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The Radical Crusade of Mike Pence


The optics were good. About 100 Carrier factory workers in Indianapolis sat in folding chairs awaiting President-elect Donald Trump, who had announced, via Twitter, he'd saved their jobs. Well, not all their jobs – 730 were saved while another 550 were heading to Mexico – but that was a small detail. (Trump also kept saying he had saved air-conditioning jobs, though the factory makes furnaces.) After a while, a silver-haired man resembling the guy on top of a wedding cake strode to the podium.

"It is great to be back home again in Indiana," said Mike Pence in the stentorian voice honed during a seven-year career in talk radio, where he described himself as "Rush Limbaugh on decaf." "The state of Indiana is very proud. We are a proud manufacturing state. We are home to low taxes, sensible regulations, great schools and roads, and the best workforce in America."

His voice grew somber as he talked about the day last winter when Carrier announced it was moving more than 1,000 jobs to Mexico.

"We met with the leaders of the company back in March, and try as we might to make the Indiana case, it was clear that the die was cast," Pence said. "The simple truth was that policies coming out of our nation's capital were literally driving jobs out of this country."

Much like the distortions and obfuscations that Pence used while defending Trump during the vice-presidential debate, this wasn't remotely true: Carrier was moving the jobs because it could pay Mexican workers $6 an hour. Critics say Carrier was now staying because it likely feared its $5 billion in federal contracts could be in peril under a vengeful Trump regime. Oh, yeah, and then Pence kicked in $7 million in state tax breaks. Even Sarah Palin decried it as "crony capitalism."

Pence introduced the man of the hour: "It is my high honor and distinct privilege to introduce to you a man of action, a man of his word, and the president-elect of the United States of America, Donald Trump."

Then a strange thing happened; well, not that strange, since it was Donald Trump. He spoke of his huge victory, and then admitted that his constant campaign talk of saving Carrier jobs had been bullshit. It was not until he saw a Carrier worker talking about Trump saving his job on television that the president-elect decided to act.

"And then they played my statement, and I said, 'Carrier will never leave,'" said Trump with a rich man's version of a laugh.

The media began tweeting furiously. The president-elect had just admitted he'd spaced on a major campaign promise and had only been reminded by a chance encounter on the nightly news!

But one man didn't bat an eyelash. That was Mike Pence. Resplendent in dark suit and striped tie, he remained ramrod-straight, a proud smile frozen on his face.

Ten days later, dozens of Carrier workers and family members gathered at Mount Olive Ministries church in west Indianapolis as an icy rain pissed down outside. They lit candles and said prayers for the hundreds of jobs that were not being saved.

Sitting in a pew was Chuck Jones, the local United Steel Workers president. He tried to muffle his smoker's cough and bowed his head. Jones, a gruff man with neat gray hair and a mustache, had become a folk hero since the Carrier spectacle, when Trump attacked him on Twitter for having the audacity to question the jobs Trump didn't save.

But tonight, Jones' wrath was for Pence. I grabbed Jones coming in from a smoke break and asked about Pence's role in the Carrier deal.

"He did absolutely nothing," said Jones.

I reminded Jones that he had met with Pence in March. Jones smiled a sad smile.

"Let me tell you about that," he said.

In March, Pence met with Carrier's parent company's executives. Jones was there at the Statehouse with some union members carrying "Keep It Made in America" signs. As the cameras rolled, Pence invited him back for a meeting. Pence blamed the factory loss on Washington regulation, and Jones blamed it on corporate greed.

"Why haven't you responded to our request for a meeting?" asked Jones.

"I never got one," responded Pence.

When Jones got back to the union hall, he looked up the letter he sent requesting a meeting and saw that someone in the governor's office had signed for it. He communicated that back to Pence's team. They promised a follow-up meeting. It never happened. (Pence declined to comment for this story.)

"I know he doesn't like unions," said Jones. "But this isn't about unions – it's about human beings losing their livelihoods."

Jones wanted to head back into the service, but he had a parting shot: "You let Joe Schmo open up a tire shop and hire two people, Pence was knocking people down to get in front of the cameras taking credit for it." He shrugged his shoulders. "But for us, he did nothing."

During my travels across the self-proclaimed Crossroads of America, I learned that Mike Pence had once paid his mortgage with campaign funds, dragged his feet during an HIV epidemic and a lead-poisoning outbreak, signed an anti-gay-rights bill that nearly cost Indiana millions of dollars, lost his mind on national TV with George Stephanopoulos, and turned away Syrian refugees in an unconstitutional ploy laughed out of federal court. And he ended his gubernatorial term unpopular enough that his re-election bid in a Republican state seemed dicey at best.

Pence is the nation's 48th vice president. Nine vice presidents have assumed the presidency as a result of death or resignation. That's a 19 percent ascendancy rate. Between Trump's trigger-happy Twitter persona, the ethical nightmare of his business empire, his KFC addiction and possible entanglements with Vladimir Putin, I'd say the chances for Mike Pence are more than 50-50.

So what do we know about Pence? The governor benefited greatly from the wall-to-wall "Trump is a crazy monkey throwing feces" media coverage during the fall campaign, in that his record was undercovered, but it's out there and suggests that his impact as vice president will screw African-Americans, women, the poor and any other square peg in round America. His concerns for the parts of Indiana outside his comfort zone toggled between disinterest and disdain.

And here's the frightening thing: Unlike his boss, Mike Pence has an actual ideology. Pence proclaimed at the 2016 GOP convention that "I am a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order." However, his actual record – including turning down up to $80 million in federal pre-K funding – is the antithesis of Jesus' "whatever you do for one of the least of my brothers, you do for me" theology.

Here's a quick story.

While Mike Pence was governor, his relationship with the Democratic minority in the legislature was crap. Someone on his staff suggested having the Democratic leaders over to the governor's mansion for dinner. The table was set for 20, but there were only around seven in attendance. One unlucky legislator stuck next to Pence tried to make conversation, but found even at dinner she couldn't shift Pence off his talking points. Gov. Pence shouted to his wife, Karen, his closest adviser, at the other end of the table.

