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Esme Cribb

Esme Cribb is a newswriter for TPM in New York City. She can be found on Twitter @emquiry and reached by email at esme@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Esme

Avoiding the tough issues raised by Sunday night’s massacre in Las Vegas, the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, President Donald Trump on Wednesday continued his focus on the community’s first responders, praising them for their bravery and professionalism.

“On behalf of the grateful nation, we thank each and everyone of you in law enforcement,” he said after meeting with first responders in Las Vegas.

Trump praised medical professionals and members of law enforcement for responding to the “horror,” but never addressed the questions Sunday night’s massacre raised about gun control and mass violence in the United States.

Instead, he focused his remarks on heroism and hope in the wake of the killings.

“We struggle for the words to explain to our children how such evil can exist, how there can be such cruelty and suffering,” Trump said. “But we cannot be defined by the evil that threatens us or the violence that incites such terror. We are defined by our love, and courage, in the darkest moments what shines most brightly is the goodness that thrives in the hearts of our people.”

He said “words cannot describe the bravery that the whole world witnessed on Sunday night” and said “a grateful nation” thanks first responders for their actions.

“In the months ahead, we will all have to wrestle with the horror of what has unfolded this week. But we will struggle through it together,” he said. “We will endure the pain together. And we will overcome together as Americans.”

Trump’s remarks were a continuation of his remarks during a visit to the University Medical Center earlier in the day, where he called the medical response “an incredible tribute to professionalism.”

“The doctors, the nurses, all of the people at the hospital have done a job that’s indescribable,” he said during a visit to the University Medical Center in Las Vegas. “What they have done is incredible. And you never want to see it again. That I can tell you.”

The President said he and first lady Melania Trump “met patients that were absolutely terribly wounded,” whom Trump also praised for their “bravery.”

“Some were very, very badly wounded. And they were badly wounded because they refused to leave,” he said. “They wanted to help others because they saw people going down all over. And it’s an incredible thing to see.”

Trump lauded “the professionalism of the doctors and the medical staffs at this hospital and at other hospitals.”

“I have to tell you, it makes you very proud to be an American, when you see the job that they’ve done,” he said. “So I just want to congratulate everybody. It’s incredible. Incredible what you’ve done. We met quite a few people and believe me, they are very lucky to be here.”

Asked what message he had for survivors of the massacre, Trump said, “The only message I can say is that we’re with you 100 percent.”

“In fact, I invited a lot of them over to the White House,” he said. “And believe me, I’ll be there for them. The message that I have is we have a great country and we are there for you. And they’re there for us.”

“Do you think we have a gun violence problem?” a reporter called to Trump.

“We’re not going to talk about that today,” Trump replied. “We won’t talk about that.”

In a meeting with law enforcement officials shortly afterward, Trump again lauded their “professionalism” and said he was a “big fan.”

“I was a fan before this. You know that. Everyone in this room knows that. A big fan before this. And I guess if you can be more of a fan, I guess I’m even more of a fan now,” he said. “But you showed the world, and the world is watching. And you showed what professionalism is all about.”

This post has been updated.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that President Donald Trump still has confidence in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, despite reports that an exasperated Tillerson referred to Trump as a “moron” over the summer.

Asked whether Trump still has confidence in his secretary of state, Sanders told reporters on Air Force One, “As we’ve said many times before, if the President doesn’t have confidence in somebody, they will no longer be in their position.”

Second-hand declarations of Trump’s allegedly enduring confidence did not save former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price or former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Trump on Wednesday claimed that Tillerson “totally refuted” reports that the two have clashed, though Tillerson only denied that he considered resigning, not that he openly disparaged the President.

In an unscheduled appearance before reporters, Tillerson claimed an NBC News report that Vice President Mike Pence convinced him not to resign was “erroneously reported” and said he “never considered leaving” Trump’s administration.

Tillerson declined to deny that he characterized Trump as a “moron,” however.

“I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” he said.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday claimed that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “totally refuted” an NBC News report that Tillerson openly disparaged the President and threatened to resign, though Tillerson only pushed back on part of the report.

“The @NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence,” Trump tweeted after Tillerson made an unscheduled statement to reporters. “They should issue an apology to AMERICA!”

“NBC News will not issue an apology to America,” NBC News host Hallie Jackson responded on air.

In his remarks to reporters, Tillerson denied that Vice President Mike Pence had to talk him down from resigning earlier this year, but conspicuously declined to deny that he openly characterized Trump as a “moron.”

“I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” Tillerson said.

NBC News reporter Stephanie Ruhle cited a source who said Tillerson in fact used stronger language in his disparagement of the President.

“My source didn’t just say that he called him a moron,” Ruhle said. “He said an f-ing moron.”

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday did not deny that he called President Donald Trump a “moron,” amid a bombshell report that his relationship with Trump has been rocky since early in the summer.

