Take White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s famous remark that Trump’s critics should “get over it.” This was widely taken to be a brazen statement that it was fine for Trump to use foreign policy to seek to harm his political opponents. But that’s not what Mulvaney was saying. Nor was CNN accurate in reporting, “Mulvaney confirmed the existence of a quid pro quo and offered this retort: ‘Get over it.’”
Mulvaney’s press conference was on Oct. 17. He mentioned news accounts about the previous day’s testimony from a former State Department adviser, Michael McKinley. Those reports said that McKinley had quit because he was, as the Associated Press put it, “disturbed by the politicization of foreign policy.” If you check out the transcript, you can see that Mulvaney was saying that of course politics affects foreign policy. He mentions McKinley and says: “Get over it. There’s going to be political influence on foreign policy.” Practically in the next breath, he says, “foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.” He then faults some career government employees for seeking to prevent this.
At least one reporter understood this context, because the next question for Mulvaney drew a distinction: Political influence over foreign policy is one thing, the reporter said, but is it OK for the president to try to pressure a foreign government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden? Mulvaney then stoutly denied that Trump did any such thing, maintaining that the administration’s holding aid to Ukraine “had absolutely nothing to do with Biden.” Like a lot of what Mulvaney said at that press conference, that statement is dubious. But he didn’t admit to using foreign policy for partisan ends and then tell people to get over it.