Moms Group Gives S.D. Gov. Kristi Noem Its ‘Mother of Influence’ Award

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem was in Washington, DC,  this past weekend with her husband, son, two daughters, and son-in-law, but the trip wasn’t related to politics or tourism. Noem was in town to accept Moms for America’s Mother of Influence award.

Kimberly Fletcher, founder and president of the non-profit, pro-family Christian organization cited Noem’s leadership in 2020 as the country faced the coronavirus pandemic.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem was given the Moms of America’s Mothers of Influence award on Sunday in Washington, DC. (Penny Starr/Breitbart News)

“She speaks truth,” Fletcher said in her introduction of Noem. “She actually follows the science that they keep telling us we should follow and she institutes policies that are going to promote freedom and … to actually fix problems instead of creating them.”

“We need more people who will stand up for truth, for freedom, for family and be that common sense voice that we need,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher — and Noem — also praised Noem’s husband, Bryon, who has supported his wife’s political career in the South Dakota state legislature, the U.S. Congress, and as the first woman to head the state while raising two daughters, Kennedy and Kassidy, and a son, Booker.

“You know that man has to be awesome because she can’t do what she does without him,” Fletcher said. 

Noem also said her children — now 18, 23, and 26 — are a “testament” of her husband’s devotion to the family and that they are her greatest accomplishment.

“I tell people all the time — my legacy will be my children,” Noem said.

Fletcher said that her organization is dedicated to mothers such as Noem, who all across America have tremendous influence in shaping the future of the country. She cited Matthew Vassar, who founded the Vassar College for women in 1861.

“He said he did so because he realized that the mothers of the country molded citizens, determined its institutions, and shaped its destiny,” Fletcher said.

In her remarks, Noem said her “cowboy” father taught her a work ethic and to be a problem solver and her mother helped her overcome her insecurity as an overweight, shy teen by building her faith in God’s love for her.

Noem shared that her father died in an accident at 49 when she was only 22 and pregnant with her first child. She dropped out of college to help with the family’s farming operation and was inspired to get into politics when inheritance or death taxes threatened the grieving family’s security.

“It made me angry,” Noem said. “Because I could not believe that we would have a tragedy in our family and then all of a sudden the federal government would come forward with a policy that would threaten taking our family business away.”

Noem said she was raised and is raising her own children to be self-sufficient.

“I think right now in this country we are crippling our children,” Noem said. “We are crippling our children by giving them everything and doing everything for them.”

“And really what our job is as mothers is to prepare them for life,” Noem said. “And the way that we do that is by letting them go through some hard times. Making them figure things out a little bit by themselves. Encouraging them but also making sure we’re allowing them to become those problem solvers that we need.”

Noem said she was “honored” to get the award.

“This is probably the most special reward I’ve ever received,” Noem said. “Because I love my family. When I ran for governor it as on building strong families. It was about South Dakota could be an example to the nation and we could do that by focusing on strong families.”

“Because that really is the foundation of this country,” Noem said. “So the fact that you would honor me in this way today means the world to me.”

My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell was given the Moms of America’s courage award on Sunday in Washington, DC. (Penny Starr/Breitbart News)

Moms for America also honored Mike Lindell of “My Pillow” fame, who was given this year’s courage award for sticking to his support for President Donald Trump even when he was attacked for it.

Lindell talked openly about his struggle with addiction and how grateful he feels that his Christian faith is responsible for his overcoming it.

Aside from making pillows, Lindell also authored a book titled, What Are the Odds? From Crack Addict to CEO

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South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem disparages face mask requirements for students

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Tuesday said she will push for schools to stay open this fall, but disparaged any requirements for children to wear masks in classrooms. As parents and school boards cautiously weigh the risks and benefits of schools reopening, the Republican governor emphasized the educational and social upside of a return to in-person learning, citing research that COVID-19 poses less of a threat to children.

But Noem appears selective in the research she uses for her decisions, pointing to studies that indicate a low health risk from the virus, while downplaying scientific findings that show masks could slow the spread of the disease.

“We cannot sacrifice the educational, physical, emotional and social well-being of our kids. The risks of COVID are too minimal for us to make sure that they’re all going to stay home,” Noem said at a news conference at John Harris Elementary in Sioux Falls

Virus Outbreak South Dakota CARES Act
In this June 22, 2020 file photo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the Sioux Falls city hall in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Stephen Groves / AP

Noem said forcing children to wear masks is impractical and may lead to infections spreading if children touch their faces more frequently. Her stance on masks defies a push from the South Dakota State Medical Association to require face masks in schools.

The governor cast doubt on a broad consensus in the medical community, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that wearing a mask could prevent the spread of the coronavirus, saying there is “very mixed research and the science has not proven what’s effective and what isn’t.”

Meanwhile, CDC guidance on reopening schools appears to support Noem’s assertion that the benefits of in-person schooling outweigh the health risks. So far, fewer school-aged children have died of COVID-19 than flu-related deaths during each of the last five flu seasons, and “studies suggest that COVID-19 transmission among children in schools may be low,” the agency said.