"Mother, Mother, who prepared our meal this evening?"

The legislators looked at one another, speaking with their eyes: He just called his wife "Mother."

Maybe it was a joke, the legislator reasoned. But a few minutes later, Pence shouted again.

"Mother, Mother, whose china are we eating on?"

Mother Pence went on a long discourse about where the china was from. A little later, the legislators stumbled out, wondering what was weirder: Pence's inability to make conversation, or calling his wife "Mother" in the second decade of the 21st century.

Pence was raised in the Sixties as a nice Irish-Catholic boy in Columbus, Indiana, a quiet bedroom community where, Pence likes to say, he "grew up with a cornfield" in his backyard. He was named after his grandfather, who emigrated from Ireland and became a Chicago bus driver. Mike was one of six children, and his dad ran a chain of gas stations. An astute altar boy, Pence genuinely seemed to want to serve his community. The local paper tells a story of Pence befriending two kids with muscular dystrophy and later serving as a pall-bearer at each of their funerals.

He stayed close to home and went to Hanover College. There, he became fascinated with evangelical Christianity and had a religious epiphany at a Christian music festival in Kentucky.

His conversion reportedly caused consternation among his family, especially for his mother. He met Karen at church while he was studying at Indiana University Law School. Karen carried a gold cross with the word "yes" on it in her purse in anticipation of the moment when Mike would propose. Their faith deepened together, and they were wed in 1985, eventually having three children. Pence reportedly calls Karen the "prayer warrior" of the family.

Pence went to work at an Indianapolis law firm, where he began each day in prayer with a colleague. In 1988, at 29, he made his first bid for Congress, capturing attention by riding a bicycle across the district. He lost, but the campaign was seen as a dry run for a 1990 campaign against Democrat Phillip Sharp.

The race was initially close. And then Billy Linville, Sharp's campaign manager, swung by the Statehouse to pick up Pence's financial-disclosure forms.

"It was clear upon observing his expenditures that he was using campaign funds for personal use," Linville told me. "He was making his mortgage payments. He was making a car payment for his wife. He was making payments for his personal credit card, and he was even spending money for his family groceries."

While this was not an illegal practice at the time, there was a delicious irony, since Pence's main campaign plank was that Sharp was beholden to special interests, and here was Pence buying spaghetti with his donors' money.

Pence's campaign entered a death spiral. Revealing a pattern that would rear its head again when he was a governor and a vice-presidential candidate, Pence doggedly repeated his campaign talking points no matter what reporters asked. Meanwhile, he doubled down on smear tactics. He sent out a mailer with a picture of a razor and lines of cocaine, suggesting Sharp was soft on drugs. He had campaign volunteers call voters and tell them Sharp was going to sell his family farm to a nuclear-waste facility, which wasn't true. But the most infamous tactic was a cheaply produced television ad with an actor portraying an Arab sheik that suggested Sharp was in the pocket of foreign oil. The ad was denounced by editorial boards and Arab-American groups as low-class and sleazy. Pence lost the race by 19 points. After he lost, Pence wrote an essay about his political disaster. He called it "Confessions of a Negative Campaigner."

Undaunted by defeat and a gifted speaker since high school, Pence took his golden voice into talk radio. His show had a conservative bent, but was congenial enough that Democrats felt comfortable stopping by. Still, the 1990s marked the schism between the folksy in-person Pence and the Pence who bullied from the pulpit.

He became president of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, a conservative think tank, and began publishing his thoughts online. He wrote some real doozies, like coming out as a climate-change denialist ("Global warming is a myth. ... There, I said it") and a cigarette denialist ("Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill"). He became a board member of the Indiana Family Institute, an anti-abortion, anti-gay organization that pronounced the protest movement that formed after the brutal 1998 murder of gay teen Matthew Shepard to be homosexual-activist "propaganda."

Just as disturbing was his use of reckless rhetoric, which prophesied why he would become so popular with the Tea Party. He decried the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, declaring that Thomas' opponents were engaged in the same tactics as the KKK, and criticized Indiana senators Dick Lugar and Dan Coats for "standing by while Clarence Thomas is being lynched."

In 2000, Pence made another bid for Congress. He checked the GOP boxes for cutting taxes while increasing military spending, but he also made it clear he was a Christian warrior, stating, "Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals as a 'discreet and insular minority' entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws." He also argued that the AIDS resources bill, commonly known as the Ryan White Care Act, should be renewed only if resources were "directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior." While Pence has argued that providing assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior meant abstinence groups, many gay activists heard code words for "conversion therapy." In 2006, he spoke in favor of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, arguing that "societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family."

Pence fought against the pro-choice movement with vigor rare even by right-wing standards, introducing a bill to de-fund Planned Parenthood year after year he was in the House. The death of a woman after taking an abortion pill led Pence to the House floor, where he spoke favorably of Lex Cornelia, a collection of ancient Roman laws, including one detailing how providers of abortion potions were sentenced to work in the mines.

His agenda was so radical that exactly zero of Pence's bills became law. But he'd laid down markers that would be appreciated by the hard right who vote in presidential primaries.

The record of presidential campaigns launched from the House of Representatives is abysmal – perhaps that's why Pence decided to run for governor in 2012. It would give him executive experience and allow him to run as a Washington outsider. According to Indianapolis Monthly, he gathered friends and advisers to hash out the details. The main decision was that Pence would stress economic and educational issues while downplaying his social extremism. "Mike made the decision that the major issues in the campaign for governor in 2012 should be and must be jobs and education," longtime adviser Van Smith told the magazine.

Pence won with 49 percent of the vote. It didn't take him long to lose his way.

In 2013, Bill Oesterle, chairman of Angie's List and a veteran Republican insider, had several conversations with Pence. He'd donated $150,000 to Pence and run the 2004 campaign of Mitch Daniels, Pence's popular predecessor. State lawmakers were considering an amendment banning gay marriage that would have to pass through the legislature before it could be put before Indiana voters. Pence remained silent. Oesterle says he advised the governor that throwing himself behind an amendment pushed by far-right Christian groups wouldn't do him any favors.

