Assistant to the President Kellyanne Conway joined me this morning:
HH: So pleased to welcome back to the program Kellyanne Conway, assistant to the president. Good morning, Kellyanne.
KC: Good morning, Hugh.
HH: The last time you were with me about a year ago, you confidently predicted that the President would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
KC: In the first year.
HH: And everybody, yeah, they laughed, they scoffed, they said Kellyanne doesn’t know what she’s doing, and sure enough, the President recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. So my hat is off to you as a predictor of presidential behavior.
KC: Well, thank you, and presidential elections at that. But I don’t pay much mind to the laughter and the hate. We’re here to make an impact on people’s lives, and I’m one tiny molecule trying to do that. And I think you see a day like yesterday where the President held forth in hosting a discussion that had his voice only sparingly in the conversation. And it was just, I think, it was a wonderful opportunity for everybody across this country to witness the raw emotion, but also the resilience and the resolve of people who have been affected recently, and unfortunately, Hugh, many, many years ago by school shootings.
HH: You know, a unique event. I asked both Michael Shear and Chuck Todd this morning if there had been its like, and they both agree there had not, so a very unique moment in the Oval yesterday. Let me ask you a couple of fact questions before we go to some opioid conversation. Is the President going to attend the March 2nd funeral of Billy Graham?
KC: I am not aware of that on his schedule right now. And I don’t want to get ahead of that. You saw yesterday the President came out early and very strongly when he got notification of Reverend Graham’s death that he and the First Lady got to, were privileged to get to know the Reverend and to benefit from his counsel and his prayerfulness. And I think you look at some of these statistics where Billy Graham through satellite and through in person rallies touched over 200 million people worldwide, it’s estimated. I was looking at one of those statistics. I mean, unbelievable reach and breadth, and somebody who didn’t cash in. Many times along the way, he could have. For lots of different reasons, he felt like his calling was to preach and to help people understand the value of grace and mercy and humility. And I think many people, many presidents, frankly, right, left and center have all benefited from their relationship with Reverend Graham and his relationship with Christ.
HH: I do see that the President and all former living presidents have been invited. I hope he goes. I think it would be good for the country. Second question, are you recommending to the President that he sit down with Robert Mueller and his team, you, Kellyanne Conway, do you think he ought to do it?
KC: Well, I am not the President’s personal attorney, counselor is not counsel, and I gave up the practice of law cheerfully many decades ago, Hugh. I’m a happy person.
HH: Well, I haven’t.
KC: I’m married to an attorney. I think one attorney per household is good. So anyway, no, I, so that’s not for me to decide. That’s for his attorneys to decide. It doesn’t seem like a great idea, because obviously, if he is, obviously, if he is compelled to testify somehow, I know the President is acting in a spirit of cooperation that everybody has. This White House has made very clear, his personal attorneys, Mr. Cobb and Mr. Dowd have made clear that the President and the White House and everybody who’s been asked to cooperate in some way have done that. And we’ll just let the process play out. But the President made very clear publicly how he feels about the entire, entire, what he calls a hoax. And the hoax part is that somehow interference in the election changed the election results. And let’s not pretend, because I see a lot of folks on TV never under oath who are pretending that they didn’t promise systemic collusion and conspiracy and cooperation, and the effect on the election results, and let’s try to swing the electors, and let’s sue and let’s see, let’s nullify the democratically elected president’s election. That was all promised. That’s nonsense, and that has not happened. And that was, that was the big get a year ago. And folks spilled a lot of ink and a lot of airtime, frankly, a lot of screaming graphics promising that or something close to that, and here we are. But you see where Mr. Mueller is going. We all see it, because it’s done publicly. You see where he’s going in this investigation. And we’ll just leave it at that.
HH: Do you think we are close to the end of the investigation and the exoneration of the campaign from the charge of collusion?
