Senator Sheldon Whitehouse sat down with reporters Tuesday morning to discuss some big issues, such as the competency of President Donald Trump, the potential for a disastrous war with North Korea and the removal of a sitting president by his cabinet. Along the way the Senator touched on some less apocalyptic topics, such as criminal sentencing reform and dark money in politics
“In my lifetime, even back to Nixon, I have never seen a White House so riven with conflicts and leaks,” said the Senator. As to President Donald Trump’s competency, Whitehouse responded, “I think everybody [has concerns about that.] I’d be hard pressed to find a Senator who doesn’t. [Tennessee Senator] Bob Corker said himself that virtually the entire Republican Caucus feels the way he does. I’ve had everything from private conversations to editorial eye rolls from Republican colleagues… It’s been a serious concern on their side.”
On health care, Whitehouse seemed mildly optimistic about the prospect of working with Republicans on some health care issues. There is the possibility of market stability legislation advancing, to protect the funding for the cost sharing program and to work on some more flexibility in the applications states can make to CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) for waivers, says Whitehouse.
“The war on coal never existed,” said the Senator in response to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Director Scott Pruitt’s recent claim that the war on coal is over. “It’s a figment of the right-wing imagination.”
Whitehouse says that the economics of coal run against the return of that particular fossil fuel in the era of natural gas and renewables.
“In the case of the EPA there’s a more persistent desire to damage the institution by driving qualified people out, by trying to bring in scientists who aren’t real scientists but industry hacks, and are trying to fill the upper positions with people who are pure goons for the fossil fuel industry or the chemical industry,” says Whitehouse.
Whitehouse has full confidence in the acting United States Attorney for Rhode Island. So far Trump has failed to nominate anyone to the position. “To be really blunt,” said Whitehouse, “There’s not a flood of qualified people who want to come in and be this president’s nominee.”
The Senator was asked to explain a recent tweet.
“The Constitution provides mechanisms for dealing with the disability of a President. One of those specifically creates the prospect for an involuntary interruption of the President’s authorities,” said the Senator, choosing his words carefully. If the traditional cabinet officers and the Vice President agree that the President has become “unfit or incapable of discharging the duties of presidency then they can report that fact to Congress which then has to act.”
What, all of you quit and leave us with HIM? Guys, please read U.S. Constitution 25th Amendment, Section 4. https://t.co/ruqkzTucZF
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) October 7, 2017
Whitehouse explains his dinner with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, which was primarily about the prospects for sentencing reform.
“It is not at this point a good situation,” said Whitehouse in regards to a question about North Korea. “North Korea has nuclear weapon, is very dangerous, is expanding on a regular basis it’s missile capacity and is led by a very dangerous leader. That’s a bad combination. It would be nice to believe that there’s a sensible, tough, consistent policy that’s being pursued by the United States government…
“Looking at all this ruckus and all this quarreling, particularly between the Secretary of State [and the President], it’s hard to have any confidence that that is the case.”
When playing for such high stakes, especially when nuclear weapons are involved, you want people “who are taking their responsibilities seriously,” said Whitehouse.
“There is sincere concern that this could spiral into something that turns out very poorly.”
The Senator has not followed Ken Block‘s comments calling into question the integrity of our electoral system in Rhode Island, but says he has complete confidence in our system here.
Whitehouse is bringing California Senator Kamala Harris to Rhode Island for a fundraiser. There is talk of Harris running for president , which Whitehouse was not in a position to confirm or deny.
Whitehouse talked about his committee investigation into Russian influence on United States’ elections. Even if there were no evidence of collusion between Trump administration officials and Russian operatives, the full extent of Russian efforts to disrupt our election need to be sorted out.
Whitehouse doesn’t feel that Trump’s ability to rally his base against sitting politicians holds much fear for Democrats. It may even help them. But Republican Party members are having trouble dealing with Trump in the normal course of business.
Whitehouse feels bad for Arizona Senator John McCain, whose “brutal” cancer diagnosis has been “snarled up” in the recent “intra-party feuding.”
The situation “is not great, but John [McCain] has responded to it in the right way,” said Whitehouse. He’s finding his principles and living by those principles, despite the political storm. “The more that happens, the better things will be in the Senate.”