"You're going to have to reach out to the center," Oesterle recalls telling Pence. "This is your chance to reach out to them."

"I get that," he says Pence responded.

A few weeks later, Pence announced his support for the anti-gay-marriage amendment, and his relationship with Oesterle deteriorated.

"That's when I think I really realized that Mike Pence had other interests ahead of Indiana," says Oesterle with a sigh.

Moderate Republicans began sensing that Pence's goal as governor was checking off conservative bona fides as he looked toward the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries in 2016.

This became increasingly self-evident in late 2014. Pence had had a relatively good year: He accepted federal Medicaid expansion – a conservative taboo – by requiring those living just above the poverty line to pay some of their monthly income toward premiums, and adding penalties if they made "inappropriate" emergency-room visits.

On the education front, state workers and academic experts were putting the final touches on a federal-grant proposal that would make Indiana eligible for up to $80 million in pre-K funding, an enormous sum for a state that came in 35th nationally for educational spending. Then, the day the application was due, a Pence underling announced via e-mail that the state wouldn't be applying for the grant after all. Whispers began to spread that the religious right was leaning on him heavily about the federal government getting its fingers on the hearts and minds of preschoolers. In its place, Pence OK'd a small $10 million state pre-K pilot program. "He wasn't thinking about 'What can I do to make this pre-K program work and what can we do to serve the rest of the people?'" says Scott Pelath, the Indiana House minority leader. "He was thinking, 'How am I going to be perceived now that this is done?'"

Within political circles, the coupling of ACLU activist Katie Blair and Republican consultant Megan Robertson represents a symbol of Indiana stepping out of the Paleozoic Era. I met with Blair and Robertson at Lockerbie Pub, a dingy but homey place in downtown Indianapolis. Both are from rural parts of the Midwest, but on opposite sides of the aisle. They got to know each other in 2013 as Blair worked to kill the state amendment prohibiting gay marriage alongside Robertson, then-director of Freedom Indiana, an LGBTQ advocacy group. (They were married in November.)

"We had no idea that Mike Pence was about to blow up the state," says Blair.

As 2015 began, a court case legalizing gay marriage loomed before the United States Supreme Court. Sensing it might be passed, Indiana Christian-right leaders including Curt Smith, head of the Indiana Family Institute, where Pence was once a board member, got behind the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill that essentially would allow business-owning Hoosiers to discriminate against gay customers. It had widespread GOP support, and Pence saw it as a consolation prize, since the Supreme Court was likely to make the right's quest for an anti-gay amendment pointless. He told opponents the bill wasn't anti-gay, merely pro religious freedom.

And then the photograph came out. It featured Pence signing RFRA into law surrounded by monks and nuns in habits, and the three men of the Indiana-right apocalypse: Indiana Family Institute's Smith, Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, and Advance America's Eric Miller. The press was not allowed. Smith has said homosexuality is outlawed in the Bible, along with adultery and bestiality; Clark once was a proponent of gay conversion therapy; and Miller claimed that ministers and priests could be imprisoned for preaching against homosexuality. The photo was so egregious that when a Democratic state representative began circulating it, colleagues complimented him on his Photoshopping skills.

"I was upset about RFRA, and then the photo came out and I was just like, 'What the hell?'" says Robertson.

Blair was less circumspect: "There are few times in my life where I've been that angry. It was stupid and offensive."

Within days, an economic tsunami crashed down on Pence. Oesterle and other local leaders stated they were unlikely to add workers to their Indiana businesses as long as RFRA remained in place. Conventions began pulling out hundreds of thousands of dollars in business like they did when North Carolina passed similarly phobic legislation, a figure that could grow significantly higher over a year or two of canceled conventions. The NCAA, headquartered in Indianapolis, proclaimed its displeasure. As the story went national, Pence was invited on This Week With George Stephanopoulos. His advisers counseled against the appearance, and Pence agreed. But somewhere along the line, Pence changed his mind.

What followed was one of the most embarrassing performances by a politician on national television this decade. Stephanopoulos asked a simple question: "So yes or no, if a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana?"

Pence responded, "George, this is where this debate has gone, with misinformation. ... The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been on the books for more than 20 years. It does not apply, George, to disputes between individuals unless government action is involved."

Stephanopoulos pointed out RFRA supporters were stating the law would protect Christian florists from having to sell flowers to a gay wedding.

"Governor, is that true or not?"

Pence danced some more. "The issue is, 'Is tolerance a two-way street or not?'" he said.

Pence never answered the question and passed up two chances to say he was not in favor of discrimination against gay people. The interview ended with Pence insisting he would not be revising the law.

Back home, lawmakers and staffers despaired.

"I thought, 'He has just ended his career,'" says a prominent lobbyist. "And the state was going to get creamed to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. The situation that we were scared of before he went on TV just got exponentially worse. The city was burning."

That Tuesday, The Indianapolis Star, not a liberal paper, published a block headline screaming "fix this now." There was fear Indiana was on its way to becoming, like North Carolina, a convention dead zone. The civic leaders of Indiana called two meetings: one featuring Oesterle and other business leaders, the other starring local politicos. Pence was not at either meeting. That week, the legislature passed a revised bill that weakened the anti-gay language enough that the conventions came back.

And Pence's role? Nonexistent, as recounted in the charmingly titled Deicide, a book published last year by Pence's Christian ally Curt Smith: "I heard his chief of staff comment, 'Governor, I don't think we have any opportunity to negotiate.'"

Pence's bungling of RFRA and other issues suggests a politician with slow reflexes – a blemish for a congressional backbencher, but a horrifying flaw for a potential president. Oesterle and other GOP leaders began hearing from Republicans that they should primary Pence in 2016. Pence continued to stumble along, issuing an executive order effectively banning Syrian refugees after the 2015 Paris attacks. It was laughed out of federal court, but not before a family was diverted from Indiana to Connecticut, where Gov. Dannel Malloy welcomed them personally. Malloy eventually won a Profile in Courage award. Pence did not. Oesterle commissioned a poll that showed Pence's approval ratings in the thirties, and signs began sprouting up around Indiana reading pence must go.