KC: There would be no way for me to know what Mr. Mueller’s timeline is and what he and his team plan to do next. I would have no special knowledge of that. It’s very clear, though, that again, what was said a year ago and frankly what was said by the losing candidate in many times as to why, whose name I don’t mention publicly anymore, that this is why I lost, and that’s why I lost, and this is why I lost, and this is what happened. So much of that is also people just politely nodding their head to not bother to say you were just a terrible candidate who ignored major states that the Democrats had carried for decades, and that Donald Trump and Mike Pence carried because they had a better message and were better candidates, and didn’t ignore entire swathes of voters and entire geographic areas. But I have no way of knowing what the timeline is. I know many of these investigations do take a long time. But, and again, we, I think the Mueller team has kept everybody apprised, by and large, about the goings on there, because obviously he has said nothing publicly, but we seem to know who is coming and who is coming out. Not all of that may be true, but we seem to get updates on that as a public. I will tell you as a campaign manager for the winning part of the campaign, the idea that I would ever have to go to Moscow and not just to Michigan or Mecklenburg County or Miami to win that election for Donald Trump and Mike Pence, who were the superior candidates with a better campaign, even though we had a fraction of the money and a fraction of the personnel, we made the election about her, and that’s how it was won. And anybody who tries to say otherwise is really deluding themselves some 16 months later.
HH: Have you been interviewed, Kellyanne Conway, by the Special Counsel or any member of his team?
KC: I have not.
HH: Do you anticipate being so?
KC: That is up to them. I certainly, we are all cooperating however we’re being asked to. And I don’t have a further comment on that.
HH: All right, so let’s go back to, I want to talk about opioids now, but you said one thing that stuck, and I always listen to the interview. I’m no longer using the candidate’s name. That would be Mrs. Clinton. Why not?
KC: Oh, because we’re always accused of talking about her and not being able to let go of 2016. Hugh, that’s just not true.
HH: Oh, that is not true.
KC: We’re here governing.
HH: I know.
KC: It is not true, and I’ll tell you why. Nobody, she won’t let it go. Everybody gives her plenty of airtime. Fine, she’s a public figure. But more importantly, anybody who talks about collusion and the 2016 campaign, they’re talking about the 2016 campaign. We’re very much into 2018 now. I come to work every day. I work on policy in the White House, and we, with many wonderful colleagues, and a President and a Vice President who are very committed to continuing on this path towards greater prosperity and greater security for all Americans. The list of accomplishments in the first 13 months here are staggering. Even if they’re under-covered, they’re staggering. And they have made people more prosperous and more secure, and we’re just getting started. So the idea that we’re the ones in the rear view mirror is simply not true. But anyone who asks me a question, publicly or privately, particularly in the media about the, about the investigation or about 2016 election is implicitly asking about Hillary Clinton and the election. I’d be happy to never mention it again. I think, look, success is the best revenge. I think winning completes many sentences. And we’ll leave it at that. Again, any time spent talking about that, any time spent talking about Russia is not talking about America. And you’re right. I work on, I help. I’m part of the support team who works on the big issues here, supporting the efforts on tax cuts or health care reform or infrastructure. But I also have certain things in my portfolio that I am charged with leading or helping to lead, like the opioid and drug demand crisis. Time Magazine has now for the first time ever released an entire edition, an entire magazine devoted to just pictures, an devoted to one issue in pictures. It sounds like it’s the first of its kind. I just read that, and it’s all about the opioid crisis. And it really are, the faces of the opioid crisis, you know, Hugh, there’s so much we can say about it, and there’s so much we can and are doing about it. The new budget caps had $6 billion dollars committed just for opioids, and that’s a huge bump up from any previous administration. This is a president who is focusing on treatment and recovery, who is focused on prevention and education, and he’s focused on law enforcement and interdiction. At the Department of Justice, DHS, they’ve done a great job interdicting, shutting down parts of the dark web where people are buying illicit drugs, including fentanyl, which is responsible for 20,000 American deaths last year alone. It’s being synthetically manufactured, as far as we can tell, in China. And this is what’s being mixed with drugs, legal and illegal drugs. And it’s basically, you know, killing people instantly, a lot of our youth and not just our youth.
HH: Now Kellyanne, we’ve been covering opioids. I had talked to the Attorney General about it last week, and that’s what I wanted to talk to you, 64,000 Americans died of overdose last year, two-thirds of them, I believe, to heroin and fentanyl or some combination, or heroin, or fentanyl-laced Xanax and things like that. When DACA failed, when the Democrats would not adopt DACA, that meant they did not move to secure the border.
KC: That’s right.
HH: Did the implications for not combating the importation across the border of fentanyl, a lot of it comes in from the mail, I know that, there are measures that have to be taken there, but a lot of it is trucked in from Mexico, a lot of it. Did the people who voted against the DACA compromise know they were voting against battling the opioid epidemic?
