Ted and Heidi and Caroline and Catherine Cruz, and Joe the kindergarten class stuffed giraffe, had dinner with President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump last night at the White House.
And that’s about all we know.
No tweets from the president.
No photo from the White House.
No pool report, except this, in advance of the dinner yesterday, from Real Clear Politics’ Alex Simendinger.
The president remained hidden from POOLers’ view Wednesday. Still on his schedule this evening: dinner in the residence with the first lady and Sen. & Mrs. Ted Cruz.
Oh to have been a fly on that wall.
I mean considering their history, this was like Rosie O’Donnell and Megyn Kelly stopping by for a nosh.
As I wrote yesterday:
The dinner, Cruz said, came at the president’s invitation and demonstrates just how far their complicated and often venomous relationship has come since a bitter primary rivalry — which included an extraordinary exchange of tweets about their wives and ended with Cruz, on the last day of his campaign, saying, “I will tell you, as the father of two young girls, the idea of our daughters coming home and repeating any word that man says horrifies me.”
But Cruz eventually endorsed Trump, campaigned for him and has emerged as a booster of the president’s agenda in the Senate.
Las week, I recounted Cruz’s earlier animus to Trump in a First Reading: Who’s bat-crap crazy now? Or how Ted Cruz learned to stop worrying and love The Donald.
If you want more details take a look at yesterday’s Fixin the Washington Post: Donald Trump is having dinner with Ted and Heidi Cruz. Here are nine things that might make it awkward.
At the daily White House press briefing yesterday, Sean Spicer was asked whether President Trump might take the opportunity to apologize to Heid Cruz for a tweet – what else – comparing her looks unfavorably with his wife’s.
I guess not.
So, in the absence of any actual information, we are left to imagine how last night’s dinner might have gone.
For those who have started watching Feud: Bette and Joan,one can only hope that dinner did not begin with the president casually remarking, “You know, Ted, there are rats in the White House basement.”
We would know by now if If Ted had gone all Michael Corleone on the president in retribution for Trump’s blood libel against Cruz’s father, Rafael.
I also don’t see our senator doing what Uncle Junior did at Sunday dinner here, disparaging the Big Guy’s small hands. (Who knew that was such a thing.)
Considering all the brain power at the table, the conversation could have taken an intellectual turn.
Or, it’s quite possible that Cruz broke the ice with a little Princess Bride.
Or he might have riffed on how in the world that meme about him being the Zodiac Killer ever took hold.
I do truly believe that a good meal can seize the spirit …
And melt the heart.
As Spicer noted, last month, Trump had Sen. Marco Rubio and his wife over for dinner.
Little Marco – the inspiration for what had to be Trump’s most fully realized pieces of performance art in the primary campaign, at a rally in Fort Worth.
The only comparable performance was Trump’s takedown of Ben Carson in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
And now Ben Carson is Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development..
And they make a fuss about Lincoln’s Team of Rivals.
Here was Carson addressing his new department a few days ago.
BEN CARSON: That’s what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less.
But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.
That is one optimistic slave, who chained in the bottom of a slave ship dreams that one day – maybe a century from now – a great Civil War will emancipate his great-great-grandchildren, and then, another century after that, a president from Texas will see to it that those great-great grandchildren’s great-great-grandchildren will actually be able to exercise their right to vote.
Where is Dave Chappelle when you need him?
But this is what happens when a bunch of political neophytes are running the show.
On the other hand, if you want to see how it’s supposed to be done, go to a pro.
Here is Rick Perry speaking to his new department last Friday.
Dr. Carson. President Trump. Watch (beginning a little after the 3-minute mark) and learn.
My lifetime dream was to be a veterinarian. From a very young age I knew I wanted to go to school at Texas A&M. And I wanted to be a veterinarian. And organic chemistry made a pilot out of me.
Getting to be able to come to this agency is an extraordinary journey for me. I still get reminded on a regular basis about something I couldn’t remember in a debate about this agency.
Hey, President Trump, when are you having Rick and Anita over for dinner?
In his 2015 inaugural address as lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick famously proclaimed: “I stand here with a servant’s heart, respectful of all faiths, but as a Christian first, a conservative second and a Republican third.”
I think that for Patrick, Senate Bill 6, the bathroom bill, is about keeping faith with that order of allegiance and with Christian conservative Texans for whom transgender rights is a bridge – really a few bridges – too far.
On Monday, Patrick met with pastors to brief them on the bill. He told them:
Pray for all your legislators to be bold and courageous, do the right thing, pray for their protection and then go out and win this fight for America because America is watching Texas. The world depends on a strong America and America depends on a strong Texas and a strong Texas depends on a church and our synagogues. That’s what it stands for — Texas values. That’s who we are.
Just before 5 this morning, nearly a full day since the hearing opened bright and early Tuesday morning, the Senate State Affairs Committee, approved SB 6, despite overwhelming testimony against it.
A Texas Senate committee approved the transgender bathroom bill at 4:50 a.m. Wednesday, almost 21 hours after the start of a public hearing that drew hundreds, most of them in opposition.
The 8-1 vote by the State Affairs Committee — with only Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, opposed — sent Senate Bill 6 to the full Senate, where a vote is likely to be taken next week.
During the hearing, 253 witnesses spoke against SB 6 – many of them transgender Texans or parents of a transgender child — while 29 urged the committee to support the measure, according to a count by the American-Statesman.
SB 6 would prohibit transgender-friendly bathroom, locker room and changing room policies in public schools, universities and in government buildings. It also would overturn city and county requirements for transgender bathrooms and prohibit cities and counties from withholding contracts based on a company’s bathroom policy.
Violators who allow people to use the bathroom of their gender identity, not the sex listed on their birth certificate, could be fined $1,000 to $1,500 for the first offense, rising to $10,000 to $10,500 for subsequent violations.
Patrick and other supporters of SB 6 insist it is not so much about fear of transgender people, as it is fear of male perverts and molesters who would use the cover of a transgender identity – and rights bestowed on that identity – to enter women’s restrooms and prey on the girls and women therein.
Among the early, invited witnesses was Tony Perkins, a crusader for conservative Christian values as head of the Family Research Council. (It was Tony who wrote the line that Trump famously misdelivered as “Two Corinthians” instead of “Second Corinthians.)
From Perkins’ testimony:
This bill responds to a potential threat not just from the federal government, but from local governments and school districts within Texas that might choose to adopt ‘non-discrimination’ laws or policies that elevate ‘gender identity’ over biological sex and thereby threatening the security and privacy of Texans.
Let me emphasize that the threat does not primarily come from persons who identify as transgender. Rather, it comes from those who might exploit the situation by posing as transgender to gain easier access to women’s bathrooms or changing facilities, where they can engage in voyeurism, indecent exposure, or even sexual assault.
But, while proponents of SB 6 have certainly sounded the alarm about the peril to innocent girls and women, I think that ultimately what is at issue is the threat that people who identify as transgender – and their claims to legitimacy and to rights that need to be respected – poses to that particular Christian conservative sense of right and wrong, moral and immoral.
I only watched about 7 hours of yesterday’s testimony, from about 6 p.m. to about 1 a.m.
It was riveting, and, in many ways a replay of the hearing at the beginning of February on SB 4, to ban sanctuary cities.
From Chuck, scarcely more than a month ago:
According to the Senate State Affairs Committee, 264 people spoke against a bill to prohibit “sanctuary” city and county policies during a 16-hour public hearing that lasted until after midnight Friday. In the end, the panel voted 7-2 along party lines to approve Senate Bill 4.
In both cases, members of a vulnerable minority poured their hearts and souls out for most of a day against legislation that they literally said would ruin their lives and/or the lives of people they know, a handful of people spoke up in support of the legislation, and the Senate committee voted to enact the legislation that, for all the opposition in the chamber, polls indicate is very popular with the broader public.
One after another, transgender people – looking like the gender they identify with – and their families, offered dramatic often anguished testimony about their journey to assuming the gender that they believe they were born to be, regardless of their genitalia at birth, the peace they found when they were able to live that identity, and how SB 6 threatens to disrupt and undo all that.
