Will Trump’s base stick with him?

Trump shifts: Flexibility, evolution or flip-flop?
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Trump shifts: Flexibility, evolution or flip-flop? 08:01

Story highlights

  • Alice Stewart: Idea that the base will abandon Trump for changing his stances is simplistic
  • Parts of the base are very happy with him and others are taking a wait-and-see attitude

Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator and former communications director for Ted Cruz for President. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.

(CNN)A series of policy reversals by President Donald Trump has supporters and critics alike asking the question: Is the candidate who vowed to drain the swamp getting swamped in Washington? Those on the left say he’s abandoning his base and that in turn, they will abandon him. In other words: it’s about to get real for the reality star turned president.

Alice Stewart

But not so fast. Before you write off the base, you have to understand who the base is. Trump got the most primary votes of any Republican in history. He did that by expanding the GOP establishment vote to solidify support from three key groups: social conservatives, the “alt-right,” and the Rust Belt coalition. All of which are responding to the recent course corrections by the president.
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In a little over a week, Trump reversed on several key policy positions: he ordered missile strikes in Syria after opposing military action there for many years, he dropped his view that NATO is obsolete, he walked back the claim that China is a currency manipulator and indicated he is no longer certain he will replace Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen when her term expires next year.
Keep in mind, if voters thought that Trump’s tendency to change his positions was an unforgivable sin, he never would have won the GOP nomination and never would have been elected president.

Social conservatives

First, social conservatives have felt burned by the GOP over the past decade. They did not get their candidate of choice in 2008 or 2012, but the party relied on them to man phone banks, knock on doors and get out the vote in the general election.
While Trump was not the first choice for many of them, they quickly came to see him as a willing advocate. The Trump transition team brought them into the conversation and truly listened to them. In 2016, social conservatives no longer felt like a GOP afterthought.
Social conservatives wanted a Scalia-like Supreme Court justice and they got it with the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch. For many, this was the single biggest factor in their support of the president.
These pro-life conservatives also wanted Trump to honor the anti-abortion message he campaigned on, which he did last week with the signing of an order allowing states to withhold federal money from abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood. Victory on these issues was like eating dessert before dinner for them; they got the sweet stuff they wanted and they didn’t have to wait. They are not troubled by recent head fakes by the President — they are playing long ball.


Secondly, the “alt-right” movement, viewed as anti-intervention and anti-multiculturalism, embraced candidate Trump’s populist isolationism message. The movement had lived largely online, but came out to campaign events and voting booths for Trump.
Many ardent supporters are now vocal opponents of Trump’s decision to order the missile strike against Syria. Some question whether he should have the nuclear codes if he’s making military decisions based on emotions. These people want a lot more, a lot faster from the administration.
Alt-right leaders are also up in arms over Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon losing his seat at the National Security table and rumors of Bannon’s departure due to infighting with the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. It’s not the end of the world if Bannon is shown the door, but it would be problematic with this portion of the Trump base.

Rust Belt

The third facet of Trump’s support is the Rust Belt coalition that voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but switched to Trump in 2016 because they saw him as the working man’s champion. The Rust Belt’s revenge turned blue states to red for Trump. Working-class voters in the nation’s heartland supported the President’s trade and economic message. These are not hard-core issue conservatives, but they like knowing their president is going to stick it to China and roll back burdensome federal regulations that stifle the economy.
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Trump must not forget his power base is the American worker. If he delivers on the economy, the Rust Belt coalition is not going anywhere.
The West Wing reversals are clearly ruffling some feathers in the base. Asked about the President’s shifting positions, White House press secretary Sean Spicer says it’s the various circumstances, not Trump, that have changed. He even made the dubious claim that “some cases or issues, are evolving towards the President’s position.”
Draining the swamp is an easy campaign slogan, but Trump is learning that successful governing is much more difficult than winning campaigns.

White House Accuses Russia of Cover-Up in Syria Chemical Attack


President Trump at a meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Tuesday. He declared in an interview with Fox News that United States involvement in Syria would be limited.CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The White House accused Russia on Tuesday of engaging in a cover-up of the Syrian government’s role in a chemical weapons attack last week, saying that United States intelligence had confirmed that the Assad regime used sarin gas on its own people.

A four-page report drawn up by the National Security Council contains declassified United States intelligence on the attack and a rebuttal of Moscow’s claim that insurgents unleashed the gas to frame the Syrian government. Instead, the White House asserted that Damascus and Moscow had released “false narratives” to mislead the world.