KC: I’m not sure how they can’t know that, because they also have been saying where’s the money, where’s the money, we need to do more. They’ve been in the Senate, in the Congress, a heck of a lot longer than Donald Trump’s been here in the White House, and he has already taken action. He’s made this, he declared a public health emergency. His acting HHS secretary at the time did, and he’s made this one of the top priorities of his administration. He and the First Lady back on October 26th, Hugh, gave a joint public policy address. She wasn’t there introducing her husband. Go back and play the clip. She spoke at length, and with great passion and resolve, about the issue. And I’ve traveled with the First Lady. I’ve traveled with the President. They’ve traveled across this country. But the First Lady, and particularly two weeks ago, she was at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Before that, we went to West Virginia where she witnessed firsthand a tremendous facility called Lily’s Place. And Lily’s Place is a facility where infants born addicted, they are suffering from what’s called neonatal abstinence syndrome. They need to be weaned off of the drugs. They can go there. Their parents can be with them. And basically, they’re given that kind of care. We want to, we want to make sure that any kind of Lily’s Place that wants to be in other states, that that happens. But sometimes, that happens with a rule change, or it happens with a piece of legislation. The President, the very next day after his speech on October 26th, HHS put out clarifications on HIPPA, reminding everybody there’s a crisis exception, because Hugh, we’ve heard from way too many mothers and fathers who got that awful call or that knock on the door and were told we’re so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Jones that your son had OD’d five times, he had been resuscitated, but the sixth time, he was too far gone. And literally, these parents will way who, what, where, when, how? They had no idea that their son or daughter had this problem. There’s such a stigma and a silence attached to this issue, and that’s part of what we need to do is make people feel free to come forward and say if they need help or to spot those problems in other people. But the crisis exception means that just because your son is 19 or 20, of course he’s an adult, but there’s a crisis exception that perhaps you can notify a parent if in fact there is a crisis. And one would think that five overdoses would qualify as a crisis so that that sixth time, the fatal time, may not occur. So he’s doing so much, this administration has been terrific. I run what’s called an opioids cabinet here, and we’re really just trying to be a convening group for those cabinet departments and agencies that have frontline responsibility in all three of those areas, again, the treatment and recovery, the prevention education, the interdiction and law enforcement.
HH: Last question…
KC: We’re about to have some big, big sessions here at the White House, too, which will be public events.
HH: In that cabinet setting, have you asked your FCC Commissioner Pai, the chairman, or your FTC Commissioner/chairman to what extent does the web bear responsibility, because the dark web exists, but so does the above ground web. And they lad people to the dark web, and there is, I think, culpability here on the opioid crisis if they are not shutting down all of the allures and all of the invitations to go further and deeper into the dark web. Have you talked with Pai and the FTC about this?
KC: This President is examining all types of causes and consequences and solutions, that included, Hugh. The other thing I will tell you is a couple of months ago, we were very heartened and excited, optimistic about the major tech companies sending their representatives here to the White House. We had a listening session, and we had a conversation in the Roosevelt Room. And the major tech companies were all represented, and they’ve all agreed to help, whether it’s distribute content and messaging, or in the case of some of them, tell us, inform us what people are typing into the search bars now, what people are, what kinds of organic pages are being constructed, say, on Facebook, or what people are typing into the Google bar, what Amazon or Microsoft or Apple or Snapchat, YouTube, what everybody is doing, Twitter, was here on these issues. And so we, nobody has said no so far. I’m very heartened by that. And very recently, just last month, the President hosted a bicameral, bipartisan group of legislators. They flanked him as he signed into law something called the Interdict Act. It’s $9 million dollars or so for fentanyl handling and analysis, but it passed the House 412-3. It passed the Senate unanimously or close to that, Hugh. And just use that as an example of how this is a non-partisan issue starving for bipartisan solutions. But like anything else, school shooting, opioid crisis, it takes leadership. It takes somebody willing in the leadership position like this president to exercise the will and say this is happening on my watch now. I’ve inherited many of these problems, but these are scourges in society of many, many years, if not decades, but I’m resolved to do something. And I really hope people hear that, because bipartisan is not an objective. It is not an end, but it is a useful means, and this is one of those issues that we work on where…
KC: We’re so happy that professional sports leagues were here willing to help, the tech companies, folks who maybe have different political viewpoints who are all really banding together to find out how they can help, and that’s very, very important. It’s frankly why I’m here, because you feel like you’re one small piece of this, and you can move big issues like this forward.
HH: I hope you do, Kellyanne Conway. Thank you for just joining me and talking about the opioid crisis and all the other things.
KC: Absolutely, Hugh.
HH: Have a great day.
KC: Take care. You, too. Thanks.
End of interview.