Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway joined me this morning to talk about the first month of the presidency of Donald Trump and the road ahead:
HH: Joined now by the wonderful Kellyanne Conway. I’ve known her for so long, I call her Kellyanne. I should be calling her Ms. Conway, because that’s what you do with White House counselors. Ms. Conway, welcome back, always a great pleasure.
KC: And always Kellyanne to you, Hugh. It’s great to be with you.
HH: Okay Last night, last thing I saw on television on Lawrence’s show, E.J. Dionne and Professor Laurence Tribe discussing the 25th Amendment and removing the President. This drives me crazy. What’s it do to you?
KC: Look, this whole protest against this president trying to legitimize him, not waiting for him to actually put forth solutions, which of course, he’s done already. I think that he’s had a good month, Hugh, where he has gone ahead and authorized the next steps on the Dakota and Keystone Pipelines. He’s actually met with manufacturing CEO’s, tech CEO’s, labor, labor union members, steps after, you know, just hours after he gave that press conference last Thursday. He walked across to the Roosevelt Room and he met with coal miners and rescinded a very draconian regulation by way of executive order to help them. I met with those coal miners ahead of time. I was talking to them casually. They’re so excited to be a part of his first few days, first few weeks in office, because they feel like it actually impacts lives. I think those who are protesting certainly have a right under the 1st Amendment to do so, but where are the solutions? Where’s the plan? That’s something that’s conspicuous by its absence.
HH: It’s just so over…
KC: It’s just always been a rage against the machine, spit into the wind. What is the point? I mean, you look at the treatment by the rank and file, but also you look at the treatment certainly by the mainstream media of President Obama versus President Trump, and we’re living in parallel universes.
HH: We are. I mean, discussing the 25th Amendment is just simply baying at the Moon. It was incredible. I have read three times this morning President Trump’s list of achievements from the White House Press, so I’m not going to go over that. People know I also criticize him when I think he needs to be criticized. I didn’t like the so-called federal judge comment. I didn’t like the use of enemies with the media. The rollout was screwed up. But I generally think he had a very good month, and the Intel announcement is the one that lasts. And I don’t see any coverage. $7 billion dollars of investment that was on the shelf originally announced in the Obama years but put on the shelf reinvigorated. And the CEO of Intel says that, and Kellyanne, it must frustrate you. Nobody covers it. He says Trump is bringing it back.
KC: We thank you for covering it. Actually, it was a huge achievement early in this administration. Very happy to team up with private sector whenever the President can do that, and Intel is a great example of it I’ve heard the President mention it in round table discussions. I certainly heard him mention it privately and publicly. But it’s things like that that are going to be how he’s judged. Presidents are judged by their accomplishments long term. What happened to the economy? What happened to our security? Do people feel safer, more prosperous over time? And as you know, Hugh, the markets love President Donald Trump. They reacted very positively. You’ve had record gains on the averages since he took office, or actually since January 1st, even before he took office. And every time he mentions that it’s imminent for us all to get meaningful, robust tax relief, the markets respond affirmatively, also. But what you just said is very important. The $7 billion dollars in investment, I have to tell you in the first week here, the first month, excuse me, here on the job, Hugh, I often have scratched my head and said X makes sense, or Y was a great idea for this president, why wasn’t it done before? And there’s never really, there’s rarely a sufficient answer. Is it politics? Is it ideology? Is it lethargy? Is it special interest blockades? But there are many things that Donald Trump has done as president that were available before he got here. He’s just the one who has the four letter word called will, and he’s just a man of action and impact.
HH: Then let me, let me ask you about this.
KC: Yes, the Intel investment is one thing, but I also just want to say that when you think about the number of people, whether it’s Carrier, whether it’s Fiat, whether it’s Intel, but just the number of lives that will be impacted, the families that actually will have employment and benefits because of this, that’s why I’m here. That’s why he’s here, is to have impact on real people’s lives. We’re trying to play long ball here.
HH: And I agree with that, and I am trying to be supportive. Let me give you some criticisms, though. Why haven’t we fired the U.S. Attorneys? They are all Obama appointees. They’re acting replacements, even if you haven’t got nominees lined up, would-be careerists. Why hasn’t he, a man of will, done that, Kellyanne Conway?
KC: Oh, the President makes those decisions in concert, I assume, with his Attorney General, who’s relatively new to the job, took way too long to get the great Jeff Sessions confirmed, frankly. And I’m sure that they’re evaluating different situations in staffing up and deciding who stays and who goes. I think it was very bold of President Trump to relieve Ms. Yates of her duties when it became very apparent that she was not going to support him on one of his early executive orders.
HH: Oh, I agree. There are lots of…
KC: And you know, that’s how it has to be, and it happened again this week with somebody else on the National Security space where critical of the President and his family, you know, the First Family in a private meeting. But obviously, people were, people also in attendance in that meeting were disturbed that the space and time would be spent criticizing the President’s family rather than really trying to…
HH: Hey, I just want him to do, there are sleeper cells of Obama appointees throughout this government who are in political jobs. They’re not civil servants, and I want them, I really want them gone yesterday. And then, this the most important thing, Kellyanne. 18 Circuit Court of Appeals vacancies, 91 district court, 16 Court of Claims, 2 U.S. Courts of International Trade. If people are nominated, they can be recessed appointed on March 21st when the Congress goes away. If the Congress is going to slow roll every one of our judges, then I’m sure Donald Trump has got a great team reviewing these – Leonard Leo, and you’ve got a great White House Counsel in McGahn, and a bunch of great people at Justice led by Jeff Sessions.
HH: If they’re nominated, they can be recess appointed. Will we get some nominations by March 21st?