It would seem hard for anyone watching to discard the genuineness of their pleas.
Also, if the concern is bad men pretending to be transgender women as a way into restrooms where they can molest girls and women, it would seem that SB 6 would have the perversely unintended consequence of making it easier for any such pretenders to make their way into ladies’ restrooms under cover of being a transgender female who must follow the dictates of SB 6 and use the restroom that conforms to the gender on their birth certificate, regardless of what they look like now.
If nothing else, anyone watching yesterday’s hearing saw a seemingly endless parade of transgender men who appeared in every way as men – from their attire to, as one noted, “my facial hair and male pattern baldness” – who would, unless they had gone through the arduous and expensive process of having their birth certificate changed as to their gender, be obliged, under penalty of fine, to use the women’s/girls’ room, a requirement that, if observed, would, it would seem, over time, inure Texas women and girls to seeing people who looked like men in their bathrooms because, they would come to assume, those were actually women who think they are men.
I think it was Leo Lytle, a pastor from East Texas, who, some time after 11 p.m. last night, cut to the chase, in expressing his support for SB 6.
I live in peaceful Pine Valley, Texas, in Angelina County
My wife, Valerie and I are proud parents of eight children and ten grandchildren.
(I am surprised) that we even need to consider a bill such as SB 6 to provide for the safety and protection of our children. Just plain common sense says that biological males should use the boys’ rest room and not have access to the girls’ restrooms and dressing rooms, and allowing boys to use the girls’ restrooms and dressing rooms is foolish with a capital F and flies in the face of common sense and decency.
Convicted sexual predators are hoping that this bill fails and other public places (put up signs that) “all are welcome here.” Can you tell me that that won’t cause hurt to our school children? We cannot open this door of opportunity to those who might choose to prey upon our children. Have we lost our sense of decency in our state?
(There are) those who have been involved in the effort to systemically deconstruct our culture. Have we systematically deconstructed our culture?
We have heard from many of them here tonight who are attempting to move the boundary of moral decency again and they must be stopped. I repeat it, Madame Chairwoman, don’t buy this false bill of goods.
It is not about discrimination. It is most certainly not. It is about safety. It’s about decency. It’s about just plain old common sense. I urge you on behalf of my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my church, my community, the great state of Texas, to pass this bill.
State Sen. Bryan Hughes, a fellow East Texan, asked Lytle a question.
A lot of folks have talked about their faith and we don’t question anybody else’s faith. It’s a personal matter. Tell us from your viewpoint. We have heard a lot of talk about the Lord Jesus and Scripture’s been quoted. We know the Bible says He was full of grace and truth and we’re encouraged to speak the truth in love.
Pastor speak to that.
Absolutely. We have a society full of people – we have certainly heard from the transgender people here tonight. They have been out in force.
But, when it comes to my faith and what I believe the Scripture says, Jesus said, in the beginning – he quoted the Old Testament – in the beginning they were created male and female. It’s always been that way.
We’ve changed the boundaries though in our country. It started with marriage itself. It’s always been between a man and a woman until recent years. And of course our government, in the last few years has codified that into law, I guess you’d say.
It’s just a mater of time before that changes. I think we’re all aware of that. How many wives can a person have? How many husbands can a person have? It (marriage between one man and one woman) has served us well for all these years and I know that our Lord loves all of us and not all of us are right. I’m aware of that.
I learned a long time ago, it’s not about me, it’s all about Jesus and how he looks at it , and I have to line up my viewpoint with his and it’s not about lining up his viewpoint with mine.
Among the handful of other people who testified for SB 6 was Cindy Asmussen of Austin
Asmussen is the ethics and religious liberty advisor at the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and legislative director at Concerned Women for America of Texas.
I met Cindy and her husband at a Concerned Women for America event in 2013 when I first arrived in Texas, and they were very warm and welcoming.
As Asmussen posted on her Facebook page yesterday.
So I waited almost 12 hours to testify on the Texas Privacy Act and who do I get on the same panel with? The Texas Association of Business. Senators Hancock and Bettencourt did an awesome job shredding to pieces every bogus and false claim they made regarding Texas business. It may end up being the most explosive panel of the entire hearing.
But, in an earlier post, Asmussen indicated this is really not about business or about about dollars and cents at all.
Words cannot explain what we saw today at the Capitol. There were hundreds of protestors – many whom were men dressed as women and parents bringing young children they were helping to transition to another sex. Then listening to the complete confusion from SO MANY lost people who testified. My heart breaks over their deception. I physically felt sick at the awful spirit in the hearing room. This is complete deception in which these people need God’s delivering power.
Her post drew these comments:
Heather Self Stoner I have been listening to this since early morning…I feel like I need to turn on worship music (Brooklyn Tabernacle, Hezikiah Walker, Kirk Franklin type of stuff!) and turn it up REAL load to blast all of what I have heard out of my head!!…Except that I am tired and need to go to bed 🙂 I have been praying for your protection of all the darkness around you.
Cindy Asmussen Thank you Heather! You are SO right! We need to bathe ourselves in worship to lift some of this off. Those senators are going to desperately need that too.
Heather Self Stoner I just said to someone earlier tonight that I have a much more realistic view of what they have to deal with and that we need to step up the prayers for God to guard their minds and spirits. Thanks for all you do.
Cindy Asmussen Yes! That’s right on. And thank you for what you do too!
Greg Young Having just returned from D.C. and CPAC I too was in Austin the last two days for briefings and to watch how people behaved and to sense the spirit of darkness in Austin it was so thick with evil it was worse than D.C.
Karen Andrews My heart would have ached being there – I am studying 2 Corinthians right now and feeling like it’s Austin
Kori Peterson Oh Cindy. I’m so sorry. We are praying here and begging others to pray also and to speak out. Thank you for the incredible sacrifice you are making to secure the blessings of liberty to us all. Love you, precious and beautiful sister.
Praise God for a new day. Starting it with worship on my way back downtown. Trying to get out of my head the words transgender, cigender, “don’t call me a he or she pronoun”, agender, bigender, and the list goes on. … This was the actual vocabulary of the protestors that testified and they used them non-stop yesterday for HOURS. Please PRAY for our Texas Legislature. They need it more than ever before.
On October 14, the headline on First Reading was, Why every self-interested reporter should vote for Donald Trump for president
At the time, Trump’s ignominious defeat was a given, an inevitability, that, as a political reporter, left me in a very cross mood.
Already we are reading stories that would more appropriately appear a week or two weeks after the election.
But I suspect I am also experiencing the letdown that any political reporter is going to feel if, indeed, this is the end of Trump.
Because, for all that Trump has said about how the mainstream media has rigged the game against him, the plain fact is that no group of people has more to lose from Trump’s demise than the mainstream media.
The self-interest of the media – most especially the mainstream media – could not be more clear.
I mean seriously.
Every political reporter should conduct a thought experiment.
Imagine your heart-rate if Trump wins. Imagine the sheer exhilaration you will feel on Wednesday, Nov. 9, if the story unfolding before your eyes is of a Donald Trump presidency.
Think of all those hits.
Think of all those headlines.
Fast forward to Ken Doctor a few days ago at Newsonomics: Trump Bump Grows Into Subscription Surge — and Not Just for the New York Times
Publishers are witnessing a baby digital subscription boom, and its parents are that odd couple of our times, Donald J. Trump and John W. Oliver. Their offspring pop not just from the womb of the New York Times (NYT) building at Eighth Avenue and West 40th Street in Manhattan but now from hyperkinetic newsrooms from coast to coast.
Trump, of course, has become the greatest source of lead generation the American press has ever seen, his campaign and then election inspiring hundreds of thousands of Americans to rush to buy digital news subscriptions and memberships. Oliver provided some seed, name-checking The New York Times, The Washington Post and ProPublica in a legendary journalism-affirming appeal in August, which so far has generated 7.4 million views on YouTube.
