For Trump, decisions often served with side of drama
Catherine Lucey and Jonathan Lemire, The Associated Press
Published Friday, June 2, 2017 7:24AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 2, 2017 10:28AM EDT
WASHINGTON -- With U.S. President Donald Trump, decisions are often served with a side of drama.
From the White House Rose Garden, Trump revealed his plans for the United States to leave the Paris climate change accord, a long-awaited announcement he had put off until after his first international trip. Building the suspense, some White House officials floated the possibility the day before that he was leaning toward an exit, but cautioned that the president could change his mind. The decision followed months of debate with aides arguing opposing positions.
But there was, in the end, little ambiguity to Trump's pronouncement.
"I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States," Trump told a packed audience in the sunny garden as well as those watching on TV. "We're getting out. But we will start to negotiate and see if we can get a better deal. If we can, great. If we can't, that's fine."
The closely watched announcement -- which the president, a former reality TV star, teased in showbiz fashion with a tweet the night before -- was just the latest example of Trump-style decision-making.
In this White House, reaching resolution is often a spectacle, loaded with internal debate and public jockeying, presided over by a leader who seeks to wring out every dramatic moment before an audience, but who is also prone to second-guessing and indecisiveness.
Trump typically conducts a drawn-out, very public decision-making process. He likes to seek others' opinions, whether from his staff, his circle of friends and business peers or even dinner guests at his Mar-a-Lago resort. He's been known to be swayed by what he sees on television. And he is often persuaded by whatever opinion he hears most recently, which is kept in mind by allies and adversaries alike.
His administration was split on what to do about the Paris agreement. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the president's daughter and influential adviser, Ivanka Trump, were among those who counselled him to stay in, perhaps with modifications. Chief strategist Steve Bannon pushed an exit to fulfil "America First" campaign promises.
The day before his announcement Trump baited reporters in the Oval Office when asked about the agreement. "You're going to find out very soon," he said.
Former campaign aide Sam Nunberg said Trump typically wanted to hear a wide range of ideas and advice when making a decision, though he said he always found the process to be organized.
"He's very inclusive. He really likes to hear a lot of different views," said Nunberg, who was not involved in the Paris process. "He's not like Barack Obama who's going to read a 200-page treatise. He operates by talking to experts."
While Nunberg acknowledged Trump knew how to build suspense, he added that "the longer he takes, it's because he knows it's a big decision."
This isn't the first time Trump has applied a complicated process to a policy or personnel decision.
Also dramatic was Trump's consideration of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he had promised to exit during his campaign. But after some aides indicated he was moving toward withdrawing from the deal in April, a flurry of eleventh-hour international diplomacy pushed Trump to change his mind.
Trump also relished keeping the public in suspense over his Supreme Court pick, until he announced during a prime-time address that he had selected Justice Neil Gorsuch. In his remarks he asked, "So was it a surprise?"
His vice-presidential search was also drawn out over weeks to maximize interest and drama.
Unlike his predecessors, who shielded the decision-making from the outside world, Trump mused about contenders in interviews and had them make audition-style appearances at campaign rallies. Once he settled on Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump was seized with doubt and asked senior staff about changing his pick, only to be talked out of it.
During the transition period, Trump paraded prospective hires through the Trump Tower lobby in New York and welcomed them over a weekend to his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, posing with them for journalists.
The most high-profile visitor that weekend was former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who was in the running for secretary of state. Trump reveled in a transparent vetting process for that job, meeting several times with Romney, who had previously been a harsh critic. After dining together in New York, Romney praised Trump's "message of inclusion and bringing people together."
Trump's open vetting of Romney drew a remarkably public rebuke of Romney from former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, part of his transition team. Conway went on television and said Trump's backers felt "betrayed" by Romney and questioned whether he was right choice.
Romney didn't get the job.
Conway's move, questioned at the time, foreshadowed a White House where aides aired dissent more publicly than in previous administrations, often on television where they suspected the president would see it. Others in Washington picked up on that tactic: Republican lawmakers on both sides of the health care debate used TV appearances to lobby the president.