The year after the RFRA debacle, Pence continued his social holy war by signing into law House Bill 1337, one of the nation's most stringent anti-abortion laws. Previously, Pence had allocated $3.5 million to Real Alternatives, a Pennsylvania company running abortion crisis centers, a.k.a. places where a woman goes for medical help and is pressured into carrying her baby to term and given no immediate medical treatment. The program had to be suspended in 2016 when Real Alternatives was investigated on billing-overcharge claims, a crime it was already under investigation for in Pennsylvania when Pence granted the contract in 2015.

But HB 1337 took his abortion obsession to a new level. Aspects of the bill included forbidding a woman from aborting a fetus that had life-ending chromosomal damage; requiring fetal burial; and a clause that could allow doctors providing these services to be charged with wrongful death. After HB 1337's passage, Hoosiers founded a movement called Periods for Pence, where through social media and a calling campaign they let the governor know the status of their menstrual cycle to protest how intrusive the legislation had become.

Blair had to calm Robertson down over the bill, explaining the one thing they had going for them was the fact that the bill was clearly unconstitutional.

"I was appalled," says Robertson. "But Katie was like, 'It's going to be fine.'"

Blair was right: On June 30th, 2016, a federal judge stayed the law, citing that it would likely be declared unconstitutional.

None of this mattered to Pence. He had burnished his anti-choice credentials once again. When Trump needed a VP nominee with a career-long reputation for being virulently pro-life to balance his own abortion flip-flops, Mike Pence was the answer to all his political prayers.

All the failed Cro-Magnon legislation and his blustering from the House floor made Mike Pence tiresome. But actual power made him a danger to all Hoosiers who didn't share his worldview. Transfer his Indiana stewardship to federal policy, and the implications are devastating.

I drove down to Austin, Indiana, a town Pence seems to have avoided. I met two nurses at the town's one-stop shop for HIV treatment and needle exchange. We piled into an SUV and drove to a nearby neighborhood. This wasn't Pence's fabled Indiana. There was a family living in a garage, and a trailer with a Nazi flag in the window, and another one with a black SS flag on a pole snapping in the wind. The neighborhood is the epicenter of an HIV outbreak that happened on Pence’s watch.

We pulled up to one garage-house, and a man piled out of a Jeep he was living in. He looked two decades older than his thirtysomething age. "I got no heat in my Jeep – that's rough," he said. He returned some used needles and took a box of new ones. He circled back to retrieve four or five packages of Narcan, an anti-overdose drug. His hands were gnarled and yellow. "Thank you kindly," he said.

Austin is in rural Scott County, which has a population of roughly 20,000 people and almost 200 cases of HIV infection. Extrapolate that to New York and that would be 80,000 cases for 8 million citizens. Here's the thing: It didn't have to happen.

There was one Republican legislator who saw it coming. I met Ed Clere in New Albany, just over the bridge from Kentucky. A real-estate broker, Clere is a big man with a self-deprecating way. Until about a year ago, he was chairman of the Indiana House Committee on Public Health.

In 2014, Clere saw the opioid crisis laying waste to rural Indiana, just as it was ravaging the rest of small-town America. There was a new scourge: Opana, a potent painkiller. The drug's manufacturers changed the makeup of the pill in order to make it harder to snort. But junkies are a resourceful group. They figured out if the pill was melted down into a liquid, an addict could get high by injecting it in fractions, often more than 10 times a day.

This meant a staggering rise in the use of dirty needles in Indiana. Clere noticed this and supported legislation in 2014 that would allow needle exchanges, to prevent the spread of hepatitis C and HIV. The committee watered down the bill, asking for a mere study. It passed the House, but the Senate ignored it.

The legislation died without any action taken, almost exactly a year before Scott County began reporting a slew of HIV cases in January 2015. First, it was three cases in December 2014, and then the number quickly grew into double digits. The administration finally acknowledged the crisis in a February 25th press release, but still didn't take any action. Pence's office made it apparent to Clere that Pence would veto any bill that legalized needle exchange. "There was no willingness to engage or to work collaboratively on a solution," Clere told me.

So Clere planned a massive public hearing for March 25th at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, featuring doctors, local officials and activists. That morning, a strange thing happened. Pence announced he would be holding his own hearing an hour earlier, down in Scott County. Late to the game, Pence clearly was now trying to upstage Clere. In Scottsburg, a tiny town a few miles from Austin, Pence listened to community leaders and told his audience that he would pray on the situation. Meanwhile, his deputy health commissioner tes- tified before Clere's committee that the administration was still opposed to needle exchanges in general, but was considering a limited one for the county.

On March 26th, Pence issued an executive order allowing for needle exchanges in Scott County that would have to be renewed again in 30 days. But soon, draconian restrictions were tacked on: There would be no new state money provided for the program. As for additional counties, potentially equally at risk, needle-exchange programs would have to be approved by both the state and county health boards, and would be given no funding.

Over the next year, the needle-exchange program in Scott County proved effective, and the HIV crisis stabilized. The total number of HIV cases crested at 191, a number that would have been undoubtedly smaller if Pence had taken quicker action.

Meanwhile, nearby Clark County spent more than a year trying to organize and raise funds for its own needle exchange. The county is finally getting a program – one day a week for six hours.

And Ed Clere? While Pence was still governor, Republican leadership stripped Clere of his committee chairmanship mid-term, allegedly for his rudeness toward committee members. No one could remember this happening before in Indiana.

The months before Donald Trump picked Pence off the political garbage heap were not easy ones for the governor. While Oesterle and others eventually declined to challenge Pence in a GOP primary, his approval ratings remained under 50 percent, and he was even with a Democratic challenger in head-to-head matchups. He did gain experience in being booed that would serve him well at a performance of Broadway's Hamilton in November. In the aftermath of the RFRA fiasco, Pence was lustily booed at the home opener for the AAA Indianapolis Indians. "This is Indiana, not New York – we don't boo anyone," says Michael Leppert, a Democratic lobbyist. "It's just not done." Then rumors of Trump's interest began to spread. At first, Indiana politicos were incredulous and wondered if anyone had actually looked at Pence's record. But then it began to make a certain kind of sense: Trump was down in the polls, and no one from the GOP elite was interested in joining his train wreck. Pence looked downright statesmanlike when compared to the other possible choices: the Bridgegate-plagued Chris Christie, the thrice-married stegosaurus Newt Gingrich and noted crazy man Rudy Giuliani.

