WASHINGTON – From “Little Rocket Man” to the scheduling of a historic peace summit and back again, President Donald Trump’s dizzying back-and-forth on North Korea is par for the course for a president who likes to keep his audience guessing. As Trump himself said Friday, “Everybody plays games.”
Here’s a look at Trump’s big whiplash moments during negotiating deals in his 17 months in office:
‘MEAN’ HEALTH CARE
After Trump punctuated nearly every campaign speech with vows to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care law, House Republicans in 2017 pushed through legislation that would do exactly that.
Surrounded by smiling Republicans in a Rose Garden ceremony, Trump hailed the bill’s passage and called it a “great plan.”
Just one month later though, he flipped. In a private meeting with Republican senators, he called the legislation “mean” and said the GOP needs to be “more generous.”
The House bill would have cut Medicaid for low-income people and paved the way for insurance companies to charge people with pre-existing illnesses far higher rates than healthy customers, as well as boost prices for older people based on their age.
Trump’s about-face on the bill confounded House Republicans who said they thought they were acting on the president’s wishes and were left exposed to Democratic attack ads using Trump’s own words against them.
“To call a bill that he pushed ‘mean’ leaves us scratching our heads,” Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said at the time. Brat said he wondered whether Trump was just trying to “motivate” the Senate, which ultimately fell shy of enough votes to pass it.
IT’S ‘OK’ TO FIGHT THE NRA
After the Florida high school shooting that left 17 dead, Trump declared he was willing to take on the National Rifle Association on gun legislation. Among his ideas was to limit assault rifle purchases to people older than 21 and stricter background checks.
“You guys, half of you are so afraid of the NRA,” he told a group of state governors in February. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. And you know what? If they’re not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That’s OK.”
In a televised meeting with lawmakers the next day,Trumppraised members of the gun lobby as “great patriots” but declared “that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait until I’m 21 to get a handgun, but I can get this weapon at 18.”
He then turned toward Sen. PatToomey, R-Pennsylvania, and questioned why previous gun control legislation did not include that provision. “You know why?” saidTrump, answering his own question. “Because you’re afraid of theNRA, right? Ha ha.”
His statements stunned Republicans and the NRA, considering his embrace of their agenda throughout his campaign. But Trump’s views eventually snapped back into line with the gun lobby, and earlier this month the president gave a rousing address to NRA members at their annual meeting.
“Your Second Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never, ever be under siege as long as I’m your president,” he said.
‘I’D LOVE TO SEE A SHUTDOWN’
Earlier this year, the Senate’s top leaders were working furiously to stave off another government shutdown when Trump unexpectedly raised the possibility of orchestrating one so he could get what he wanted on immigration.
“I’d love to see a shutdown if we can’t get this stuff taken care of,” he said.
By mid-March, lawmakers had what they believed was a final $1.3 trillion deal, even though the bill didn’t pay for Trump’s border wall or address the fate of young immigrants known as “Dreamers.” Lawmakers received assurances the president would still sign it, and Congress broke for recess.
With lawmakers out of town and most federal funding expiring at midnight, Trump tweeted that he was “considering” a veto because it didn’t act on his immigration plan. He then announced a news conference that further fueled speculation, until a White House official told reporters anonymously that he would still sign the bill.
“I will never sign another bill like this again,” he said.
‘EVERYBODY PLAYS GAMES’
Trump’s Jell-O negotiating tactics were on display this week after he abruptly cancelled his June 12 summit with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. After designating Singapore as the meeting spot, the White House ordered commemorative coins with the profiles of Trump and Kim to herald the “peace talks.”
But shortly after a top North Korean foreign ministry official called Vice-President Mike Pence a “political dummy,” Trump backed out. The North Korean government then released a conciliatory statement, and Trump told reporters maybe the summit will happen after all — a series of events that unfolded in less than 48 hours.
“Everybody plays games,” he quipped to reporters on Friday.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Trump’s occasional golf partner, told NBC’s “Today” show Friday that he believes the latest standoff will end sooner or later, possibly with U.S. military force.
“They think Trump is just like everybody else,” Graham said. “He’s not.”