A month ago, the big number that generated the big headlines was that of the Times, as it passed the 3 million subscription threshold. It is now the numbers generated by dozens of media companies that certify the Trump bump as a major trend in the news publishing business.
In the magazine world, January was the biggest subscription month ever for Conde Nast’s The New Yorker. Between the Nov. 8 election day and the end of January, the 92-year-old title sold 250,000 subscriptions. That’s up 230% compared with the same three-month period a year ago. January alone produced 100,000 subscriptions, a 300% increase over January 2016. The magazine now has its largest circulation ever, at more than a million..
Wow. Is it possible that on his way to destroying the free press in America, Donald Trump might actually save it, restoring it to profitability?
Sure, he calls out the pillars of mainstream journalism as the enemy of the American people.
But, when it comes to the bottom line, he is he best friend that enemy has had in my lifetime.
What’s Driving the Surge?
What’s powering subscription growth, and will it have legs?
No one knows.
“I hope it’s energized more by a desire for truth than it is by some sense that there’s imminent disaster,” Remnick said.
It’s not just idealism — or raw anti-Trump fear — behind the numbers. As Weisberg pointed out, “People do recognize that independent media is part of the thing that keeps us from authoritarianism, but it’s partly that people are just consuming a lot of media and news content.”
Remnick agreed. “My guess is that as much as I love cartoons that the bump in subscriptions is not because of that. … Nobody’s polled everybody to say the ‘Why?’ But I think we’re also at a moment where the values of truth and the values of what the press should be at its best are not only in question, but being questioned by the president of the United States in the most uncertain and aggressive terms. And I think people, and this is part of what gives me a lot of optimism … I don’t think people want to put up with it. I think people want to know. They’re not easily cowed or deceived. And I think tens of millions people think that way.”
Remnick runs a “liberal-minded magazine” long known for allowing its writers to express strong points of view. He attributes The New Yorker‘s own surge to much more than that, though.
“The rigor has to be there. The facts have to be facts, and no bullshit allowed. …I think readers are intelligent. They know the difference between shit and Shinola,” he said. “I think people are hungry for exactly what all the cynical outlets tell them they’re not hungry for.
Timothy Egan, in Saturday’s New York Times, placed the press revival in the context of A Great New Accidental Renaissance, thanks to Trump.
It’s early, but we may be experiencing a great awakening for the humane values that are under siege by a dark-side presidency. People are going inward, to find something bigger than Trump, and outward, to limit the damage he inflicts on the country.
Trump has been good — indirectly — for a free press, an independent judiciary, high school civics, grass-roots political activity, cautionary tales in literature and theater, and spirituality. You don’t know what you’ve got, as the song says, till it’s gone — or nearly so.
Face it: We have become a lazy, aging, fairly ignorant democracy. Even in the most turbulent election in modern history, about 90 million eligible voters didn’t bother to cast a ballot — the basic task of citizenship. Trump took his 46 percent of those who did vote, many of whom believe fake-moon-landing-level lies, and has tried to act like the earth moved, as he said on Tuesday. It did, but not in the ways that he meant it.
It would be immodest, even overtly Trumpian, to boast about the huge circulation gains at the not-failing New York Times, or the robust support for our competitors, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Buto let’s just say having a man who told an average of four false or misleading statements a day for the first month of his presidency has been good for those the president calls enemies of the people.
Which brings us to civics. One of the great failures of late has been the diminishment of this vital owner’s manual for citizenship. Only 23 percent of eighth graders scored at or above proficiency in civics in a survey last year. Almost two-thirds of adults cannot name all three branches of government.
But now students are clamoring to talk about government and politics. The kids are demanding that their teachers do something to prevent another generation of politically illiterate citizens from coming of age. They are also marching in the street, along with their parents, who have already pulled off one of the largest political demonstrations in American history.
The Indivisible movement, launched to resist Trump, has unleashed a feverish civic activism and, well self-conscious, you-don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-till-it’s gone patriotism, as evidenced by Sunday’s citywide Indivisible gathering, which packed the gym at Huston-Tillotson University for an event that included a town hall with U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett.
Before Trump, Williams told me, she had ‘never voted.”
“Forty years old. Six kids. My husband and I, we were both first-time voters. I got my two daughters who were old enough, it was the first time they could vote. They voted. My mother-in-law is 75 and never voted before. I had cousins who never voted before. We all voted.
“I went to the inauguration and went to his rally when he was in Austin at the Expo Center,” Williams aid.
She got a ticket for the inauguration from her congressman, Roger Williams, who is no relation.
“I loved it. it was the best time of my life. Went with my husband. We left on Thursday, January the 19th. We came home January the 21st.”
So it was quick?
“Well I have six kids. I had to get home for the kids. My oldest daughter watched the little ones. It was an amazing time.
Had Williams been to D.C. before?
“My first time. I want to take my kids back to see it. It’s amazing. Washington, D.C., is like one big art city, the buildings, the monuments and all the stuff is unbelievable. I want to take my kids. They say, `I want to go to Disneyland.’ I say, `No, we’re going to go to Washington, D.C.”
Of Trump, Wiliams said:
I thought the global elites were not going to let him have it.
I always felt it was like a rigged system. You’ve got Democrats, you’ve got Republicans but they’re both part of the New World Order, so you’ve voting for the same thing, just a little bit different.
So with Trump, he was not owned by anybody. Nobody owned him. He paid for his own campaign. He didn’t owe favors to anybody. So I felt the was an anti-globablist. That’s why I voted.
He talked out about the vaccines, said he vaccines could cause injury. It was like an awakening moment to me, because I think they cause injury and I think they are a big money deal.
First three oldest (children) all had vaccines, then I started researching and learning about it. Next two partially vaccinated, and then my last has no vaccines. He’s five, and I will not vaccinate him.
If they end up passing a law, which Hillary was going to demand, forced vaccines against parents’ wills, and I was not good with that. It should be a parent’s choice to choose whether to vaccinate your child or not.
So when he spoke out about the vaccines, nobody talks out about the vaccines that’s going to be running for president, I knew that was something big there.
I asked Williams, “Do you listen to Alex Jones?”
“Yes,” she said.
It had been rumored that Jones might be at Saturday’s March for Trump, but Williams knew he wouldn’t, that it would have created too much commotion.
“He’s become too famous,” she said.
Doctor and Egan don’t mention Alex Jones, but Trump has just as surely ushered in the Infowars Renaissance (and vice versa) as well.
“Whatever he says, people think he’s crazy, but it will always come out the way he says,” Williams said.
Jones is perpetually predicting civil war between Trump and the global elites – George Soros, Barack Obama, etc. – that would seek to undo him.
I don’t know where we’re headed.
At his town hall, Doggett said it is essential not to insult or demean Trump voters.
The American people must immediately demand a cessation of all consequential actions by this “president” until we can be assured that Russian efforts to hack our election, in a way that was clearly meant to help him and damage his opponent, did not also include collusion with or coverup by anyone involved in the Trump campaign and now administration.
This may sound extreme, but if the gathering fog of suspicion should yield an actual connection, it would be one of the most egregious assaults on our democracy ever. It would not only be unprecedented, it would be a profound wound to faith in our sovereignty.
Viewed through the serious lens of those epic implications, no action to put this presidency on pause is extreme. Rather, it is exceedingly prudent.
No, says Angela Williams.
Ir’s not like he’s running for the presidency. He is the president. We need to put all differences aside and come together as Americans and as America to make us better, not to tear us down.
“We need to unite, not fight,” said Paula Pompa, Williams’ mother.
I first met Diana Denman just over a year ago in South Carolina just ahead of that state’s primary.
As I wrote in First Reading at the time:
I met a very elegant San Antonian yesterday at the Greenville County Republican Women’s luncheon.
Her name is Diana Denman, who was in South Carolina to lend a hand to the Ted Cruz campaign ahead of Saturday’s primary, just as she had in Iowa before the Feb. 1 caucuses.
