Today on the podcast, The Daily Signal’s executive editor, Rob Bluey, interviews Brian Morgenstern, the White House’s deputy communications director. They discuss President Donald Trump’s health; the COVID-19 pandemic; liberals’ threat to pack the Supreme Court; and next week’s Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the president’s third nominee to the high court. A lightly edited transcript is below.
Rob Bluey: We are all worried about the president’s health, particularly after we heard the news of his positive test results, but he seems to be making a strong recovery. Can you tell us how the president is doing?
Brian Morgenstern: Yes, and thank you for the question. The president is doing great. And in fact, that’s the word he used himself, feeling great.
And it’s really thanks to Operation Warp Speed and getting treatments and a vaccine to market in record time that he’s now living proof of. And a number of the treatments that are either being used through compassionate use authorization or through emergency use authorizations because this is a novel virus. We didn’t know about it until this year, but they’ve gotten treatments available to many patients around the country. That includes now Regeneron, which the president took. It’s an antibody. It includes dexamethasone, a steroid, and remdesivir, an antiviral.
And all of these things have helped him recover so quickly that he’s really back on his feet. He’s feeling well. It’s just a matter of getting those negative tests on the scoreboard, and then he’ll be back and speaking to the American people directly. He can’t wait to do that. He has been working throughout, because he’s not too sick to work. He’s a strong guy. He’s resilient. And so he’s continued to work, but he can’t wait to get out and interact with the American people.
Bluey: Thanks, Brian. That’s great to hear. We are so delighted that he is feeling better. Throughout his battle with coronavirus, as you said, he’s made clear he wouldn’t stop working, perhaps to the consternation of some of his critics. I sense from his tweet about negotiating with the Democrats that he realizes the American people just don’t want another bailout, and that’s what they appear to be offering. So what does President Trump think is needed most right now to help those who have been adversely impacted by COVID-19?
Morgenstern: It’s a great topic. I mean, there are a number of things that would provide targeted relief to people who were harmed, through no fault of their own, because we had to take public health measures to protect people.
A few of those things that the president would endorse is, for example, a standalone bill for stimulus checks for Americans who—maybe they’re on the lower-income scale, maybe they are people who are suffering the most, they’re not able to work. For example, the service industry has been hit especially hard because restaurants can’t operate at full capacity. That would be one step.
Unemployment insurance, again, for people who have been displaced through no fault of their own. An airline bill, because that is a strategically critical industry for our country, so keeping those employees connected to their jobs. And funding for schools to reopen, because so many parents around the country are doing double duty as both parents and teacher right now. To get our economy back functioning, to get people back to normal life, we need parents to be able to go back to work.
These are some of the targeted measures that the president would support, because they would address the problems that are directly facing people as a result of the coronavirus. That is the goal.
Unfortunately, the Democrats, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, has really been pretending to negotiate, if I’m being honest, for quite a while. And in their wish list that they still want to include in any legislation that has nothing to do with the coronavirus, they want to put cash-less bail. They want mass prison releases. They want nationwide ballot harvesting. They want a ban on voter ID laws. They want stimulus checks going to illegal immigrants, and the list goes on and on from there.
They’re trying to exploit the situation that our country is facing to put forth a Christmas tree of Democrat wishes. But what the president is doing and what the Republicans are doing is saying, “No, no, no. This is a problem facing our country. Let’s do targeted solutions to the actual problems caused by the virus.”
Bluey: It’s encouraging to hear that the president is fighting for a deal that is targeted and that helps the American people. Are there any steps that you are thinking about taking on your own at the White House that wouldn’t necessarily involve negotiating with congressional Democrats?
Morgenstern: The president has been very creative in using his executive authority so far. He’s done a payroll tax holiday to make it cheaper for employers to keep their employees at work, and to give the working class at pay raise. He’s done a student loan relief. He’s done an eviction moratorium. He extended unemployment insurance using FEMA disaster funds.
He has really done a tremendous amount with creative uses of his executive authority within the law. But it’s at the point now where we need a little bit of help from Congress to continue providing targeted relief. We’ll always be looking for more creative ways to do things, but really it would be better if we can have a bipartisan solution through the Congress to address these things.
And he’s going to continue to speak out. How can the Democrats be against another round of economic impact payments for lower-income Americans? How can they be against helping the airline industry, the strategically important industry, continue to function? How can they be against providing funds for schools so that schools can reopen, and parents can get back to work?
These are things everyone agrees on. So, I mean, to stand in the way of those things is really just playing politics with people’s livelihoods, and it’s just not fair.
Bluey: One of the things we know Congress will be doing next week, at least on the Senate side, is the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, which begin on Monday. I want to ask about your expectations, and if you’re concerned at all about any last minute attacks as we saw with Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Morgenstern: Judge Barrett is an outstanding nominee. She is poised, she is ready to defend all of her prior opinions and writings and speeches, of course.
