Historical eras are usually defined retrospectively: wait 10 years, analyze the major players in a big event, figure out what it all meant. But who has the patience for that now, when every week feels like a year and Monday is a blur by Friday?
Last week, July 24 to 28, was a news and spectacle avalanche. The White House press secretary had just resigned. It was Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci’s first day. The president was at Twitter-war with his own attorney general. Along with Jared Kushner’s closed-door testimony, and a bizarro Boy Scout Jamboree, and pants-wetting news from North Korea, and the dramatic return of a cancer-stricken John McCain, and, and, and.
So we tried to wrap our arms around each bonkers news cycle and re-create for posterity what it was like to be alive for just one week in 2017.
Presenting: An oral history of the Era of the Mooch — condensed and edited for clarity — as told by senators, Boy Scouts, soldiers, journalists, parents, talking heads, Wall Street traders and the CEO of an arcade-game company in Florida.
The White House’s “American Heroes Week” starts, and at 8:49 a.m. — as Kushner is about to testify — the president calls Attorney General Jeff Sessions “beleaguered” on Twitter.
Kat Timpf, Fox News host and libertarian columnist: We were talking a lot about Jeff Sessions and that whole situation is kind of, you know — we’ve never seen anything like that before. What’s. Happening.
Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union and Trump surrogate: So much happened last week, it’s hard to even know where to start.
Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations: His weekly Saturday-morning meltdown was especially severe this week. You’re just trying to catch up, and then I’m catching up to the reactions to the tweets. It’s like being woken up with a pitcher of water on my face every morning.
Robin Springer, Trump supporter and arcade-game dealer in Yulee, Fla.: I’m mad at him for getting on Jeff Sessions. I have no problem with raking someone over the coals, but it needs to be done in private. Jeff Sessions — what a nice man.
In the afternoon the president departs for West Virginia to speak at the quadrennial Boy Scouts Jamboree.
Eli Stokols, Wall Street Journal: I was the pool reporter on duty the day of the Boy Scout Jamboree. We rolled to the Jamboree down this dirt road and came upon an amphitheater.
Jarren Cook, 15, Scout from West Virginia: I’ve been in Scouts for 10 years. I’m doing my Eagle project building benches at a state park. That morning was pretty calm. . . . They gave us boxed dinners with turkey sandwiches and fig bars.
David Bender, 15, Scout from Indiana: Secret Service had shut down the whole area. We had to go through security. I was in my seat by 2:30.
Stokols: You didn’t realize until you walked into the amphitheater that it was like a giant campaign rally. These are probably the biggest crowds he’s seen since Inauguration Day. And knowing how Trump feeds off of crowds — you know this is now going to be a thing.
David: I know the speeches aren’t supposed to be political. I was hoping to hear how we can help our communities and embody Scouting values. When he said, Who the hell wants to talk about politics? — I wish you could have seen my face cheer up.
Stokols: When he said, “Who the hell wants to speak about politics?” it was an immediate red flashing light to me that things were about to get political.
The president proceeds to deliver an address lambasting the “fake news media” and the Washington “cesspool.” He joked about firing his health and human services secretary — who was onstage with him. He told a meandering story about yachts. And he sneered at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Jarren: What he did was, he said, “Did Barack Obama ever come to a jamboree?” And we all said, “Nooooo!” Because he had never came to a jamboree. A president should take the time to support Boy Scouts.
David: When he said, “Barack Obama,” I screamed “Oh my God,” and put my hands over my head. It was so unreal. I thought I was in a dream. He got the crowd to boo. It made me so sad.
Jarren: I remember when he said not to lose momentum on anything you do. It reminded me to never give up.
Timpf: It’s a strange thing to use your time in front of tens of thousands of teenagers to brag about your election win and your partying days in New York.
Stokols: When you’re covering a speech like that, it’s like a microcosm of covering the whole presidency. You’re just treading water — you’ll fixate on one thing that’s kind of wild and then you’ll miss something else. I missed the “Under the Trump administration you’ll be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again when you go shopping” thing because I was so busy trying to make sense of the yacht story.
