Snowboarder Shaun White took home Olympic gold on Tuesday, but the celebratory mood took a turn when White was asked about sexual misconduct allegations during a press conference. NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly talks with Tara Sullivan of the Boston Globe and Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union Tribune, both who are in South Korea, about that juxtaposition.
President Trump speaks in the Oval Office Wednesday during a working session regarding the opportunity zones provided by the new tax law.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
A week after allegations of domestic abuse against a now-former top aide ensnared the White House in scandal, President Trump condemned domestic violence Wednesday.
“I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind, and everybody here knows that,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office during a photo op for an event related to the recently enacted tax law. “I’m totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that. And it almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So, now you hear it, but you all know.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted earlier this week that Trump had been very clear in condemning domestic violence in the past, after the White House came under fire for its slow and muddled response to allegations of abuse from two ex-wives against former White House staff secretary Rob Porter.
However, following Porter’s resignation and with the timeline of events that led up to it — including questions about when exactly the White House knew of the allegations of domestic violence and that such accusations had slowed down approval of his security clearance — Trump had earlier offered comments that appeared to sympathize with Porter.
Last Friday, Trump praised the work Porter had done as part of his staff, said he hoped he still had a successful career ahead of him, and pointed out to reporters that, “He says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that.”
Then on Saturday, Trump tweeted that “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”
Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018
A second aide, White House speechwriter David Sorensen, also resigned Friday amid allegations of domestic violence. Both Porter and Sorensen have denied the allegations against them.
The president’s initial comments about Porter fall in line with Trump’s past reflexes to defend many powerful men accused of sexual misconduct, such as former Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore. Trump himself has been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct, which he has denied.
There have also been mounting questions about when the White House knew about the allegations against Porter and why it didn’t act sooner to remove him. The daily press briefing on Wednesday, where Sanders was sure to face more questions about Porter and the timeline of events, was canceled after being postponed several times.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the policies and processes surrounding the granting of interim security clearances by the executive branch and, more specifically, seeking information from the White House about the granting of an interim clearance to Porter.
“I’m troubled by almost every aspect of this,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who chairs the committee, told CNN on Wednesday. “How in the hell was he still employed?”
FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before Congress on Tuesday that the FBI had wrapped up its background investigation into Porter last July, but Porter did not resign until the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, published reports about the allegations of his ex-wives, including a story that included an image of Porter’s first ex-wife with a black eye. (Porter told senior staff at the White House that the black eye had been accidental, according to a recent report by ABC News.)
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a key member of the group, walk through Statuary Hall at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Top members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus told reporters they are closely watching how House Speaker Paul Ryan navigates the immigration debate as a test of whether they can continue to support him as their leader.
“It is the defining moment for this speaker,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., “If he gets it wrong, it will have consequences for him but it will also have consequences for the rest of the Republican Party.”
Meadows said there is no conversations “right now” about challenging Ryan’s speakership, but Freedom Caucus members made clear there could be if they feel betrayed by leadership on immigration.
Conservatives are closely watching what happens in the Senate on immigration. There is simmering concern that any Senate bipartisan deal will ultimately pass on the strength of Democratic support, which will put similar pressures on the House to do the same.
“On immigration, you really just need a [House] Democrat bill with 30 Republicans to pass something,” said Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, “That’s not what we promised America we were going to do.”
If such a scenario were realized, conservatives like Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., say it might be time for a leadership shake-up. “If the fix is in on something like this it’s going to be really really problematic, and as Mark said, not just for our party and for Americans but for the people making big decisions around this place,” he said.
Ryan’s current management problem on immigration is compounded by last week’s passage of a two-year spending deal. It included $300 billion in new spending and a hike in the nation’s debt limit that many conservatives say violated the kind of fiscal promises they made when they won control of the House in 2010.
The vast majority of Republicans sided with Ryan—and President Trump—in support of the spending deal, but 67 Republicans opposed it. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, was one of them. He said the vote shook his confidence in Ryan’s long-stated commitment to the conservative cause. “Just a few years ago Speaker Ryan was viewed as the individual in our party, in our country, who was focused on fiscal responsibility, and then you saw what happened last week,” he said.
Ryan’s well-known and more moderate views on immigration are giving conservatives pause, even as he has consistently said he will not bring an immigration bill to the floor that President Trump opposes.
Conservatives are concerned that any legislation that doesn’t track with the hardline immigration stances trumpeted by Trump on the campaign trail will be demoralizing to the party’s base in this midterm election year.
“This president was elected largely on the issue of immigration that defined him differently than every other candidate, and so it is the defining moment, more so than the budget or anything else that we’ve passed,” Meadows said.
For his part, Ryan told reporters last week that he doesn’t lose any sleep about what’s at stake for his own personal fortunes in this immigration debate. “I don’t think about it at all,” he said.
It’s still unclear if the House will even take up an immigration bill.
If the Senate can’t pass any legislation this week, the speaker isn’t going to force an ugly vote on his members if there’s no chance of it becoming law. For some House conservatives, no immigration deal might be the best deal.