TOWOIT #249: The Calm Before

October 6, 2017… Day 260

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The guys I work with think Rex Tillerson is a good, smart guy. Everyone’s waiting to see if Rex Tillerson leaves or gets fired.

Today a friend of mine, a straight white male upper-middle-class Republican said to me, “I’m pissed that Trump’s approval rating has bounced back up — who the fuck are these people who support him?” I wish more people could be like this friend. Personally comfortable but capable of not towing the party/tribal line.

Another friend told me she is waiting to get in with a therapist for the first time in her life. She still has to work out scheduling and insurance. She’d made up a weird excuse to not go to a friend’s funeral last weekend. After that, she’d realized that she can’t live in Trump’s America and do things like go to funerals. She was crumbling, she said. She’s a woman of color who works with at-risk young people.

My hometown went 76% for Trump. There are tons of decent-paying blue collar jobs there. It’s a prosperous, bustling little town. But the white male despair syndrome is happening there. My male schoolmates are dying, one by one by one. All this year. Not waking up. Dropping dead. Found under a dock. Overdose. We lost another one yesterday.

Las Vegas was earlier this week, this same week. It feels like last year. Yesterday I had to listen to a roomful of guys talk seriously about gun stocks. It’ll always be too soon to talk about political solutions, but I guess it’s never too early to talk about making some money. The meeting had already gone on too long at that point, and the room had already been feeling too small.

My sister wrote this today, after seeing the New Yorker cover: Black bullets silhouetted against red, with a name written in white on each bullet. They point every which way.

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I feel the same way. I don’t know if she’ll delete the post soon. Since after all, a lot of her social media friends are from our aforementioned hometown.

I am doing ok. I have been busy with classes and work. I’ve become a person who makes decaf coffee in a real coffeemaker in the evenings now, and puts heavy cream in.

I’m busy enough that I’m missing the first few waves of takes, but I still secretly listen to the White House Press Briefings in my cubicle, when Sarah Huckabee Sanders deigns to grace the podium.

Here’s what the reporters asked her today:

  • Thank you, Sarah.  The body of another U.S. soldier has just been discovered by local forces in Niger, which brings to four the total number of Green Berets that were killed on Wednesday in Niger.  So far there’s been no response to this by the President. No tweet from the President, no statement from the President.  Can we expect some sort of reprisal by the U.S. military in Niger as it relates to what happened on Wednesday?
  • Thanks, Sarah.  Can you clarify the President’s comments?  Was he referring to military action when he said “calm before the storm”?
  • But how seriously should the American public or American adversaries, for that matter, take these comments? Was it a joke? Was it serious? 
  • Sarah, when the President said that he wants his military leaders to give him military options faster, does he feel like they are intentionally slow-walking these options to him?
  • And was that just a general comment? Or did he mean a specific country?
  • Sarah, I have two questions. One on the soldier who was killed in Niger and the other on DACA. On the soldier, when was the President made aware that there was a fourth soldier that was missing in action? And when did he become aware that unfortunately that soldier had been killed and discovered by local forces?
  • When was the President made aware that that soldier’s body was found?
  • And to a question on DACA, today the President welcomed Hispanic American leaders to the White House. He did not mention his decision to end DACA during his remarks there. He did not call — renew his call for Congress to protect those who are going to be vulnerable for deportation starting in March.  Why did he not bring that up?
  • Sarah, going back to “calm before the storm,” when presidents deal with world matters like this, all options are on the table. Have you — has this White House exhausted diplomacy? Because for him to say the “calm before the storm” and listening to what you just had to say —
  • So is it North Korea — that’s the storm?
  • Sarah, let me ask you about the HHS decision today to expand the contraception waiver. The ACLU has already filed a lawsuit or at least announced its intention to, and this was their response. They said, and I quote: “The Trump administration is forcing women to pay for their boss’s religious beliefs.” They go on to say, “We’re filing this lawsuit because the federal government cannot authorize discrimination against women in the name of religion or otherwise.” Your response to that would be what?
  • So then in not responding to the ACLU, what would you say maybe to the women out there or to the families out there who now have to pay more out of their pocket to get contraception coverage that they choose and that they desire?
  • I want to follow up on that, but I have a few. Given the lawsuits that the ACLU has already filed, said it would plan to file, is the administration prepared to defend this contraceptive mandate rollback all the way to the Supreme Court if need be?
  • You don’t believe it will be a legal fight that escalates to the Supreme Court at all?
  • And then my question, Sarah, was just on the “calm before the storm” issue again. If the President wants to —
  • Well, it’s a different question, actually.
  • It’s actually a follow-up — because you said the President wants to preserve an element of surprise. So if he wants to preserve an element of surprise, why would he dangle hints about his actions in the first place?
  • He said, “You’ll find out” and brought up a “calm before the storm.”  So he —
  • If I could ask two questions. First, following up on the HHS change, does the White House have any estimate of how many people could lose access to birth control under this change?
  • Just a quick follow-up on a different topic. The President repeated earlier today that the U.S. is the highest-taxed nation in the world. That’s not true. So why does he keep making that statement? Why does he stick to that talking point?
  • Thank you, Sarah. I have two questions. First, there’s been rumors that Prime Minister Tsipras of Greece will come here on the 17th, meet with the President, and then meet with the Vice President on the 18th, and we’ve had no confirmation. Is the Prime Minister invited? And is he coming to meet the President and Vice President?
  • The other thing is that the administration has had a vacancy without a permanent Secretary of Homeland Security for two months, which is a record for that position not operating with a permanent Secretary. Are we going to have an announcement on a choice for permanent Secretary within days — next week, perhaps? And rumors are consistent he will make Elaine Duke the permanent Secretary and send her appointment up. True or false?
  • It’s the President’s opinion too, right?
  • What you just said about Secretary Duke, the testimony you gave is the President’s opinion of her as well.
  • Thanks, Sarah. Senator Cornyn said that the immigration principles that are being floated out there would be harmful to the DACA negotiations. He believes that DACA should be kept separate from any discussion about legal immigration. What is the White House response to that? I mean, are you guys committed to attaching legal immigration to the DACA debate?
  • Thanks, Sarah. Two questions. First, does the White House have any view on the CFPB rule on payday lending?
  • And just to follow up on that topic, there have been some House Republicans who believe that there’s already cause for firing Richard Cordray, going back to his handling of the Wells Fargo case. Why hasn’t the President taken action? I mean, does he approve of the job that Cordray has done so far?
  • Just one more.
  • Sarah, two quick questions for you. One, there have been some rumors about the future of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today. Can you continue to say the President remains confident in him as Secretary of State?
  • And I want to ask you, the President — words matter. The President can move markets. He can cause miscalculation when it comes to adversaries. In the context of the questions asked of you today when you’ve been asked what he meant by “calm before the storm,” you’ve put them — you’ve mentioned North Korea, you’ve mentioned Iran — there’s implication that there is some kind of military action. There is some sort of forecasting there. Can you clarify if we are interpreting things correctly?
  • Sarah, can you be more specific about the President’s position on bump stocks?  Would he be open to legislation clearly banning them?
  • Thank you, Sarah. Two questions, if I can.
  • I asked you about Senator Corker a few weeks back —
  • Just two. I asked you about Senator Corker and some of the comments he made a few weeks back. Earlier this week, he said that Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, and General Kelly are basically what’s keeping the country separated from chaos. And he said there are other people in the White House that aren’t putting forth policies in a coherent fashion. Do you have any response to Senator Corker’s statement?