The document also urges international condemnation of Syria’s use of chemical weapons and harshly criticizes Russia for “shielding” an ally that has used weapons of mass destruction.

The release of the dossier at a White House briefing on Tuesday marked a striking shift by President Trump, who entered office praising President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia but now appears bent on pressuring him. The accusations came as Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state, was preparing for meetings in Moscow on Wednesday, and as Congress and the F.B.I. are investigating potential ties between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia.

“It’s no question that Russia is isolated,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary. He said only Moscow and what he described as the “failed states” of Syria, North Korea and Iran disputed Damascus’s responsibility.

“This is not exactly a happy-time cocktail party of people you want to be associated with,” Mr. Spicer added. His choice of language in criticizing the Syrian government set off an intense backlash, after he suggested that President Bashar al-Assad was worse than Hitler — without acknowledging that Hitler gassed his own people during the Holocaust.

At the Kremlin on Tuesday, Mr. Putin spoke emphatically against the American accusations, saying he would request a formal examination by the United Nations and the international community and trying to cast doubt on the Trump administration’s conclusions. Mr. Putin compared the White House’s arguments to the erroneous intelligence findings on weapons of mass destruction that drew the United States into war with Iraq in 2003.

“To my mind, this strongly resembles what happened in 2003 when representatives of the United States showed in the Security Council what was supposed to be chemical weapons found in Iraq,” Mr. Putin said after a meeting with President Sergio Mattarella of Italy. Using an acronym for the Islamic State, he added, “A military campaign in Iraq ensued, and it ended in devastation of the country, growth of the terror threat and emergence of ISIL on the international scene.”

Mr. Trump on Tuesday defended the missile strikes after the chemical attack, even as he declared that United States involvement in Syria would be limited.

“We’re not going into Syria,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Fox News. “What I did should have been done by the Obama administration a long time before I did it, and you would have had a much better — I think Syria would have been a lot better off right now than it has been.”

Document: Declassified U.S. Report on Chemical Weapons Attack

That was a stark reversal from his position in 2013, when Mr. Trump implored President Barack Obama not to attack Syria, arguing there was “no upside and tremendous downside.”

Senior White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the declassified intelligence report, said Russia’s goal was to cover up the Syrian government’s culpability for the chemical attack. They asserted that the Syrian government, under pressure from opposition forces around the country and lacking enough troops to respond, used the lethal nerve agent sarin to target rebels who were threatening government-held territory.

During his daily White House news briefing, Mr. Spicer would not comment on the possibility that the Russian government had known in advance of Syria’s plan to carry out the chemical attack, or to launch a subsequent assault on a hospital that was treating victims.

“There’s no consensus within the intelligence community that there was involvement” by Russia, Mr. Spicer said.

But later on Tuesday, Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, said she believed that the Russians had foreknowledge of the chemical attack.

“I think that they knew,” Ms. Haley told CNN in an interview.

Officials also noted that Russia, which brokered the 2013 agreement by which Syria agreed to surrender its chemical weapons, has repeatedly rejected evidence that Mr. Assad’s regime is still using them.

“Moscow’s response to the April 4 attack follows a familiar pattern of its responses to other egregious actions,” the report said. “It spins out multiple, conflicting accounts in order to create confusion and sow doubt within the international community.”

The tense back-and-forth between Washington and Moscow unfolded as Mr. Tillerson, in Italy on Tuesday, said that Mr. Assad’s reign in Syria was “coming to an end,” and warned that Russia was at risk of rendering itself irrelevant in the Middle East by continuing to support him.

He said Russia was either incompetent or inattentive in its failure to secure and destroy Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles. “But this distinction doesn’t much matter to the dead,” Mr. Tillerson said. “We can’t let this happen again.”

At the Pentagon, several officials said the presence of Russian personnel at the Al Shayrat airfield, used to launch the chemical strike, points to at least a possibility that Russia knew about the chemical attack. But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday refused to make that direct accusation.

“It was very clear that the Assad regime planned it, orchestrated it and executed it,” Mr. Mattis said at a news conference, when asked whether Russia was involved. “We know what I’ve just told you. We don’t know anything beyond that.”

The Holes in Russia’s Account of the Syria Chemical Attack

The available evidence contradicts much of what the Russian government has said about a toxic attack that killed more than 100 people.

