Barack Obama and his aides expected to take on President Donald Trump at some point, but they didn’t think it would happen this quickly.
Now they’re trying to find the right balance on issues that demand a response, and how to use Obama to deliver the selective pushback. Obama and his team are monitoring what’s happening at the White House, and not ruling out the possibility that Obama will challenge Trump more forcefully in the coming months, according to people who’ve been in contact with the former president.
It depends on Trump. It also depends, the people close to the former president said Monday, on whether speaking out would just set him up to have no effect and be dismissed, and result in empowering Trump more, which is a very real worry for them.
From his vacation spot in the Caribbean, Obama has been keeping up with news from Washington and the protests around the country. Friends and former aides have been emailing and talking to him. His staff at his post-presidential office, still unpacking its boxes, told him about the reporters who kept asking, even in Trump’s first week as president, whether enough had happened already to meet his threshold to speak up.
He decided he finally had to say something about the immigration executive order that’s sparked outrage across the country. But he decided he couldn’t say it himself—not yet, at least.
The result was an extraordinary statement Monday from an Obama spokesperson that “President Obama is heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country.”
But Obama won’t weigh in on Trump’s firing deputy attorney general Sally Yates for refusing to enforce the executive order that sparked the statement, wary of getting drawn in to every battle.