Leppert saw a transformation in Pence beginning with his speech at the Republican National Convention.

"If you watch his State of the State addresses, he seemed disinterested and low-key," says Leppert. "But once he got on the national stage and could start pontificating on policy issues, it was like a light went back on."

There was one other twist: The robotic repeating of talking points that buried him with Stephanopoulos proved an asset in a national campaign. He talked about Trump having faith in his heart. If you listened carefully, you could almost swear Pence believed it.

Pence's boast that "we are a proud manufacturing state" echoes in a dyspeptic way as I walk the streets of the West Calumet Housing Complex, as a winter storm descends on East Chicago, Indiana. Northwest Indiana – including East Chicago, Hammond and Gary – is the chronically damned part of Pence's Indiana. Because of lax regulations, the region has become a belching industrial outpost for Chicago. The people? Forget them – the predominantly Latino and African-American East Chicago votes Democratic, meaning their requests fall on uninterested white ears.

It is just before Christmas, but there are few lights or plastic Santas in the 350-unit public-housing project. That's because half the residents have abandoned their homes. They didn't have a choice: The complex has been declared contaminated due to off-the-charts lead levels. About 1,100 residents need to find new places to live by April. In retrospect, it shouldn't have been a shock: The complex was built in 1973 in the footprint of an old smelting factory and near at least three other industrial facilities. Many residents of East Chicago live in danger because their subdivisions were filled in with soil from contaminated slag heaps. I meet a group of citizens at an East Chicago diner, and the gathering features more than its fair share of cancer patients, parents of sick kids, and men and women who have lost all hope in their government. One woman presents me a list of the more than 20 medications she is on to deal with heart and respiratory problems.

At the diner, I find Akeeshea Daniels, a round-faced woman with a big smile and three sons. She's been a resident of East Chicago her entire life, and she moved into the West Calumet complex 13 years ago. Since then, she's had a hysterectomy at 29 and migraine and sinus problems that have left her on the couch listless and without energy. But she worries mostly about her 12-year-old son, Xavier, who was a month old when they moved into West Calumet. He's been diagnosed with ADD, is allergic to almost everything and suffers from severe asthma – potential warning signs of child lead poisoning.

"They don't understand our health is failing," Daniels tells me. "I have rheumatoid arthritis, and I've lost 55 percent of my bone mass since 2006. We're all dying."

According to internal governmental e-mails obtained by Rolling Stone, the Pence administration became aware of the seriousness of the East Chicago tragedy on the same day Pence was chosen to be Trump's running mate. A July 15th e-mail from the EPA to Carol Comer, head of Pence's Indiana Department of Environmental Management, underlined the deteriorating situation: "We have become increasingly concerned about exposures to lead from the soil, especially for children living in the public housing. ..."

Pence's administration said nothing publicly. In late July, an e-mail was circulated among Comer and other senior Pence aides, providing links to newspaper stories about the lead issue. Again, Pence kept quiet.

This was particularly curious because Pence had made a beeline to 97-percent-white Greentown, outside Kokomo, when the town had a lead scare last February.

"I know this issue can create anxiety because of the situation in Flint, Michigan, we all have been following," Pence told the Greentown community.

His staff tried to do damage control behind the scenes. On August 12th, Matthew Lloyd, Pence's deputy chief of staff – and de facto lieutenant while Pence campaigned across the country – sent out an urgent e-mail demanding that the communications staff reach out to Chicago's CBS affiliate, which ran a story about a mother who waited more than a year for results from the Indiana State Department of Health for her two-year-old daughter's blood test for lead poisoning. Lloyd wanted a correction on a story to address "inaccuracies [that] need to be corrected ASAP so other outlets do not pick up and report the same." (CBS did not correct its story.)

Pence continued to crisscross the country as his senior staff circulated e-mails noting an East Chicago pastor's demand that Pence visit the city. Twelve days later, Pence visited a disaster site in Indiana. But it was tornado victims in predominantly white Kokomo.

By August 30th, the lead crisis had been written up in a dozen Indiana papers and in the Washington Post and The New York Times. After the New York Times story, Pence personally responded, with a tweet: "Proud of our team. I appreciate the efforts to help families of East Chicago. We will continue to be there for them."

During the crisis, Pence never visited the city. (In September, he wrote a letter to the federal government asking for financial assistance for resettlement.) Lloyd told me, "We were working quietly and effectively behind the scenes with the EPA."

Shortly before my visit, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland asked Pence to declare a state of emergency in East Chicago, freeing up funds to assist residents who were facing huge difficulties finding new public-housing accommodations.

Pence declined to do it, with his counsel writing on behalf of the governor: "The issues described within your letter are being addressed without the need for a disaster emergency declaration."

"If he came just for a minute to show he cared, that would be something," Daniels tells me a few weeks before Pence's term expires, trying not to cry. "Or an hour. Anything that brought attention here would help us."

On January 8th, Pence delivered his farewell address. He proclaimed, "We worked each day to fulfill the trust you placed in us."

What Mike Pence's role will be in a Trump White House is like everything else dealing with Trump: It is an enigma wrapped in a riddle held in the tiny hand of a serial liar with his thumb on the nuclear button. Trump choosing Pence was an explicit move to protect his flank with the Christian right. It seems likely that Pence will have immense influence over social issues, like repealing Obamacare, gutting abortion rights and keeping the LGBTQ community in its place.

It was too late when people began to take notice. Once he was elected vice president, thousands made donations to Planned Parenthood in his name as a "fuck you." When Pence moved into temporary digs in Washington during the transition, several houses in his neighborhood flew rainbow flags in protest. An LGBTQ dance party was held on his street 48 hours before his inauguration.

