TOWOIT #305: “Reviewing doesn’t count as going strong”

March 12, 2018

  • (Steve Holland, Reuters) The President said Saturday night — he was talking about North Korea — he said, “If the meeting with Kim takes place.” Is there a chance that this meeting won’t take place?
  • And what preparations are being made so far toward this meeting?
  • (Jonathan Karl, ABC News) Sarah, a couple of weeks ago, the President said that he wanted to raise the age on purchasing assault weapons. He talked about supporting universal background checks, about taking guns away from those identified as a threat even without due process. What happened to all those proposals?
  • But is there a single thing in this proposal that’s from the President that is not supported by the NRA? Is there anything in here that the NRA opposes?
  • But it’s not as federal policy, right?
  • And why did he name this DeVos Commission less than 24 hours after ridiculing the idea of Blue Ribbon commissions? He says, “All they do is talk, and talk, and talk, and two hours later they write a report.” And then on this issue, a commission is okay? Why?
  • (Phil Rucker, Washington Post) Yeah, Sarah, picking up where Jon left off, with regarding the National Rifle Association: At that February 28th meeting with lawmakers, President Trump sort of made an example of Republican senators who were afraid of crossing the NRA. And he said, “Some of you [people] are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified.” But based on the plan last night, it seems like President Trump was the one petrified of the NRA because he backed away from some of the ideas that he had brought into the discussion and I’m asking why he chickened out. Why he didn’t go forward with what he has proposed earlier?
  • But President Trump — he could have put out a proposal for legislation. He could’ve advocated for universal background checks. He could have called for raising the ages in the states. Instead he’s tabled that after this commission —
  • For federal policy? Just to clarify. For federal policy?
  • (It feels like someone is missing from the transcript here–the black woman reporter sitting next to Kevin Corke in the front row–she asked about California–I need to look at the video again)
  • (Zeke Miller, AP) Sarah, I was hoping you could comment on news out of Great Britain today. Theresa May saying that the British government believes that Russia was behind the attempted murder and poisoning of a former spy with a nerve agent that has a Russian manufacturer. Is that the assessment of the United States government, number one? Does the United States government plan on designating Russia as — like it did North Korea, earlier this year, regarding the murder of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother — of Russia using chemical weapons?mAnd, three, will there be any repercussions for Russia from the United States, in coordination with its British allies?
  • So you’re not saying that Russia was behind this act?

MS. SANDERS:  Right now, we are standing with our UK ally.  I think they’re still working through even some of the details of that.  And we’re going to continue to work with the UK, and we certainly stand with them throughout this process.

  • Theresa May said it was either Russia using it themselves or that it had given its chemical weapons to a third party to murder a British citizen, the latter being highly unlikely, given the nature of this weapon. So —

MS. SANDERS:  Like I just said, Zeke, we stand with our ally.  And we certainly fully support them, and are ready if we can be of any assistance to them.

  • What was the President’s reaction yesterday to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos going on “60 Minutes” saying that she admitted she has not intentionally visited underperforming schools, then went on another network this morning and said that everything was one the table when it came to schools safety as well as guns?  Clearly, it’s not — everything is not on the table.
  • Did he see the interview last night?
  • (Kevin Corke, Fox News) Thank you, Sarah. I have a question about Congress and possibly blocking or delaying tariff implementation. How concerned is the White House about that? And a follow-up on China, if I may.
  • And then on China, if I might. I know the President sort of made a tongue-in-cheek comment about President Xi having the ability to rule for quite some time, perhaps indefinitely. Is there an administration position on something like that? Is that healthy for the relationship between our countries? (She already punted this in a previous briefing, saying it was “up to the people of China” — as if that weren’t exactly what it is NOT!) 

MS. SANDERS:  That would be a determination for China to make, not something for the United States to weigh in on.

