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

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said “most” of the Republican Senate caucus are “great people” who support his presidency, after two Republican senators publicly criticized him.

“So nice being with Republican Senators today. Multiple standing ovations!” Trump tweeted, referring to his policy lunch with Senate Republicans. “Most are great people who want big Tax Cuts and success for U.S.”

Before Trump arrived at the U.S. Capitol for lunch, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) sharply criticized the President, who he said will be remembered for “the debasement of our nation.”

Corker said Trump is “not going to rise to the occasion as president,” said he “would not” back Trump for president again, said Trump has a “lack of desire to be competent,” and accused Trump of constantly telling “untruths.”

And after lunch, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) announced he will not run for re-election in a speech that centered around the degradation of political civility in the age of Trump.

“We must stop pretending that the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal,” Flake said. “We have fooled ourselves long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it. We know better than that.”

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Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on Tuesday announced that he will not run for re-election in 2018 in a speech criticizing President Donald Trump, his Republican colleagues and the current political moment. Read a rush transcript of his full remarks below:

Mr. President, I rise today to address a matter that has been very much on my mind at a moment when it seems that our democracy is more defined by our discord and our dysfunction than by our own values and principles. Let me begin by noting a somewhat obvious point, that these offices that we hold are not ours indefinitely. We’re not here simply to mark time. Sustained incumbency is certainly not the point of seeking office, and there are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles.

Now is such a time.

It must also be said that I rise today with no small measure of regret—regret because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics, regret because of the indecency of our discourse, regret because of the coarseness of our leadership, regret for the compromise of our morale authority, and by ‘our,’ I mean all of our complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs.

It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end. In this century a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order, that phrase being ‘the new normal.’ That we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue, with the tone set at the top; we must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals; we must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country, the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve.

None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that that is just the way things are now. If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that it is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal.

They are not normal.

Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is’ when it is actually reckless, outrageous and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.

Such behavior does not project strength, because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit and weakness. It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say?

Mr. President, I rise today to say, enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal. With respect and humility, I must say that we have fooled ourselves long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it. We know better than that. By now we all know better than that. Here today, I stand to say that we would be better served, we would better serve the country, by better fulfilling our obligations under the Constitution by adhering to our Article 1 ‘old normal,’ Mr. Madison’s doctrine of separation of powers.

This genius innovation, which affirms Madison’s status as a true visionary, and for which Madison argued in Federalist 51, held that the equal branches of our government would balance and counteract with each other if necessary. Ambition counteracts ambition, he wrote. But what happens if ambition fails to counteract ambition? What happens if stability fails to assert itself in the face of chaos and instability, if decency fails to call out indecency? Were the shoe on the other foot, would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats? Of course we wouldn’t, and we would be wrong if we did.

When we remain silent and fail to act, when we know that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseam, when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of our institutions and our liberty, we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations.

Those things are far more important than politics. Now, I’m aware that more politically savvy people than I will caution against such talk. I’m aware there’s a segment of my party that believes that anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect.

If I have been critical, it is not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the President of the United States. If I have been critical, it is because I believe it is my obligation to do so, and as a matter and duty of conscience. The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters, the notion that we should say or do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior, is ahistoric, and I believe profoundly misguided.

A Republican president named Roosevelt had this to say about the President and a citizen’s relationship to the office. ‘The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal and able service to the nation as a whole.’

He continued, ‘Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that there should be a full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.’

President Roosevelt continued, ‘To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by a president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public.’

Acting on conscience and principle is the manner in which we express our moral selves and, as such, loyalty to conscience and principle should supersede loyalty to any man or party. We can all be forgiven for failing in that measure from time to time. I certainly put myself at the top of the list of those who fall short in this regard. I am holier than none. But too often we rush to not salvage principle, but to forgive and excuse our failures so that we might accommodate them and go right on failing until the accommodation itself becomes our principle.

In that way, and over time, we can justify almost any behavior and sacrifice any principle. I’m afraid that this is where we now find ourselves. When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country, and instead of addressing it, goes to look for someone to blame, there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society.

Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assigning blame is to look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops. Humility helps. Character counts. Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly or debased appetites in us. Leadership lives by the American creed, E pluribus unum: From many, one.

American leadership looks to the world, and just as Lincoln did, sees the family of man. Humanity is not a zero-sum game. When we have been at our most prosperous, we have been at our most principled, and when we do well, the rest of the world does well.