Pence's favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz, and he is poised to be the man behind the curtain. His influence could be far-reaching, from judicial selection to leaning on Pence's old cronies on Capitol Hill.

But at what price? During the campaign, Pence said he and Trump were actually very much alike: They both liked to pray, and Trump claimed to be a good Christian. His old colleagues in Indiana shook their heads and wondered if he had sold his soul.

State Rep. Ed DeLaney was Pence's representative back in Indianapolis. Like Pence, he grew up in a Catholic house.

"There was always an altar boy trying to be more pious than the priest," DeLaney says while sitting in his cubicle at the Statehouse. "That's Mike Pence." He paused for a moment as a band struck up for one of Pence's farewell ceremonies. "Now, is this altar boy that pious, or is he just pretending that 'cause it's working for him?"

DeLaney wasn't sticking around for the hoopla, so he put his coat on and headed into a bleak Indiana afternoon.

"That's something that only Mike Pence can answer."

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Cameroon has shut down the internet in its English-speaking regions

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Anti-government demonstrators block a road in Bamenda, Cameroon, December 8

Internet connections have been completely shut down in the northwest and southwest of Cameroon, its two main English-speaking regions as a long drawn out mass protest against marginalization by the French-speaking led government persists.

It is the first time the central African country is tampering with internet connectivity, which has been ongoing in the former Southern Cameroons since Jan. 17.

Internet users in the affected parts of the country found out they could no longer communicate and disseminate information particularly on social media. No prior notice had been given by the government before the internet blackout.

The shutdown came less than two hours after government outlawed the activities of two Anglophone pressure groups—Southern Cameroons National Council and the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium. Two leaders of the Consortium, Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor and Dr. Fontem A. Neba, were arrested same day in Buea and airlifted to the nation’s capital Yaounde.

Cameroon’s current difficulties stem back to its pre-independence history when it was formed from a region that was colonized by the British with the region run by the French. Its government, education, and legal systems are dominated by the larger French-speaking region. In recent years tensions have mounted as people from the Anglophone regions have complained about being marginalized by the Francophone-led establishment. The Anglophone regions account for just under 20% of the Cameroon’s 23 million population.


African governments have been at the forefront of internet shutdowns in the last two years. Last year shaped up to be “the year of internet shutdowns,” as at least 11 African governments interfered with the internet during elections or protests. More people are having to figure out how to stay online during such shutdowns.

Cameroon authorities were easily able to impose the shutdown due to the fact the country’s optic fibre backbone is operated by a state owned corporation, Cameroon Telecommunications (CAMTEL). Other mobile network and internet service providers; MTN Cameroon, Orange Cameroun and Nexttel rely solely on CAMTEL’s optic fibre to service their subscribers.

Cameroon’s Ministry of Post and Telecommunications is said to have handed down firm instructions to the various network service providers to strictly implement the shutdown.

MTN Cameroon, which is a leading operator in the affected areas, sent messages to its subscribers, acknowledging the internet blackout and stating that it was due to “circumstances beyond their control.”

Customers of commercial banks, micro-finance institutions and money transfer agencies, which make use of internet, have confirmed the internet block in the main towns of Bamenda, Buea, Kumba, Limbe and Kumbo. Buea in particular has been nicknamed Silicon Mountain, for its small but burgeoning tech startup ecosystem and local universities which sit in the shadow of Cameroon’s Mount Fako.

University of Buea in Cameroon's southwest English speaking region.

University of Buea in Cameroon’s southwest English speaking region.

The internet has largely been used as a tool for mobilization in the wake of mass protests which have been characterized by ‘Ghost Towns’. Principally two Cameroonian social media activists, Mark Bara and Tapang Ivo Tanku, have been using Facebook and Whatsapp to mobilize aggrieved Anglophone Cameroonians from abroad.

Many believe the government’s move is an attempt to circumvent internet planning and communication through social media. It has prompted a #BringBackOurInternet campaign from Cameroonians in regions unaffected by the shutdown. Prior to the shutdown, government embarked on a campaign of sending warning messages to all phone users in the country.

After pictures suggesting government neglect following the Eseka train accident last year, the Biya regime attempted to cut off social media—Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter in the country. But it failed in its attempt, apparently due to limited knowhow.

According to reports, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, the country’s Minister of Communications then negotiated with the mobile telephone and internet providers operating in the country to suspend service for some time.

There are no indications that the reinstatement of internet connection west of Cameroon will take place any time soon.

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Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh emptied the state’s coffers on his way out

Gambian strongman Yahya Jammeh loots state coffers before going into exile

The euphoria over Yahya Jammeh’s departure was short-lived after his successors discovered that he looted state coffers before the Gambia.

After losing a Dec. 1 election to president Adama Barrow, Jammeh held on to power for weeks in a bid to extend his 22-year rule. Facing domestic and international pressure, he finally left the Gambia on Jan. 21, but not before lining his pockets.

“The coffers are largely empty,” Mai Fatty, one of Barrow’s advisors said on Sunday, a day after Jammeh left.

“Over two weeks, over 500m dalasi (over $11 million) were withdrawn,” Fatty told journalists. “As we take over, the government of the Gambia is in financial distress.”

The money was taken within the last two weeks, according to technicians at the Central Bank of Gambia. Further investigations could show that Jammeh stole even more.

Gambians were already furious that a cargo plane carrying luxury goods and cars also followed Jammeh’s plane as he flew out of Banjul International Airport. Jammeh went into exile in Equatorial Guinea after a delegation of West African leaders convinced him to step down. The deployment of thousands of regional troops to the country also added pressure.

“For many Jammeh is the winner and we let him get away with everything after taking the country hostage and driving us to the wire,” Fatty said in a Jan. 22 statement, adding that he and Barrow’s advisors were shocked to learn about the cargo plan on Facebook.

Gambian strongman Yahya Jammeh loots state coffers before going into exile

Gambians celebrate Jammeh’s loss and the end of a personality cult.

