'The calm before the storm'....Confusion reigns following cryptic Donald Trump warning
President Donald Trump declined yesterday to explain what he meant when he described a gathering of military leaders as "the calm before the storm," but the White House said he was not just being mischievous when he made the remark.
White House reporters were summoned suddenly on Thursday evening and told the president had decided he wanted the press to document a dinner he was holding with the military leaders and their wives.
Reporters were led hastily to the grand State Dining Room, where they walked into a scene of the president, his highest-ranking military aides and their wives posing for a group photo. The cameras clicked and they smiled. A joke was made about someone's face being tired. Live classical music played.
Then, Mr Trump gestured to the reporters in the room.
"You guys know what this represents?" Mr Trump asked. "Maybe it's the calm before the storm. Could be the calm, the calm before the storm."
"What storm Mr President?" one reporter shouted. Isil? North Korea? Iran?
"You'll find out," the president said.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders also declined to say what Trump meant.
When asked whether Trump was just being mischievous, Sanders denied he was just "messing with the press."
"I think we have some serious world issues here. I think that North Korea, Iran both continue to be bad actors and the president is somebody who's going to always look for ways to protect Americans," Sanders said.
Leon Panetta, a former Defense secretary and CIA director, said Trump's remarks would be something "you'd really worry about" under a previous U.S. president. But he said Trump's comments appeared to follow a pattern he'd established on Twitter.
"You begin to assume that it's more about getting attention than it is about proclaiming some kind of national policy. I don't think it's responsible...but I think in this instance we probably all should take a deep breath and try to assume he's just making a play for attention," Panetta told CNN.
"There is no indication that there is a strategy or a policy behind that statement," he added.
The president also appeared to criticize the military leaders on Thursday for moving too slowly to provide him advice.
"Moving forward, I also expect you to provide me with a broad range of military options, when needed, at a much faster pace. I know that government bureaucracy is slow, but I am depending on you to overcome the obstacles of bureaucracy," he said.
Meanwhile, businesses in the US will be able to deny insurance to pay for a woman's contraception under an amendment announced yesterday by Donald Trump's administration.
Companies will be able to cite religious or moral objections to birth control, and deny the funding to their employees - a new policy which unpicks a key provision of ObamaCare.
The move was greeted with anger from reproductive rights advocates, and praise from conservative Christian activists.
It remained unclear how many women would lose contraception coverage and which companies would use the exemptions, but Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said: "The Trump administration just took direct aim at birth control coverage for 62 million women." The government claims only 120,000 women will lose their coverage. California's Democratic attorney general pledged to fight to protect the mandate from circumvention.
The president, who criticised the birth control mandate in last year's election campaign, won strong support from conservative Christian voters. The Republican president signed an executive order in May asking for rules that would allow religious groups to deny their employees insurance coverage for services they oppose on religious grounds.
Yesterday's announcement increases that rule to apply to all businesses. "All Americans should have the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their faith without fear of government punishment," the conservative Christian legal activist group Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement. "Health and Human Services has issued a balanced rule that respects all sides - it keeps the contraceptive mandate in place for most employers and now provides a religious exemption," said Mark Rienzi, one of the lawyers for the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns that previously challenged the mandate in court.
The National Women's Law Center, which estimates that in 2013 the contraception requirement saved women $1.4 billion in oral contraceptive costs, has vowed to challenge the administration in court.