On Thursday, President Donald Trump threw the political world into confusion and disarray by undermining the Republican Party's talking points on a federal surveillance bill, hours before a vote was scheduled on the measure.
Trump's first tweet, at 7:33 a.m. on Thursday morning, condemned the federal surveillance bill that his White House had been pushing up to that point. Given that he posted this tweet around the same time that commentators from "Fox & Friends" were criticizing this aspect of his agenda, many concluded that he was responding to the show in real time.
Two hours later, he followed that with a tweet that seemed to backpedal from his initial criticism.
That two-hour period was filled with confusion among Congressional Republicans on Capitol Hill, who entered a state of frenzy as they attempted to repair the damage caused by Trump's erratic behavior. The Washington Post has the juicy details:
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) spent 30 minutes on the phone with the president explaining the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance, as many fellow Republicans reacted in disbelief and befuddlement. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly also directly intervened with Trump, reiterating the program’s importance before traveling to the Capitol, where he parried questions from confused lawmakers.
Apparently it wasn't only television that was influencing Trump. He also was talking to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who had misgivings about the bill. That fits in to the profile that's built about the president — that the last person who talks to him can easily change his mind.
With the damage having been done, Ryan played a particularly prominent role in trying to fix things and had to explain to Trump the program the president had just denounced. Or, as the Post succinctly put it:
The confusion — less than two hours in all — sent members of Congress reeling, the president’s staff scrambling and was a fresh reminder of how Trump’s haphazard impulses can undermine his own administration and upend the daily workings of the federal government.
Trump's ability to toss a wrench into the legislative process with a single tweet is just one more example of how the president's Twitter account has become a serious political issue.
Trump's attention span, as evidenced by his Twitter feed, is a "a huge deal for the White House, which is trying to contain the fallout from the constitutional nuclear explosions that happen every time he hits the send button on his Twitter app," Salon's Jeremy Binckes noted in July.