Apart from the die-hard Jammeh supporters who wept as he waved goodbye, Gambians are optimistic for a new era in the country. The many who fled during the political impasse are already returning (video), as well as those who have been in exile for years.

“We are free,” 35-year-old food vendor Isatou Toure told Reuters. “Everyone is so happy that man is gone. We are happy to see [the soldiers]. They protected us from Jammeh.”

Africa’s smallest mainland country has a population of less than 2 million people and should be a trade and tourist hub on Africa’s west coast. Almost half the population, however, lives below the poverty line. Thousands of young Gambians have risked their lives trying to get to Europe via “the Back Way.”

Barrow has already promised to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with Jammeh’s wrongdoing. He also wants to create a “democratic environment” through a more representative cabinet.

For now Barrow remains in Senegal—where he was forced to take his oath of office— and will return to Gambia as soon as he is certain it is safe. In the meantime, troops are sweeping the presidential house for explosives, combing Jammeh’s hometown for bunkers of weapons and trying to identify possible mercenaries loyal to Jammeh.

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Trump struggles to shake his erratic campaign habits

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That Donald Trump chose to spend the first 48 hours of his presidency feuding with the news media over crowd sizes, crowing about his win in front of a wall of killed CIA agents, spreading inaccurate information and firing off tweets didn't shock his supporters or critics.

But it showed two likely hallmarks of the Trump administration, according to interviews with people involved in and close to his government.

First, his team will be very combative, even when the facts are not on their side, trusting that their political base dislikes the news media and will believe them no matter what. Sometimes, they are likely to muddy the water or throw a hand grenade into a political debate just to change the headlines.

"What you're seeing with the press secretary is what the administration is going to do, they are going to challenge the press," said Rep. Tom Reed, a New York Republican on Trump's executive committee. "A lot of people in the Beltway forget that the news media doesn't have much credibility. This is the way he ran his campaign, and it worked."

And second, when Trump grows angry, he will usually want the strongest response possible, unless he is told no, and that he will often govern or make decisions based off news coverage.

"Most of the people around him are new to him. One of the things they don't understand about him is he likes pushback. They are not giving him the pushback he needs when he's giving advice. He's a strong guy. He's intimidating to a lot of people," said Christopher Ruddy, a Trump friend who talks to him often and is the CEO of Newsmax. "If he doesn't have people who can tell him no, this is not going to go very well."

He added: "They got off to a very rocky start because they see everyone as adversaries. They haven't moved out of campaign mode into White House mode."

Trump's inauguration was largely an as-expected affair, and he sounded many of the right notes, said political observers, historians and people close to him. But news coverage soon fixated on the protesters across the country Saturday that far outnumbered his supporters the day before. Trump was increasingly angered by it, sending his press secretary out to fuzz up the situation and to brag about Trump’s support, in the face of knowable facts that contradicted what he said about record crowd sizes.

"The truth of the matter is he had a successful inauguration with a respectful crowd. The transition of power went off without a hitch. His supporters were amiable by and large," said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian. "But then he can never let go and stop watching cable TV. Now he's off to the worst start of a presidency in a very long time."

That Trump wanted Sean Spicer, the press secretary, to go out with props in the White House briefing room — two large pictures of the crowd — was trademark, people who know him say. Trump loves props.

One person who frequently talks to Trump said aides have to push back privately against his worst impulses in the White House, like the news conference idea, and have to control information that may infuriate him. He gets bored and likes to watch TV, this person said, so it is important to minimize that.

This person said that a number of people close to him don't like saying no — but that it has to be done.

"You can't do it in front of everyone," this person said. "He's never going to admit he's wrong in front of everyone. You have to pull him aside and tell him why he's wrong, and then you can get him to go along with you. These people don't know how to get him to do what they need him to do."

Several people who are close to Trump were aghast by the briefing. "It's surreal. We finally have the White House, and it's this," one GOP strategist close to Trump's top aides said.

"The president has a modus operandi: He hits back, he strikes back, he's very impulsive at times. He likes to be authentic. It's worked for him for decades, his reputation, his brand, his candidacy," Ruddy said. "The problem is he's moved into a different position and that hasn't fully sank in yet. He's not speaking for Donald Trump and his company. He's speaking as the leader of the free world."

Among his more conservative backers, they said Trump still had done plenty of good things. Ruddy said he was heartened by the tone of the speech, which he called "a terrific start and a very high bar." Reed, the New York congressman, said he was pleased with the early executive orders, freezing regulations and beginning the reversal of the Affordable Care Act.

Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-backed group, said he was pleased with the administration's alignment on corporate tax reform and health care — and he expects them to make drastic changes soon. "There just isn't much daylight between us," he said.

Like Sen. John McCain did earlier in the day, Phillips shrugged off the chaos. "I don't have any opinion on it," he said.

Some mocked the Central Intelligence Agency speech, where Trump bragged on Saturday about his own prowess in front of a wall of dead CIA employees — former director John Brennan said he was “deeply saddened and angered” by the remarks, and Brinkley, the presidential historian, said it was "a disgrace to himself and his country." But his supporters noted that the agents cheered, and that his political base likely loved it.

"One thing we know about Donald Trump is he generally does not use prepared notes. He does digress from time to time. It makes it a little more folksy. I love it, and many of his supporters do," said Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican.

Rep. Mark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican, said Trump had assembled a strong Cabinet, filled with conservatives. But whether his aides can contain Trump — and whether he can control his worst impulses to get things done — remains unclear.

"It's unconventional at best and disastrous at worst," Sanford said of Trump's tactics. "These distractions have the capacity to sink his entire administration, and they're not representative of the quite serious people he's assembled."

He added: "If he's responding to one reporter's view of crowd size every time, this is going to be the most unusual four years."

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19 hours ago
“He gets bored and likes to watch TV so it is important to minimize that.”
Washington, DC
16 hours ago
"These people don't know how to get him to do what they need him to do." Unlike, say, Putin, who seems to know exactly how to do that.