KC: The goal is to move pretty quickly on all these judges, and it’s something the President ran and on won on, frankly. If Neil Gorsuch is his first major nomination, obviously, to the United States Supreme Court is any indication, then you’re going to see strict constructionist kind of people who adhere to the Constitution, not making things up as they go along, men and women of academic credentials of judicial caliber and temperament. You’re going to see them nominated in quick succession. It’s actually a very big part of the discussions here. You talked about some of the outside groups and individuals of great esteem – Leonard Leo, Heritage Foundation have been incredibly helpful in giving advice as appropriate. And then of course, here inside, the White House Counsel’s office is such a busy place, and it’s busy in large part because we see all these vacancies. We know it’s incredibly important to keep our eye on the third branch, the independent branch, so that we have men and women there who are not trying to make things up as they go along, don’t have a political axe to grind or an ideology to promote. We saw what happened in the 9th Circuit recently, and so this is something that I think was talked about, a sleeper issue, for candidate Trump. He actually put together a list at the Supreme Court level of 21 men and women, and amended that list in October or so, September or October, and then had additional names, one of which was Neil Gorsuch. The idea that Hillary Clinton put forth an ideology or litmus test but never really named in that way really helped President Trump. So you can see that trickling down to the circuit and district court levels as well. We’re going to move very quickly on that.
HH: Now, so I’m going to use this opportunity to lobby. There was a 2014 decision, NRLB V. Noel Canning that said the President can’t use the recess appointment power when the Senate’s not actually in recess. It actually has to be in recess of a sufficient length. I think if you nominate the deputy secretary of State, the deputy Secretary of Defense, the undersecretary for policy at DOD, the P at State, a solicitor general, perhaps, that might be of particular interest to you, they can all be recess appointment on March 22nd. Have you talked about that? Would you push that, because we’ve got to stand up this government, and Senate Democrats are not going to do anything to assist us in getting going.
KC: Everything’s on the table. All of that is being discussed, Hugh. And you make some excellent points. You’re right about the Democrats. I mean, to see sort of congenital, presumptive obstruction and negativity is very concerning, because it just means that the government can’t function fully, and that they’re obstructing regardless of who the individual is that’s being considered, regardless of the post that needs to be filled. And it’s very frustrating You see a record number of cabinet nominees being obstructed, and they’ve attempted to humiliate them. So far, all but one have gotten through. And it’s just, we need a government that functions. We still don’t have the Commerce Secretary approved. We don’t have Agriculture. We don’t have HUD. We don’t have any number, and some of the others are new, just in the last week or so. I’ve gone to most of their swearing in’s. But I also just want to give a shout out to General McMaster. The idea that he’s now bringing his three decades-plus of experience to the National Security Advisor role is incredibly telling as to the whole personnel as policy component of Donald Trump’s young administration. He is, you know, we know that the first duty of the president and his team is to keep America and Americans safe. This is the guy who’s got the knowledge and the foresight, the experience, the academic credentials, certainly, and just the on the job experience, if you will, of doing exactly that. He got the Silver Star for valor. You see some bipartisan praise for the selection of General McMaster.
HH: Oh, he’s a, he is, I was a big fan of John Bolton, but I must say H.R. McMaster is one of the great intellectuals of the military. I was telling the audience earlier today about continuity in change, his epic piece for Military Review two years ago.
HH: He is a genuine giant brain, and there’s terrific news there. Let me ask you about the President and the speechwriting staff. You’re in the communications business. When he says, when he talks about the Electoral College, I think what he’s trying to say is that I won the greatest presidential upset in history, bar none. And he can say that with a lot of credibility. He can’t claim exact numbers on the Electoral College like he has. That’s just wrong. How do you get him to move towards making the claim specifically that is correct, the greatest presidential upset in history, and get him away from, you know, minor factual errors that nevertheless elite media latch onto to discredit him?
KC: Oh, they latch onto it. Apparently, when President Trump talks about the Electoral College margin, it’s much more significant to everyday lives according to the mainstream media than, say, hypothetically if a president said hey, if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Those were lies that had a great deal more impact on people
HH: Good point. Good point.
KC: And look, you’re, either the president is Donald J. Trump, or it’s Hillary Rodham Clinton right now. So that speaks for itself. And you’re right about the upset, and I think that’s incredibly important here, because if you look back, even on Election Night when you and I were on NBC together, even on Election Night, well into 7-8pm, people were mocking us or laughing at us, or very politely saying hey, we love Kellyanne, she works hard, known her for a long time, but this is just a fantasy for them. And then hours later, he’s the new president. You’re right about the upset nature. And all I’ve been trying to say is gee, you know, people who got that wrong, and didn’t fully respect what Donald Trump understood, communicated to and connected with America in such a very unique way that only he could, that it would be great to just stop and take a lesson out of that. Let’s go back and, let’s go back and talk to the people in Michigan where, you know, what was it, what is it that they expect out of this president now that they elected him over Hillary Clinton? It’s a state that Mitt Romney lost by 10 points, and Donald Trump just won it. And no, Kellyanne’s not still talking about the campaign. The point I’m making is the President is right. It was a major upset and a major realignment and movement.
HH: Kellyanne, you’re breaking up on me there. I think you must have moved somewhere. I want to get one last question in. Is your husband going to be the Solicitor General?
KC: Oh, that’s a decision for the President and the Attorney General of the United States, and we respect that. I doubt it very much. George has a very distinguished career…
HH: Yes, he does.
KC: …in private practice for decades. But he also, he also would love to serve. So if there is an appropriate role for him to serve this president, and that Attorney General, I’m sure he would seriously and deeply consider it. We are here for the long haul. The Conways are here for the long haul playing long ball here to impact people’s lives, because I know this president, that Attorney General and this President are going to do exactly that.
HH: Kellyanne Conway, always a pleasure, come back often. Thank you, Kellyanne.
End of interview.