David: There were disagreements all over camp. Some people saying “F Trump,” some people saying “MAGA.” I heard there was a troop from New York that had a troop from Texas right next to them and the leaders had to keep them separate.
Jarren: I went back and charged my phone on a solar charger. Then I organized my tent, and we took our showers by 9:30 because quiet time was at 10.
The day starts with another Twitter drubbing of Sessions.
The Senate is scheduled for a procedural vote on whether to proceed with a vote to repeal Obamacare — which would then be held later in the week.
Republicans could afford to lose only three votes for the repeal to move forward, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had not yet returned from an operation to remove the brain tumor discovered the week before.
Julie Rovner, chief Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News: This was the moment when it really started to feel insane. It was abundantly clear there would be a vote, and equally abundantly clear that nobody knew what they were going to vote on.
Alice Ollstein, political reporter for Talking Points Memo: I was inside the chamber scribbling in my notebook when all of a sudden these protesters in white lab coats stood up.
Paul Davis, protester and coordinator of national advocacy for Housing Works: Only the medical personnel were in white lab coats. We were mostly religious leaders and medical personnel. There were about 150 of us who marched from a Lutheran church to the Capitol.
Ollstein: They started chanting, “Kill the bill, don’t kill us.”
Rovner: There was a thought that McCain might come back to kill the bill. That he might show up and vote “no” on the motion to proceed. It sounds so cliche, but you could cut the tension with a knife.
Jesse Ferguson, former press aide for the Hillary Clinton campaign: I wanted to see if we were going to be able to stop this thing before it even started. Spoiler alert: We couldn’t.
McCain voted for the motion and then gave a speech about the dysfunction and “decline” of the Senate, pleading for bipartisanship and a “return to order.”
Senate GOP aide: The thing that was most well-received from his speech was somebody finally told this ecosystem of media outlets on talk radio and Fox News — cables news in general — to just stuff it, right? I dunno, maybe it takes a cancer diagnosis to put things in perspective.
Democratic Senate aide: He was so passionate and so vehement. He was calling bulls--- on everyone, and a pox on everyone’s house, and he was right. We really are not working together.
Ferguson: How did I feel about his vote? You think I still have feelings? Those died a long time ago.
Rovner: I started in 1986. I think this bill is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.
Also on Tuesday, the Defense Intelligence Agency reports that North Korea will be able to launch a viable intercontinental ballistic missile next year — two years sooner than expected.
Melissa Hanham, North Korea expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies: Our Slack channel’s divided into countries and into regions and into grant proposals, and — you probably can’t print this, but we literally have a channel called “F--- F--- F---.” That is our channel for venting frustrating about how important this subject is, and why is no one paying attention to it? Or about the crazy thing that happened in Washington that day, or about why is life like this in 2017?
At 3:22 p.m., news breaks that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry had recently spent 22 minutes on the phone with a Russian prankster posing as the prime minister of Ukraine.
At 4 p.m., the S&P 500 closes at a record high as earnings beat Wall Street estimates.
Springer, the Trump supporter in Yulee, Fla.: In eight years under Obama [my business] didn’t do great but in just the past six months my business has picked up dramatically. I think it’s optimism, just like the stock market. The stock market’s not based on any real facts. I think it’s optimism.
Kenny Polcari , managing director of O’Neil Securities, on the floor of the NYSE: The circus going on in D.C. is just that. It’s a circus, and it’s entertainment, but the market is not reacting. It’s enjoying what it’s seeing. It’s laughing along. But the market is not pricing itself on whether Jared is colluding the Russians or Scaramucci is hired as the new communications director.
John McNally, Democratic mayor of Youngstown: I want to say it had a sort of concert type feel to it, or a traveling carnival as well. . . . He comes out with Mrs. Trump and the crowd went crazy. From the time he got in there till the time he left, nobody sat down.
