It’s been months since Donald Trump held a real press conference. Aside from a couple of interviews, with The New York Times and 60 Minutes, the president-elect has limited his remarks to a few jokes with reporters, preferring to continue communicating via Twitter.
His messages are, as always, eccentric — deliberately unfiltered and barely considered, an apparently uncontrolled stream of consciousness — in an obvious design to create a direct, uninhibited, “authentic” relationship with Americans, unmediated by journalists. This extravagance, if there was any need for further clues, confirms that the Trump administration entrusted with the country Jan. 20 has literally no precedent.
And so everyone is beginning to grapple with the magnitude of this incredible and regrettable novelty, without the benefit of previous experience and without coming to normalize the fact of a tycoon-chairman managing the most powerful office on Earth: the White House. Indeed, the Trump presidency will be in perfect continuity with the Trump candidacy; the president will be a businessman.
Even the next press conference, set for Wednesday, seems to have been scheduled as a distraction from the day’s main events: confirmation hearings for key cabinet positions and discussions of the repeal — without any substitution — of Obamacare.
By coinciding those initiatives with Trump’s first press conference, the Senate committees should be able to ratify their measures without too much curiosity from the media. By Senate President Mitch McConnell’s calculations, the new president will be in great position to begin “new era” from Day One.
What happens in Congress will be of great political relevance — much more than Trump’s impromptu thoughts uploaded to Twitter or those we’ll hear on Wednesday at his press conference. The new cabinet is a dynamite stick of political destruction, unleashed upon the reformational work, with all its limitations and inadequacies, of the Obama administration.
These hearings are therefore a delicate moment for the new president and for the Republican leadership, which is now aligned with or even subordinate to Trump, despite being the object of his ridicule at times even more than Clinton.
In particular, the Republican majority wants to shore up the appointment of Rex Tillerson to Secretary of State. The ExxonMobil CEO is considered vulnerable because of his personal relationship with Vladimir Putin. In some preliminary, private meetings with representatives, Tillerson apparently promised he’s prepared to use harsh tactics with the Kremlin. But will he also affirm this in the public hearing? And will he confirm he’s willing to maintain sanctions against Moscow for its intervention in Ukraine?
It’s obvious that these questions will acquire more weight as the surreal controversy intensifies surrounding the Russian espionage services helping to bring Trump to the White House. One should not underestimate the fact that, in the hierarchy of power, the Secretary of State is the number three and, in the event the president and vice president are rendered unable to execute their duties, he is the commander-in-chief.
But will everything go as Trump and McConnell hope? Such tension is building around the tangled relations with Russia and Putin that, despite the Republicans’ calculations, Wednesday could descend into chaos, a rodeo laying bare the dangerous improvisations of a tycoon-turned-president and the bizarre company of billionaires and/or reactionaries he surrounds himself with.
In the shadow of all this is Barack Obama’s farewell speech, set for 9 p.m. Tuesday. The master orator will put all his talent on display to mark the difference between what Americans will leave behind and what lays ahead of them, but especially to dash the fragile mechanics in store for the following day.