The Democrats should tread lightly before attacking her on things like her faith. We’ve seen people do that, and it’s very unbecoming. And there is no religious test for people to serve in public office. As the president said, I thought we put that behind us with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. It’s sort of ridiculous. They may attack her on a number of other lines. We know the Democrats are very focused on Roe v. Wade, and they’re very focused on Obamacare, and they’re going to try to paint Judge Barrett as sort of a villain in their eyes on these issues.
I just don’t think that’s going to be possible, because Judge Barrett has proven through her career in academia, through her years on the bench hearing hundreds of cases, that she’s a fair-minded justice who puts the Constitution first. And that is what every American should want, is you want the Supreme Court justices to stand up for their God-given rights enshrined in the Constitution, and not put their personal opinions at issue when they’re deciding cases. That’s what Judge Barrett has pledged to do. It’s what she’s shown throughout her career that she will do.
Bluey: Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris have repeatedly refused to answer if they would support court packing. Can you explain why court packing is a concern to the president? And it’s something that the American people should be worried about?
Morgenstern: Yes, it’s outrageous. I mean, in the vice presidential debate, Sen. Harris wouldn’t answer the question. She started it down some weird history lesson that wasn’t even accurate, and wouldn’t answer whether they would pack the court.
That should tell the American people what they need to know. If they lose a fight, they’re going to change the rules because they’re sour grapes.
I think the American people should not count on a position of if you lose an election and therefore an issue doesn’t go your way, pack the Supreme Court and turn it into a mini-lifetime Congress to execute liberal policy priorities. That is not how it’s set up.
The Supreme Court is supposed to be the steward of the Constitution and ensure that our political branches are acting within their authorities. We’re not supposed to turn the Supreme Court into just another legislative body packed with Democrats. That would be a disaster for our country. It would completely upend really the integrity of the institution, which they claim to be so worried about.
I just don’t understand this notion that you could be all for protecting the institutions that make our country stable and great, and you’re going to protect them by destroying them. It just doesn’t make any sense. So it is a radical idea, and people should be very wary of that.
Bluey: I know that there’s been a lot of media scrutiny on the White House following the Sept. 26 event with Judge Barrett. What I haven’t seen as widely reported is that local leaders in Washington, D.C., say that there’s no evidence that it led to a widespread caseload rise. And that’s according to a story in the Metro section of the Washington Post. But what steps have you taken at the White House to ensure the safety of the people who work there?
Morgenstern: Thank you. And the coverage on that I think has been a little misleading, as you say, and now we’re seeing sort of the adjusted coverage come out.
It was outdoors. People were tested. They were certainly welcome to wear masks. There’s hand sanitizer stations in numerous locations around the White House. So, we took precautions. But what we were doing is we’re showing the country that we have to reopen, and we have to do critical things like nominate a Supreme Court justice.
We still have to have these historic events. The president honored Gold Star families because we still have to show these families who sacrificed so much for our country that we appreciate them. These are essential functions.
Now at the White House, we are continuing to carry on the people’s business, and we have masks we’ll wear when we have to be in meetings. We’ll put chairs between people. We’ll socially distance. We have hand sanitizer everywhere. People have maximum telework flexibility so they can work remotely, if they would be safer doing that.
The president is working at full capacity. Anybody who interacts with him—there’s a limited universe of people who are interacting with him in person at this point, but they could do it at a distance—then they have PPE. And so we’re continuing to do the work of the American people. We’re just doing it in a safe, common-sense way.
Bluey: Final topic for you. President Trump has made law and order a defining aspect of his leadership. What is your message to those police and other law enforcement officers who continue to work to protect the American people and defend our country against those who want to riot and loot in our cities?
Morgenstern: The message is that we have their back. These are people who signed up for a job where they could have to take a bullet for a stranger. In fact, those strangers could be the very people protesting against them. And they still do it, because they’re brave, and because they want to help their community, and they want to protect people.
The president will absolutely have law enforcement’s back—100%. To the extent that any of them are out of line, they behave badly, we want them to be held to account. But generally speaking, we need to respect our law enforcement, and we have to have peace in our streets.
That’s why in the event that violence breaks out, the president is always quick to offer National Guard or federal law enforcement support so that we can restore peace as quickly as possible.
And these rioters, these left-wing violent people, are trying to tear down our country, our Constitution, the foundations of our nation. And we can’t stand for it. And frankly, the other side has been awfully quiet about this. I don’t see them denouncing Antifa or Black Lives Matter, the organization that frequently foments violence.
We need to all be on the same page here. This should not be a partisan issue. It should be bipartisan that we back our law enforcement and we support peace in the streets. That should not be controversial. Somehow it’s become controversial, but it shouldn’t be. The president will always stand with law enforcement.