Henry Gomez, BuzzFeed political reporter based in Cleveland: At one point, when he was ragging on the media, all the supporters turned to the press pen where I was sitting and chanted, “CNN sucks, CNN sucks.”
McNally: He talked about our steel mills and that those jobs are coming back, and I’m not quite sure anybody was buying into it. . . . My finance director had come in and was standing next to me, and I think we just both looked at each other like, “What’s he talking about?”
The country woke to Donald Trump tweeting that he was banning transgender individuals from serving in the military.
Sarah McBride, press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign: The tweets arrived as people were just getting to the office. I was on my phone, just leaving my apartment. There were probably 50 new emails in my inbox by the time I got to the office.
Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, a research institute studying sexual minorities in the military: I was visiting my parents in Cleveland. They are Trump voters who said when the president was elected that he would never discriminate against transgender people. I woke up that morning, turned on the television and saw what he had done, and just burst into tears.
Jacob Eleazer, a transgender Army Reserve captain in Lexington, Ky.: I was completely floored.
Belkin: My parents read the news in their room, and they came out and kept apologizing. I didn’t ask them to apologize, but they did. They kept saying how sorry they are.
Springer, the Trump supporter in Yulee, Fla.: I was driving down the road — from Florida to Georgia, to take care of some customers — and I got the pop-up alert and I thought, “Fantastic! Finally!” This is reversing one of President Obama’s decisions [and] I like the reversal of the morality of this. . . . I’m just a traditional man and I like traditional.
Senate GOP aide: Essentially, tactically, you’ve now made [trans troops] the No. 1 issue for Senate floor debate, when what you’re trying to do is rebuild the military.
Eleazer: We had servicemembers across the world who were panicking. . . . Our next reaction, because we’re servicemembers, is: What are we going to do about it? Let’s get some intel and move out.
The daily press briefing at the White House begins a bit after 2 p.m., and journalists are primed to ask about the tweets on transgender servicemembers. Before taking questions, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reads aloud a letter from a 9-year-old Trump fan nicknamed Pickle.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary: “My name is Dylan Harbin, but everybody calls me Pickle. I’m 9 years old, and you’re my favorite president. I like you so much that I had a birthday about you. My cake was the shape of your hat.”
Olivia Nuzzi, Washington correspondent for New York magazine: I let out an exhausted sigh so loud that Evan McMorris-Santoro from Vice, who was in front of me, turned around and laughed.
Evan McMorris-Santoro: I thought it was a masterstroke of White House communications strategy. . . . All the press corps wants is the [presser] to be on TV. So the White House, in true Trumpian fashion says . . . “If you want a TV show, we’ll give you a f---ing TV show.”
Nuzzi: It reminded me of when Bill O’Reilly used to take reader emails and they’d all be like: “I don’t understand how someone as smart as you has to deal with idiots all day.” But this one was from a child.
One of the questions was: “How much money do you have?” Which to me was a clue that Donald Trump wrote this with his left hand.
I think Pickle broke me. It’s so insane. So completely deranged.
Trump dines at the White House with Sean Hannity, Scaramucci, Melania Trump and Bill Shine, a former Fox News executive. News of the dinner promptly leaks, and Scaramucci tweets what appears to be a veiled threat at White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Later that night, Scaramucci calls the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza to determine how news of the dinner got out, as later recounted by Lizza.
Scaramucci to Lizza: I ask these guys not to leak anything and they can’t help themselves. You’re an American citizen, this is a major catastrophe for the American country. So I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it. . . . Is it an assistant to the president?
Lizza refuses to say.
Scaramucci: Okay, I’m going to fire every one of them, and then you haven’t protected anybody, so the entire place will be fired over the next two weeks. . . . I’ll get to the person who leaked that to you. [White House chief of staff] Reince Priebus — if you want to leak something — he’ll be asked to resign very shortly. . . . I’ve called the FBI and the Department of Justice.
Lizza: Are you serious?
Scaramucci: The swamp will not defeat him. They’re trying to resist me, but it’s not going to work. I’ve done nothing wrong on my financial disclosures, so they’re going to have to go f--- themselves.
