It’s no secret that we live in uncertain times, but, even so, I was pretty sure of at least one thing — that I’d never see Jared Polis at the White House drawing unfiltered praise from Donald Trump as the cameras rolled.
It’s pretty clear what Trump was thinking, although one should be humble when trying to read the mind of a president who announces, or more likely lies, that he uses hydroxychloroquine to ward off coronavirus.
Trump saw in Polis a Democratic governor who had opened his state’s economy early, if with many restrictions. (Come on, Polis didn’t go all Brian Kemp on us.) And here was a rare Democrat — and Polis was the only Democrat in the room — Trump could safely applaud.
It wasn’t exactly an obvious pairing. I never heard Polis go out of his way to flatter Trump, which is the surest way to his heart. And Polis did complain loudly about the stolen ventilators — you remember, FEMA took them — and note that he now keeps his supply deals quiet so the feds won’t go pillaging and plundering. And we’ve heard Polis wonder how he could reopen Colorado’s economy without a sufficient number of tests from the Trump administration, even as Trump was telling governors he’s “not a shipping clerk.”
And, in what had to really annoy Polis, we saw Trump, who runs the White House much as Democrats used to run Tammany Hall, hand over 100 of the stolen 500 ventilators to Cory Gardner so he could chest-thumpingly deliver them to Colorado
But give Polis credit. At his press briefing Monday, in a classic example of Polis being Polis, he did a nasal swab test for everyone to see — tweeting to The Sun’s Jesse Paul that the nostril dig-in was the most fun he’d had in weeks — while announcing Colorado had sufficient tests for everyone with symptoms to get one, and for free. That’s progress.
And yet there Polis was in the White House exchanging niceties with the same president who wasted months when he could have been preparing the country for COVID-19, who has said he will hand out relief money to states depending on their views on ending so-called “sanctuary cities,” who governs as if blue states (along with the media, China and any Inspector General who crosses his path) are the enemy, who is again encouraging Americans to drink the hydroxychloroquine Kool-Aid.
And you couldn’t help but notice that Polis, the poster-governor for mask wearing, took his off when speaking with Trump because, Polis later said, everyone in the room had been tested. Trump, of course, has mocked and politicized the entire idea of wearing masks. That thinking has spread even to the reopening of the Colorado legislature, where Republicans have objected to being forced to wear masks. Wearing them is now optional, even though the latest study out of Hong Kong says wearing masks can reduce transmission rates by 75%, and even though the legislators are making a joke of Polis’ social distancing policies.
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I understood why Polis went to the White House. He was invited, and there would be no easy way to refuse. It was also a chance for Polis — who, I’m old enough to remember, used to be labeled as a Boulder radical — to show Colorado Republicans he is prepared to work with anyone, including Trump, while also directly making Colorado’s case for supplies and funds.
The public part of the meeting was awkward, of course, and particularly when Trump, in answering a press question, called mail-in voting inherently “corrupt.” Mail-in voting is about as close as we get to unanimous political messaging in Colorado.
Polis must have bitten his tongue. Gardner, I’m sure, was smiling. And so we saw yet one more example of Trump plainly lying to the American people and politicians refusing to call him on it, thereby enabling more lies. I understand that Polis didn’t want to make an enemy of Trump, and Polis would say in a press call later that “I’m here to advocate around COVID-19 … not to get into a debate or correct the president when he makes inaccurate statements about the reliability of mail-in voting.”
OK, I get that, but let’s just say it’s probably not the way Nancy Pelosi would have handled it. And now when Colorado Democrats are trying to pin the acquiescent act on Gardner, they have to deal with the fact that Polis was also in the room.
The public part of the meeting was definitely awkward. As Polis informed Trump of Colorado’s progress, I kept thinking of the Denzel Washington line from the movie “Philadelphia” — explain it to me like I’m a 2-year-old. And it didn’t end there. Trump also called for reopening of schools in direct opposition to Dr. Tony Fauci, who had testified to a Senate committee that it was too early to think of reopening schools and we shouldn’t be “cavalier” about the risks involved for children.
Then on Sunday, Polis went on FoxNews to announce that he was confident Colorado could reopen schools in the fall. He said he didn’t think children were at much risk, despite what Fauci had said, although he did allow that kids could bring home the virus to vulnerable family members.
I’m not sure why Polis had to say in May that schools are likely to reopen in September, even if using what he called a “hybrid” model that would look quite different from normal school. He could have said what is clearly true — that he’s making every effort for schools to reopen, but there are still too many known unknowns out there. And then there is the matter of a likely resurgence of the virus, if, in fact, it ever goes away.
But Polis, whose libertarian streak is as long as the 16th Street Mall, clearly wants to be out in front on getting the state back to something resembling normalcy. Whether you’ve been skeptical — as I have — of the speed with which Polis is sometimes moving, I’ll go back to where we started. Whatever else, there can never be anything normal about Polis and Trump making nice at the White House.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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