On Monday’s Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough decided to attack Donald Trump, once again, as having an administration full of “a lot of little autocrats running around.” Not that much later in the show, in a whiplash-inducing reversal of positions, Scarborough mocked Trump for repeatedly deferring to Congressional authority on legislative matters and said that Trump is “the weakest leader” that he had “ever seen in [his] life.”
The segment started with the panel going back to the controversy surrounding Chief of Staff John Kelly’s public defense of Donald Trump in response to Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson’s attack on what Trump said in a phone call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson. After playing a few clips to set the context, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that people should not “impugn” the “credibility” of Kelly, a former Marine Corps general, Morning Joe decided to interpret Sanders’s remarks as a sign of “autocratic” governance:
SCARBOROUGH: Here is General David Petraeus. And he found himself criticized, remember, in uniform, when there were people that had “General Betray Us,” when he was trying to push the surge?
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Right.
SCARBOROUGH: A lot of really prominent Democrats. And despite that, this is what he said.
[playing short clip]
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: I think we're all fair game. [...] We, in uniform, protect the rights of others to criticize us [...].
[end of clip]
SCARBOROUGH: I love that, Steve Ratner. We're in uniform to protect the rights of others to criticize us. There is a theme, though, here, a sort of autocrat-in-waiting theme at the White House where you have a lot of little autocrats running around there, thinking that Donald Trump is somehow unchained from checks and balances of James Madison and the Constitution and Hamilton. We remember back to when Steven Miller said: the President shall not be questioned. One of the most tyrannical things I’ve ever heard uttered from the White House. And, you take that to: four-star generals shall not be questioned. She pulled it back, but what is disturbing is, this is their instinct: how dare you question us?
BRZEZINSKI: Their go-to.
STEVEN RATTNER [MSNBC, ECONOMIC ANALYST]: Yeah, there's no question, no pun intended, there's no question that they don't believe that their actions should be questioned and they have this sort of autocratic pushback blanket at all costs kind of mentality. And I think it is fair game to question what General Kelly did or didn't say.
First, it is important to look back at what Scarborough claimed Steven Miller said, as it doesn’t appear to be accurate. According to The Washington Post, this is what Miller actually said:
JOHN DICKERSON [CBS, ANCHOR]: When I talked to Republicans on the Hill, they wonder, what in the White House -- what have you all learned from this experience with the executive order?
MILLER: Well, I think that it's been an important reminder to all Americans that we have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become, in many cases, a supreme branch of government. One unelected judge in Seattle cannot remake laws for the entire country. I mean this is just crazy, John, the idea that you have a judge in Seattle say that a foreign national living in Libya has an effective right to enter the United States is -- is -- is beyond anything we've ever seen before. The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.
So, Miller didn’t say that the President should never be questioned, but rather that Trump’s executive authority to manage the country’s national security should not be questioned. Moreover, it seems pretty clear that Miller was simply expressing his opinion that the Seattle judge’s then recent ruling negating Trump’s decision to use his executive authority to enforce immigration restrictions was overstepping the bounds of the judicial branch’s authority.
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Apart from that misrepresentation, however, Scarborough and company’s portrayal of Trump and his administration’s officials as “tyrannical” was actually pretty boringly repetitive in the context of previous broadcasts. The truly strange thing about Monday’s Morning Joe was what came roughly half an hour later. At that time, the panel was in the middle of discussing Steve Bannon, Senator Mitch McConnell, Congress’s legislative agenda, and the upcoming 2018 Congressional elections when Scarborough interrupted Steve Rattner and began to excoriate Trump for not being more decisive and, well, more autocratic:
RATTNER: Well, they've got an immediate problem with this health care bill. McConnell said yesterday that he wasn't going to put it forward in the Senate until Trump says whether he’s going to sign it or not, and Trump keeps going back and forth on that. Tax reform-
SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] Isn't that amazing? A guy who claims to be a leader just can't make up his mind? He just waffles around. He goes back and forth. He defers everything over to the Senate and the House. He can't make up his mind on DACA, so he throws it there. He can't make up his mind on Iran, so he tosses it over there. He can’t make up his mind on health care, so he tosses it over there, goes back and forth. This guy flip-flops every single day. He's the weakest leader I've ever seen in my life. He flip-flops. He has no courage. He doesn't know what he believes in.
Embarrassingly, Scarborough didn’t appear to understand that all of the things he mentioned that Trump “can’t make up his mind on” are actions that require legislative action.
With respect to DACA, as President Obama himself repeatedly admitted before enacting it, the President is not supposed to be a “king” and make up new laws without the House and the Senate. Trump’s choice to punt DACA back to Congress returned to them their rightful power to make new legislation on immigration.
Regarding the Iran nuclear deal, once again, Obama very likely made that deal unconstitutionally given that binding international agreements with other countries (i.e. treaties) need to get congressional approval as per the Constitution’s “Treaty Clause.” Obama did not get any such approval, so it is perfectly reasonable for Trump to ask for Congress’s consent to the agreement.
On health care, instead of “toss[ing] it over” to Congress, apparently Scarborough would prefer it if Trump issued an executive order or dictat that said “ObamaCare is henceforth repealed,” or something similar perhaps. That would just give Joe one more reason to call Trump a tyrant.