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Trump’s war with the media is reaching new heights as the Republican healthcare bill stalls

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President Donald Trump has escalated his war on the mainstream media in recent days with raging tweetstorms and public remarks that veer off-message.

Over the past week, the White House has engaged in a series of provocations of media outlets that have shocked reporters and observers who have become accustomed to Trump’s often factually inaccurate jabs at the media at campaign rallies and on social media.

Trump’s escalation came to a head on Thursday when he unleashed a series of venomous tweets criticizing “Morning Joe” hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough and remarking (possibly falsely) on Brzezinski’s appearance.

The backlash was almost immediate, as many decried the remark as sexist and others questioned its veracity outright.

The tweets came after several days during which the Trump White House has further provoked the media.

Politico reported that the White House hoped to seize on what staffers saw as a victory when CNN retracted a story over the weekend about a Trump transition official’s interactions with a Russian oligarch. The bungled story led to the resignations of three high-level, respected staffers at the news network.

The president and several top staffers tweeted about the incident, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly mocked CNN reporter Jim Acosta for protesting the communications shop’s decision to cut back the number of televised press briefings.

And on Tuesday, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders asked Americans to watch a video showing John Bonifield, a CNN health editor who is not involved in Russia-related coverage, questioning the network’s decision to focus on the investigations of the Trump administration’s Russia connections.

“There’s a video out there circulating right now, whether it’s accurate or not, I don’t know, but I would encourage everybody in this room, and frankly, everybody across the country to take a look at it,” she said, after referring to CNN as “that outlet.”

She continued: “If it is accurate, I think it’s a disgrace to all of media, to all of journalism. I think we have gone to a place where if the media can’t be trusted to report the news, then that’s a dangerous place for America, and if that’s the place where certain outlets are going, particularly for the purpose of spiking ratings, and if that’s coming from the top, that’s even more scary, and that’s even more disgraceful.”

The president also appears to be seething over aggressive media coverage in private. At a closed-door fundraiser with donors and lawmakers on Wednesday at his Washington, DC hotel, Trump reportedly seemed fixated on the media, singling out CNN commentator Van Jones.

Trump spoke for about 30 minutes at the event, according to people present who spoke to Politico, and “continued to bash a favorite target — the media, and, in particular, CNN.” Trump reportedly “presented himself as a victim of its reporting, which he described as deeply unfair.”

Trump’s frequent attacks on the media come as the Senate struggles to win support for its healthcare bill. One of Trump’s key campaign promises was repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and that effort now seems to have stalled.

The White House also deemed this week “Energy Week,” but Trump’s attacks have distracted from that message as well.

Many Republicans have publicly criticized Trump for focusing on the media, saying his actions are stifling attempts to gin up support for the Republican healthcare bill.

“Obviously, the more we can focus and have a debate with the White House and the Senate and the American people and the House about how we’re going to fix the failing Obamacare system, how we are going to go forward united, I think that is more helpful to the dialogue,” Rep. Tom Reed told CNN on Thursday.

Trump has strayed off GOP talking points in other public appearances as well, including during a major rally last week. During his remarks in Iowa that were carried on national television, Trump asked Senate Republicans to “add some money” to the healthcare bill, leading some senators to suggest that the president lacks a grasp of the legislation that aims to cut costs.

And while some Republicans have expressed frustration with Trump’s inability to stay on-message, others have suggested Trump should largely stay on the sidelines in the healthcare fight if he contradicts or can’t effectively propagate the party’s message.

“You know, he’s very personable and people like talking to him and he’s very embracing of that, so there will be certain people he’d like to talk to,” Sen. Bob Corker said, according to the AP. “But I’d let [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch [McConnell] handle it.”

-Maxwell Tani

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