Denman was a friend to Ronald Reagan. An actress as a young woman, “my first vote for Ronald Reagan was for president of the Screen Actors Guild.”
I met her climbing up to the balcony — the luncheon was full to capacity. She offered that she liked Cruz precisely because she liked Reagan.
“I served with Reagan as a presidential appointee and was vice chairman of the Texas Republican party. I see in this brilliant young man a statesman. I see him prepared, incredibly well prepared, to lead this country. To follow in (Reagan’s) footsteps economically with his flat tax, to restore the military …. to respect this country.”
I next met Denman the week before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, when the convention’s Rules and Credential and Platform committees met in advance of the actual convention.
Donald Trump was the nominee, not Cruz.
Denman was a Cruz delegate, and one of two Texans on the platform committee. The other was David Barton, like Denman a former vice chair of the Texas Republican Party, who played an important role with the pro-Cruz super PACs during the primary campaign.
When the time came for the various subcommittees of the Platform Committee to meet, I chose to follow Barton into the meeting of the Committee on the Constitution, on which he served, instead of following Denman into the meeting of the National Security Committee, on which she served, figuring Barton was more likely to make news.
Of such decisions, great journalism careers are lost.
But, hey, I was also mindful at the time that the only people who really cared about the party platform were the people writing it.
Like other members of the Platform Committee, Barton readily acknowledges that few people will read or care about what he and his colleagues spent two arduous days arguing and poring over.
And that likely will include Trump, who isn’t a policy wonk and isn’t bound to follow the platform.
But even if Trump never gives it a second thought, for those who toiled in Cleveland this week, it still matters.
Well, like every other bit of conventional political wisdom in 2016, this turned out to be wrong, or at any rate, not quite right.
In fact, it turns out, the only thing that history may remember about the Republican Party Platform of 2016 is a plank that Diana Denman, quite of her own accord, sought to add to the platform supporting the defense of the Ukraine from Russian encroachment, a plank that was softened at the insistence of the Trump campaign.
Slight as she might be, the Abilene-born Denman is a formidable woman who punches well above her weight.
Here is the language that Denman sought to include in the platform:
Today, the post-Cold War ideal of a “Europe whole and free,” is being severely tested by Russia’s ongoing military aggression in Ukraine. Launched in 2014, Moscow’s offensive constitutes the first attempt since the end of World War II to change by force the sovereign boundaries in Europe. Ukraine’s government and people have shown a remarkable resolve to resist Russian pressure, including by mobilizing a military force that, together with European sanctions, has successfully thwarted further advances by the Russian military and its surrogates.
The Ukrainian people deserve our admiration and support in their struggle, and in their efforts to strengthen “the Rule of Law,” forge a Free Market economy, and expand democratic governance. We therefore support maintaining (and, if warranted, increasing) sanctions against Russia until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored. We also support providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine’s Armed Forces and greater coordination with NATO on defense planning. Simultaneously, we call for increased financial aid for Ukraine, as well as greater assistance in the economic and humanitarian spheres, including government reform and anti-corruption.
But that was before a Trump operative by the name of J.D. Gordon entered the picture at the Platform Committee’s National Security meeting last July.
I talked to Denman about all this for a couple of hours this weekend.
I asked her to reconstruct her first encounter with Gordon.
Never saw him before in my life. I had never run into him before. I had no idea who he was.
There were two men sitting over to the side and I didn’t know who they were and I didn’t know if they were staff or why they were there, but they were not sitting around our table with the delegates.
When I read my plank, when it came my turn in the subcommittee, he and the other man got up pretty rapidly and walked up over behind the three co-chairman, and one of the chairman asked to see a copy of my plank and I gave it to them, and the chairman read it and the men leaned over and pointed to certain things on it.
So, that point, I realized for some reason they felt they were involved and one of the chairman said they would like to table it for further review, or something like that. And so I let it pass and the men went over and sat down and discussion of other planks continued.
I didn’t sit there forever and so I went over to them and said, `I guess you know who I am but I don’t know who you all are and I don’t know why you’re here and if you have apparently a problem with my plank on the Ukraine I’d like to know what your problem is because I might have a problem with you all if I find out what your problem is with me.
I tried to sort of break the ice that way, and I said I’d like to know who you are, and he said, `I’m J.D.Gordon, and I said, `Who do you work for? Are you a staffer? Why are you here?’
And he said, `No, I’m on the Trump campaign.’ And then the other man, and I asked who he was. And he told me (he was Matthew Miller) and he said, `Oh Mrs. Denman don’t you remember me. I called you.’ Well, he actually had called me, spontaneously before I went to the convention and introduced himself and said, `I’m with the Trump campaign and is there anything he could be of help to me on.’
Well, you know me well enough, I don’t think I need any help.
I said, `I really thank you, it’s very gracious of you to call, and what is your background?’ He did say he had served in the Navy and been in Washington and been hired by Trump campaign. So he was sitting next to J.D.
Gordon had been on his cell phone at length. He just seemed to be consistently talking on it. So he said something to the effect that the wording, had to be cleared. And I said, `Cleared with who?’
And he said, `Cleared with New York,’ and I thought maybe he was overdoing his assignment and I didn’t quite believe him and I said, `Who are you clearing it with?’ And he said, `New York,’ and I said,`Who are you clearing it with?’
I asked him three times, `Who are you clearing it with?’ He was very specific in his answer, and I said, `Well I don’t want anything to happen with the wording in my plan,’ and I went back over and sat down and stayed awhile, and then it looked like we were about to wrap up and I raised my hand and said, `Please, we can’t disband because I don’t want this plank to not go forward.’
And there was very brief discussion and the ultimate (outcome) was that it really needed to be looked into further. Then it came up – the use of `lethal weapons’ in the statement, that was a big concern, and would I support it being removed or lessened to some extent, and I said I really hated to see that done.
I had very definitely and diligently addressed many of the problems in the Ukraine that are still there, having been in the Ukraine for elections over there, (I knew) the difficulties of emerging democracies and the bumps and ups and downs they all go through as they struggle forward from Communism.
Then the chairman sort of said, would I agree to removing the use of lethal weapons out of it and I said I really hated to see that removed because again, if a country asks for weapons and we OK it, to not send them the appropriate weapons that they are coming up against in their enemy, it seems foolish, it seems irresponsible, but I said, if that’s the only way it will pass I would agree to seeing it removed but I hated to see it being done, and obviously they were going to remove it one way or the other.
If you read what’s in the platform, you won’t see much of the way I submitted it.
Here is the language regarding the Ukraine in the actual platform:
In the international arena, a weak Administration has invited aggression. The results of the Administration’s unilateral approach to disarmament are already clear: An emboldened China in the South China Sea, a resurgent Russia occupying parts of Ukraine and threatening”neighbors from the Baltic to the Caucasus, and aggressive Islamist terror network in the Middle East. We support maintaining and, if warranted, increasing sanctions, together with our allies against Russia unless and until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored. We also support providing appropriate assistance to the armed forces of Ukraine and greater coordination with NATO defense planning.
It still reads as a very pro-Ukraine, anti-Russian statement, but, significantly, the mention of providing Ukraine with lethal defensive weapons had given way to providing appropriate assistance.
The next week, as the convention got underway, Josh Rogin reported in the Washington Post what had transpired with Denman’s plank.
The Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington.
Throughout the campaign, Trump has been dismissive of calls for supporting the Ukraine government as it fights an ongoing Russian-led intervention. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, worked as a lobbyist for the Russian-backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych for more than a decade.
Still, Republican delegates at last week’s national security committee platform meeting in Cleveland were surprised when the Trump campaign orchestrated a set of events to make sure that the GOP would not pledge to give Ukraine the weapons it has been asking for from the United States.
“Then it kind of died, but didn’t die,” Denman said of the story.
Voice of America found me and Radio Ukraine found me, etc. and once I did an interview with them, because I wasn’t going to back off my beliefs, ultimately, and the Reagan foreign policy – peace through strength – and this had been the first country whose borders had been encroached since the end of the Cold War, it just seemed we should be knowledgeable and respectful about the issue.
