Trump back on offensive after brief respite in Paris and on the links

US President Donald Trump, fresh from a political holiday in Paris, went back on the offensive Sunday as a new poll showed his popularity dropping amid doubts about Russian meddling and deepening frustrations over stalled health-care legislation and other issues.

Trump (L) and First Lady Melania Trump board Air Force One prior to departing Paris Orly Airport
Trump (L) and First Lady Melania Trump board Air Force One prior to departing Paris Orly Airport (AFP)

US President Donald Trump, fresh from a political holiday in Paris, went back on the offensive Sunday as a new poll showed his popularity dropping amid doubts about Russian meddling and deepening frustrations over stalled health-care legislation and other issues.

In a tweet early Sunday, Trump used some of his toughest language against a favored target, the press. "With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, #Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country!" it read.

At the same time, Trump sent one of his private lawyers, Jay Sekulow, onto no fewer than five Sunday talk shows to argue that there was nothing illegal about son Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting last year with a Russian attorney following a promise of damaging information on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

"What took place at the meeting ... is not a violation of any law, statute or code," Sekulow told an NBC interviewer. He also repeated an earlier assurance that Trump is not the subject of any current investigation over Russian meddling in the US election.

Poll drop

The concerted pushback came as a Washington Post-ABC News poll near the six-month point in Trump's administration showed him facing significantly declining approval ratings, down from 42 percent in April to 36 percent today.

Similarly, the president's disapproval rating has jumped five points to 58 percent, according to the survey of 1,001 adults.

Trump responded to the survey in a tweet, saying: "The ABC/Washington Post Poll, even though almost 40% is not bad at this time, was just about the most inaccurate poll around election time!"

Nearly half of respondents -- 48 percent -- said they "disapprove strongly" of the president's performance in office, a low level never reached by ex-presidents Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, both Democrats, and reached only once by George W. Bush, during his second term.

And 48 percent said they saw American global leadership weakening since Trump entered the White House, while 27 percent said it is stronger.

That would seem to show mixed results, at best, from a series of high-profile foreign visits by Trump, including a trip to Saudi Arabia and to a G-20 meeting in Germany, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump's Bastille day visit to Paris came a day after the poll ended.

Two-thirds of respondents said they do not trust Trump, or trust him only somewhat, in negotiating with foreign leaders. Of those, 48 percent said they do not trust Trump "at all" in talks with Putin.

Opinions over Russian meddling and possible collusion between Trump aides and Moscow divided sharply along partisan lines, with Democrats far more likely than Republicans to believe that Russia attempted to meddle and that Trump advisers tried to aid in those efforts.

The new survey also showed that Republicans' legislative struggles may be weighing on Trump's popularity. Twice as many people preferred the Obamacare health program as favored Republican plans to replace it, the survey found.

The US Senate will "defer" its work on repealing Obamacare for a week as senior lawmaker John McCain recovers from surgery for a blood clot, the chamber's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, said Saturday. The repeal effort is opposed by all Democrats, and the absence of a single Republican vote -- McCain's -- could doom it.

Parisian respite

US President Donald Trump salutes wellwishers with a clenched fist at the US Women's Open Golf Championship at Trump National in Bedminister, New Jersey
US President Donald Trump salutes wellwishers with a clenched fist at the US Women's Open Golf Championship at Trump National in Bedminister, New Jersey (AFP)

Trump had seemed to revel in his brief Parisian respite from all the talk of Russia and health care. He and President Emmanuel Macron reviewed a pomp-filled Bastille Day military parade and dined in a posh restaurant on the Eiffel Tower.

The US president then spent two days playing maitre d' to professional female golfers taking part in a tournament at his Bedminster course in New Jersey.

But his return brings him straight back into the intensifying storm over his campaign's contacts with Russia.

As reflected in the poll, even some erstwhile supporters seem to be troubled by the Russia contacts of Trump's son and advisers, and by the administration's shifting explanations.

Shepard Smith, an anchor on Fox, a network that has often been in lock-step with the administration, accused the administration of "mind-boggling deception."

Democrats, meantime, expressed astonishment when top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway seemed to suggest a very high bar for proof of collusion.

The standard, she said Friday, should be proof of "hard evidence of systemic, sustained, furtive collusion."