Over a week after the Rob Porter scandal broke, President Trump felt obliged to issue a statement. What came out was the most grudging, nonspecific utterance you could imagine. Indeed, he sounded resentful in having to address the issue at all. “I’m totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that. And it almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So, now you hear it, but you all know.” Everyone knows that. But, until now, we had not heard the president say it.
What was more revealing was that he did not say any of the following:
- I won’t tolerate any abuser in my administration.
- We must encourage women to come forward and believe them when they do.
- I believe Rob Porter’s ex-wives.
- We should not have people with a history of spousal abuse in high government positions.
Nope, he didn’t express any of these sentiments, which in any other administration would never be questioned. Trump, however, has a troubling past: He bragged on the “Access Hollywood” recording about abusing women; more than a dozen women have accused him of either harassment or assault; and he endorsed accused child molester Roy Moore in a Senate race. It’s a topic he wants no part of. And we should seriously consider that he does not think abusers should be banned from his administration, that he does think most women are liars, does not think Porter’s ex-wives are telling the truth, and does not think there is anything wrong with putting men with a history of spousal abuse in sensitive positions. After all, in the most unfiltered conduit for his views — his Twitter account — he’s never expressed the views. Instead he’s bemoaned the lack of due process for abusers.
Nearly as odd as Trump’s statement were remarks made by Vice President Pence. Asked whether White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly should keep his job, Pence answered with a non sequitur. “John Kelly has done a remarkable job as chief of staff for president of the United States and I look forward to continuing to work with him for many, many months to come.” Asked whether he thought Kelly was telling the truth about the Porter situation, Pence extolled Kelly’s service in the military, and his time as the secretary of homeland security and chief of staff. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. And, unlike Kelly who insists everything was done properly, Pence said: “I think the White House could have handled this better, and I still feel that way.”
We should get a definitive timeline directly from Trump, including an explanation of when he learned there was ample evidence of Porter’s spousal abuse, or when the president found out Porter had a security clearance problem. He should tell us his own views on hiring and firing suspected abusers, and whether he believes abuse caused the bruised eye in a photograph of one of Porter’s ex-wives. He should tell us what positions he would not fill with someone with a history of domestic abuse. And he should tell us whether he believes Kelly was telling the truth or, as an anonymous staffer said, he’s “a big fat liar.”
In short, the American people have a right to know whether the president thinks spousal abuse is a disqualifier — and when, if ever, he would unequivocally believe a battered spouse.