So once Voice of America and all picked it up, then it hit the networks.
That may have been what kicked off the Russia concerns. I have no idea, but I was simply waving my flag for the Reagan agenda and borders not being overrun and encroached, and it certainly has had legs to it that I had not expected.
You need tennis shoes to keep up with what is happening.
After the convention, Manafort denied on Meet the Press that the campaign had anything to do with changing the platform language on the Ukraine.
“It absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign,” Manafort told NBC’s “Meet the Press”.
Manafort, who has ties to ousted Ukrainian Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich, also denied having a personal role in altering the platform, saying “I had none. In fact, I didn’t even hear of it until after our convention was over.”
But on August 6, Brian Naylor reported on the controversy at NPR:
Denman “was steam rolled,” said Melinda Haring of the Atlantic Council, a Washington, DC, think tank, who believes the language the Trump campaign approved is weaker. And she says “it’s anyone’s guess” what Trump would do regarding Ukraine and Russia, and that perhaps he might not even back “appropriate assistance.”
Haring was referring to Trumps appearance on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos last month, when Trump said Vladimir Putin is “not going to go into Ukraine, OK? Just so you understand, he’s not going to go into Ukraine.”
Of course, Russia did go into Ukraine when it invaded Crimea two years ago and backed separatist fighters in other parts of the country. Trump later said that he meant Putin would not go into Ukraine on his watch, if he were President.
Still, that comment raised eyebrows, especially combined with his campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s past work for deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin ally.
Another GOP delegate on the platform committee, Rachel Hoff, is a national security analyst with the American Action Forum and believe the final platform language signals that a Trump administration would refuse to send lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.
“This puts Trump out of step certainly with Republican leadership but I would also say mainstream conservative foreign policy or national security opinion,” Hoff said.
Republicans in Congress have approved providing arms to the Ukrainian government but the White House has resisted, saying that it would only encourage more bloodshed.
It’s a rare Obama administration policy that the Trump campaign seems to agree with.
By the third week in August, Manafort was out at the Trump campaign, in part, according to Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin in the New York Times, because “a wave of reports about Mr. Manafort’s own business dealings with Russia-aligned leaders in Ukraine, involving allegations of millions of dollars in cash payments and secret lobbying efforts in the United States, threw a spotlight on a glaring vulnerability for Mr. Trump: his admiration for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.”
Meanwhile, J.D. Gordon, who originally, like Manafort, denied Denman’s story, now, in recent days, has confirmed it.
The Trump campaign’s national-security policy representative for the Republican National Convention, J.D. Gordon, told CNN on Thursday that he pushed to alter an amendment to the GOP’s draft policy on Ukraine at the Republican National Convention last year to further align it with President Donald Trump’s views.
Gordon’s remarks represent a dramatic shift from previous comments, and they come as Attorney General Jeff Sessions faces intense scrutiny over two previously undisclosed meetings with Russia’s ambassador to the US — one of which was timed to the convention.
In January, Gordon told Business Insider that he “never left” his “assigned side table” nor spoke publicly at the GOP national security subcommittee meeting, where the amendment — which originally called for “providing lethal defense weapons” to the Ukrainian army to fend off Russian-backed separatists — was read aloud, debated, and ultimately watered down to “providing appropriate assistance” to Ukraine.
According to CNN’s Jim Acosta, however, Gordon said that at the RNC he and others “advocated for the GOP platform to include language against arming Ukrainians against pro-Russian rebels” because “this was in line with Trump’s views, expressed at a March national security meeting at the unfinished Trump hotel” in Washington, DC.
“Gordon says Trump said at the meeting … that he didn’t want to go to ‘World War Three’ over Ukraine,” Acosta said.
Trump’s apparent involvement in steering the language change — Gordon reportedly told CNN that “this was the language Donald Trump himself wanted and advocated for back in March ” — is also at odds with what Gordon told Business Insider in January, when he said “neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Manafort were involved in those sort of details, as they’ve made clear.”
Denman figured at the convention that Gordon was most likely working at the direction of Manafort. But Gordon now seems to be saying the buck didn’t stop there.
When Denman pressed Gordon at the Platform Committee meeting, about who “New York” was:
He got more specific but I’ve refused to have a quote on that. He got very specific because I asked him three times,
I asked him diligently three times.
Whoever was on the other end of Gordon’s cell phone that day, Denman was stunned.
I couldn’t believe people of that stature, of that level have the time to be hanging on the phone while we’re in a subcommittee meeting before the convention even starts.
I really verbally said that to him. I can’t believe they’d be hanging on the phone with you. You’ve been on this cell phone the whole time, people hanging on the phone when they’ve got to go run a convention and run an election, whether it was Paul or whoever the it was.
Denman said the Trump operation on the floor of the convention was also heavy-handed – the convention floor flush with Trump campaign whips in their neon green caps, riding herd on the delegates.
I said to several people, `I feel like I’m at the Duma. I feel like I’m in Russia. It was rude. I resented the heck out of it and when the balloons came down I went to the lobby and there were several people there and I said, `I hope you don’t mind, I’m going to sit down and have a scotch and watch this on television.’
Denman’s passion for the Ukraine was born of her role as an election observer for the March 1998 Ukraine Parliamentary Elections with the International Republican Institute.
Some recollections of the experience from Denman.
The Zhytomyr Oblast (region) I was assigned to was several hours out of Kiev.
It was a fairly big city but there were collective farms, smaller cities, towns from there, and in between the two were collective farms where people were voting.
And they were voting the prisons for the first time. (Denman presumed the prisoners might be vulnerable to pressure in how they voted from their keepers)
Much against my (handlers’) wishes I demanded to go to the prisons.
Good heavens. I may not do it again but I did it once.
Here was this big prison. I waited and waited and waited and all the conversation back and forth
Then I get in and I go through this little old bitty narrow way, very narrow, and there are guards at each station, the roughest looking people you ever saw, and I’ve been around some pretty rough people. But they were pretty rough and there was a guard, you’d go maybe eight feet and there’d be another guard, gate and a heavy door, with a wire see through..
The guards all had gold teeth, the guards, the majority of them had not one or two but a mouthful of gold teeth, and I asked about it later and they said that’s because they had leaned so heavily with the Russians, that was kind of payoff. But when they talked or smiled, holy Christmas, here you got this whole mouth of gold teeth, it was spooky.
As I’m coming through this narrow passageway, one gate after another, one guard and lock after another, then there’s a big opening and typical of that part of the world, there’s a grayness day in and day out, the gray skies, the gray building, the gray insides, the gray floors. It really begins to get you down if you’re over there too long.
So I started out to see there was daylight, and the sun started to break through and then I heard, `Dun dun dun dun dun dun.’ Oh spit. Now what? They had the prison band come out and play for me. The guards with their gold teeth walked me across by the band and the touch of sunlight and across to another area where they were voting the prisoners.
Then I Insisted we be taken out to the collective farms.
I said I was from the United States here to monitor the elections and I tried to look as a master of the surroundings.
As I turned to go into this long open room, there were people in here voting and this old woman, old before her years and she looked and she started speaking in Ukrainian, not Russian, and these two old men were running the election in their old, uncleaned-forever black suits, and she started to come toward me and said in Ukrainian, `Are you an American? Are you an American?’ And the men grabbed her and tried to jerk her back and I screamed, `Turn her loose, take your hands off of her.”
And the people with me talked to them and they turned loose of her and she came over and grabbed my arms and held me with her hand and kept saying, “You’re and American, you’re an American. We have never seen an American before. Go home and tell your people, we are free, we are free. We are finally, finally free. Go home and tell your people we are free.’
These old men came and jerked her off of me and I screamed at them again and reached out and grabbed her hand and brought her back to me. Her little hands so gnarled and she said, “I have fought the Russian all these years. This is my country. This is my village. I have fought them all these years, but this is my land. I’ve been in Siberia time after time for speaking out. They send me, they starve me, they beat me. They punish me, but I have lived to come back to my land.’