Mr. Mattis also declined to confirm reports that a Russian drone was flying over a hospital treating victims of the chemical attack last week, in advance of the hospital being bombed. While several United States officials have suggested privately that the hospital was targeted in an effort hide evidence of the chemical attack, Mr. Mattis appeared to be taking pains at Tuesday’s news conference to point his finger solely at Syria, at least for now.

“We have gone back through and looked at all the evidence,” Mr. Mattis said. “It is very clear who planned the attack, who authorized it and who executed it. There is no doubt at all.”

The Trump administration’s dossier appeared to suggest a broader effort to generate international consensus for a forceful response to the Syrian government’s actions. White House officials said they were eagerly awaiting action by the United Nations and the results of a fact-finding mission by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body charged with enforcing the global chemical weapons ban.

Britain, France and the United States are pushing for a vote as early as Wednesday on a draft United Nations Security Council resolution that would condemn the use of chemical attacks and remind the Syrian government to cooperate with international investigators. A verbal confrontation with Russia is likely, and possibly a veto.

Much of the White House report was devoted to rebutting Russia’s claim that the chemical attack last week, which it said killed as many as 100 people, including “many children,” was actually the result of a Syrian airstrike against a terrorist depot in the town of Khan Sheikhoun that contained chemical weapons. The report cited a video and commercial satellite imagery that showed that the chemical weapon had landed in the middle of a road, not at a weapons facility.

White House officials also said American intelligence agencies did not believe that the Islamic State or other terrorist groups had sarin gas.

The report also rejected Moscow’s claim that the attack was a “prank of a provocative nature” and denied Russian suggestions that the substance used might not have been sarin.

“Victims of the attack on April 4 displayed telltale symptoms of nerve agent exposure, including pinpoint pupils, foaming at the nose and mouth, and twitching,” the report said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Putin repeated his claim that opposition forces had essentially tried to frame the Syrian government by placing chemical weapons in civilian areas and blaming Mr. Assad’s forces.

“We have information from various sources that similar provocations — and I have no other word for that — are being prepared in other regions of Syria, including southern suburbs of Damascus, where they intend to plant certain substance again and accuse official Syrian authorities of using it,” Mr. Putin said.


But White House officials said antigovernment forces could not have fabricated the volume of evidence that points to the Assad regime’s responsibility.

In seeking to rebut Russia’s claim, the report went into detail about the carnage last week. It said social media reports placed the start of the attack at 6:55 a.m. in Khan Sheikhoun, in Idlib Province. The United States’ assessment is that Su-22 bombers took off from the Al Shayrat airfield and delivered the chemical agent. It also asserts that “personnel historically associated with Syria’s chemical weapons program” had been at the airfield in late March preparing for an attack, and on the day it was carried out.

Washington’s ‘unilateralism’ in Syria undermines UN – head of Iraqi WMD probe to RT

Washington should have waited for the findings of an impartial probe and international authorization before unilaterally striking Syria on the pretext of chemical weapons use, according to Hans Blix who led the UN commission searching for Iraqi WMDs in 2003.

“It would have been desirable to have an impartial investigation of the attack first, as they were discussing in the Security Council,” Blix told RT.

The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency gained the world media’s attention after his team of experts from the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Possible possession of chemical weapons was used as a pretext by the US in 2003 to invade Iraq. Over the years, that false pretense has cost the lives of up to one million Iraqis according to some estimates.

On Friday, the US carried out missile strikes on the Shayrat Airfield near Homs in response to an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib province which Washington pinned on the Assad government. Damascus firmly denied the accusations, saying that its Air Force attacked an arms depot where chemical weapons might have been stockpiled by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Nusra Front militants.

Blix stressed that Washington’s airstrikes ran contrary to the common practice of international law which requires the approval of the UN before carrying out any form of aggression against another state.

“The UN Charter prohibits the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of other states. And the US is not at war with Syria. So they should not attack them,” Blix said.

“In the time when big power ignores the Security Council and ignores the Charter, they are also undermining the organization, and that is also regrettable,” he added.

On Thursday, before Washington unleashed 59 Tomahawk missiles on Syria, Russia tried to convince the UN Security Council to send in a team of experts into Syria to investigate the latest chemical attack reports. Instead of waiting for the result of the impartial UN probe, the US went on to strike Syrian government positions, a move condemned by Moscow and Damascus.