  • But is it healthy, from the administration’s perspective, in terms of our relationship, bilaterally, to have, say, a leader in a country that’s going to be there, potentially, indefinitely.
  • (Mike Bender, Wall Street Journal) Sarah, a couple on the guns issue. On the age restrictions, the President has said a couple of times — he’s criticized his predecessors, saying they haven’t shown leadership on this issue. So I wonder, now, how you can make the political expediency argument for his school safety policy and that he’s explicitly backing only things he thinks can pass and not things that may need some additional leadership —
  • Okay, certainly, but the leader of the party — he’s the President of the United States.
  • He can push that policy forward if he so chooses — if he chose to.
  • On the commission, is Commissioner DeVos going to continue to be the face of the school safety policy and this commission after last night’s interview?

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  • (this is?) Sarah. Thanks a lot, Sarah. I have two questions. One on guns, and the other on the President’s trip to California tomorrow. On guns, the President, here in the White House, met with six students from Parkland, Florida and said, specifically, that he would go strong on the age limits.  And this proposal doesn’t have the President stepping forward and demanding action from Congress on those age limits. Why is the President backing away from that promise to those six students that he would go strong on gun age?
  • Reviewing doesn’t count as going strong.
  • (Brian Bennett, LA Times) Can you tell us some more about the President’s trip to California tomorrow? Why is he going to the wall, to see the wall prototypes first? And also, this is a state that did not vote for the President. Is the President going to make an opportunity to reach out to people who didn’t vote for him by going to this state?

This is part of what Sarah Sanders said: “While California may not have — he may not have won that state, there is certainly a lot of support for this President, not just there but across the country. And he looks forward to being there and presenting a lot of the specific policies.” So you see, he is NOT reaching out to people who didn’t vote for him–still all that matters are the people that did, and that she say toward the cameras that a lot of people support him, so that he can see that from the room where he watches the TV.

  • The President — there’s a lot of Republican lawmakers in California that think that the wall would be too expensive and could be a waste of money. Is the President concerned that he might be putting undue political pressure on Republican lawmakers by visiting the wall in California?
  • (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thanks a lot, Sarah. Since Kim Jong-un’s overture to meet with President Trump last Thursday and his proposal to denuclearize, the North Korean media has mentioned nothing. They haven’t referenced the overture; they haven’t referenced this idea that North Korea would get rid of its nuclear weapons. I heard what you said a little bit earlier about how you believe that a meeting will still take place. What makes you think that, based upon the fact that Kim Jong-un hasn’t even mentioned this to his own people, that anything of substance will come out at such a meeting?
  • Being nuclearized is a point on pride, we are told —
  • Being a nuclear country is a point of pride, we are told, for North Koreans. To just simply get rid of their own nuclear weapons, it seems, would be something that would undercut what that country and what Kim Jong-un stands for. Again, why would he get rid of his nuclear weapons?
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. First, following up on what Jon asked, we know that Kim Jong-un has been using a special envoy to Seoul to send messages. Has he sent any special messages through any special envoy to the President?
  • The other thing is that, regarding tomorrow’s election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, the President’s campaign visit notwithstanding, he is reported in several sources today to have referred to Republican Rick Saccone as “weak” and said he’s run a poor campaign. This seems a little unusual in light of what he said Saturday, in light of Mr. Saccone’s praise of him as a friend. Did he actually say that about Mr. Saccone?
  • (Steven Portnoy, CBS Radio News) To double down on your answer to Brian’s question, is it the President’s intent, tomorrow, to pick a winning design for the wall? Is that we he’s going down there?
  • A quick question, there was a report this morning that the Saudi government inflicted physical abuse on the people who were held captive for the time at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Is this something that the White House intends to bring up with the Crown Prince?
  • (Toluse Olorunippa, Bloomberg News) Thank you, Sarah. I have two questions. First, on guns: The President, during his campaign, said “nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” But it sounds like now you’re saying that, because certain things that he supports does not have support in the Congress, that he’s only going to push forward on the things that are already sort of —

MS. SANDERS:  That’s not actually what I said, but — you guys continue to misunderstand and misrepresent the comments that I’m making.

Shades of Spicerian frustration.

