It’s an image that became instantly iconic – and it has a direct Rhode Island connection.
The picture, taken during a recent White House meeting last week, shows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi standing from her seat at a table, her finger pointed at President Donald Trump as other officials looked on.
Visible just two seats from Pelosi – and next to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – during the meeting is U.S. Senator Jack Reed.
The meeting, as many observers know, proved contentious and controversial. Pelosi, Schumer and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer walked out of the gathering, and Pelosi and Trump each later accused the other of having a “meltdown.”
Speaking with NBC 10 WJAR the next day, Reed recounted the experience of sitting in the meeting, in which he remained after the three top congressional Democrats had left.
He said the president engaged in a “very sharp personal exchange” aimed at Pelosi, and also insulted former Defense Secretary James Mattis. The discussion, the senator said, “degenerated quite quickly.”
“The meeting, from the very beginning, was argumentative. The president walked in and said he didn’t call the meeting, when in fact he did call the meeting,” Reed said.
He added: “We might have strong differences, but we have to remain, I think, in a position where we recognize the speaker of the House is a co-equivalent, constitutional officer to the executive branch…And we were there to talk about very serious policy implications, but he continued to digress, more or less, blaming everyone else.”
In the end, Reed said, he and others were left “scratching our heads” as to why the meeting had been called in the first place.
Reed said after the heated exchange and the departure of the three members of leadership, he was able to ask administration officials about the president’s decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria – a move widely decried as an abandonment of Kurds who have played a vital role in the fight against the Islamic State group, or ISIS. Ahead of the White House meeting, the House of Representatives voted 354-60 to condemn the president’s troop withdrawal.
Reed said the administration essentially confirmed that the move has affected the nation’s ability to contain ISIS. He said he fears that the withdrawal – which led to a Turkish military incursion – will create a “humanitarian crisis,” embolden Iran, threaten the stability of Iraq and potentially lead to an ISIS resurgent. He also said it is “sending signals across the region about our reliability as partners.”
“This could have incredibly complicated and deleterious effects on the whole region, and not just the region, the whole world,” he said. “If ISIS is able to operate, I think they would like to see activities outside that region, terrorist activities, and that would pose a threat to the whole world.”
Rhode Islanders know Reed well. He is capable, serious and measured, and is certainly not prone to hyperbole or hyper-partisanship. He is an important voice on issues of national defense, and he has a strong record of service as a member of the military and a public official. He is a figure worthy of respect.
We trust, and take seriously, the senator’s account of last week’s meeting and his assessment of the president’s foreign policy moves in Syria. Both renew our profound concerns regarding the president’s character and decision-making. We hope that in the days ahead, Reed’s colleagues on both sides of the aisle – and, indeed, all Americans – consider carefully whether they truly believe this president can be safely entrusted with the most powerful office in the world.