The governor has repeatedly said she is committed to making decisions based on science. When a reporter asked her how she prioritizes the barrage of research to inform her decisions, Noem said: “I am reading it all. And that is why we’ve been challenged because it’s been all over the map.”

The governor said it’s clear that children should be in school. Some school administrators have reported as many as 30% of students not participating in online learning, she said, while the lack of contact with classmates particularly affects vulnerable and low-income children.

Noem said the case for children being in school is so compelling that she is not even considering recommendations that schools close if there is a resurgence of the virus.

“I believe that we’ve learned so much about this virus and how to deal with it that we’re in a situation where that’s not something we’re looking at today,” the governor said.

The South Dakota Education Association, which lobbies for teachers, said in a statement that it agrees with Noem that in-person learning is preferable. It urged her to allot money for more school counselors to help students handle trauma related to the pandemic.

South Dakota schools have received $47 million in federal coronavirus funding. Noem said she expected more to come from the state and federal governments.

As for masks, that decision will remain with local school boards. It will likely leave a patchwork of local regulations similar to how cities enacted business restrictions during the onset of the pandemic in March.

South Dakota Democratic party chair Randy Seiler released a statement after Noem’s news conference, saying schools have had “a complete lack of guidance from our governor.”

He said, “Requiring masks and social distancing should have been the minimum model required from both the governor’s and State Health Department’s office.”

Some school districts are requiring face coverings, others are hoping students and families follow recommendations to wear them. The state’s largest school district in Sioux Falls said it plans to have an “expectation” to wear face coverings but that it won’t enforce a politically heated mandate.

Meanwhile, Jessica Peterson, the 5th-grade teacher who hosted Noem’s news conference in her classroom, had her husband build plastic barriers at the tables where students will be sitting in a few weeks. She said she’s just trying to stop the pandemic from entering her classroom.

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How Kristi Noem, Mount Rushmore and Trump Fueled Speculation About Pence’s Job

Corey Lewandowski, the political operative who was President Donald Trump’s first 2016 campaign manager, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Nov. 4, 2019. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — Since the first days after she was elected governor of South Dakota in 2018, Kristi Noem had been working to ensure that President Donald Trump would come to Mount Rushmore for a fireworks-filled July Fourth extravaganza.

After all, the president had told her in the Oval Office that he aspired to have his image etched on the monument. And last year, a White House aide reached out to the governor’s office with a question, according to a Republican official familiar with the conversation: What’s the process to add additional presidents to Mount Rushmore?

So last month, when the president arrived in the Black Hills for the star-spangled spectacle he had pined for, Noem made the most of it.

Introducing Trump against the floodlit backdrop of his carved predecessors, the governor played to the president’s craving for adulation by noting that in just three days more than 125,000 people had signed up for only 7,500 seats; she likened him to Theodore Roosevelt, a leader who “braves the dangers of the arena”; and she mimicked the president’s rhetoric by scorning protesters who she said were seeking to discredit the country’s founders.

In private, the efforts to charm Trump were more pointed, according to a person familiar with the episode: Noem greeted him with a 4-foot replica of Mount Rushmore that included a fifth presidential likeness: his.

But less than three weeks later, Noem came to the White House with far less fanfare — to meet not with Trump, but with Vice President Mike Pence. Word had circulated through the Trump administration that she was ingratiating herself with the president, fueling suspicions that there might have been a discussion about her serving as his running mate in November. Noem assured Pence that she wanted to help the ticket however she could, according to an official present.

She never stated it directly, but the vice president found her message clear: She was not after his job.

There is no indication Trump wants to replace Pence. Trump last month told Fox News that he’s sticking with Pence, whom he called a “friend.”

Yet with polls showing the president trailing Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and Republicans at risk of being shut out of power in Congress, a host of party leaders have begun eyeing the future, maneuvering around a mercurial president.

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas was in New Hampshire late last month, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida is angling to take over the Senate Republican campaign arm to cultivate donors, and Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming is defending Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading expert on infectious disease, while separating herself from Trump on some national security issues.

At the same time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is attempting to shore up his conservative credentials by pushing a hard line on China, and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky are attempting to reclaim their standing as fiscal hawks by loudly opposing additional spending on coronavirus relief.

Drawing less attention, but working equally hard to burnish her national profile, is Noem. The governor, 48, has installed a TV studio in her state capitol, become a Fox News regular and started taking advice from Trump’s former 2016 campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who still has the president’s ear.

Next month, she’ll address a county Republican dinner in Iowa.

“There seems like there might be some interest on her part — it certainly gets noticed,” Jon Hansen, a Republican state representative in South Dakota, said of Noem’s positioning for national office.

Her efforts have paid off, as evidenced by the news-driving celebration at Mount Rushmore. Yet Noem’s attempts to raise her profile have not been without complications. And they illustrate the risks in political maneuvering with a president who has little restraint when it comes to confidentiality, and a White House that shares his obsession about, and antenna for, palace intrigue.