  • Let me ask you about the Manchin-Toomey universal background check legislation because it’s not yet clear whether or not the President actually supports having universal background checks. Obviously, in this proposal, he supports the Fix NICS bill, but can you tell us whether or not he does support the idea of background checks for online purchases and private sales?
  • (Mara Liasson, NPR News) Sarah, thank you. The President tweeted — he said, “…not much political support (to put it mildly)” for raising the age. I mean, I’ve looked at every single poll, and the support for raising the age is like 78 percent and 82 percent. Rasmussen was the lowest, with 67 percent. So what is he talking about?  There’s tremendous support for it.
  • So he has determined that there is no support in Congress for this?

TOWOIT #304: “You don’t come back from that.”

March 9, 2018

Questions they asked SHS today:  Continue reading TOWOIT #304: “You don’t come back from that.”


September 26, 2017… Day 250

This morning I had my earbuds in and was listening to a long news story about North Korea, the start of the Korean war, and what could happen to South Korea. A few times, I glanced over at my coworker, who I sort of treat as a little brother but also lean on emotionally sometimes. He came from South Korea with his mom when he was 6. His grandpa, who still lives in Seoul, grew up in North Korea until he was a teenager, when he moved south and was separated from his family.

I was interrupted from my listening and thinking when another coworker popped up at my side and said in a stage whisper, “Have you been watching Ken Burns’s Vietnam documentary on PBS?” I hadn’t been, but was meaning to. I’ll have to now. Sissi, wide-eyed, dropped an unusual amount of personal vulnerability on me in a short amount of time this morning at my desk.

Her parents and older sister left Vietnam by boat in 1975 and after spending time in a refugee camp in Guam, were sponsored by Lutherans in Washington State (where she was born). She and her parents had never talked about Vietnam or the war. Her parents had come down from the north to the south when they were young. Sissi said she was 36 years old and learning so much for the first time from the documentary. When she was growing up with white kids in Olympia, she hadn’t wanted to know anything. She didn’t want to be different. And it was the attitude of her parents too—this is a new beginning, the past is painful, don’t look back. But now Sissi thought she’d sit down with her mom and ask her questions, and she’d record the conversation if her mom would let her. Her eyes got glassy and mine did too, just listening to her and thinking about mothers and daughters.

I thought about some of my friends’ dads back home, and how we didn’t learn much about that war either. It seemed like a fresh wound. It felt like we actively weren’t talking about it, but it was still present. Later I learned that Alaska has the highest number of Vietnam vets per capita—a desire for space and peace, was the conjectured reason. In high school we did have some WWII sailors come in to our classroom to talk about the war—the grandfathers of my friends. Afterward, their grown baby boomer children were startled to hear how much their fathers would say out loud to the high school kids that they had never said before. And how much they hadn’t known about their dads and the war.

Now in a town like my hometown, a lot of white (and Native, and Filipino) people are upset about football players kneeling to protest racism and police brutality. I have been fuming for days about people wearing patriotism like a mask over their anti-black racism and not being self-aware enough to even know they are doing it. But I think their feelings about the flag and the anthem are sincere, too. I think their patriotism and their discomfort at black men protesting are so intertwined that it will take a delicate surgery to separate them. I don’t know how many of them will volunteer for a procedure like that. Maybe they will just wrap themselves up in the flag because it feels better.

I hope some of those people are watching Ken Burns’s documentary on the Vietnam War. I think it will have cross-over appeal for Republicans and Democrats, as a work of military history. I hope it brings up some conversations in white homes the way it looks like it will for my friend Sissi. I don’t know if it is too presumptuous for me to hope this, as someone who is not a combat vet, but I hope somehow through conversation and storytelling and reflection that there is some sort of catharsis that allows greater self-awareness.

A Facebook friend from home who often bridges the gap between left and right — she is from a logging family, loves guns, is often not politically correct — has been standing up for the players who kneel. She also posed this question on Facebook: What will people who are boycotting the NFL now do with all of that extra time and money? Will they work to end veteran homelessness? A few women took her up on her gambit and said why yes, maybe they would do just that. That was not a bad idea at all, they said.

When you think of all the time, money, and energy that people put into football—it could be a strange, unexpected gift to have it back for something else. Maybe people who really do stay away will feel empty without the tribalism and camaraderie and suspense of the game. And maybe they will find something else and maybe that something will be healing.


August 9, 2017… Day 202

Rex Tillerson issued calming statements today about North Korea.

