challenged that narrative publicly, but Trump has, predictably perhaps, being extra sensitive to any criticism, or the perception, of him being or weak or not in control. He felt the need, thus, to tell Americans who called the shots in his White House.

First Published: Feb 06, 2017 22:12 IST