‘Russia doesn’t intend to get into armed standoff with US in ’ – Head of Defense, Security Committee https://on.rt.com/88fj 

“The US would have needed an authorization by the Security Council. And that was missing. This is unilateralism. A unilateralism of the same kind that many in the US wanted in [2013] with the attack outside Damascus,” Blix added.

Blix advised that in order to avoid further bloodshed in Syria, Moscow and Washington should focus on diplomacy, just like in 2013, when Russia convinced Syrian President Bashar Assad to surrender his chemical weapons stockpile to the UN. In 2013 the Syrian government surrendered its entire chemical weapons arsenal, except for the stockpiles located in the inaccessible rebel-and terrorist-controlled areas, which was confirmed by the UN-affiliated Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

READ MORE: Trump’s decision to hit Syrian airfield was outside UN framework – Belgian foreign minister

“They removed enormous quantities of chemical weapons in the midst of a civil war,” Blix said, expressing doubts that Damascus surrendered all of its unconventional arsenal but still praising the “terrific operation that the US and Russia together have managed to get going.”

At the same time, the Swede warned that it will be harder to return to constructive negotiations because of the “harsh words from Washington” and Moscow’s reaction to the American rhetoric. The sad alternative to further negotiations might be that eventually, the US gets “deeper” involved in the ongoing conflict.

“The war will then go on simply,” Blix warned.

‘US said it had proof of WMDs, 1mn people died’ – UN slams Syria strike (FULL VIDEO) http://on.rt.com/88a3 

Despite the widespread condemnation to the US strikes, the White House on Monday said new missile strikes on Syria is possible in case of chemical attacks on civilians.

READ MORE: ‘$64 question: Where is US evidence Assad behind Idlib chemical attack?’

“The sight of people being gassed and blown away by barrel bombs ensures that if we see this kind of action again, we hold open the possibility of future action,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said at a news conference.

Russia has meanwhile called for an expert investigation into the chemical attack, saying, it is “the only way to receive and present to the whole international community any objective evidence on the alleged presence of poisonous substances.”

Tillerson pledges safe areas for refugees, more pressure on Islamic State

By Lesley Wroughton and Yara Bayoumy
ReutersMarch 22, 2017
Tillerson pledges safe areas for refugees, more pressure on Islamic State

By Lesley Wroughton and Yara Bayoumy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday the United States would set up “interim zones of stability” to help refugees return home in the next phase of the fight against Islamic State and al Qaeda.

The top U.S. diplomat did not make clear where these zones were to be set up. He was addressing a meeting of 68 countries gathered in Washington to discuss the fight to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“The United States will increase our pressure on ISIS and al Qaeda and will work to establish interim zones of stability, through ceasefires, to allow refugees to return home,” Tillerson told the gathering at the State Department, where the former oil executive was hosting his first major diplomatic event.

Although it was unclear how the zones would work, creating any safe havens could ratchet up U.S. military involvement in Syria and mark a major departure from President Barack Obama’s more cautious approach. Asked about Tillerson’s remarks, Colonel Joe Scrocca said the U.S. military had not yet received any direction to establish any kind of “zones”.

Increased U.S. or allied air power would be required if President Donald Trump chooses to enforce ‘no fly’ restrictions, and ground forces might also be needed to protect civilians in those areas.

Islamic State has been losing ground in both Iraq and Syria, with three separate forces, backed by the United States, Turkey and Russia, advancing on the group’s Syrian stronghold city of Raqqa.

A Pentagon-led preliminary plan to defeat Islamic State was delivered to the White House last month. It could lead to relaxing some of the former Obama administration’s policy restrictions, like limits on troop numbers.

U.S. defense officials said on Wednesday the U.S.-led coalition has airlifted Syrian rebel forces in an operation near the Syrian town of Tabqa in Raqqa province.

“I recognize there are many pressing challenges in the Middle East, but defeating ISIS is the United States’ number one goal in the region,” Tillerson said, adding that recent military wins in Iraq and Syria had swung momentum in the coalition’s favor.

“As a coalition we are not in the business of nation building or reconstruction,” he said, adding that resources should be focused on preventing the resurgence of ISIS and equipping war-torn communities to rebuild.


Wednesday’s event was the first meeting of the international coalition since the election of Trump, who has pledged to make the fight against Islamic State a priority. He vowed in January to set up safe zones in Syria for refugees.

