It’s finally here! The day of Trump’s much anticipated press conference arrived today, after being postponed from its earlier date in December. And it was pretty much what you would expect from a Trump presser: lots of boasting, lots of rambling answers, lots of deflection and a special guest appearance from Jekyll & Hyde as Trump lashed out at the news outlets that dared to publish yesterday’s sordid report about Russia, while lavishly praising the news organizations that resisted publication.
The Main Event
The stated reason for the press conference was for Trump to explain how he will reshuffle his business in order to supposedly avoid or minimize the potential for conflicts to arise (even though Trump likes to remind us that he’s not subject to the conflicts of interest law that Congress is subject to, it’s important to note there are other relevant provisions of law that pertain to him. Also, it’s still possible for him to have conflicts even if he’s not subject to that particular law he mentions). The plan is being widely covered in the news today, so I’m not going to talk about it in a lot of detail here. The main thing I want to say for now is that while Trump and his team obviously are making some efforts to minimize the appearance of conflicts, their efforts are really inadequate.
The key point is that Trump is only handing over management of the company to his sons, but he’s still retaining his ownership in the company . And as long as he still owns the company, obviously he will have an interest in its good fortune. Even if he’s not managing the business, he will still know – or have a very good idea of – what assets he owns through the company. True, he will no longer be able to make decisions for the company, but he will be making decisions for the country. And almost any decision he makes for the country as President will have the potential to affect his businesses. Equally important, everyone he interacts with as President – from business leaders here at home to foreign leaders around the world – will know that’s the case. So how can the American people ever have confidence that decisions being made for our country aren’t being influenced – on either side of the ledger – by the fact of Trump’s business ownership?
A Few Other Nuggets
Just a couple of other items of interest from the press conference that I want to mention (there were a lot of topics covered with many newsworthy points on each, so I’m just picking out a few from many):
1. After an earlier question about his ties to Russia, to which Trump replied that he had no dealings, no loans, no deals there, Hallie Jackson from MSNBC asked Trump if he would release his tax returns to prove that he had no ties. Trump gave his standard reply that he wouldn’t release them because they’re under audit (which, by the way we have still never gotten any proof of – this would be very simple to prove with a letter from the IRS). He then went on to claim that the only ones who care about his tax returns are reporters.
Well, in a wonderful coincidence, Pew just happened to release a poll on this very question yesterday, and by a large margin the public wants his tax returns. Pew’s specific question was whether Trump has “a responsibility to release his tax returns.” 60% of respondents said yes, while only 33% said no. (I know that many people, particularly Trump supporters, are extremely skeptical of polls after this election, but national polls actually did quite well in 2016. The final polling average had Hillary winning by a little over 3% on a national level, and she ended up winning by just over 2%. It was really only the state polls that ended up being so off, and that may have been partly a function of the fact that there were fewer of them than usual due to major cutbacks at local papers).
2. Trump was asked if he has a plan for what he wants the Obamacare replacement to look like (he and congressional Republicans campaigned on the promise to repeal it as soon as he takes office, yet they haven’t offered a plan for replacement & indicate they might not have one ready for 2 or 3 years). Trump completely avoiding outlining any plan, just as he did throughout the entire campaign. His entire answer to that question was
you’re gonna be very proud of what we put forth having to do with health care. Obamacare is a complete and total disaster.
It’s very clear Trump has absolutely no understanding of this issue at all, yet has managed to completely B.S. his way through one of the defining issues of the last several campaign cycles.
Trump went on to say that the replacement plan for Obamacare will be passed simultaneously with the repeal, and that both of these things will happen as soon as they swear in his new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price. (I’m making this sound much more lucid than it actually was – think of me as the Trump whisperer). This again demonstrates just how incredibly clueless Trump is on the issue, because as mentioned above Republicans don’t have a plan for replacing Obamacare.
For nearly 7 years they’ve been promising a replacement plan and so far have not been able to come up with one. Now, for most of that time, they may not have been seriously pursuing one, since Obama was President and likely wouldn’t have agreed to replace his plan with theirs. But now, in the time since Trump’s election, they still don’t appear to be any closer to figuring it out. Yet Trump thinks they’re going to have the whole thing solved within days of his swearing in next week.
This issue is actually extremely complex, and there are real reasons why Republicans are having a hard time coming up with a replacement. They’ve essentially boxed themselves in through numerous contradictory claims and promises they’ve made over the last months and years. And Trump’s ignorance is only making their task more difficult. I’m hoping to write a post soon that’s dedicated only to this topic, so I can talk about it more fully.
3. Trump was very excited to show off to everyone a table that he had on the stage, next to his podium that was stacked with file folders filled with papers. These were supposedly just some of the documents prepared by his lawyers in order to reorganize the Trump Organization in the manner described during the press conference (though reporters were not permitted to view the contents of the folders). He made a point at the very end of the press conference, before leaving the stage, to stop to point out the stack and tell everyone:
So this is all — just so you understand, these papers — because I’m not sure that was explained properly. But these papers are all just a piece of the many, many companies that are being put into trust to be run by my two sons . . .”
Apparently the vast amount of paper was supposed to indicate something impressive to the audience – whether it was the enormity of Trump’s business empire, or the level of complexity it took to make the required changes, or the level of seriousness with which they did it, I’m not exactly sure. This is such a silly, shallow, surface thing to emphasize – and it’s so quintessentially Trump. Everything for him is about appearance and nothing is about substance. It’s all about the grand staging, don’t worry about what’s behind the curtain.
It’s kind of ironic, because one of the big criticisms Republicans had of Obamacare was its length. It was a running meme from members of Congress, conservative pundits, opponents on Twitter, etc to complain about the how long the law was. They still even occasionally bring it up to this day. As if the length of the law was ipso facto evidence of its hideousness, never mind the fact that legislation covering an industry that makes up more than one sixth of our economy is by definition going to be complex. This complaint – again, completely shallow & lacking in substance – became one of their favorite, most widely used digs against the law.
4. And finally, Trump said that he “will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created.” I don’t think this one even needs any comment.