Democrats question Trump’s motives as Hurricane Dorian targets Florida

President’s decision to cancel Poland trip caught some aides off guard as polls turn bleak

President Donald Trump waves as he walks off Marine One at the White House on Friday. Trump said he canceled the trip to Poland so he could monitor Hurricane Dorian, but some Democrats see political motives. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump waves as he walks off Marine One at the White House on Friday. Trump said he canceled the trip to Poland so he could monitor Hurricane Dorian, but some Democrats see political motives. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Posted August 30, 2019 at 12:00pm

President Donald Trump contends he canceled a diplomatic trip to Poland so he could monitor Hurricane Dorian as it churns toward Florida, but Democrats see political motives for the storm tracker in chief. And Trump started Friday clearly focused on other matters.

He claimed he was staying stateside “to ensure that all resources of the federal government are focused on the arriving storm,” and White House aides were eager to cast the president as laser-focused on the hurricane — even though his decision, yet again, caught some off guard.

One official earlier Thursday said Trump still planned to leave for Poland on Saturday and return on Monday, noting there is little any chief executive can do until a hurricane has passed. That official later said Trump’s decision came after a briefing with new information.

[PODCAST: Stage-managing ‘The Trump Show on the Road’ in Biarritz]

The season’s first U.S.-bound hurricane comes several weeks after his response to deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio prompted more criticism from Democratic lawmakers and strategists that he struggles to display empathy. In 2017, he visited Puerto Rico following two devastating storms and tossed paper towel rolls to residents.

White House aides are eager to cast Trump as in a different mindset — especially after he spent parts of this week criticizing Puerto Rico as “one of the most corrupt places on earth,” adding in a Wednesday tweet that its “political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt.”

(Trump on Tuesday signed an emergency declaration for the island territory. The storm’s brunt has since moved away, however.)

Those same aides are very aware of a number of new polls that have delivered bleak news. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey found 62 percent of those polled disapprove of his performance; 36 percent reported approval. A Quinnipiac University poll put that figure at 56 percent, with 38 percent saying they approve.

Against that backdrop, White House aides posted an Instagram video Thursday night of Trump outside the Oval Office delivering a message to residents of Florida, where the New York-based real estate mogul owns several luxury golf clubs and resorts. 

Trump, who will repeat his past weekend storm-tracking by heading late Friday afternoon to Camp David, warned Floridians that Dorian’s winds will be “unbelievably high.” He declared the federal government is “all ready,” before delivering a blunt warning.

“It looks to me like this time it’s heading in one direction. All indications are it’s going to hit very hard and it’s going to be very big,” he warned, before concluding: “God bless.”

Friday focus

But by the next morning, the president was back to slamming foes.

He used several Friday morning retweets to tout his tariffs-based approach to on-again-off-again-on-again trade talks with China. He used another post to criticize General Motors — which he mocked as “once the Giant of Detroit [and] now one of the smallest auto manufacturers there” — for moving “major plants to China, BEFORE I CAME INTO OFFICE … despite the saving help given them by the USA.” (General Motors manufactures the heavily armored Cadillac presidential limousine known as “The Beast.”)

But his most fervent social media message on Friday morning was not for Floridians to prepare to ride out a powerful hurricane or just get out of Dorian’s way. Rather, he lashed out at an old political enemy: James Comey, the FBI director he fired and who provided testimony to Congress and former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III alleging Trump committed acts that Comey claimed amounted to obstruction of justice.

“The disastrous IG Report on James Comey shows, in the strongest of terms, how unfairly I, and tens of millions of great people who support me, were treated,” Trump tweeted. “Our rights and liberties were illegally stripped away by this dishonest fool.”

He was referring to a Justice Department inspector general report released Thursday that found the former director flouted the FBI’s policies by holding on to contemporaneous memos he had drafted about meetings with Trump, and further broke from policy in leaking contents.

But his rant against Comey did not end there.

He also suggested in yet another tweet that Comey should be prosecuted, saying the former law enforcement official “got Lucky!” because Attorney General William P. Barr is so “fair and reasonable,” adding in typically vague terms a contention that “so many people and experts that I have watched and read would have taken an entirely different course.”

Democratic presidential candidates, lawmakers and former officials are simply not buying Trump’s contention he’s skipping Poland for the sake of Americans in Dorian’s path.

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has gained ground in her presidential bid, hammered Trump’s administration for diverting Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to help detain undocumented migrants. “This is a cruel, dangerous move — especially at the height of hurricane season,” she tweeted, alluding to his Puerto Rico-bashing in another: “Now is not the time for insults, delays, or playing politics.”

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley suggested the move amounts to a Washington version of the movie “Groundhog Day,” tweeting this: “Where have I seen this story before? Oh yes. Literally, this time last year.”