White House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours

The White House is slumping into the weekend after one of the most difficult 48-hour periods in President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE’s tumultuous term of office.

Wednesday and Thursday produced a slew of damaging headlines for an administration battling an impeachment push by Democrats and a revolt by Republicans over the president’s handling of foreign affairs.

If all that wasn’t enough, the White House also announced long-anticipated plans to hold the next Group of Seven (G-7) summit at a Trump-branded property in Miami, dismissing criticism that doing so would raise emoluments issues. 

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The crescendo came Thursday when the White House’s acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneySondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report Schiff knocks Mulvaney over failure to testify in impeachment probe Lawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms MORE, in an on-camera press conference to announce the G-7 decision, said the president had held up security aid to Ukraine partly to pressure the country to investigate a conspiracy theory undermining the conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. 

Mulvaney walked back the remarks hours later, blaming the media for the storm. But in one swoop, the chief of staff had given Democrats fodder and undermined weeks of administration talking points that there had been no quid pro quo on Ukraine.

“I didn't find it the least bit credible,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffJohnson: Whistleblower 'exposed things that didn't need to be exposed' Schiff knocks Mulvaney over failure to testify in impeachment probe Impeachment hearings likely to get worse for Republicans MORE (D-Calif.) said Friday when asked about Mulvaney’s walk-back.

Mulvaney’s remarks came as witness after witness appeared behind closed doors with Schiff and other lawmakers to talk about the administration’s actions in Ukraine, despite a White House letter to Democrats last week that pledged an end to cooperation with the probe.

Many of those testifying have served up more damaging headlines for Trump — including U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a donor to Trump whose testimony, it was thought, might be more helpful to the White House.

Even as it dealt with the impeachment circus, Trump’s advisers were trying to sell skeptical Republicans on a cease-fire deal with Turkey as a win.

This only churned up fresh criticism over the president’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, which various Republicans and outside observers have criticized as an abandonment of Kurdish allies, a ceding of U.S. power and an act that have given new energy to ISIS.

In a rare rebuke of Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms Impeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill 'Saturday Night Live' presents Trump impeachment hearings with 'pizzazz' of soap opera MORE (R-Ky.) penned an op-ed in The Washington Post on Friday afternoon labeling the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria a “grave strategic mistake.” 

“The combination of a U.S. pullback and the escalating Turkish-Kurdish hostilities is creating a strategic nightmare for our country,” McConnell wrote in the op-ed, which did not mention Trump’s name. “Even if the five-day cease-fire announced Thursday holds, events of the past week have set back the United States’ campaign against the Islamic State and other terrorists.”

There is no link between impeachment and the crisis in Syria, but it is hard not to see political connections between the two. And the Syria fight certainly does not make it easier for Republicans to defend Trump on impeachment.

Rep. Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyBipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members House Democrat: Taylor's impeachment testimony made 'very clear' there was a quid pro quo New bipartisan Senate climate caucus aims to take 'politics' out of the topic MORE (R-Fla.) called Mulvaney’s reversal “shocking” and declined to rule out that Trump’s actions amounted to an impeachable offense.

“I don’t think this is as much as Richard Nixon did, but I’m very mindful of the fact that back during Watergate everybody said, ‘Oh it’s a witch hunt to get Nixon,’” Rooney said Friday on CNN. “Turns out, it wasn’t a witch hunt. It was absolutely correct.”

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Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a frequent Trump critic, said he’d back impeaching Trump on Friday.

“Look, I fought with people on air over, ‘Is there a quid pro quo’ and ‘Does this rise to the level of impeachment.’ I now believe that it does,” Kasich said during an interview on CNN on Friday. “And I say it with great sadness. This is not something I really wanted to do.”

While Republicans in the Senate are highly unlikely to support impeaching the president, some say they may be less willing to defend him as he disregards their opinions on foreign policy. 

“I don’t think it directly makes it more likely that he’ll be removed from office. I do think it makes his political standing significantly weaker in the Senate,” said GOP strategist Alex Conant, who served as communications director for Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump Paul's demand to out whistleblower rankles GOP colleagues MORE’s (R-Fla.) 2016 campaign. 

“He wants Republican senators out there defending him on impeachment, not attacking him over the Kurds.” 

The narrative could worsen for the White House in the near future. 

Congress is still mulling sanctions legislation against Turkey that would force Trump’s hand even as he boasts about his agreement.

The House committees leading the impeachment inquiry are expected to interview several more administration officials next week, which could produce additional damaging testimony.

And former Trump officials appear comfortable speaking out against the president. Ex-Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court Former Mattis staffer: Trump 'shooting himself in the foot' on foreign policy MORE uncharacteristically mocked the president during a gala appearance on Thursday night after Trump called the retired general “overrated.”

Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerrySondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report Highly irregular: Rudy, the president, and a venture in Ukraine White House releases rough transcript of early Trump-Ukraine call minutes before impeachment hearing MORE told Trump on Thursday that he will resign in the coming months. But Perry, who has been a recurring figure in the Ukraine controversy, has been willing to defend the president thus far and would not commit to cooperating in the Democratic probe.

“It’s awesome,” Perry said of his relationship with Trump. “He never ceases to amaze me.”