WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday did nothing to clarify the cryptic remark he made to reporters as he met with top military officials Thursday when he said that “maybe it’s the calm before the storm.”
Trump’s unexplained comment, coming at a time when he’s taunting North Korea’s leader as “Rocket Man” and intends to decertify the Iran nuclear deal next week, raised questions for many in Washington about what action he was hinting he might take.
After an Oval Office event to promote American manufacturing Friday, reporters asked him to explain. “You’ll find out,” he said, repeating a phrase he used the night before. Pressed on whether he was speaking about something other than a military action, he said, “We’ll see.”
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also offered little help in decoding the comment at the Friday news briefing. “As we’ve said many times before,” she said, “we’re never going to say in advance what the president’s going to do.”
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate Democratic leader, said they had no idea what Trump meant. Press aides to Republican congressional leaders did not respond to queries.
Leon Panetta, a Democrat and former presidential chief of staff, said on CNN that if any other president said that, “you’d worry about it.” But given Trump’s tweeting and use of terms like “fire and fury,” he said, “it’s more about getting attention than explaining public policy.”
Trump made the comment a day before his administration announced two policies rolling back Obama-era rules, one that allows employers to limit health insurance coverage of contraceptives because of their religious beliefs, and another to roll back legal protections for the LGBTQ community.
He said it during an unscheduled invitation to reporters and photographers to the State Dining Room as he prepared to have dinner with the military leaders and their spouses.
“Do you guys know what this represents?” he said. “Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.”
A reporter asked, “What’s the storm, Mr. President?”
Trump said, “It could be the calm, the calm before the storm.”
As reporters pressed for more information, Trump said, “We have the world’s greatest military people in this room, I’ll tell you that.” When he dismissed the news media, a reporter asked again, “What storm, Mr. President.” Trump replied, “You’ll find out.”
Earlier in a Cabinet room meeting, Trump met with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and top military officials, where Trump talked about preventing North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
He also issued an order: “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 the government bureaucracy is slow, but I am depending on you to overcome the obstacles of bureaucracy.”
On Friday, Trump also marked Hispanic Heritage Month by speaking to about 200 Hispanic officials, lawmakers and others in the East Room of the White House.
He praised Hispanic Americans for their contributions to the country, but avoided mentioning thorny issues of a border wall, an immigration crackdown or the fate of Dreamers.