July 21, 2017… Day 183
End of a busy week at the office, and a busy week of watching ourselves careen toward authoritarianism, maybe, or maybe a presidency goes down in flames, or maybe we’re not hurtling but grinding slowly. I don’t know. Can we do this for three and a half more years?
We were blessed with an on-camera press briefing after Sean Spicer resigned today. It was the first one since June 29. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is now the official press secretary. But the briefing was the Anthony Scaramucci show. And that’s why it was on camera. For this confident little Wall Street dude’s song and dance. This guy is the new communications director and the reason Trump was fired. Since I don’t have TV, I’ve managed to pretty much avoid this guy until today. Boy what a slick son of a gun. I’ve never wanted to be a political cartoonist so badly. The man just spawns image after image.
Scaramucci said he wished Sean well, and the way he expressed this was to say, “…and I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money!” The unabashedness. He described the gap between how Trump loyalists see Trump and how the press sees Trump as “an arbitrage spread.” He said he didn’t want to go into an “advertisement or infomercial,” but there was the implication that he didn’t want to go into his spiel right then. Not that he never planned to get salesy.
When asked what he would do first to “right the ship,” Scaramucci said that the ship was “heading in the right direction.” Which just conjured the image of a badly listing ship, far out at sea, storm on the horizon–but with its bow heading in the right direction!
He also said that he learned at Goldman Sachs that if you need to eat an elephant, you have to do it one bite at a time. Then he said that he and Sarah would be eating the elephant. There’s definitely a cartoon in that one, with Don Jr. holding the severed elephant tail as a trophy. And the GOP being the elephant. The only problem is that the cartoonist will probably use the eating megafauna angle to make Sarah Huckabee Sanders look fat and homely in a sexist way, and make her and little Scaramucci will be drawn as Jack Sprat to her Mrs. Sprat. I’m defensive on behalf large women with asymmetrical faces.
More great Scaramucci lines:
“I’m obviously committed to being transparent, because I’m standing here.”
And, when asked if he would be truthful, he said “I sort of feel like I don’t even have to answer that question.”
Before I round up the reporters’ questions, here are some other things that happened today:
(If this happens it won’t be a drill. I’ll walk out and consult Twitter and we will clump into groups and find each other like water coming together with other water).
Questions reporters asked at the Scaramucci show (featuring Sarah Sanders):
- Two questions for you. Number one. What we have seen from this administration so far is the president being his own messenger. And that has caused some struggles for the communications staff. How do you expect to get this White House back on track?
- From a messaging perspective?
- And my second question for you, too. If you could speak a little bit about how you plan to — obviously you’re a business guy, a Wall Street guy — how you plan to handle any potential conflicts of interest. And walk us through how this offer was made to you. What your president said while you were here, and what the conversations were like.
- And the conflicts?
- Anthony you’ve been watching this White House from somewhat outside, um, what is the first thing you’re going to change to try to right this ship and put it on a course.
- Anthony, did you have any hesitation taking this job, knowing it might cause some friction and that it might lead to Sean leaving, which is going to happen. And did you have any hesitation about how you would relate to the rest of the staff if you came in under those circumstances?
- Were you disappointed that you didn’t get a post from the get go?
- Sean told the AP and others that the President needed a clean slate. How does that comport with a White House that needs a clean slate? And second, how badly does the President need a win on health care?
- The cameras are back. Will you commit now to providing regular on-camera briefings?
- You’re going to do the briefings?
- I know you’ve been one of the president’s strongest supporters for awhile now, but does he know what you said about him in 2015 when you said he was a hack politician?
- There’s been a question about credibility, some things that have been said in this room… let me ask you a very — what I asked Sean Spicer his first day — is it your commitment, to the best of your ability, to provide accurate information?
- Anthony, you mentioned your relationship with Reince. Was he involved with offering you this position? Was he consulted by the President ahead of time?
- Can you walk us through how the job was offered?
- Are you committed then, to regular televised briefings and having a transparent relationship with the press?
- So, two quick questions. The first one–obviously the President has been feeling under siege with the Russia investigations, both at the DOJ but also on the hill–do you feel like he was feeling exposed, he didn’t have people adequately coming to his defense–is that part of the reason we have you here–
- One other question. In terms of the relationship that this press operation has had with news outlets–they’ve made a habit of calling news outlets fake news — is that the kind of relationship YOU want to have with news outlets?
- The President is known to see himself as his own best spokesperson. That was clearly challenge Sean had at that podium. How do you plan on handling that?
- How would you characterize your relationship with the president? How long has it lasted, how far back does it go?
- One last question. Do you plan on changes in the comm shop beyond this?
- Are you going to (I can’t understand the question, something about Isis?)
- Are you going to encourage President Trump to have a press conference with us in the near future?
- Anthony, you seem like a very savvy person, and you said that the White House is a very difficult place, how are you going to handle–
- How are you going to handle it, when a crisis or big thing comes up, and you put a very sophisticated message out at night and the president, in the morning, puts out something very different. And are you willing to admit to making a mistake? So, two questions there.
- What are you going to say when his message is different than what you put out the night before?
- Has the president expressed any frustration with you at all that these briefings have been off camera, and if he wants to get his message out wouldn’t he want them to be on camera?
- How involved in the day to day operations of the press department will he be going forward?
- Just to follow on that. Your relationship with the chief of staff. Is he your boss or… do you report directly to the president?
