Inside the Beltway: Four presidents in the ‘awkward pew’
Journalists could not stop speculating about the subtle occurrences that transpired in just a few moments during the state funeral service for George H.W. Bush. There in the front row, and very much on-camera was a rare gathering: President Trump was on the aisle seat, with first lady Melania Trump to his left; then came former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton and former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter.
It was a historic and unprecedented line-up, and a historic event. But the coverage drifted into drama.
“No kumbaya moment at the National Cathedral as current and surviving presidents and their spouses shared the Awkward Pew during the state funeral of President George H.W. Bush,” declared Deadline Hollywood.
The BBC agreed, noting that “four presidents sat (awkwardly) on one pew.”
USA Today also parsed the awkward factor.
“President Donald Trump stared straight ahead. Former President Bill Clinton scanned the program. Former President Jimmy Carter checked his watch. The atmosphere at the rare meeting of the president with his predecessors at the funeral of George H.W. Bush on Wednesday was chilly. Trump shook hands with former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, did not engage with Bill or Hillary Clinton and promptly took his seat at the end of the row,” the news organization noted.
“Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman didn’t speak for years. Historians said no previous chief executive has spoken as publicly and as harshly about predecessors as Trump has,” USA Today later noted, quoting two historians, one of whom said Mr. Trump “entered the White House on a trail of scorched earth” and did not respect public institutions.
For his part, Mr. Trump was gracious, noting in a tweet prior to his arrival at the cathedral, “Looking forward to being with the Bush family. This is not a funeral, this is a day of celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life. He will be missed!”
The Hill detected a positive moment: “President Trump received rare praise from Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican and a longtime critic, over his tweet regarding former President George H.W. Bush’s funeral Wednesday: ‘Well said, Mr. President,’ Flake wrote in response to Trump’s tweet.”
It is hard to sort out the intricate events these days. But some work on it. In an appearance on CNN, author and retired Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters regarding the status of retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn after special counsel Robert Mueller recommended no jail time for the former officer, based on his “substantial assistance and other considerations.”
Was Mr. Peters surprised by the developments? asked moderator Anderson Cooper.
“I was not. Mueller is playing chase. Trump is sending the signal, ‘Hey, shut up and I pardon you.’ And Mueller is saying, ‘You cooperate and you might get to go home,’” he replied.
“I really have mixed feelings on this. As a former officer I’d send him to jail for life. He betrayed his country. But as someone who’s known Mike since 1985, he has served his country well. He was a superb officer in the field. He was not a good strategist, he is not a strategic-level officer. But in Afghanistan, Iraq, just terrific work. So you wind up being torn about it. On a personal level, his life is ruined. He is broke. A proud man has been humbled to the nth degree. But on the other hand this was to me, for a former officer, a military intelligence general, to have done what he did with the Russians and we don’t know all the details yet he may be pardonable, but it’s unforgivable,” Mr. Peters said.
MR. COMEY IN MANHATTAN
Time passes. Former FBI director James B. Comey will offer private testimony Friday on Capitol Hill, responding to a subpoena by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican with a transcript of his testimony to be released afterward.
“Republicans agree I’m free to talk when done and transcript released in 24 hours. This is the closest I can get to public testimony,” Mr. Comey tweeted earlier this week.
He will have a chance to talk this weekend. Mr. Comey will appear at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, a favorite forum for high-profile folk. Admission is $50; the event, hosted by NBC News political analyst Nicolle Wallace, is sold out.
“In this sure-to-be riveting talk, he shares insights into the strongholds and fault lines existing at the highest levels of justice in America, and the challenges he faced in navigating them,” the event organizers note. “He will discuss his rise from Yonkers native to prosecutor, deputy attorney general, private lawyer, law professor, and finally, FBI director, leading and driving our justice system. Hear firsthand about Comey’s views on ethical leadership, and about the values he sees as critical to justice and to our national security.”
HEARD: A DISCOURAGING WORD
In an epic study of “national character stereotypes” of America and Canada as reflected on social media, language patterns and other sources, a Canadian research team has a telling finding.
“We collected 44,405,347 tweets, of which 37,066,693 yielded usable tokens after our filters were applied,” the McMaster University team wrote in their analysis, noting that Americans favor abundant use of slang, emoji and “netspeak.”
And there was one more thing.
“American lexical choices show a clear relative preference for taboo words, including swear words, expletives, and racial slurs,” the study said, revealing that the most popular word used in American tweets was, uh, “s--t.”
And that was just the beginning of the naughty talk. In Canada, the most often used word was “great.”
POLL DU JOUR
66 percent of Americans say it’s more important for a president to inspire ordinary citizens than get his policies passed; 55 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of independents and 70 percent of Democrats agree.
34 percent say it’s more important to get policies passed than inspire people; 45 percent of Republicans, 29 percent of independents and 30 percent of Democrats agree.
59 percent say a president should be judged by his domestic policies; 66 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of independents and 62 percent of Democrats agree.
10 percent say a president should be judged by his foreign policy; 12 percent of Republicans, 10 percent of independents and 8 percent of Democrats agree.
31 percent are unsure which policy is more important; 22 percent of Republicans, 37 percent of independents and 30 percent of Democrats agree.
Source: An Economist/YouGov poll of 1,500 U.S. adults conducted Dec. 2-4.
Follow Jennifer Harper on Twitter @HarperBulletin