Tillerson called on coalition partners to make good on financial pledges to help secure and rebuild areas where Islamic State fighters have been pushed out. The coalition expects to raise about $2 billion for humanitarian assistance, stabilization and demining in Iraq and Syria for 2017.

Iraqi government forces, backed by the U.S.-led international coalition, retook several Iraqi cities from Islamic State last year and have liberated eastern Mosul.

While the jihadist group is overwhelmingly outnumbered by Iraqi forces, it has been using suicide car bombs and snipers to defend its remaining strongholds.

Speaking to the same meeting, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for unity in the region to combat Islamic State and outlined Iraq’s progress in the fight.

He said Iraq was now at the stage of “destroying” Islamic State, not just “containing” it. Recounting a Tuesday conversation with the Iraqi leader, Senator Lindsey Graham said Abadi believed reconstruction of Anbar province as well as Mosul in Nineveh province would cost about $50 billion.

The State Department said Tillerson would also use the meeting as an occasion to meet NATO allies after it emerged this week that he would miss his first scheduled meeting with NATO foreign ministers next month in Brussels.

The news unsettled European allies who worried it reopened questions about Trump’s commitment to the alliance. The State Department said on Tuesday Tillerson has proposed new dates for a NATO meeting.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Alistair Bell)

What Trump’s Budget Could Mean for the Affected Agencies


President Trump’s plan includes an 18 percent reduction in budget for the National Institutes of Health, which fund thousands of researchers working on cancer and other diseases. CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s first federal budget proposal calls for spending billions of dollars on the military and border security while imposing deep cuts to government departments that deal with the environment, diplomacy, the arts, science and cities.

White House budgets are largely political documents that set out presidential priorities, and most of the cuts that Mr. Trump is asking for are unlikely to happen.

But some of them could.

As Congress weighs Mr. Trump’s requests, industry leaders who are facing a loss of federal funding are starting to sound the alarm about the dire situations they could be facing.


The amount and extent of the cuts in the proposed budget unveiled early Thursday shocked scientists, researchers and program administrators.

The reductions include $5.8 billion, or 18 percent, from the National Institutes of Health, which fund thousands of researchers working on cancer and other diseases. They also include $900 million, or about 15 percent, from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which funds the national laboratories, considered among the crown jewels of basic research in the world.

“Do they not think that there are advances to be made, improvements to be made, in the human condition?” said Rush D. Holt, a physicist and chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Arts

Mr. Trump also proposed eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. And he would scrap the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a critical revenue source for PBS and National Public Radio stations, as well as the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“We are greatly saddened to learn of this proposal for elimination, as N.E.H. has made significant contributions to the public good,” said William D. Adams, the chairman of the humanities endowment.

The New York Times’s coverage of the cuts is here and the reaction is here.

The State Department

Thousands of jobs could be lost at the State Department because of the 31 percent funding cut that the White House has requested.

Many educational and cultural exchange programs designed to improve the image of the United States would be abolished or pared back to pay for an increase in military spending. The Global Climate Change Initiative and a number of envoys and offices created during the Obama administration are slated for elimination.

“U.S. engagement must be more efficient,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said.

Our coverage is here.

Housing and Urban Development

As a candidate, Mr. Trump promised to put an end to urban blight. But now that he is in office, he does not appear interested in putting federal government resources behind that goal.

Mr. Trump would cut the budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 13 percent. He would also eliminate programs like the Community Development Block Grant, which cities have used to fund programs such as Meals on Wheels as well as homeless shelters and neighborhood revitalization initiatives.

“These are people who are trying to better themselves,” said Karen D. Stokes, the chief executive officer of Strong City Baltimore, a nonprofit that operates an adult learning center that gets about 8 percent of its funding from the block grant.

The story is here.

The Environment

Another agency among the hardest hit by the budget was the Environmental Protection Agency, which would be slashed by 31 percent.

While the E.P.A. may be known for sweeping regulations to control climate change, increase auto fuel efficiency and mandate smokestack controls, the agency’s bread and butter is more prosaic. The staff and scientists at its regional offices and laboratories nationwide regularly respond to emergency calls from city and state officials.

Funds to respond to many of those calls would no longer be available under Mr. Trump’s budget. He has proposed slicing the agency’s $8.1 billion budget to $5.7 billion, and cutting 3,200 jobs from the agency’s staff of 15,000.

The Military

Who is the biggest winner in Mr. Trump’s budget? The Defense Department.