NBC News reported early Wednesday morning that Tillerson openly disparaged Trump as a “moron” after a July meeting at the Pentagon, and threatened to resign later the same month after Trump made a political speech at a Boys Scouts rally.

In an unscheduled statement to reporters Wednesday, Tillerson did not deny that he characterized Trump in that way.

“I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” he said.

Trump nevertheless claimed in a tweet after Tillerson’s statement that the secretary of state “totally refuted” the report of friction between them.

Tillerson claimed NBC News’ report that he had to be talked down from resigning earlier this year was “erroneously reported” and said he has “never considered leaving” his position.

“My commitment to the success of our President and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as secretary of state,” Tillerson said. “To address a few specifics that have been erroneously reported this morning, the vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of state, because I have never considered leaving this post.”

According to NBC News’ report, Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis leapt into action to reassure Tillerson after he threatened to leave Trump’s administration. Pence gave him a “pep talk” and Mattis and Kelly “did beg him to stay,” according to the report. Those efforts ultimately prevailed.

Trump over the weekend did little to contradict reports of conflict, instead undermining Tillerson’s remarks to reporters that the United States has a direct line of communication with North Korea, and is using it for negotiations.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump tweeted. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

Nik Steinberg, a former speechwriter and counselor to former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, on Wednesday accused Tillerson of “running the State Department into the ground.”

“I know far too many people at the beginning or middle of their careers — with many diplomatic tours ahead of them — who have decided they can no longer bear to serve in the current administration,” Steinberg wrote for Politico. “The U.S. government is quietly losing its next generation of foreign policy leaders.”

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday complained of “so many Fake News stories today,” amid reports about his children’s management of a Manhattan property and his own relationship with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“Wow, so many Fake News stories today,” Trump tweeted in one of his characteristic early-morning complaints. “No matter what I do or say, they will not write or speak truth.”

Trump specifically singled out NBC News’ report from early Wednesday morning that Tillerson was so frustrated with Trump’s policies and his own clashes with White House staff about his own department that he threatened to resign.

According to NBC News, Tillerson openly disparaged the President as a “moron.”

Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis managed to talk Tillerson down and “beg him to stay,” according to the report.

A collaboration between ProPublica, the New Yorker and WNYC seemed like another potential target for the President’s ire. The outlets on Wednesday reported that Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., the President’s eldest children, were investigated for felony fraud in 2012 for giving false information to prospective buyers of units in the Trump SoHo, a project in lower Manhattan.

The case against them was dropped, according to the report, after Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz asked Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to do so.

Kasowitz later donated money and helped fundraise for Vance Jr.’s reelection campaign to the tune of more than $50,000, according to the report, a sum Vance now says he plans to return, more than four years later.

This post has been updated.

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House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) said a shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 dead and hundreds injured, as well as his own shooting at a congressional baseball practice in June, has only “fortified” his position regarding the Second Amendment.

“Inevitably, questions about the Second Amendment are raised by what happened in Las Vegas,” Fox News’ Martha MacCallum asked Scalise. “Have you, your experience of your own, and what you saw in Las Vegas, has it changed how you feel about any of that?”

“I think it’s fortified it,” Scalise said. “Because first of all, you’ve got to recognize that when there’s a tragedy like this, the first thing we should be thinking about is praying for the people who were injured and doing whatever we can to help them, to help law enforcement. We shouldn’t first be thinking of promoting our political agenda.”

Scalise returned to Congress last week for the first time more than three months after he was shot in the hip at a Republican congressional baseball practice in June.

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Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff on Tuesday floated the possibility of a party “purge” of Republican lawmakers who don’t support President Donald Trump.

“Just imagine the possibilities of what can happen if our entire party unifies behind him,” Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers said at a Republican National Committee event at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, Politico reported, citing an audio recording of Ayers’ remarks.

“If — and this sounds crass — we can purge the handful of people who continue to work to defeat him,” Ayers added, according to the report.

Ayers, once dubbed “the most hated campaign operative in America,” warned that Republican lawmakers are “on track to get shellacked” in the 2018 midterm elections if they fail to pass Trump’s agenda.

Asked how wealthy donors could push Trump-supporting lawmakers to “change the current leadership in both the Senate and the House,” Ayers said he was not speaking on Pence’s or Trump’s behalf and recommended a boycott.

“If I were you, I would not only stop donating, I would form a coalition of all the other major donors, and just say two things. We’re definitely not giving to you, number one. And number two, if you don’t have this done by Dec. 31, we’re going out, we’re recruiting opponents, we’re maxing out to their campaigns, and we’re funding super PACs to defeat all of you,” he said, according to the report.

Ayers added, “Because, look, if we’re going to be in the minority again we might as well have a minority who are with us as opposed to the minority who helped us become a minority.”

At the end of the meeting, an attendee asked Ayers to clarify his advice, saying, “Are we all willing, in order to get the tax bill passed, to contact all the people we donate money to — which is a long list — and tell them the money stops coming if they don’t get something done!”

