White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway joined President Trump at a raucous Indiana campaign rally Monday – but said they were there in their ‘personal capacity.’
President Donald Trump invited the high-profile pair of taxpayer-paid White House aides on stage as he campaigned for Republican Mike Braun and sought to take down Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly.
Conway, who ran Trump’s campaign and is now counselor to the president, told the crowd: ‘Let me just say in my personal capacity, because this election is very personal to me, Joe must go! Get him out!’ in reference to the Democrat.
IT’S PERSONAL: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said she wasn’t there in ‘my official capacity’
Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway looks on while Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks at a campaign rally
Sanders, who faces down the press when she gives briefings, which have become less frequent in recent months, quipped as she walked on stage before a packed hockey rink: ‘You’ll have to forgive Kellyanne and I. We’re maybe a little speechless. We’re not used to friendly crowds.’
She thanked Trump for giving the pair the ‘privilege of a lifetime’ to ‘work in your historic administration and to do incredible things and to literally change the course of our country.’
‘A lot of people know me in my official capacity, and it’s one of the greatest honors of my life, to serve in your administration, and one of the most important jobs I’ll ever have,’ Sanders told the president.
‘But the greatest job I’ll ever have, and the greatest title I’ll ever have, is that of a mom. And that’s why I work for this president, because I care about my kids’ future, and I care about the future of this country.’
President Donald Trump looks on while two senior aides, Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee speak at a campaign rally
She concluded her remarks by saying of Donnelly: ‘Joe must go’
Conway gives a thumbs up to the crowd during at the Fort Wayne rally where she spoke
She concluded her remarks with Trump’s campaign slogan: ‘And that’s why we’re going to keep making America great again,’ Sanders said.
Trump explained after each spoke: ‘So I saw the two of them up there I said let’s get ’em up there.’
They were preceded by the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who also works in the White House but does not draw a salary.
Ethics watchdogs pounced early in the administration when Conway told TV viewers to ‘buy Ivanka’s stuff,’ in reference to Ivanka Trump’s business line.
Since then, ethics groups have filed complaints about White House officials who use government Twitter accounts to back political candidates or attack a rival party.
But former Office of Government Ethics head Walter Shaub noted the distinction between what officials can and cannot do, and the expression of political views at a campaign event is allowable.
‘Lots of folks are tagging me in tweets asking if WH staff can speak at campaign rallies,’ Shaub wrote. ‘The answer is yes. What they can’t do is use their govt titles (e.g., “Assistant to the President” or “Press Secretary”),’ he said.
The Hatch Act limits official actions that government employees may take in politics, while also protecting personal political activity that government officials, like other Americans, are entitled to exercise.
There were other expressions of political views at the rally – by protesters.
‘I haven’t had one of those things happen in a long time but I had three of them tonight,’ after a third protester was hauled out of the venue.
‘Something about Indiana,’ he mused. ‘Go home to mamma,’ he told a man who got escorted out of the building.
The man could be heard yelling ‘F*** Trump’ while the crowd tried to drown him out, changing ‘USA! USA!’
When earlier protester got thrown out, Trump attacked the media for trying to shoot video of the incident, after once again complaining they wouldn’t show the crowd (at least two cameras did pan the crowd).
‘Alright, get him out of here please,’ Trump boomed into the microphone. ‘Get him out. Out! Go home to mommy. Go home to mommy! Oh look at the cameras look, the cameras are right on him.
Alright can we have more law enforcement? Take him out of here please,’ Trump said.
‘Look at the cameras everybody. They’re finally turned,’ Trump said. ‘The cameras turned like a pretzel. Did you see that? They had no angle.’
‘They’re fake news. They never turn ’em,’ he vented.
At the start of the event, Trump told the crowd: ‘Take a look outside at the thousands and thousands of people who wanted to get inside. You got lucky.’
The 13,000 seat Memorial Colisum in Fort Wayne was mostly packed, with people on the floor as well.
Trump landed in Indiana for a campaign rally and took a low-key posture on the prospect of a Democratic takeover – saying he doesn’t care if they try to force the release of his taxes and he’ll just work ‘differently’ if they win.
Trump’s even-keeled talk comes despite a feverish campaign schedule and a second trip to Indiana in just four days in an all-out effort to take down Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly.
The president spoke to reporters on the airport tarmac here alongside Donnelly’s opponent, Republican Mike Braun, ensuring he would get his picture on TV and in the papers.
Asked if he was concerned Democrats would force the release of his taxes, Trump replied: ‘No, I don’t care. They can do whatever they want and I can do whatever I want.’
US President Donald Trump delivers remarks next to Republican Senate nominee Mike Braun at the airport in Fort Wayne, Indiana on November 5, 2018
It wasn’t clear if that meant he would refuse subpoena requests or order the IRS to refuse congressional requests.
Congressional tax committees have the power under a 1920s law to gain access to tax returns.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin addressed the issue this week. ‘The first issue is they would have to win the House, which they haven’t done yet,’ he told the New York Times. ‘If they win the House and there is a request, we will work with our general counsel and the I.R.S. general counsel on any requests,’ he said, using noncommittal language.
Democrats during the 2016 demanded Trump release his tax returns. He said he would pending completion of an audit. He never did, and also declined to release his tax returns as president. Party nominees have publicly released their returns for decades.
On tax returns, Trump said: ‘They can do whatever they want and I can do whatever I want’
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin could be in the position of fielding requests for Trump’s tax returns
Asked about his main fear if Democrats take the House, amid forecasts of a blue wave, Trump said: ‘We’ll just have to work a little bit differently. It’ll all work out but I don’t think that’s going to happen.’
‘I think we’re going very well in the House. I think we’re doing very well in the Senate. There is something going on, OK?’
‘Something is happening. There’s a lot of electricity in the air. Let’s see what happens,’ Trump said.
Trump campaigned in Indiana Monday, just three days after his last visit, in a desperate effort to take down a Democratic incumbent here.
‘I won it by a lot [in 2016], Mike is going to have a big victory,’ Trump said.
Trump arrived in Fort Wayne, northeast of Indianapolis, where he brought Vice President Mike Pence and hoops coach Bobby Knight on Friday in yet another effort to defeat Sen. Joe Donnelly, who held a tiny polling lead here Monday.
Trump spoke to reporters on a Fort Wayne airport tarmac with challenger Mike Braun, a businessman who has an ad on the air featuring Trump praising him.
Trump flew to Fort Wayne just days after stumping in Indianapolis, where he brought along native son Vice President Mike Pence and pugnacious basketball coach Bobby Knight in an effort to unseat Donnelly.
Donnelly and Braun are engaged in a vicious air war on television, with Donnelly ripping Braun for high deductibles in the health plans his employees got, and Braun casting him as part of the ‘extreme left.’
Trump is stressing Senate contests like Indiana’s after sending signals that maintaining the House may be out of reach.
“We’ll see tomorrow” what happens, Trump said on the tarmac in Fort Wayne.
POTUS praised Braun as “well known and highly respected”
Asked what happens if Democrats take the House, Trump was low-key. ‘We’ll just have to work a little bit differently,’ he said.
‘I don’t think that’s going to happen,’ he predicted.
Democrats have telegraphed they will open up investigations of his administration if they take over, and even try to force the release of his tax returns, something previous presidents did voluntarily for decades.
‘I don’t care. They can do whatever they want and I can do whatever I want,’ he responded.
‘There are so many people in the House,’ Trump vented Sunday, saying he had focused his efforts on the Senate, in a move observers took as a step at managing expectations and avoiding blame.