Donald Trump has been tweeting about Hurricane Harvey all Saturday morning, but that wasn’t the case on Friday. As a category 4 hurricane slammed into Texas on Friday night, Trump left the state on hold about federal disaster relief funds and instead decided it was the perfect time to introduce sweeping changes to the U.S. military and to pardon a racist sheriff.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall around 9:45 p.m. local time and roared ashore Corpus Christi, Texas packing 130 m.p.h. winds. It has been 56 years since a category 4 hurricane had hit Texas.
Also on Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued grand jury subpoenas to several prominent Washington lobbying firms with ties to Michael Flynn, former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, and Paul Manafort, former chairman of the Trump presidential campaign. Next came word from the U.S. military that North Korea had fired three short-range ballistic missiles. The missiles came after Pyongyang had threatened to aim at the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam earlier this month.
All of this news would have been enough to keep the president occupied, but the White House continued to add to the news dump later in the night:
- 6:30 p.m. ET: Trump signed a presidential memorandum directing the military to ban transgender recruits and prohibiting the Department of Defense from providing medical treatment to active transgender service members. (This follows through on his announcement on Twitter from one month ago.)
- 8:00 p.m. ET: Trump pardoned former sheriff Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was notorious for racially profiling the Latinx community. Arpaio had run a jail that he described as a “concentration camp” and investigated President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. For a full run down of his racist policies, see coverage from the Phoenix News Times, which has been covering him for the last 20 years.
- 8:15 p.m. ET: National security adviser Sebastian Gorka was forced out of the White House. Although it’s not entirely clear what his role was inside the White House, the former Breitbart editor with Islamophobic views and ties to neo-Nazi extremists was best known as being a cheerleader for Trump on cable news.
The White House’s actions have been met with criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, and several questioned the timing of the president’s actions.
In perhaps one of the more succinct takes of the night, former White House Counsel under President Obama Bob Bauer speculated the timing of the news dump on The Rachel Maddow Show on Friday. “His decision to do it tonight could be just that he’s sort of indifferent to the circumstances in the southeastern United States or his thought was he’s narrow-casting this to an audience that was going to receive it, like the one in the room at the rally, but that he is not interested in having it be a larger story or people around him are not interested in having it be a larger story,” said Bauer. “So he pushed it out on a night when the people are following the course of the hurricane.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) had asked Trump to sign a disaster proclamation for Texas on Friday afternoon, but Trump did not do so until late on Friday night — as the hurricane was already approaching and only after Trump moved forward with the transgender ban and Arpaio’s pardon.