“If there’s one exception to that, that’s the RNC,” Ayers said, according to Politico. “But yes.”

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Was he sending his best?

President Donald Trump on Tuesday visited Puerto Rico, nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall on the island and destroyed much of its critical infrastructure.

From attacking the mayor of San Juan to lashing out at the media to making pointed remarks about Puerto Rico’s “broken infrastructure & massive debt,” Trump has produced a series of jaw-dropping sound bites in the days and hours leading up to his trip.

On his way

On his way out of the White House on Tuesday, Trump incorrectly claimed that roads on Puerto Rico have been cleared and congratulated himself on doing what he dubiously claimed was “a great job.”

Then he called on residents of the hurricane-pummeled island — many of whom lack electricity, access to water and sewage treatment after a Category 4 storm hit nearly two weeks ago — to give the federal government a hand.

“We need their truck drivers,” Trump said. “Their drivers have to start driving trucks. We have to do that, so at a local level they have to give us more help.”

A U.S. labor union told CNN on Saturday that the island is facing not only a shortage of diesel fuel, a necessity for powering the trucks, but also a possible shortage of the vehicles themselves.

“It is unclear if there are trucks available to move the containers, fuel to operate the trucks or road access to the distribution centers,” the Teamsters union said.

After he landed

When he landed on the island, Trump informed Puerto Ricans that the federal relief effort to rebuild their shattered infrastructure is coming out of government coffers.

“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack, because we spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that’s fine,” Trump said.

He then compared Hurricane Maria to Katrina, which he called a “real catastrophe.”

“If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overbearing, nobody has seen anything like this,” Trump said.

He compared the number of fatalities after each storm, though the present death toll on Puerto Rico is not final, and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said before Trump’s arrival that he expected the count to rise.

“What is your death count as of this moment?” Trump said. “Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud.”

Then, during a tour of the devastation, he told survivors to “have a good time.”

“Great to see you,” Trump added.

During a later appearance where he handed out supplies, the President “tossed rolls of paper towels into the crowd,” according to a White House pool report.

“There’s a lot of love in this room,” he said. “Great people.”

President Donald Trump tosses paper towels into a crowd as he hands out supplies at Calvary Chapel, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump tosses paper towels into a crowd as he hands out supplies at Calvary Chapel, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump tosses paper towels into a crowd as he hands out supplies at Calvary Chapel, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. Trump is in Puerto Rico to survey hurricane damage. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump later claimed that “most of the hospitals” on Puerto Rico were open. He said “the job that’s been done” on the island “is really nothing short of a miracle.”

As of Friday, of Puerto Rico’s 69 hospitals, only one was fully operational, according to FEMA.

“Flashlights,” Trump said to the crowd, handing out the items at an aid center. “You don’t need them anymore!”

As of Monday, Reuters reported, the U.S. Energy Department said about 5.4 percent of customers had power restored.

Before he left

Before heading to Puerto Rico on Tuesday, Trump laid the groundwork for his visit by attacking San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Twitter for criticizing his administration’s characterization of relief efforts as “a good news story.”

In response, Trump on Saturday accused Cruz of “poor leadership ability” and attacked her and “others in Puerto Rico” he claimed “want everything to be done for them.”

“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” he tweeted.

On Sunday, Trump attacked “politically motivated ingrates” he claimed were not properly recognizing the U.S. relief effort.

Asked on Monday which other leaders Trump was referring to, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she had not “talked to him specifically” about who the President was attacking.

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The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) on Tuesday reprimanded United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley for violating the Hatch Act by retweeting President Donald Trump’s endorsement of a Republican candidate for Congress.

OSC said in a letter to Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, that it sent Haley “a warning letter” regarding the violation.

CREW filed a complaint in June over Haley’s retweet of Trump’s post endorsing Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), then a candidate.

OSC said Haley’s personal Twitter account “gave the impression that she was acting in her official capacity when she used this account to retweet President Trump’s message” endorsing Norman, because the account “included so much indicia of her official role as Ambassador.”

“Thus, OSC has concluded that Ambassador Haley violating the Hatch Act when she retweeted President Trump’s June 19 message about Ralph Norman,” the office said.

Because Haley deleted the post and the office “found no evidence that she engaged in any additional prohibited political activity via Twitter,” OSC said it “decided not to pursue disciplinary action and are closing the above-referenced file without further action” but has given Haley “advice on how to avoid additional violations of the Hatch Act with her Twitter account in its current form.”

Bookbinder called Haley’s violation of the Hatch Act part of “a pattern” by senior officials in Trump’s administration.

“This is already the third time this year that a senior Trump official has been reprimanded for misusing their official position following a CREW complaint,” he said. “This all stems from the president’s permissive attitude toward ethics; the tone is set at the top.”

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