These articles of civic faith have been critical to the American identity for as long as we have been alive. They are our birthright and our obligation. We must guard them jealously and pass them on for as long as the calendar has days. To betray them or to be unserious in their defense is a betrayal of the fundamental of the fundamental obligations of American leadership, and to behave as if they don’t matter is simply not who we are.

Now the efficacy of American leadership around the globe has come into question. When the United States emerged from World War II, we contributed about half of the world’s economic activity. It would have been easy to secure our dominance, keeping those countries who had been defeated or greatly weakened during the war in their place. We didn’t do that. It would have been easy to focus inward. We resisted those impulses. Instead, we financed reconstruction of shattered countries and created international organizations and institutions that have helped provide security and foster prosperity around the world for more than 70 years.

Now it seems that we, the architects of this visionary rules-based world order that has brought so much freedom and prosperity, are the ones most eager to abandon it. The implications of this abandonment are profound, and the beneficiaries of this rather radical departure in the American approach to the world are the ideological enemies of our values. Despotism loves a vacuum, and our allies are now looking elsewhere for leadership. Why are they doing this? None of this is normal. And what do we as United States senators have to say about it?

The principles that underlie our politics, the values of our founding, are too vital to our identity and to our survival to allow them to be compromised by the requirements of politics, because politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity. I have children and grandchildren to answer to. And so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent.

I’ve decided that I would be better able to represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself of the political consideration that consumed far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles. To that end, I’m announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early Jan. 2019.

It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican Party, the party that has so long defined itself by its belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment that we have given in or given up on the core principles in favor of a more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment.

To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess that we’ve created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy. There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal by mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle. The impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people.

In the case of the Republican Party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party. We were not made great as a country by indulging in or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorifying in the things that divide us and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.

This spell will eventually break. That is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more, and I say, the sooner the better. Because we have a healthy government, we must also have healthy and functioning parties. We must respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values, comity and good faith. We must argue our positions fervently and never be afraid to compromise. We must assume the best of our fellow man and always look for the good.

Until that day comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our country depends on it, because it does. I plan to spend the remaining 14 months of my Senate term doing just that.

Mr. President, the graveyard is full of indispensable men and women. None of us here is indispensable. Nor were even the great figures of history who toiled at these very desks in this very chamber to shape the country that we have inherited. What is indispensable are the values that they consecrated in Philadelphia and in this place, values which have endured and will endure for so long as men and women wish to remain free. What is indispensable is what we do here in defense of those values.

A political career does not mean much if we are complicit in undermining these values. I thank my colleagues for indulging me here today. I will close by borrowing the words of President Lincoln, who knew more about healthy enmity and preserving our founding values than any other American who has ever lived. His words from his first inaugural were a prayer in his time, and are now no less in ours.

‘We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break the bonds of our affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched as surely as they will be by the better angels of our nature.’

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

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Cameron Joseph contributed reporting.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, on Tuesday announced that he will not run for re-election.

The senator broke the news in an interview with his hometown newspaper, and shortly thereafter took to the Senate floor to deliver a scathing critique of President Trump.

“There may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party,” Flake said in an interview with the Arizona Republic.

In his speech on the Senate floor, Flake was even more outspoken in his criticism of the political moment under Trump.

“I have children and grandchildren to answer to. And so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent,” Flake said in a speech that centered around the degradation of political civility in the age of Trump.

He criticized the “coarseness of our leadership” and the “regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals.”

“When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say? Mr. President, I rise today to say, enough,” Flake said. “We have fooled ourselves long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it. We know better than that. By now we all know better than that.”

“We must stop pretending that the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has been excused as ‘telling it like it is’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified,” Flake continued. “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”

Flake told the Arizona Republic he has “no intention” of running for President.

“Here’s the bottom line: The path that I would have to travel to get the Republican nomination is a path I’m not willing to take, and that I can’t in good conscience take,” he said in the interview. “It would require me to believe in positions I don’t hold on such issues as trade and immigration and it would require me to condone behavior that I cannot condone.”

Trump attacked Flake by name during an August rally in Arizona, and signaled that he would support a primary challenger against the senator.

Flake said he was not concerned that Trump would seize on his announcement as a victory.

“They can say whatever they want to say,” he said of Trump and former White House strategist Steve Bannon.


Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told TPM that he was “very sorry” to hear about Flake’s retirement.

“I’m very sorry it happened,” McCain told TPM. “He’s one of the most honorable men I’ve ever known.”

Appearing on CNN after his announcement on the Senate floor, Flake cited Trump’s speech in June 2015 calling Mexican immigrants “rapists,” his remarks about McCain, his attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel and the “Access Hollywood” tape where Trump bragged about kissing and groping women as examples of objectionable behavior.

Asked why Flake doesn’t run for re-election to defend the ideology he espoused in his remarks, Flake said, “It’s difficult to win a Republican primary these days if you disagree with the President on anything, or if you countenance his behavior, which I don’t think we ought to normalize.”

“I think that this fever will break,” he added. “I don’t know that it will break by next year.”

This post has been updated.

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A protester on Tuesday threw Russian flags at President Donald Trump as he walked through the U.S. Capitol and shouted, “Trump is treason!”

“Why is Congress talking about tax cuts when they should be talking about treason?” the protester, who identified himself as Ryan Clayton from activist group Americans Take Action, shouted as Trump walked to a scheduled lunch with Republican senators.

Clayton tosssed the Russian flags at the President from where he stood among the White House press corps, and shouted, “Trump is treason!”

“This President conspired with agents of the Russian government to steal an election. We should be talking about treason in Congress, not about tax cuts,” Clayton shouted as he was apprehended by uniformed officers.

Clayton and Jason Charter, a fellow member of Americans Take Action, passed out nearly 1,000 Russian flags as a prank at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February before they were removed from the premises by security.

“I asked people if they wanted a Trump flag and they took it,” Charter told TPM in February. “Many Trump supporters were proudly waving their Russian Trump flag.”

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Khizr Khan on Tuesday criticized the White House’s response to the ongoing scrutiny of President Donald Trump’s call to a U.S. soldier’s widow, and advised “dignity and restraint.”

“I have two words to say to the White House and to this President,” Khan, the father of a U.S. soldier killed in the Iraq War, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Dignity, most dignity and restraint. He is void of both.”

He said Trump’s “advisers should have written that on a piece of paper” and “put it in front of him: most dignity and restraint.”

Trump’s campaign attacked Khan and his family intermittently from July to October 2016 after Khan spoke against Trump’s candidacy at the Democratic National Convention last year.

Kelly last week brought Trump’s smear campaign against Khan back into the spotlight when he listed concepts that Kelly suggested were no longer “sacred.”

“Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer,” Kelly said from the White House podium, though it was unclear whether he was criticizing Khan for his remarks or Trump for his attacks on Khan, though his overall remarks were a defense of his boss.

Khan on Tuesday said Kelly “from the very first day” should have advised Trump on what to say to four bereaved families of U.S. soldiers killed in Niger.

“It should have been done from the get-go,” Khan said, “because he’s the closest to the President at this moment.”

He said Kelly “should have told him when he was advising him what to do, how to call.”

Khan said Kelly “knows the character” of the President he serves—a “lack of empathy, lack of decency”—and should have advised him to show “restraint.”

He also said Kelly should have exhibited restraint in his remarks from the White House briefing room.

“When he came to the press room, he should have refrained himself, making situation worse, and that was not done, unfortunately,” Khan said.

Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, one of the soldiers killed in the ambush in Niger, on Monday said Trump’s remarks made her “very angry.”

“The President said that he knew what he signed up for but it hurts anyway,” she said. “It made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it.”

“We owe tremendous respect, restraint and dignity to this wonderful lady,” Khan said of Myeshia Johnson. “My sympathies are with them.”


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President Donald Trump sent the grieving family of a U.S. Army corporal killed in Afghanistan a personal check for $25,000 dated last week, months after he promised to send it, a local ABC station reported late Monday.

WTVD reported that Chris and Jessie Baldridge, the parents of Army Cpl. Dillon Baldridge, who died in Afghanistan in June, said Monday they received a $25,000 personal check from Trump’s New York address.

According to images published by WTVD, the check was dated Oct. 18, the same day that the Washington Post reported on Trump’s promise months earlier to write Chris Baldridge a check from his “personal account.”

In a letter to Chris Baldridge, Trump claimed, “I am glad my legal counsel has been able to finally approve this contribution to you.”

A White House spokesperson told CNN last week that the delay between Trump’s promise and its fulfillment—which took several months—was because “there were other agencies involved” in the process.