Under his plan, the military would get a $54 billion windfall to fill its shopping cart with everything from Apache helicopters for the Army, antisubmarine planes for the Navy, fighter jets and more training for selected personnel. Some of the new funding would undoubtedly be used to ramp up the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“The president very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and our potential adversaries that this is a strong-power administration,” said Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Trump Offers No Apology for Claim on British Spying


President Trump and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, at their news conference at the White House on Friday. CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump refused to back down on Friday after his White House aired an unverified claim that Britain’s spy agency secretly monitored him during last year’s campaign at the behest of President Barack Obama.

Although his aides in private conversations since Thursday night had tried to calm British officials who were livid over the claim, Mr. Trump made clear that he felt the White House had nothing to retract or apologize for. He said his spokesman was simply repeating an assertion made by a Fox News commentator.

“We said nothing,” Mr. Trump told a German reporter who asked about the matter at a joint White House news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it.” He added: “You shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”

Mr. Trump, who has stuck by his unsubstantiated assertion that Mr. Obama ordered his telephone tapped last year despite across-the-board denials, wryly used Ms. Merkel’s visit to repeat his contention. Ms. Merkel was angry during Mr. Obama’s administration at reports that the United States had tapped her cellphone and those of other foreign leaders. Turning to her, Mr. Trump said, “At least we have something in common, perhaps.”

After the news conference Mr. Spicer echoed Mr. Trump’s defiant tone. “I don’t think we regret anything,” he told reporters. “As the president said, I was just reading off media reports.”

Shortly afterward, Fox backed off the claim made by its commentator, Andrew Napolitano. “Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary,” the anchor Shepard Smith said on air. “Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time, any way. Full stop.”

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain said on Friday that the White House had backed off the allegation. “We’ve made clear to the administration that these claims are ridiculous and should be ignored,” the spokesman said, on the condition of anonymity in keeping with British protocol. “We’ve received assurances these allegations won’t be repeated.”

Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to Washington, spoke with Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, at a St. Patrick’s Day reception in Washington on Thursday night just hours after Mr. Spicer aired the assertion at his daily briefing. Mark Lyall Grant, the prime minister’s national security adviser, spoke separately with his American counterpart, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

“Ambassador Kim Darroch and Sir Mark Lyall expressed their concerns to Sean Spicer and General McMaster,” a White House official said on the condition of anonymity to confirm private conversations. “Mr. Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr. Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story.”



White House Alleges That Britain Spied

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, on Thursday quoted Fox News coverage implicating Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters in a wiretapping of Trump Tower. President Trump “stands by” his original accusations of surveillance, Mr. Spicer said.

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. Photo by Al Drago/The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

Other White House officials, who also requested anonymity, said Mr. Spicer had offered no regret to the ambassador. “He didn’t apologize, no way, no how,” said a senior West Wing official. The officials said they did not know whether General McMaster had apologized.

The controversy over Mr. Trump’s two-week-old unsubstantiated accusation that Mr. Obama had wiretapped his telephones last year continued to unnerve even fellow Republicans. Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma said on Friday that Mr. Trump had not proven his case and should apologize to Mr. Obama.

“Frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling truth, I think President Obama is owed an apology,” Mr. Cole told reporters. “If he didn’t do it, we shouldn’t be reckless in accusations that he did.”

The flap with Britain started when Mr. Spicer, in the course of defending Mr. Trump’s original accusation against Mr. Obama, on Thursday read from the White House lectern comments by Mr. Napolitano asserting that the British spy agency was involved. Mr. Napolitano said on air that Mr. Obama had used Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, the signals agency known as the GCHQ, to spy on Mr. Trump.

The GCHQ quickly and vehemently denied the contention on Thursday in a rare statement issued by the spy agency, calling the assertions “nonsense” and “utterly ridiculous.” By Friday morning, Mr. Spicer’s briefing had turned into a full-blown international incident. British politicians expressed outrage and demanded apologies and retractions from the American government.

Mr. Trump’s critics assailed the White House for alienating America’s ally. “The cost of falsely blaming our closest ally for something this consequential cannot be overstated,” Susan E. Rice, who was Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, wrote on Twitter. “And from the PODIUM.”

Mr. Trump has continued to stick by his claim about Mr. Obama even after it has been refuted by a host of current and former officials, including leaders of his own party. Mr. Obama denied it, as did the former director of national intelligence. The F.B.I. director has privately told other officials that it is false. After being briefed by intelligence officials, the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have in the last few days said they have seen no indication that Mr. Trump’s claim is true.

