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Trump Vs. Toilets


On the same night that the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump, he gave a two-hour campaign rally speech that took a detour. There was a long riff about plumbing, household appliances and lightbulbs. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith wondered why.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: President Trump has a problem with energy-efficient lightbulbs.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I say, why do I always look so orange?


TRUMP: You know why? Because of the new light. They're terrible. You look terrible. They cause you many, many times more, like four or five times more.

KEITH: With supporters at his rally in Michigan laughing and cheering along, he also made it clear he has issues with efficient dishwashers.


TRUMP: Remember the dishwasher - you'd press it. Boom - there'd be like an explosion. Five minutes later, you open it up, the steam pours out, the dishes - now you press it 12 times, women tell me. Again, you know, they give you four drops of water.

KEITH: Faucets, showerheads - President Trump has thoughts.


TRUMP: And what goes with a sink and a shower?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Unintelligible).

KEITH: Somehow Trump turned toilets into a call-and-response line. Now picture him pantomiming flushing as he continues.


TRUMP: Ten times, right? Ten times. Wah, bah (ph) - not me, of course. Not me. But you. Him.


KEITH: And that was the moment the president of the United States pointed at some poor soul in the crowd and accused him of requiring a lot of flushes. But this wasn't a one-time thing. Trump's administration is actively exploring rolling back efficiency standards related to appliances and plumbing. And they've already moved on incandescent lightbulbs, prompting the White House to recently tweet, if you like your lightbulbs, you can keep your lightbulbs.

The tweet also inaccurately blamed the standards on the Obama administration. In reality, they date back to George W. Bush's time in office. And Peter Gleick with the Pacific Institute in California is here to defend every one of these efficient items Trump has a complaint with.

PETER GLEICK: I can talk about efficiency forever.

KEITH: Gleick considers this to be Trumpian nostalgia for a time when showers were strong, toilets used four gallons a flush and lightbulbs burned your hands when you touched them. Yes, Gleick says, upfront, incandescent bulbs are cheaper to buy. But in the long run?

GLEICK: They're much more expensive because they use a huge amount of energy, which we pay for over time, and they burn out 20 times faster.

KEITH: Based on the way he talks about efficient lightbulbs, it seems Trump's complaint is with compact fluorescent bulbs, which were the only low-energy bulbs widely available 10 years ago. Now, though, store shelves are full of LED bulbs with warmer-looking light and even longer lifespans. And Gleick suspects Trump's toilet complaints are outdated as well because low-flow toilet technology has come a long way in recent years, too.

GLEICK: Some people got bad toilets, but that was 15 and 20 years ago. And now the new toilets not only use a tiny fraction of the water the old toilets used to use, but the truth is they flush better. And if you have a bad toilet that doesn't flush well, that's because you have a bad toilet.

KEITH: These efficiency guidelines started in the 1970s and have ramped up over the years with relatively little notice and not much pushback, even from industry, says Nick Loris, who focuses on energy and environment policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

NICK LORIS: I think people kind of thought it was low-hanging fruit. It was a win-win. But I think from a free market perspective, we also want to make sure that consumers and businesses have those choices.

KEITH: Free market groups like Heritage have been advocating for loosened efficiency standards, but Loris says it's not clear whether that's where Trump's latest rally riff is coming from.

LORIS: And it feels a little bit almost like an OK, boomer moment that we've had with these comments. But at the same time, I think there are some policy implications behind it.

KEITH: When Jeffrey Tucker first heard Trump complain about faucets, he was overjoyed.

JEFFREY TUCKER: I thought, hmm, that's interesting. I've never heard a politician talk about this.

KEITH: Tucker with the American Institute for Economic Research has written an entire book bemoaning how the slow creep of efficiency has made American homes not function like they used to. He is no fan of Trump, but he is all-in on the make-toilets-and-dishwashers-great-again message.

TUCKER: I've never been in a social situation where everybody didn't agree - my shower is terrible, my toilet doesn't work, I'm tired of plunging (laughter) and so on. So everybody's really annoyed by it. Trump sees this, talks about it and gets people really riled up about it because it is an infuriating problem.

KEITH: Dishwashers, lightbulbs, low-flow toilets - an unlikely political rallying cry, but one that fits with Trump's deregulatory agenda.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.