This is the day the Senate is headed for a vote to repeal Obamacare.
Ben Wikler, Washington director of MoveOn.org: I woke up with just a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. It felt like this is the day when we lose.
But the news cycle really starts with Scaramucci calling in to CNN, at 7:09 a.m., as Lizza is on the air with anchors Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
Yashar Ali, New York magazine and HuffPost contributor: Scaramucci starts saying things that are just unbelievable. He says that the president says if you’re nice to me, I can come back on [CNN]. Then he said, “I told the president I can’t afford to be a sycophant to you, sir.” Then he did a whole attack of the CIA and the intelligence community. Then he quoted Joe Paterno.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington: I don’t know that anybody [in the office] saw the interview live, but people saw the Twitter accounts of it, and there was definitely conversation of, “Did that really happen or was someone making this up on Twitter?”
Ali: I just kept thinking, “I cannot believe that the White House communications director is behaving this way.” . . . It was almost like a call-in on the radio. Like, someone who is angry on a radio show, like Howard Stern. Whenever you listen to those call-in shows you’re always cringing, and there’s part of you that wants to change the channel because you’re embarrassed for them.
At 4:58 p.m., Ryan Lizza publishes a story on NewYorker.com that recounts his curse-laden conversation with Scaramucci the previous night. By the 6 o’clock hour, chyrons on CNN were including Scaramucci quotations like “F-----G PARANOID SCHIZOPHRENIC,” in reference to Priebus, and “I’M NOT TRYING TO S**K MY OWN [EXPLETIVE],” a reference to Scaramucci’s putdown of Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
Tommy Vietor, former Obama spokesperson: [Former Obama speechwriter] Jon Favreau and I had recently finished recording our Thursday podcast when the story with Ryan Lizza and the Mooch popped up. . . . This was just the latest example of huge breaking news happening every time we finish a show.
I click through and am just flabbergasted. . . . We grabbed [fellow Obama alum Jon] Lovett and read him some choice lines. He couldn’t believe it was real. How can this be real?
McMorris-Santoro: It was a one-man play of a Wall Street guy arriving in Washington. It was a summary of Trump’s 180 days in one conversation.
Vietor: Can you imagine Dan Pfeiffer calling Ryan Lizza and saying he’s not trying to suck his own d--- like David Axelrod?
Matt Schlapp, Trump surrogate: I was driving with Viana, my oldest daughter. She’s going to be in high school next year. I looked at my Twitter at a red light and saw a story was getting tweeted out. I said to Viana, “Oh, my God, look at this story, will you read this out loud to me?” Then I looked for one half minute and said, ‘Oh no, thank you, you cannot read this out loud!’
I believe in guardian angels and I believe one interceded in that moment.
The Senate gathers Thursday evening to vote on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can afford to lose only two members of his caucus, and it looks like Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R- Alaska) are ready to vote “no” with the Democrats — leaving McCain as a possible third “no” vote that would sink McConnell’s effort. Everyone was trying to read the tea leaves, both inside the Capitol and outside, where a few hundred protesters gathered.
Wikler, MoveOn.org: We marched over to the Capitol. The sky looked ominous and gray. Even midweek, we put McConnell’s ultimate chance at success at 8 in 10, or 9 in 10. I had the image of the repeal bill as the liquid metal T-1000 from “Terminator,” that it could change shape and pour itself through the tiniest crack and reform itself on the other side. One way or another, it seemed like it was on track to becoming law.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.): My head was telling me McConnell had the votes, and my gut was telling me he didn’t.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.): Mitch McConnell comes and introduces the bill on the floor. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) asked me to kick off the Democratic hour of debate, and that’s when I said the process was “nuclear-grade bonkers.”
Sen. Tim Scott: (R-S.C.): Have you ever been on one of those roller coasters where it’s cranking up to get to the top? The energy and the pressure was building and we knew the V.P. is coming back to break the tie, hopefully . . . and the anticipation is growing.