Mr. Spicer tried to turn the tables on those statements during his briefing on Thursday by reading from a sheaf of news accounts that he suggested backed up the president. Most of the news accounts, however, did not verify the president’s assertion, while several have been refuted by intelligence officials.

For instance, Mr. Spicer read several articles from The New York Times, which has written extensively on an investigation into contacts between associates of Mr. Trump and Russian officials. The Times has reported that intelligence agencies have access to intercepted conversations as part of that investigation. But it has never reported that Mr. Obama authorized the surveillance, nor that Mr. Trump himself was monitored.

Representative Devin Nunes of California, a Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said this week that “it’s possible” that Mr. Trump or others were swept up in the course of other surveillance. But when it came to the president’s assertion that Mr. Obama authorized tapping of Trump Tower, he said, “clearly the president was wrong.”

His Senate counterpart, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, issued a joint statement on Thursday with Senator Mark R. Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, saying they saw “no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”

In pointing the finger at Britain on Thursday, Mr. Spicer read from comments made by Mr. Napolitano on Fox this week. “Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command,” Mr. Spicer read. “He didn’t use the N.S.A., he didn’t use the C.I.A., he didn’t use the F.B.I., and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ.”

“What is that?” Mr. Spicer continued. “It’s the initials for the British intelligence spying agency. So simply, by having two people saying to them, ‘The president needs transcripts of conversations involved in candidate Trump’s conversations involving President-elect Trump,’ he was able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this.”

In London, outrage quickly followed. “It’s complete garbage. It’s rubbish,” Malcolm Rifkind, a former chairman of Parliament’s intelligence committee, told BBC News.

GCHQ was the first agency to warn the United States government, including the National Security Agency, that Russia was hacking Democratic Party emails during the presidential campaign. That warning stemmed from internet traffic out of Russia containing malware, British officials said.

British officials and analysts were surprised at the tough language in the GCHQ response, especially from an agency that traditionally refuses to comment on any intelligence matter.

There was some annoyance and eye rolling as well. Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the last British coalition government, described Mr. Spicer’s repetition of the claims as “shameful” and said Mr. Trump was “compromising the vital U.K.-U.S. security relationship to try to cover his own embarrassment.”

Dominic Grieve, the current intelligence committee chairman in Parliament, noted that no president can instruct the GCHQ to act. He pointed to elaborate safeguards that prevent spying on the United States and require “a valid national security purpose” for any monitoring. “It is inconceivable that those legal requirements could be met in the circumstances described,” he said in a statement.

But Downing Street clearly wanted to avoid adding to any embarrassment in Washington while making it clear that Britain had no part in any such wiretapping, and that Britain would not be a party to circumventing the laws of a closely allied country. “We have a close relationship which allows us to raise concerns when they arise, as was true in this case,” the prime minister’s spokesman said. “This shows the administration doesn’t give the allegations any credence.”

British officials said that London had initiated calls of complaint and denial to the White House after Mr. Spicer’s briefing. They also said that British officials had discussed responding earlier, after Mr. Napolitano’s comments were made on air, but acted quickly after those remarks were repeated by the president’s official spokesman.

“I doubt if there will be any long-term damage — the intelligence links between the U.S. and the U.K. are just too strong,” said Peter Westmacott, a former British ambassador to the United States. “It was unfortunate that the White House spokesman repeated what he’s heard on Fox News without checking the facts. But once he’d done so, GCHQ had no choice but to set the record straight.”

Correction: March 17, 2017
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of Britain’s ambassador to the United States. It is Kim Darroch, not Derroch.

Trump’s Budget Is Out. Now the Lobbying Begins


Copies of President Trump’s budget at the Government Publishing Office bookstore in Washington on Thursday. CreditShawn Thew/European Pressphoto Agency

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s proposal on Thursday for deep cuts to the budgets of a broad swath of the federal bureaucracy was billed as a necessary corrective to the growth of the government’s power.

But even members of his own party questioned some of the cuts — and what was not being cut. More expected cries of alarm came from scientists, human rights advocates, teachers, diplomats, artists and workers.

It is Mr. Trump’s first major attempt to dismantle what his aides dismissively call the “administrative state.” The $1.1 trillion spending plan envisions deep cuts to many government programs while leaving entitlement programs like Social Security untouched. It increases spending on the military and border security.

