DES MOINES — President Donald Trump is making progress in implementing his agenda, but that doesn’t come through amid the “noise” generated by opponents and social media that overwhelms the news, one of his key advisers told Iowans on Saturday.
Trump senior counselor Kellyanne Conway told about 1,000 people attending The Family Leader Foundation’s annual summit of evangelical and social conservatives that she grew up in an era when Americans closed ranks after an election to support the president. However, she said, that’s not been the case given the “venom and rancor” after the 2016 election.
Conway, 50, said the Trump era has been marked by a positive U.S. stock market reaction and growth in job creation, and noted that “ISIS is on the run.” Those successes aren’t necessarily at the forefront, not because of biased news coverage, she said, but rather because of incomplete coverage.
“People aren’t telling you the news. They’re giving you the noise,” said Conway, who sat for a public interview with Family Leader CEO Bob Vander Plaats as part of his group’s summit.
Later, she attended a private reception with about 50 Iowa Republicans, but did not meet with Iowa reporters during her brief visit.
“Progress is being made,” Conway told The Family Leader forum. “It’s just our job every day to focus on the news and cut out the noise.”
Vander Plaats hailed Conway as a trailblazer for women by breaking a glass ceiling in 2016 in becoming the first woman to manage a successful presidential campaign.
She attributed much of that to having a candidate who could connect with people with a message that gave them hope of a better future while holding out hope that someday Americans would elect a female president.
“Clearly, the country is ready for a female president, just not that one at that time,” said Conway, referring to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I do hope and I fully expect that we will have a female president someday,” she added. But she said she might not encourage any of her three daughters to seek elective office “because, in addition to having to have the fire in your belly, you have to swallow a lot of bile in your throat.”
The presidential counselor said she has had to endure a lot of gender-based criticism. “I saw some of it this morning,” she said. “I would use it as examples, but this is a family audience.”
At another point, she drew applause when she told the gathering, “I’m old enough to remember when comedians were funny. I kind of miss those days.”
In response to Vander Plaats’ question about civility, Conway said: “I understand that we’re a nation of charged opinions and partisan rancor, but I do find most of the vitriol comes from people who don’t know and who are very brave on social media — which means they’re not brave at all.”
She said Trump likes to call himself a “counterpuncher,” and she has adopted a similar style. “I really throughout my life have never tried to draw first blood,” she told the audience. “But when attacked, you can turn the other cheek, or you can also just kind of put people in their place sometimes.”
Conway, who was raised by a single mother, held herself out as an example of someone who reached “an American dream unexpectedly.” While ascending to the “rarefied air” of the White House is the “greatest professional privilege of my life,” she said “the greatest privilege of my life by far is being mother to those four children.”
Health care bill
Conway did not mention the health care bill pending in the U.S. Senate during her Family Leader appearance.
But Iowa GOP Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said the bill, and whether majority Republicans would have the votes for passage, were major topics during a party fundraiser at a Des Moines country club.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has planned for a vote this week on revised legislation to dismantle the Obamacare law. Republicans control the Senate by a 52-48 margin and cannot afford to lose more than two from within their ranks because of united Democratic opposition, but two Republican senators already have declared opposition.
Kaufmann said that during Conway’s meeting with Iowa Republicans, he did not hear any “doomsday” talk from her.
“It was certainly not a negative presentation of ‘woe is us, it’s not going to pass.’ She made no predictions other than to say this is absolutely crucial,” Kaufmann said.
“I walked away from there with a renewed sense that they are working on it,” he added.
“It is an absolute priority, and I heard nothing in her speech today to dissuade me from the fact that I believe it is going to pass.”
Talking with Iowa reporters, Vander Plaats said the political base he represents voted for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and that’s what GOP candidates have championed for eight years.
“Mitch McConnell (said) ‘we’re going to rip it out by the roots. Everything is going to be gone.’ That’s not true, even with this one,” Vander Plaats said.
“This is very much watered down. This isn’t really getting rid of Obamacare; this is modifying Obamacare, and now you’re going to own it.
“What we voted for and what they promised is that they were going to repeal Obamacare and they were going to restore private-market principles. But now it seems like we’re trying to hand out a lot of different things again to make it palatable for people to pass.
“That’s when you get bad legislation,” he added.
Iowa Republican U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have not publicly stated how they will vote on the Senate bill, and they didn’t discuss the issue during separate speeches to The Family Leader summit.
They did draw cheers from the attendees by noting the appointment of a conservative to the U.S. Supreme Court and efforts to “defund” Planned Parenthood by cutting off government funding to abortion providers.
Grassley told the group he was subjected to “blunt personal smear attacks” by Senate Democrats last year because he refused to hold a hearing for President Barack Obama’s choice to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.