The floor speeches continue past midnight into Friday.
Murphy: When I got to the floor around midnight, I had a sense something very interesting was going to happen.
Wikler: When Mike Pence pulled up in his motorcade . . . we turned and ran to the wall at the edge of the lawn and started chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Collins: Originally I had thought Vice President Pence had come over to break the tie and allow the bill to proceed. But it then became obvious that he was there to talk to Sen. McCain.
Kaine: I think five or six of us on our side had figured out maybe McCain was with us, but that didn’t mean that Murkowski and Collins were with us. They’d been with us all along, but they were under enormous pressure.
Collins: All of us were chitchatting, and reminiscing — talking about travels with John [McCain]. Then the conversation turned to health care. The vice president said to me, “Boy, are you tough,” but then he softened it by putting his arm around me.
Kaine: It was interesting to watch the groups of people over there with Senator McCain, because the tension level in their faces was increasing.
Scott: All of a sudden I looked down from the roller coaster, and I started noticing that on my side, I could feel the shift in the room. We were happy when we left, we were energetic, but the faster we got to the top, we realized the steep fall wasn’t going to be what we thought it was going to be, not a thrilling ride, but instead a really scary drop.
Collins: It felt tense and somber to me. I was cognizant of the fact that because of where my name falls, I would be the first Republican to cast a no vote.
I know John very well. I know he has the courage to do what’s right, regardless of whether it’s difficult or unpopular.
Scott: Things had changed. McCain was chatting with the Democrats. They were having a good time, and we were already on the decline.
Murphy: I was standing in the aisle, watching the vote. I’ve seen John do that motion a million times. He waves to get the clerk’s attention with an arm that’s still damaged from his time as a POW. When he did it this time there was a gasp.
Kaine: The clerk was not looking at McCain, who was standing with his arm straight out. It was like the scene from “Gladiator” with Russell Crowe: Do you survive, or not?
Wikler: The moment I read “McCain no,” the crowd exploded. We were literally jumping up and down, picking up and hugging total strangers.
Scott: I had been looking forward to doing the right thing and honoring campaign promises. It was anticlimactic after that. I sat in my car, feeling dejection.
Collins: After the vote, I waited a while for things to empty out, because I didn’t want to get caught in the crush of the press. After a while I saw Lindsey Graham and asked, is there a way I can get out of here where I can just go to my car? Lindsey and I tried to go out a side door and promptly set off an alarm.
Vietor: I feel like I say this every week, but last week was unique.
Schlapp: It was more of a jampacked week than normal. Every time something else interesting happened, everyone started calling to know what it all meant, and what they should expect. I don’t even want to calculate how much time I spent on the phone.
Boot: It’s basically just trying to shoot the rapids and stay afloat. But you’re constantly picking up speed, and it’s hard to slow down because the deluge of crazy news emanating from the White House is just unceasing, unstopping, relentless and overwhelming.
Schlapp: When you’re a Trump supporter, getting bogged down in one speech or one decision is not something you do. You end up looking at what’s happening to the agenda and whether the president is learning the art of politics. I think he’s a fast learner and is making some of the changes he needs to make.
Senate GOP aide: [After this week it’s] going to be exactly like World War I. Everybody’s settled into their trenches, they’re gonna blow the s--- out of each other for four years until somebody wins — and even if they win, everything’s gonna be so f----- up that even the winner’s not a winner. And then who knows what happens in 2020.
Epilogue. On Friday afternoon, one week after Spicer resigned and the Scaramucci Era began, the Russians announced they would seize U.S. diplomatic properties and force out hundreds of U.S. diplomatic staffers, the North Koreans proved with a missile test that they can target the continental United States with a nuclear weapon, Scaramucci’s wife filed for divorce, President Trump essentially endorsed police brutality during a speech in Long Island (the White House said he was joking), and then Trump fired Priebus and replaced him with the Marine general in charge of the Department of Homeland Security.
Editor’s Note: On Monday, Scaramucci was fired.