  • Is General Kelly helping him lead that effort? Is General Kelly —
  • Sarah, getting back to these “calm before the storm” comments, I wanted to ask you about that in a different way. There’s a theory in Washington — and forgive me if you’ve been asked about it before — that the President subscribes to this “Madman Theory” that if he makes a lot of unsettling, off-putting comments that sort of throw people off, that he likes to keep his adversaries guessing; that that’s sort of the point of making comments like “calm before the storm” and so forth. What is your sense of that? Is there anything to that? Is there —
  • He’s trying to throw people off?
  • And just a quick follow-up on that. When people are — when they sort of catch their breath in this town, when they sort of hold their breath in this town when he says something like that — you have a smile on your face — is that somewhat satisfying that —
  • Sarah, just one more thing.  I want to pick up on what Margaret was trying to get at, I think, is can you — let me put it to you this way: Can you exclude the possibility that the President was actually just being mischievous — that he was messing with the press a little bit when he made that comment?
  • A second question on Iran. A couple days ago, Senator Tom Cotton gave a speech in which he said he believes the best outcome for the Iranian nuclear deal would have to be referred to Congress. But rather than have Congress reimpose sanctions, which he called a backward looking step, we would use this period of 120, 90 days to renegotiate several terms of the deal. Does the White House think that that sounds like a plausible — like a good way to deal with the Iran nuclear deal?
  • To follow up on that, is it the President’s wish that Congress reimpose sanctions on Iran for those bad acts you’re talking about?
  • One other question about Cuba, Sarah. Sarah, about Cuba. Our CBS News reporting today has taken this story to a new level. There are now Americans who do not work for the government who are saying that they’re subject to these health attacks. The State Department is telling us that there are a handful of Americans who have reported these symptoms. What’s going on here? How is the White House viewing this? How are we going to get to the bottom of it?
  • You called on me, Sarah.
  • Just to drill down a little bit on what you said yesterday about the press, saying that we owe it — I don’t think anybody disagrees that we should be as accurate and fact-finding as possible. But to flip it, do you and the President believe the President has a responsibility to be as truthful and honest with us as possible?  Has he done it? And for those surrogates who have used — your term is “alternative facts” — would they then not do that?
  • Have you been successful?
  • Okay, going back to the answer about leadership — the President’s leading — is General Kelly part of that leadership team with the President as he’s leading in this White House?
  • Does the President have confidence in General Kelly?
  • And today is Friday.  Could we expect a resignation today from anyone?  (Laughter.)
  • Thank you, Sarah. Since we last heard from you, the film producer, Harvey Weinstein, has become the subject of some very serious sexual harassment allegations, and there’s building pressure around Democrats who received campaign donations from him to send the money back. And I know that this particular producer was very critical of the President during the campaign and suggested that Latinos in Hollywood would be deported if he were elected. Does the President support the idea that Democrats who got donations from this person should send the money back?
  • And one more, I’m sorry. Why hasn’t the President fired John Koskinen from the IRS, given all the scandal over the — the conservative targeting scandal that he commented about so much during the campaign? Why does John Koskinen still have his job?
  • Las Vegas question. The President lavished praise on Las Vegas police for their amazing handling and their response after Sunday night’s shooting. Nevadans credit federal programs that train police to deal with terrorist attacks.
  • Nevadans credit federal money programs that train them to deal with terrorist attacks for their great response. You all have cuts in those programs, in your budget plan. Are you rethinking that?
  • Sarah, the nation lost 33,000 jobs in September, and I was just curious how the President feels about that. And is he stepping up his efforts to convince Congress to pass major tax reform because of this surprising job loss in September?
  • Sarah, a question on the Affordable Care Act. President Trump has repeatedly said that we should just let Obamacare implode. But there’s a new report in the Washington Post that says that President Trump personally directed administration officials to deny requests from the Republican governor of Iowa to fix the Obamacare market in that state. Is that true?
  • But if it is true —
  • Thanks, Sarah. I wanted to ask you a question about the Iran recertification process. Regardless of what the President decides when he makes this decision next week, would you rather not have to do this every 90 days after that?
  • A second question.
  • It’s been six weeks since the President indicated that he wanted Pakistan to move against agents of chaos within Pakistani territory or areas under Pakistani control. The Prime Minister was here at the White House this week to meet General McMaster. Have you seen any change in Pakistani behavior in those six weeks?
  • Sarah, will the President campaign for the candidate for governor in Virginia, Ed Gillespie?



2 thoughts on “TOWOIT #249: The Calm Before

  1. What we’ve been having is the calm? I doubt if I am ready for the storm.

    Every week is vile now. But some are extra double-vile.

    By the way, I make my decaf in a “french press”. That’s a real coffeemaker, I think. And heavy cream in the coffee, of course. There needs to be something to live for.

    1. Yes, it’s ironic (I hope!?!?) because of Trump’s snarky little tease the other night. And all the damn literal storms we’ve been having. I love coffee so much. I used to just drink instant coffee crystals with some sort of artificial flavored creamer. Now I do the ritual of making a pot of coffee and it’s magic to me. French press is a real coffee maker, yes, but I am hooked on the little round glass pot that sits on the hotplate and how you can slide it out by its black plastic handle and then slide it back in to its spot. I also love the gurgling, dripping sounds it makes when the coffee is brewing. I associate it with having coffee early on a winter morning at my mom’s house and feeling cozy and taken care of. I only gave myself this as a personal, daily pleasure starting a few months ago!

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