Mr. Trump was elected on a promise to wage war against what he has frequently mocked as a bloated and ineffective federal work force, and he is betting that his first budget will help consolidate support by calling for a significant shift of resources away from established programs that aid the poor, the environment, foreigners and the arts.

Continue reading the main story

The approach is a risky gamble for a politician whose victory last November came in part by assembling a coalition that included low-income workers who rely on many of the programs that he now proposes to slash. For now, Mr. Trump and his advisers in the West Wing appear willing to take that risk.


Who Wins and Loses in Trump’s Proposed Budget

The president’s plan would make deep cuts in most areas to pay for increased military spending.


If the president gets his way, funding for the environment, diplomacy, housing, health services and the arts will be cut by 20 to 30 percent or, in some cases, eliminated. Military spending would increase by $54 billion, a 10 percent rise, in 2018, in addition to a $30 billion increase in the current year.

Military supporters praised Mr. Trump for beginning what they believe is a needed rebuilding of the armed forces, though several key lawmakers said that even the president’s proposed increase would not be enough for a military that they say is too small and unprepared to meet modern threats.

Conservatives hailed his vision as an antidote to decades of bureaucratic growth even as they predicted fierce resistance from the interest groups and lawmakers with deep ties to the affected agencies and the beneficiaries of the programs that will see their budgets slashed.

“That sound you hear from Washington, D.C., this morning is the weeping and gnashing of teeth from bureaucrats and politicians who have built the federal government into an industry on the backs of taxpayers,” said David McIntosh, the president of the Club for Growth, a conservative free-market advocacy group.

Reaction to Mr. Trump’s budget proposal came in a flurry of angry statements on Thursday morning as various other groups began preparing their lobbying campaigns to block the president’s plan in Congress.

Christine Owens, the executive director of the National Employment Law Project, called the president’s proposed cuts to the Labor Department a “draconian” budget that “is virtually a complete breach of faith with America’s workers.”

Amnesty International called the cuts to foreign aid “shameful” and predicted “global consequences.” The Union of Concerned Scientists said cuts to scientific programs were “antiquated ideas and misguided science, which will hurt our economy, kill jobs, make us less safe.” The American Library Association said eliminating federal funds for libraries was “counterproductive and shortsighted.” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said, “This budget takes a meat cleaver to public education.”

Environmental activists ridiculed Mr. Trump’s priorities. Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said that “the only thing that matters in his America is corporate polluters’ profits and Wall Street billionaires.”

“If Trump refuses to be serious about protecting our health and climate, or our publicly owned lands, then Congress must act, do its job and reject this rigged budget,” Mr. Brune added.

Much of the harshest criticism of Mr. Trump’s budget came from Democrats and liberal organizations. But in a city where many federal programs enjoy longstanding bipartisan support, some Republicans also assailed the president’s judgment.

Document: Trump’s First Budget Proposal

Richard Thornburgh, the former attorney general for Ronald Reagan and George Bush, condemned the elimination of money for legal aid, saying, “Our civil justice system cannot work for low-income individuals and families unless we fund programs to provide them with lawyers.” Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, criticized Mr. Trump’s decision to cut $300 million in funding for a program that aims to protect Lake Erie. “I have long championed this program,” Mr. Portman said, “and I’m committed to continuing to do everything I can to protect and preserve Lake Erie, including preserving this critical program and its funding.”

For Mr. Trump, the complaints from nearly all quarters may serve to amplify his image as an outsider who is not beholden to the special interests in Washington. That could help the White House put pressure on Republican lawmakers to embrace his vision for a spending plan.

But the early reaction from members of his party on Capitol Hill was muted at best, reflecting in part the discomfort among many of the party’s leaders with a budget that makes no progress on tackling the growth of entitlements.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who has long asserted a need to overhaul entitlement programs as a means to fiscal discipline for the federal government, told reporters that he was “encouraged” by the proposed increases in military spending but said little else about the contents of the budget blueprint.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Ryan issued a statement saying he was “determined to work with the administration to shrink the size of government, grow our economy, secure our borders and ensure our troops have the tools necessary to complete their missions.”

He did not address any of the proposed cuts.

Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, called Mr. Trump’s budget proposal “a solid step toward addressing the gross overspending that is driving our national debt.” He said the president should be “commended” for making some tough calls.

He did not pledge to support Mr. Trump’s spending plan, however, adding that he looked forward to working with his congressional colleagues “to craft and pass a balanced, fiscally sound budget in the coming months.”