U.S. Eyes Michael Flynn’s Links to Russia

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WASHINGTON—U.S. counterintelligence agents have investigated communications that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser had with Russian officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

Michael Flynn is the first person inside the White House under Mr. Trump whose communications are known to have faced scrutiny as part of investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Treasury Department to determine the extent of Russian government contacts with people close to Mr. Trump.

It isn’t clear when the counterintelligence inquiry began, whether it produced any incriminating evidence or if it is continuing. Mr. Flynn, a retired general who became national security adviser with Mr. Trump’s inauguration, plays a key role in setting U.S. policy toward Russia.

The counterintelligence inquiry aimed to determine the nature of Mr. Flynn’s contact with Russian officials and whether such contacts may have violated laws, people familiar with the matter said.

A key issue in the investigation is a series of telephone calls Mr. Flynn made to Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., on Dec. 29. That day, the Obama administration announced sanctions and other measures against Russia in retaliation for its alleged use of cyberattacks to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election. U.S. intelligence officials have said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacks on Democratic Party officials to try to harm Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

Officials also have examined earlier conversations between Mr. Flynn and Russian figures, the people familiar with the matter said. Russia has previously denied involvement in election-related hacking.

In a statement Sunday night, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said: “We have absolutely no knowledge of any investigation or even a basis for such an investigation.”

Earlier this month, Sean Spicer, then spokesman for the Trump transition team and now White House press secretary, said the contacts between Messrs. Flynn and Kislyak dealt with the logistics of arranging a conversation between Mr. Trump and Russia’s leader.

“That was it,” Mr. Spicer said, “plain and simple.”

U.S. officials have collected information showing repeated contacts between Messrs. Flynn and Kislyak, these people said. It is common for American officials’ conversations with foreign officials to surface in NSA intercepts, because the U.S. conducts wide-ranging surveillance on foreign officials. American names also may surface in descriptions of conversations shared among officials of foreign governments.

In this Sept. 6, 2013 file photo, Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, speaks with reporters in Washington.

In this Sept. 6, 2013 file photo, Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, speaks with reporters in Washington. Photo: Cliff Owen/Associated Press

The Senate Intelligence Committee is also looking into any possible collusion between Russia and people linked to Mr. Trump, top senators have said. That is part of the committee’s broader probe into Russian election interference. Counterintelligence probes seldom lead to public accusations or criminal charges.

In the counterintelligence inquiry, activities of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and advisers Roger Stone and Carter Page have come under scrutiny due to their known ties to Russian interests or their public statements, people familiar with the matter said.

The line of inquiry related to Mr. Manafort grew out of a probe into people associated with the collapsed government of Russia-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who counted Mr. Manafort as an adviser before being ousted by pro-Europe street protesters in early 2014.

As U.S. investigators aided Ukrainian prosecutors hunting for funds pilfered from Mr. Yanukovych’s government, they have tried to determine if any conduct also involved violations of U.S. law by Mr. Manafort or others, the people said.

Mr. Manafort denied any wrongdoing. He said his work in Ukraine focused on moving the country toward the West. He denied any relationship with the Russian government or Russian officials.

“Anyone who takes the time to review the very public record will find that my main activities, in addition to political consulting, were all directed at integrating Ukraine as a member of the European community,” Mr. Manafort said in an emailed statement.

“I have never had any relationship with the Russian [government] or any Russian officials,” Mr. Manafort added. “I was never in contact with anyone, or directed anyone to be in contact with anyone.”

Of alleged Russian cyberhacking, he said: “My only knowledge of it is what I have read in the papers.”

Mr. Stone is a longtime Republican political operative who left Mr. Trump’s campaign in mid-2015 and previously worked with Mr. Manafort at a lobbying firm.

Mr. Stone drew scrutiny after hinting in August that Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta would soon be in trouble. In October, WikiLeaks began releasing emails stolen from Mr. Podesta.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that his account was hacked on behalf of Russian spy agencies.

Mr. Stone denied collusion with Russia or WikiLeaks. He said he hadn’t spoken to anyone in Russia “in many years.” He accused U.S. government officials in the “deep state” who oppose Mr. Trump and are angry about his election victory of peddling the theory that Mr. Stone and other Trump advisers have ties to Moscow.

“This is nonsense,” Mr. Stone said in a phone interview. He said he hadn’t been contacted by the FBI or other government officials, including Congress, about ties to Russia.

Mr. Stone said he has a conduit to Julian Assange through “an American journalist,” who he said communicates with the WikiLeaks founder, now living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Mr. Stone declined to identify the journalist, whose job could be jeopardized by the association with Mr. Assange, according to Mr. Stone.

Mr. Page, a businessman whom Mr. Trump identified in March 2016 as one of his foreign-policy advisers, has drawn attention for his meetings in Moscow during the presidential campaign.

An unsubstantiated dossier of opposition research compiled by a former MI6 officer said Mr. Page held meetings with Igor Sechin, a longtime aide to Mr. Putin and current head of Russian state oil giant Rosneft, as well as a top Kremlin political operative Mr. Page denied the allegations.

In a text message to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Page said he was giving a speech at a Russian university at the time the dossier placed him at the meetings. Mr. Page said he spoke with university officials, think-tank scholars and a few businesspeople.

—Paul Sonne and Damian Paletta contributed to this article.

Write to Carol E. Lee at, Devlin Barrett at and Shane Harris at

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The Postmodern Presidency



I remember 10 to 15 years ago, when one conservative talking point was that postmodernism was destroying western civilization. And then they realized they could just create their own truths. I have long called the Bush administration the first postmodern prescience, but Emperor Tangerine is going all in.

“You did not answer the question of why the president asked the White House press secretary to come out in front of the podium for the first time and utter a falsehood,” Todd interrupted. “Why did he do that? It undermines the credibility of the entire White House press office on day one.”

“No, it doesn’t. Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck,” Conway replied. “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and they’re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But the point really is—”

“Wait a minute. Alternative facts? Alternative facts?” Todd interjected, looking incredulous. “Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true.”

Conway tried to interrupt, but Todd continued.

“Look, alternative facts are not facts,” he said.

On the other hand, when you’ve lost Chuck Todd on the 3rd day of your presidency….


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