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The following is from interviews with European officials BEFORE the latest nuclear kerfuffle:

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Well, well, well. Predawn raid.

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Lindy West described to the New York Times audience, the smoky days we’re enduring in Seattle. It’s been 8 days. We have at least 3-4 more to go before it might get better. Outside of being at the office, staring out at the smoky vistas, I have been all cooped up in my apartment without air conditioning, going crazy. But every time I venture a different approach, I feel like I smoked a pack of cigarettes and my eyes burn. So I go back to sheltering in place.

Speaking of which, I did this Google search today, just in case:

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I haven’t figured out a good place to go yet, but I did learn this:

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But seriously, I learned that MOST of us can avoid dying with a little planning and public awareness! But I also learned that there’s no planning OR public awareness.

And as my wise older brother says, we’re worrying about people in this order: South Koreans, Japanese, Guam/Hawaii/other Pacific Islanders, and then finally us in SFO/LAX/SEA. We’re worried about the North Korean people too, but that’s a constant. I work closely with a young man whose extended family is in Seoul, so I keep perspective.

So it’s smoky, hot and deathy here. Trump is still president. And yet, I am in love.

Also, I’m not a foodie but sometimes nice things come back to back in my FB timeline.


Parting thought:

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April 4, 2017… Day 75

I don’t know if talking slow is a requirement for filibusters, but it’s 9:26 pm in Washington D.C. and Jeff Merkely is talking so slow. I guess it adds to the funereal atmosphere we’re enjoying in the United States Senate these days. I can’t listen to this.

Radio alarm: Finally, I hear a story about sanctuary cities that centers on the fact that it in most cases it is actually not even legal for local law enforcement to comply with “detainer requests” from federal immigration authorities. A couple stories later, there was a guest noting how warmly Donald Trump treated the military dictator of Egypt (Trump really didn’t have to say he was doing a “fantastic job”), as compared to his chillier treatment of, say, the chancellor of Germany.

By my count, there hasn’t been a State Department press briefing since March 23, but Rex Tillerson released this statement on North Korea firing a ballistic missile into the sea of Japan:

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Rex Tillerson did not have any comment on Assad gassing Syrian civilians, including children. Trump had this to say:

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Not a lot of words there in total, but he found room to blame Obama and call him weak. As was roundly pointed out on Twitter, Trump spent 2013 tweeting Obama that he should under no circumstances intervene in Syria.

Mark Cuban tweeted side-by-side photos of children suffering from the gas attack and the complainy, rambling, petty tweets Trump was making around the same time. I was going to post that tweet here but it was too sad to look at the kids.

There was no White House Press Briefing today, and Sean Spicer was missed. So I went to and entered in the number of views on the White House Press Briefing videos going back to last May.


As you can see, there’s a big bump up in viewership after the inauguration. Sean Spicer really came in with a bang when he yelled at everyone about crowd size.

There was this one Josh Earnest briefing, on October 4, that had a Sean Spicer level of viewership. I put it on to see whether there was something special about it. There didn’t seem to be. But this was the first non-Spicer White House Press Briefing I’d seen (if you don’t count Allison Janney in The West Wing).

Some observations:

  • The room feels empty, with about 1/3 as many journalists there
  • It goes 2-3 times longer than a Sean Spicer briefing
  • Josh Earnest is SO calm, and speaks in nice sentences that makes sense.
  • The questions are still pretty tough and sometimes a little insulting to the Obama administration
  • April Ryan was there and she looked good
  • There didn’t seem to be anything particular about this press conference to attract so many viewers, but there were a lot of moments of foreshadowing like this one:

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Protesters in Fresno, California greeted Devin Nunes with the Russian national anthem blasting out of loudspeakers.

The woman I went to school with, Trinh Huynh, made the news yesterday after she was shot three times in the back in a crosswalk in Atlanta in broad daylight. She died at the hospital shortly afterward. News outlets looked at her Facebook and shared details from this post she made on January 28 about being a refugee.

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Everything is political. She loved to dance. They still don’t know why the shooter targeted her, but he’s been found and arrested. I will keep saying her name.