It just broke my heart – `Go home and tell your people that we’re free.’ So my first Denman thought was I am going to pick her up and take her out of here with me and see if I could pull it off. Then what am I going to do with her when I got back to Kiev? Well I’ll bring her back to America.
I grew up and didn’t bring her with me but I almost did, I surely almost did. I’ll bet you those old men were so angry with her, I’m sure she had no firewood for winter, or firewood to cook. They punish.
Denman has been an election monitor on other occasions – in Russia and in Latin American.
Her national security – and political – credentials are well in order.
From her CV:
Texas Delegate / Platform Sub Committee National Security and Military, Cleveland, OH (2016)
Visitor, Landstuhl Military Hospital, Landstuhl, Germany (2016)
Visitor, Wiesbaden Military Base, Wiesbaden, Germany (2016)
Official Guest, 11th Annual European Resource Bank (Economic) – Aix-En-Provence (2014)
Official Delegation, Normandy – Normandy, France (2014)
Member, Texas U.S. Service Academy Nominations Board (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Official Guest, 10th Annual European Resource Bank (Economic) – Vienna, Austria (2013)
Official Guest, 19th Economic Forum – Krynica, Poland (2009)
Member, DACOWITS (Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services), Department of Defense (2006-2009)
Member, WHINSEC Board of Visitors (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), Department of Defense (2005-2009)
Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service (2009)
Official Guest, Center of Hemispheric Defense Studies. The Sub-Regional Conference on Central America. Cartagena, Columbia (2009)
Official Guest, Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies. The Sub-Regional Conference on Central America. Panama City, Panama (2008)
Member, DACOWITS / Republic of Korea – US Army Garrison Yongsan, Seoul – US Kunsan Air Force Base – US Army Garrison, Camp Humphreys, Camp Bonifas (United Nations Command Demilitarized Zone) (June 2008)
International Observer, Nicaraguan Presidential Elections (2006)
Member, American Foreign Policy Council / Congressman Curt Weldon Delegation to Tbilisi, Georgia – Minsk, Belarus – Moscow, Russia (2002)
Observer, The Jamestown Foundation Delegation to the Russian Presidential Elections (2000)
Observer, International Republican Institution to Ukraine’s Verkhovua Rada Elections (1998)
Observer, The Jamestown Foundation Delegation to the Russian Presidential Elections (1996)
Official Guest, Inaugural of President Armando Calderon Sol, El Salvador (1993)
Observer, Alianza Republica Naciionalista (ARENA) Party Conference, El Salvador (1993)
Accuracy in Media Conference, El Salvador (1990)
11th World Media Conference, Advancement of Global Communications and Cooperation Moscow, USSR (1990)
8th World Media Conference, Leaders Delegation to Eastern Europe and the USSR (1989)
Member, United Stated Presidential Delegation to Grenada, West Indies (1988)
Member, National Museum Services Board – Presidential Appointment (1986-1991)
Observer, US Delegation to Presidential Elections in Honduras, Central America (1985)
Member, Women for Peace through Real Defense, Geneva Summit, Geneva, Switzerland (1985)
Delegate -at- Large, Republican National Convention (1984)
Chairman, Texas Delegation to Southern Leadership Conference (1984/1986)
Guest, Conservative Party Conference, Brighton, England (1984)
Vice – Chairman, Republican Party of Texas (1983-1988)
Co-Chairman, US Peace Corps Advisory Council – Presidential Appointment (1982-1983)
So having triggered some of the suspicions by her actions, does Denman have a clear sense of what if any connection the Trump campaign had to the Russians?
No, it’s not clear what’s going on. And I’m really distressed.
I want Trump to have a chance and a good chance. I want him to have a chance of being a good president.
But we have to get his appointees who are all twisted up in this every day. I have never in all these years, it just looks like you get up in the morning and you think you might just have a clear day and then another bomb drops, and it’s gone on long enough.
I like what he says. I support what he says. I just want him to have some running time to just go ahead and get it done and see if he can turn America around.
Hes’ got to get his people in place to get anything working. He’s really been held back too long on this. I don’t have any idea whether the Russian thing is credible or not. It certainly has gone on too long. We have to get on about running America.
I really think as far as Trump personally, that there’s nothing here. It’s just beating a dead horse to death again. I don’t know. I really don’t know. But my gut feeling is that he himself is not involved in this. Staff is a different problem, former staff.
Denman said she also thinks that there was nothing untoward in Attorney General Sessions’ meetings with the Russian ambassador.
As she told another reporter who called her last week:
You’re going down the wrong tack. You’re off on the wrong road when you’ re trying to pull Sessions into this situation. I know him well enough, been around him enough.
Denman strongly supports Trump’s proposed military buildup.
If we were thrown into a military situation now I would just grit my teeth. We don’t have enough parts for airplanes – we’re really sized down incredibly in the military situation. People have said to me, `Where are we going to get the money to do this for the military?’ I said. “I don’t know but they better build this country back up again and then the Chinese wont come after us. But we’re awfully weak.’
We’re not only weak military, with supplies, but we’re also weak morally. I don’t see the patriotism.
Still, Denman said she thought there was enough latent patriotism to elect Trump president.
I believed he would win, that the America I grew up in, there must be enough of the American emotion and fervor that I grew up with that just doesn’t want socialism and more and more government.
Denman had planned to go Trump’s inauguration. She had good tickets and was all set to go.
So why didn’t she?
All these cohorts of mine have been wanting to break my neck for years, and I broke my own neck back in December.
I had just gotten to Washington to spend Christmas with long time friends.
She was at the University Club near the White House, having just taken to dinner a young North Korean refugee, who had just graduated from Hillsdale College.
She stood up and fell.
I guess I hit the table and I broke my neck.
She is still in a neck cast, which she hopes will be off in a couple of weeks.
She was, she was told, lucky not to be paralyzed.
What a frightening close call.
“Maybe it’s the Russians,” I said, joking, sort of.
“Well, it’s kind of the way they do things,” said Denman, laughing.
One of the revelations for me on moving to Texas was how often people’s core identity was connected to their alma mater, and how it often seemed that the most fundamental divide in the state was not so much red and blue as Longhorns and Aggies.
Yesterday was a good day for the Aggies. Rick Perry was sworn in as secretary of energy.
But, then again, UT has Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Of course, there are other allegiances in Texas, and other rivalries.
Like Texas Tech – the Red Raiders – and its own rivalry with A&M.
The Red Raider-Aggie relationship has had its bumps over the years, but one of the bigger strains occurred when Texas Tech fans tore down the goal posts 10 years ago.
Hundreds of Red Raider fans stormed the football field and tore down the Jones Stadium goal posts after Tech beat Texas A&M 12-0 on Nov. 3, 2001.
The fans carried a goal post into a section where A&M fans were sitting and tried to force it into the stands. An angry brawl ensued.
Mike McKinney, the father of an A&M football player and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s chief of staff at the time, was punched in the face. While at first believed to be a Tech fan, it turned out to be another A&M fan.
But before video proved it wasn’t a Tech fan, McKinney blasted Tech, calling the act “absolute foolishness,” according to previous newspaper accounts.
McKinney, who recently stepped down from his position as the Texas A&M System’s chancellor, couldn’t be reached for comment this week.
This piece was written on the occasion of A&M leaving the Big 12 Conference, ending the long football rivalry between the schools.
But, as I learned this past week, a really good rivalry will find its way.
McKinney was succeeded as chancellor of A&M by John Sharp, a former Texas Comptroller (he succeeded Texas Tech alumni Bob Bullock) who was also Rick Perry’s freshman roommate at A&M.
In 1998, Perry defeated Sharp for lieutenant governor.
Last Friday, Sharp scored a victory for the Aggies as the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents voted to drop its request to the Legislature for funding this session for a new school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.