- Do you stand by some of the factual claims — that have been contested — by this administration — 3 million people voting illegally —
- The president said 3 million people voted illegally — do you stand by that?
- Congrats on the new job.
- It’s a new job. Congrats. You’ve gone through the past– law school, business, finance, but you’ve never held a communications role. What would you say to your critics who say that you’ve never done this before and this is the White House. Secondly, if you can just lay out why you wanted the job? And thirdly, why you chose right off the bat for Sarah to be the press secretary.
- Two questions. Because of your legal background and the fact that you mentioned the White House counsel, can you explain to us what role as someone who’s been trained in the law, you plan to play in communications, interacting with the President’s legal team dealing with the Russia investigation. And then secondly, most analysts who have ever worked at White House communications, in academia, or historians, have said that when a president says he has communication problems what he has is usually policy and political problems. You’re arguing that we’re not understanding in the United States how much the president should be appreciated and how much you love him. But can you explain to us how much it goes beyond that concept and how much the president has policy and political problems.
- You’ve talked several times about your relationship with Reince Preibus and Hope Hicks — can you talk about your relationship with Steve Bannon. He’s said to have strong objections about you taking this job as well. And then I have one other thing.
- The other thing was, you said that you don’t need to right the ship but that you guys are doing great work. But the president has a 38.8% approval rating in the second quarter and that’s a historical low— what are you going to do to change that, to better communicate with the American people.
- Thank you, Anthony. There’ve been reports about General McMaster having disagreements on policy over Russia. Can you say that there will be no more high profile resignations or exits from the White House staff?
- You said you’re going to work with the legal team on messaging when it comes to Russia–
- I’d like to ask you though, is the strategy that seems to be coming from this White House, on going after Mueller’s credibility the right one?
- It’s a messaging question though.
- Communication is the key and the president is a great communicator. How important is the relationship between the president and the press. How is he going to change and how much faith does he have in the White House press?
- Larry Speaks who once stood up there once said “Don’t tell us how to stage the news and we won’t tell you how to report the news.” Do you think that’s an accurate reflection of our relationship?
(Sarah Sanders now, or as my friend Sissi who is new to politics just calls her, “Huck”)
- Thank you Sarah. Can you talk to us a little bit about how this change will affect the press office. And can you speak a little bit for Sean about how he’s feeling, and how he took this news, and how he made the decision to resign?
- First of all, congratulations on the job. Can you clarify where the President stands on the issue of pardons? Is he considering pardons for figures in the Russia investigation and does the President believe he has the power to pardon himself?
- Does he believe he has the power to pardon himself?
- In the President’s interview with the New York Times, he raised questions about Robert Mueller. Does he endorse his legal team’s efforts to undermine the credibility of Robert Mueller?
- To the question that I asked, does he endorse his legal team’s efforts to undermine the credibility of the special counsel?
- On health care, what does the President want the Senate to vote on next week?
- How much arm-twisting is going on vis-a-vis the healthcare bill? The vice president had a lot of conservative groups over today. Those conservative groups announced that they will actually be scoring votes on the motion to proceed, which I believe is unprecedented.
- Just about the organizational structure now that Anthony has come in — the press secretary and the comms secretary used to be co-equal, both reporting to the chief of staff. Will it remain that way? Because there was some move toward making the communications director sort of the deputy chief of staff. So do you still report to Reince, or do you report to Anthony?
- Do you report to him or do you report to Reince?
- This question is for you. Number one, when you talk about — there were some comments made by senior administration officials on television this morning talking about the motivations of people who are part of Bob Mueller’s investigation. Do donations to political parties, if its not the President’s party, does the President believe they disqualify people from being part of that investigation?
- Does the President have confidence in his national security advisor?
- The President said he doesn’t want Mueller to look into his finances. But the intelligence committees are already looking into financial data from the commerce department. Is there anything the White House can do to stop that?
- Last time when it became apparent in the House, the first go-round with the health care bill that it was going to fail, it was pulled in the last hour or two. When you look at both the repeal and replace potential and the repeal-only, the numbers suggest that they don’t have the votes and it’s going to fail. Why does the White House believe that this time around a vote should proceed?
- So does the President believe that a vote should take place on some sort of bill next week, one way or another?
- Thank you, Sarah. I just want to get something straight. Earlier this week, you indicated that the White House was not opposed to outright repeal. But then based on your remarks today and Marc Short’s two days ago, you seem to favor repeal and replace. Does that mean you are against the outright repeal bill?
- Thanks Sarah. Two questions for you. Can you take us through the process of how the President decided to hire this new communications director, and moving forward, what will his role be in terms of objectives that the President wants him to meet?
- Quick follow on Bob Mueller. Does President Trump have confidence that Robert Mueller will conduct a fair investigation?
- Thanks Sarah. Starting January 20, this administration has seen departures of a deputy chief of staff, a national security advisor, a communications director, a press secretary, several other roles at this building and across the street. What does that say about sort of the efforts to staff up this administration at the start. What has the President learned about his team, about himself as President. And can you explain that very high turnover rate that we’ve seen in the last six months?
- So you don’t see that as chaotic turnover?
- Is the White House concerned news this week, concerning the attorney general and the resignation of Mr. Spicer, could have the affect of alienating or demoralizing Trump loyalists both in and out of the administration?
- First of all, congratulations. I’m wondering if you approach this new role with excitement, with trepidation, with apprehension. And if you could reflect on these last six months and what you’ve learned on how it is to speak for the President. Is it a tough job? Or have you found it easy?