Senior White House officials — from President Donald Trump on down — again on Tuesday contradicted one another and struggled to express clear messages as key deadlines approach.
Would Trump really shutter the government this week unless a bipartisan immigration deal is in place? Depends on who is speaking.
Does he possess the legal authority to extend a March 5 deadline he gave Congress for passing legislation to legalize the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program? Depends on whom you ask.
Watch: Trump’s ‘Treason’ Taunt and Tweets Don’t Help Immigration Talks
From Trump to Chief of Staff John Kelly to Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, senior White House officials offered sometimes diametrically opposed answers about the chief executive’s views on pressing issues.
The ever-changing stances Tuesday illustrated anew how various offices and factions inside the West Wing often espouse differing policy views — even during the same day.
The result is a White House that either lacks a consistent message or steps on ones being expressed by other parts of the operation.
Watch: One Dramatic Week: Congress, Trump Spar Over Shutdown, Then Another Memo
For instance, senior White House officials and Cabinet members appear unable to settle on a single stance — despite a roster of lawyers employed by the administration — on whether Trump possesses authority to extend the DACA deadline.
Kelly told reporters Tuesday morning he is “not so sure this president has the authority to extend it,” noting former President Barack Obama created the program via executive order, meaning it is not an actual law, according to the Washington Post.
Hours later, this was the position of Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders when asked about a presidential extension: “He certainly has the right to do so.”
The inconsistent stances, however, were not limited to the fate of 690,000 individuals brought illegally to the U.S. as children who are currently covered by DACA.
Trump barreled past members of his own party and nascent signs of progress on a broad budget and immigration deal Tuesday, threatening a government shutdown if he does not get what he wants. He claimed no progress on immigration talks, even as bipartisan action was underway in both chambers.
“I’d love to see a shutdown if we can’t get this stuff taken care of,” the president said just over 48 hours before funding expires. “If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don’t want safety … let’s shut it down.”
But Sanders said White House officials “are not advocating for a shutdown,” adding Trump is “not looking for” a shutdown.
Sanders appeared eager to shield her boss from charges he wants another shutdown. It didn’t work.
“Trump has previously threatened to shut down the government because he believes it would be good for him politically and to drive ‘change’ in Washington,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement. “If the government does shut down, we know who to blame.”
Even a White House ally, Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, offered a different stance on that than Trump — just days after he declared the GOP as unified as either party has been “for many, many years.”
Comstock told Trump another shutdown would be a bad idea. But the president broke sharply with his fellow Republican, in her presence, at a White House event: “You can say what you want. We are not getting support of the Democrats.”