From Karen Michael in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: From pause to halt: Texas Tech regents won’t pursue vet school funding this session
Texas Tech will not pursue funding for a proposed school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo for the next two years, changing the status of the project Friday from “on pause” to halt as Tech leaders respond to Texas lawmakers’ calls to tighten budgets statewide.
The Texas Tech University System Board of Regents’ vote on the vet school came Friday after an executive session at the end of a two-day meeting in Tech’s Student Union Building.o
Regent Vice Chairman Tim Lancaster made the motion before adjourning the meeting around noon.
“I move that the board adopt the following resolution: Because of limited budget funds available to the state of Texas for the next biennium, for the two fiscal years ending August 31, 2018 and August 31, 2019, and because of the need to emphasize other funding priorities for the Texas Tech University System, it shall be the policy of the board of regents of the Texas Tech University System that the system shall not further pursue funding by the 85th legislature of the school of veterinary medicine,” Lancaster said.
Regent Mickey Long seconded the motion and the board approved it unanimously with no further discussion.
The Tech system in December — a year after first announcing its intentions to build the school — said it placed the project “on pause.”The news came less than three months after system officials traveled to Amarillo to accept a $15 million incentive offered by the Amarillo city government.
Under the terms of the incentive agreement, construction of the vet school was to begin by September 2018.
System officials had estimated the total cost of the school at $80 million to $90 million.
“What it means is we wait a couple more years,” Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole said.
“I’d love to see it right now, but I’m sure whoever the future leaders are in the city will support that expansion wholeheartedly — just as we would support any expansion of West Texas A&M University,” said Harpole.
Back in December, when Tech placed the vet school plan “on pause,” Sharp said, “I think it’s clear to everyone that the veterinary school at Texas A&M has already addressed the concerns that Texas Tech is talking about. There is no need for another veterinary college in Texas.”
A year earlier, in December 2015, when Texas Tech unveiled its plans for a vet school, TTUS Chancellor Robert Duncan, an alumni, said:
Addressing the veterinary education needs in Texas is crucial not only because of the region’s and state’s deep-rooted history with agriculture and ranching, but also because of its continued prosperity. Our vision goes beyond the establishment of a veterinary school, setting out to transform the landscape of veterinary medicine education and provide innovative solutions for the industry’s future.
Sharp bristled at that. As he said then:
As a courtesy, last weekend I informed Chancellor Robert Duncan that the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine would soon announce a presence in several Texas A&M System schools. In response, Mr. Duncan comes up with this long-rejected claim we should fund a vet school at Texas Tech. The Coordinating Board has specifically rejected the notion, and the Legislature has rejected this for 40 years. We will proceed with our announcement as planned.
In August, Dr. Eleanor Green, dean of Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science, in an Op-Ed in the Amarillo Globe-News laid out in detail why the Tech vet school was unneeded and ill-advised.
Last Sunday in Amarillo Globe-News, Texas Tech University officials expressed their desire for a new veterinary school to address a “potential” shortage of veterinarians specializing in large animals and serving rural communities, although the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board confirmed in July there is no need for a second veterinary college. (Tech, Amarillo answer call for veterinary medicine, Aug. 20, amarillo.com).
I thank AGN for the opportunity to explain what Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and West Texas A&M University, are doing to address the Panhandle’s veterinary needs.
In 2009, when the Coordinating Board urged Texas A&M to increase enrollment, the Legislature could not pay for the necessary facilities because of the recession. Instead, Texas A&M tapped the Permanent University Fund to build a $120 million complex for veterinary education.
This month we opened our new facility and will increase the entering class to 162 students — tied for the nation’s largest. That’s an additional 30 students each year, and we can increase it to meet future needs. Larger classes are important to the Texas Panhandle because we are targeting most new seats to address two needs: More minorities and more students willing to work in rural areas and with large animals.
Earlier we announced that we are expanding veterinary education, research and undergraduate outreach at West Texas A&M, Prairie View A&M, Texas A&M-Kingsville and Tarleton State. All have unique ties to important agricultural industries, and each school has significant minority populations.
While Tech officials argue they won’t duplicate our efforts, they are asking the Legislature for almost $17 million next year as a down payment on their proposal — money we could use to ramp up efforts in the Texas Panhandle and elsewhere for an even broader impact.
That’s really the issue: What’s the most cost-effective way to train more rural veterinarians? Of the 6,660 veterinarians in Texas, only 180 are livestock veterinarians working in rural areas. As they move toward retirement, how do we meet the livestock industry’s needs?
Tech officials said their “innovative” program will focus on large animal veterinarians without duplicating our efforts. Truth is, neither accreditation standards, nor economic realities will allow that.
To make a living, most rural veterinarians have to treat small and large animals.
Tech Chancellor Robert Duncan acknowledged to the Texas Tribune: “Rural vets treat small animals and large animals. Even as a matter of accreditation, you have to have the broad spectrum of education.”
So where’s the innovation? Tech officials propose building a school without a teaching hospital. Since students have to learn surgery somewhere, they would outsource it to local clinics and veterinarians, claiming it’s cheaper and will reduce student debt. Other schools using that method actually prove more expensive, not less, while Texas A&M is a leader in cost-efficiency.
Texas A&M veterinary students have the second lowest debt load in the nation, and our tuition and fees are in the bottom third of U.S. veterinary schools. We achieved that with high standards. In 2015, our veterinary college was ranked third in the nation and sixth best in the world.
In effect, Tech is proposing that taxpayers build and pay for the ongoing cost of a start-up veterinary college under the guise it can address one state need — more rural veterinarians — without diverting resources from other veterinary needs. It won’t. Our plan will accomplish what Tech claims to do, plus we will address the needs of the Texas Panhandle and the rest of the state at a fraction of the cost.
I understand the lure of Tech’s argument about an economic boost to Amarillo, but the Coordinating Board’s July report notes “the job market for veterinarians may be at or near saturation.”
Texas Workforce Commission projects 195 annual openings for veterinarians in Texas and the Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting 2,700 graduates chasing 1,900 openings nationally.
We don’t have a shortage of veterinary colleges. We have a shortage of graduates who want to work in the rural areas. Our program at WT will address that. It is better to focus on how to recruit and incentivize students to practice in rural areas than to saddle taxpayers with the costly overhead of a second veterinary college.
This past December’s pause by Tech, foreshadowing last Friday’s halt, evoked some obvious resentment tand hurt feelings in West Texas.
If you cup your ear to the south, you can hear the high-fives all the way from College Station.
Tech had the brazen audacity to step on A&M’s exclusive 100-year-old turf as the only veterinarian school in a state of 27 million and 268,000 square miles. Don’t be messing with A&M’s birthright.
“We do get a little bit offended when somebody says they’re going to try to duplicate what we have here,” A&M Chancellor John Sharp told the Bryan Eagle last month. “You can’t duplicate this in your wildest dreams.
“This is the place — and it will always be the place — where veterinary medicine reigns king in the United States of America, and I’m so proud of that.”
The Aggies have plenty of clout among lawmakers, and there’s plenty of their money that goes into campaigns.
You can look at this one of two ways: A&M has become the unofficial guardian for grateful Texas taxpayers, or one of the great land-grant universities in the country looks to be equal parts bully and petty and loves having a monopoly. I’ll let you decide.
Jay Leeson, a 2004 Texas Tech graduate in journalism and co-host of the West Texas Drive radio show, was blunter.
From Dec. 18:
AGGIE PRETENSION is becoming Aggie tradition.
With all the hullabaloo about “saw varsity’s horns off,” one would think Texas A&M veterinarian graduates actually handle large Bevo animals.
In all bragging about being a land grant and a Permanent University Fund heir (Aggies got $215 million in 2014), one might assume A&M is busy addressing critical needs of the state upon which it’s so dependent.
But as nearly 20 years of reports show, College Station has ceremoniously pumped out grads to declaw house cats and perform ACL surgeries on overweight Labradors.
Why work rural hard when you can work suburban smart.
So Texas Tech has called the question: What about a $13 billion cattle industry and more than 248,000 farms and ranches in Texas with large animals and food-producing livestock?