To the surprise of some of her own advisers, Noem flew with Trump to Washington on Air Force One late in the evening after his Mount Rushmore speech. Joined by Lewandowski, she and the president spoke for over an hour privately during the flight — a fact that Trump and some of his aides soon shared with other Republicans, according to officials familiar with his disclosure.

An aide to Noem, Maggie Seidel, said she did not raise the vice presidency with Trump. Lewandowski, who is a paid adviser to the Pence-aligned Great America PAC, also denied that he or the governor ever raised the subject of replacing Pence on the ticket.

Lewandowski, in a brief interview, described Noem as a star who “has a huge future in Republican politics.”

A White House official laughed at the notion that Trump is open to replacing Pence, a move that, among other things, would exude desperation. And regarding the phone call about adding the president’s image to Rushmore, the official noted that it is a federal, not state, monument.

Still, word of the Air Force One conversation quickly reached White House officials, including those in Pence’s office.

A short time later, Noem was jetting back to the capital, this time in less grand fashion, after requesting a meeting with Pence.

White House aides kept Noem from meeting with Trump again, one person familiar with the planning said. But Pence’s office gladly put his session with the governor on his public schedule and the vice president tweeted about it afterward. Noem’s aides, hoping to tamp down questions about the second trip, emphasized that she had also met with officials from the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies while she was in the capital.

One official close to the vice president said that Noem did not discuss her Air Force One flight with Pence but used the conversation to say she wanted to help the campaign however she could. The official suggested that the vice president’s team has an opportunity for her in mind: helping Pence prepare to debate whichever woman Biden selects as his running mate.

Yet one senior Trump adviser has recently lamented to others that Trump could have boosted his reelection campaign had he replaced Pence with a woman, according to people familiar with the conversations. One potential candidate mentioned was Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador who is close to the president’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

However, Pence has been an unstinting ally of Trump, and the vice president retains a number of allies in the president’s orbit.

“I think we’ll win South Dakota either way,” Brian Ballard, a lobbyist close to Trump, said.

That these kinds of speculative conversations about a different running mate have taken place at all, though, illustrates the depth of frustration in Trump’s inner circle over his political fortunes. With early voting starting in less than two months in some states, the president’s ineffectual response to the coronavirus has alienated voters and made the election primarily a referendum on him.

Speculation has long lingered in Republican circles that Trump could swap out Pence for Haley, partly because of the president’s own musings about it.

For a time in 2018, Trump queried people about Pence’s loyalty. And officials in the administration, including some close to Pence, said they believed that Kushner and Ivanka Trump were angling to replace him with Haley.

In his memoir, “The Room Where It Happened,” the former national security adviser John Bolton recounts how, flying to Iraq on Christmas night in 2018, the president asked him for his opinion on jettisoning Pence.

Noem, the daughter of a rancher who took over her family’s property after her father died, has insisted that she has little appetite to return to Washington, where she served as South Dakota’s sole House member for eight years before becoming governor.

“She’s focused on being the governor of South Dakota,” said Seidel, her senior adviser.

The president’s transition team contacted her about interviewing for a Cabinet post after the 2016 election, but she was already planning to run for governor then. Some of her allies believe she’d also be open to the interior or agricultural secretary roles in a second Trump term before the 2024 race.

Noem’s poll numbers have increased after a difficult first year in office. But to some of her aides, Lewandowski, a hard-charging New Englander, has been a disruptive presence in Pierre, South Dakota’s small state capital. He appeared as a guest speaker at one luncheon with cabinet officials and pressed the governor’s appointees to make a more aggressive case for her, irritating the state officials, according to a person briefed on the events.

The governor is now on her third chief of staff because the last one, Joshua Shields, left in part because of the increased role of Lewandowski, according to South Dakota Republicans.

Lewandowski has sought opportunities that could benefit both Trump and Noem. He recently discussed with the president’s advisers sending Trump to the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, where there would be a big crowd and where the two might have appeared together again; Trump’s aides did not want him in the same politically safe state twice in two months.

Noem has been a steadfast ally of Trump and has mirrored his handling of the virus.

She has pushed for schools to reopen for in-person classes, denounced mask mandates and had South Dakota participate in a study on hydroxychloroquine, the malaria treatment Trump has trumpeted.

It was her star turn at Mount Rushmore, though, that has gotten Republicans talking and been a boon to South Dakota tourism, the state’s second-largest industry.

Recognizing the president’s immense interest in the monument, Noem worked with his Interior Department to ensure there would be fireworks for the celebration, a long-standing priority for Trump. There had been no fireworks there for the previous decade because of environmental and fire-risk concerns.

In the weeks leading up to the event, Noem went on Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News to make clear she was expecting to “have a large event” for the president and would not require social distancing or masks.

Then, as the president sat watching her remarks in a bunting-wrapped box just offstage, she praised America as a place where someone who was “just a farm kid” could become “the first female governor of South Dakota.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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