“There is a substantial process that can involve multiple agencies anytime the President interacts with the public, especially when transmitting personal funds,” the spokesperson said. “The check has been sent.”

“I hope this will make things a bit easier, but nothing will ever replace your son, Dillon,” Trump wrote. “He was an American hero.”

Jessie Baldridge told WTVD that she and Chris Baldridge were “moved and grateful” for the letter and check.

“We promise to use the money to honor Dillon’s legacy,” she said.

The Washington Post report on Trump’s promise to the Baldridges came amid scrutiny of his remarks to another Gold Star family.

Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed in Niger earlier in October, on Monday said Trump “couldn’t remember” her husband’s name when he called to express his condolences.

“I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband’s name,” she said. “And that was hurting me the most because if my husband is out here fighting for our country, and he risked his life for our country, why can’t you remember his name?”

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is still putting on a good face when it comes to his relationship with President Donald Trump.

“He gets mad at me at times, he yells at me at times, but he respects me,” Christie told GQ in an interview published Monday.

Christie told GQ that he would yell back at Trump, but does so “less now that he’s President.”

The New Jersey governor, whose approval numbers hit historic lows, appeared to be angling for a job in Trump’s administration, and in March was finally named chairman of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

For that privilege, he appeared behind Trump at a press conference where some described his expression as that of someone being “held hostage,” a charge Christie denied, endured Trump’s jibes about banning him from eating Oreos, weathered a report that Trump used him as a “manservant” to fetch his McDonald’s order, and was forcibly ordered meatloaf at the White House.

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A member of President Donald Trump’s opioid commission said in an interview published Monday that the panel is not optimistic that its recommendations will lead to any action to address the nationwide crisis.

Former Democratic Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a member of Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, told the Washington Post that “the worry is that” the commission’s final report of recommendations to combat the crisis, due for release Nov. 1, “won’t be adopted.”

Kennedy said that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who is the commission’s chair, told him that the success of Trump’s presidency could depend on the President’s response to the opioid crisis.

“Christie doesn’t mince words,” Kennedy told the Washington Post. “He said, ‘If he doesn’t recognize this as the issue of our time, his presidency is over.’”

Trump in August said he would declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, and last week said he would take that “very important step” sometime “in the next week.”

Politico reported that White House officials were blindsided by his announcement. No emergency declaration has yet been forthcoming.

Trump’s administration faces a number of setbacks when it comes to taking any action to combat the nationwide opioid epidemic. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services remains leaderless after Tom Price resigned as secretary in September amid questions about his use of private aircraft.

The Drug Enforcement Administration remains leaderless after Chuck Rosenberg stepped down as acting head in September after criticizing Trump’s remarks Rosenberg said “condoned police misconduct.”

And Trump’s pick to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), withdrew his name from consideration in October after the Washington Post and CBS News reported that Marino pushed legislation making it harder for the DEA to freeze shipments of opioids from companies with suspicious sales.

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President Donald Trump on Sunday struck an ominous tone with his remarks on North Korea, saying the United States is “prepared for anything” but that it would be “nice not to do that.”

“We’re prepared for anything. We are so prepared like you wouldn’t believe,” Trump said in an interview on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo.”

“You would be shocked to see how totally prepared we are if we need to be,” he added. “Would it be nice not to do that? The answer is yes. Will that happen? Who knows.”

The White House last week said Trump will ask U.S. allies to put pressure on North Korea regarding its nuclear program when he travels to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines from Nov. 3 to Nov. 14.

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President Donald Trump on Sunday continued to deny Rep. Frederica Wilson’s (D-FL) account of his call to the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger.

“I was so nice. Look, I’ve called many people. And I would think that every one of them appreciated it. I was very surprised to see this to be honest with you,” Trump said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo.”

He claimed the call “was a very nice call.”

“And by the way, I spoke of the name of the young man, and I — it was a really — it’s a very tough call. Those are the toughest calls,” Trump said. “These are tougher than dealing with the heads of countries, believe me. These are very, very hard calls. They’re sad and sometimes, you know, the grieving is so incredible.”

Wilson last week said she was in a car with Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, when Trump called.

“She was in tears. She was in tears. And she said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name,’” Wilson told the Washington Post.

Trump denied Wilson’s account of events, though the congresswoman’s account was corroborated by Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, and continued to attack Wilson through the weekend.

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