And Tech has provided an answer: An Amarillo-based nontraditional veterinarian school. Two or three-year degrees earned by pre-screened applicants likely to stay in West Texas and specialize in Bevo-sized animals.
A reasonable proposal by the standards of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. A proposal that only needs a $17 million appropriation from a $200 billion state budget.
So why are Aggies preparing to beat the proposal all to Chigaroogarem?
All hail to dear old Texas A&M Rally around Maroon and White Good luck to dear old Texas Aggies They are the boys who show the real old fight That good old Aggie spirit thrills us And makes us yell and yell and yell So let’s fight for dear old Texas A&M We’re going to beat you all to Chigaroogarem Chigaroogarem Rough Tough! Real Stuff! Texas A&M!
In the aftermath of the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents’ decision to cede the field Friday, Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, a 1984 Texas Tech accounting and management information systems graduate, held a hearing before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs he chairs, on the need for rural, large-animal veterinarians, in which he interrogated Dr. Green at length.
Of Tech’s decision not to seek funding for the school this session, Perry told me, “sure, I’m disappointed, yeah.”
Of their explanation that they were responding to the state’s tight budget, Perry said, “All I know is the money is in the House budget.”(Albeit only $5.75 million ).
Perry said his concern is that with the only vet school at A&M, West Texans have to leave their home turf to pursue a career and may not return.
“The idea is if I’ve had my arm up into calf’s rear end since i was seven years old that’s something that’s not foreign to me,” but, leaving for Bryan-College Station, “You’re taking people out of their comfort zone, I’ve got blue jackets (Future Farmers) who have lived it, breathed it and want to be there, and because they move them to College Station – or actually those kids never get a look.”
Here is some of the exchange at Monday’s hearing between Perry and Green.
Green: I was a rural veterinarian myself, primarily large animals – dairy, beef, equine – we did include some small animals in our practice to make it economically viable. So I get this issue from the inside out.
I want to assure you that Texas A & M is addressing this problem.
We are already seeing an uptick in the number of students from rural communities who are getting into veterinary school.
We think this is the most affordable, high quality way to address this problem in Texas.
I cannot imagine us not being able to increase our class size to met the needs of Texas for as far in the future as any of us can see.
Anything we can do after they graduate to attract them to these rural areas is tremendously important.
We have a federal loan repayment plan where they get loan repayments for up to $25,000 a year for three years if they go to these under-served areas.
There is a state statue that has been approved but not funded to do the same in Texas, $25,000 a year, it’s not limited to three years. It’s never been funded. That would be very important if that were funded to attract these students to these areas.
As you know,, if you go to these rural areas you are going to work harder and make less.
We have $1.75 million in scholarships and they are predominately for rural student sand, in addition to that, we are the best-in-the-nation in student debt to income ratio.
If you can get them to stay for five years, you’ve got them. By then they are embedded in the community, they’re active in the community their kids are in school, they’re embedded.
If somehow we could come up with a program that would fund them to stay in the community for five years, I think most of them we could keep.
Perry: We’ve been here before. We heard this message in ’07, ’09, and the problem just keeps getting worse. I’m almost getting the, if we build it they’ll come kind of model.
But you said it, people come to Bryan-College Station, they like it and they stay.
My blue jacket kids, they live and breathe this stuff since they were two-years-old in those communities and I don’t see you doing anything that’s going to incentivize that in those communities rather than taking them out and moving them to a different area.
In 2009, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recognized a rural veterinarian health clinic need.
There is a lot of rhetoric out there that this $120 million facility is going to be the end-all, be-all of trying to catch all these rural health care needs and there is not a single thing in print that support this $120 million facility being directed toward large-animal veterinarians in rural communities. In fact, if you look at the basic design of it, it’s absolutely contrary to the messaging that’s out there.
Perry did not like Green’s reference in her Amarillo Op-Ed about a “potential” shortage of veterinarians, like it was all in their heads.
Perry: Like I say, burn me once, shame on me; burn me twice, shame on you.
That’s actually the reverse of the usual construction of that aphorism, but it seems to work quite as well this way.
Perry: In two years this is going to be a project for me to look at what you’ve done. To me it it’s really disingenuous I think to the public, to the veterinarian community to the people that raise cows and horses and all the other things that we establish the need is, to say, we’re going to have this new $120 million first class facility and have everything in the press, and everything that’s ever been stated about that to date … be referencing and designing it for small animals because that’s where the money is, we get that, that’s where the volume is.
But if you’re going to own the veterinary school in Texas and be captive over the veterinary school in Texas, you are ignoring public safety, you’re ignoring the ability to make a living … in this state … and it’ s not just about turf battles or alma maters or any of the other things that are going on.
It’s a number one public health policy for us to have a food and safety program in place that guarantees the public will be safe. Ad I don’t get that. I get narratives in the press that move to fit to the facts it needs to be fitting today.
Green – Has anyone on this committee ever had the press say the wrong thing? Anyone? Absolutely, this is not a small animal facility. This is a veterinary and biomedical education complex that takes care of all of veterinary education. It is not about small, large, avian.
Any headline that said small animal was a misperception, and we’ have a lot of people who do say, because we need a small animal hospital and we are going to work on that, they have got the two confused in the press, and they say, congratulations on your new small animal hospital. It is not a hospital, it is not small animal. And I really appreciate the opportunity you are giving us to correct that. This is veterinary and biomedical facility that takes care of all species.
Now as university that fulfills the state veterinary needs, yes, we have to care of all needs and if you look, 65 percent of American households own pets and the growth of Texas is going to be in urban areas. Yes, we need to take care of that need. That’s not what we’re talking about today. We’re talking about the very important rural and food animal needs
In 2009, the Higher Education Coordinating Board said `more veterinarians, more rural, more diversity, no second vet school,’ so we’re on it.
PERRY: I hope that you are successful. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart, I want us to be better because we’ve got a long ways to go.
Right now one facility or one program is not big enough to handle it. But prove me wrong
How long has A& M had a vet school.
GREEN: 100 years. 1916.
PERRY: Is it fair to say that the inability to meet the rural veterinary needs has been going on for ten years? But I’ve talked to people that this as a problem for twenty years. What gives any of us, as a Legislature, any confidence that you are going to hit the mark this time?
The Higher Education Board did not say there is not a need for rural veterinarians. In fact, it said there is a glut for small, there are too many smalls and ya’ll continually perpetuate that, and you’ve ignored the rural since ’09 at minimal.
What is different today?
What I’ve heard so far, it ain’t going to fix it. I know my kids out there.
I can tell you what you’re proposing is not going to fix what you say it’s going to fix.
I didn’t see this urgency and this care for rural veterinarians until another school proposed an alternative to the model y’all currently use.
That’s why I’m a little bit irritated because I’m not hearing anything you’re doing that you haven’t already been doing that hasn’t met the need. You being the sole veterinary providers in this state. The fact of it is that we run off 40 percent of our kids to Grenada, Kansas, Arkansas. I guess I’m just missing the logic here.
Green: I can very directly say, this did not start in response to any other school. This has been going on for a very long time and we can document this.
Perry: This has gotten politicized, and I’m sorry for that but hear me clearly. My only concern is my beef , my cattle, my horses and everything else we depend on as a state, is being taken care of. And you cannot sit there in good conscience say this has been met.
And so in the end this is about Texas. It has nothing to do with school. It’s about a public safety policy that needs to be shored up.
There’s one school tasked with that today and expectations are really high from this chairman and from other legislators.
I’ve visited with other members of the Legislature and it doesn’t matter if you’re a Red Raider, an Aggie, Tea-sipper, Beaver. Whatever our alma mater might be there is a sincere acknowledgement that this is a real issue and the fact that there isn’t any real proof that what we are going to, quote “do” today, versus what we’ve been doing when other options are existing, is a concern.
It’s not just a Red Raider on a dais as a chair. It has nothing to do with that. It has everything to do with a need that is not being met and it’s public policy at its worst if we don’t meet it.