TOWOIT #256: My Gal’s a Corker

October 24, 2017… Day 278

Sarah Huckabee Sanders held a press briefing today. She wore a pink blouse of a shinier, less structured fabric than usual. The neckline plunged a bit, showing some cleavage. I have not noticed her showing cleavage before and I do not like it when she opens herself up to sartorial criticism because then I feel honor-bound to defend her. I wondered if she felt self-conscious, or if maybe it had not seemed at home like the neckline plunged as much as it did indeed turn out to plunge.

Cleavage notwithstanding, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is like a giant damper pedal. Well, that’s not quite apt. But whereas Sean Spicer used to rattle and hum and spice things up by getting all zesty and testy, Sarah Sanders just takes all the energy and life in the room and absorbs it and keeps it. Everything falls quiet and slow. Just slow quiet lies in a deadened room.

Here are the questions they asked her today: 

  • Sarah, President Trump previously tweeted that Jeff Flake is a very weak and ineffective senator. Do you know if he has any reaction to Flake announcing that he won’t seek reelection?
  • Thanks, Sarah. We have two Republican senators now, just today — Senators Corker and Flake — calling the President’s behavior unacceptable and dangerous, saying that he regularly tells untruths.  Senator Flake just called on his fellow Republicans to end what he called complicity and accommodation. I’m wondering, what’s the White House’s response to this criticism coming from two Republican senators?
  • Sarah, why is the President involved in this feud with Senator Corker?  Because there’s some concern on Capitol Hill that what you should be focused on is getting your agenda of tax reform through, and that petty feuds like this just distract from the bigger issue. So why is the President engaging in this? [John Roberts from Fox News, who just before the briefing was joking with Shep in the studio about Nancy Pelosi and how Democrats are nuts too]
  • But why does he engage like this? [John still]
  • Thanks a lot, Sarah. Since the President has taken office, as you know, two Republican senators, Senator Corker of Tennessee and Senator Flake of Arizona, have both announced they’re not running for reelection. In your view, is the President remaking the Republican Party? And if he’s doing that, is he remaking it in a positive way?
  • Sarah, I understand that neither of these two senators that we’re talking about now have been allies, to say the least, of the President. But this has been an extraordinary series of attacks on the President from major figures in the Republican Party, not typical political attacks.  I mean, saying that the President is responsible for the debasement of the nation, that a breakdown of civility is the fault of the President, and that “enough is enough.” We’ve seen similar remarks from John McCain, the party’s former nominee. In any of this — does any of this make the President pause and wonder if he is doing anything wrong; that he bears any responsibility for what these senators are saying is a breakdown of civility in our country? [Jon Karl from the NY Times]
  • Why is there so little pushback from other Republican senators on this? I mean, Mitch McConnell is the Republican Leader. Bob Corker is still a committee chairman. Should there be — [She tried to call on someone else to cut off this follow-up question but the other person she called on fell silent, allowing Jon to continue. Then she interrupted Jon]
  • If I could just pick up on what Jon was talking about. One of the criticisms from Senator Corker today was the idea that history will most remember President Trump for “debasing” the country. And you hear, in Senator Flake’s remarks, the idea that he seemed to be writing it for history. How do you think history will view not only the remarks of the two senators today, but also former President Bush last week?
  • Thank you, Sarah. The President at lunch today asked the senators for a show of hands on two candidates for Fed Chair, Jerome Powell and John Taylor. Since being that Powell and Taylor are the President’s favorites for the Fed Chairmanship, why would he ask input from the Senate on this? [Finally someone asks about something else! I don’t know who this guy was, but maybe she knew he was a Fed wonk]
  • Sarah, is the White House concerned at all that these conflicts, which keep escalating, could impact the President’s agenda? In specific, it could — for example, Senator Corker, if the President continues to lash out at him like this, could that prompt him to do things that would be detrimental to the tax cut? [woops no, back to this. This was the first woman reporter Sarah called on. She’s in the front row but I don’t recognize her. There is a definite sense that every media outlet has their big guns in the room today]
  • Sarah, may I pick up on that? Because the President, in two different tweets today, had said that Senator Corker was fighting tax cuts — those were his words — will now fight tax cuts and is now fighting tax cuts. But there’s been nothing public from Senator Corker that he might be against tax cuts. So what exactly was the President suggesting or referring to there in those tweets? Has Senator Corker privately told the President or the White House that he’s against tax cuts?
  • Does the White House think that Flake, McCain, and Corker will eventually vote for tax cuts — all three of them — because you need all three of them?
  • Thank you, Sarah. Last week, I asked you if the President wanted Senator Corker to resign, and you didn’t want to go there. In light of everything that has happened since, has the White House changed its position on that? And at the very least, does the President think that Senator Corker should step down as head of the Foreign Relations Committee? Especially since Senator Corker told CNN today, and I quote, that he “wants to investigate some of the things that he is purposefully breaking down” — he, being President Trump. [Francesca Chambers from the Daily Mail, who asks good questions]
  • The President doesn’t think that he should step down or that he should resign?
  • Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. There is currently a contested primary for Senator Corker’s seat; Congresswomen Blackburn facing former Congressman Fincher. And it’s almost inevitable there will be a contested primary in Arizona; Dr. Ward not going to be left to get the nomination. Will the President make any role in the nomination process there? [This is John Gizzi, the avuncular, distinctive columnist from the conservative Newsmax, who Sarah can usually rely upon to ask something a little out of left field about issues related to conservative Christian values; he is frequently used as a last question or a palate cleanser after a difficult scuffle. Here he joins the others in asking about Corker]
  • The other thing, Sarah, is that in his penultimate salvo on Twitter, the President said that Senator Corker asked him to be Secretary of State, and he refused the request. That’s a pretty serious claim because no one really has been proven to have asked for a job in modern times like that. Did Senator Corker actually ask the President to be his Secretary of State? [You have to give John Gizzi credit for the phrase “penultimate salvo on Twitter” — Sarah tried to move to someone else even though he said he had two questions at the outset. He spoke over her and pushed through his second question]
  • Is the President confident that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can pull the Senate Caucus together?
  • And is he upset by Senators–[This is a guy named Charlie trying to ask a follow-up. Sarah cut him off and moved to someone else]
  • Why does the White House, and the President specifically, continue to say that Senator Bob Corker helped President Obama on the Iran Deal, when the facts clearly say that’s not true? 
  • But he didn’t vote for it.
  • And the Washington Post has given four Pinocchios on this. If you look through, Senator Corker says it’s a lie. 
  • Exactly.  But this is true. When you go back and look through, the White House clearly is not telling the truth on this. Why does the President continue to say that he helped President Obama with it?
  • It’s just not true. He voted against it though, Sarah. [She is trying to get away from this guy, but he is being insistent. Finally she moves on to Jeff Mason of Reuters, who has kind eyes and always looks like he’s not mad, he’s just disappointed.]
  • Sarah, what do President Trump’s advisors advise him about his use of Twitter?  And on a separate, unrelated issue, is the President seeking to kill a deal between Boeing — or Boeing’s deal to sell planes to Iran Air?
  • Sarah, on Niger — and I’m not going to ask you to talk about the ongoing investigation, but I do want to say:  The commander of U.S. forces in Africa told Congress last March that he had only a quarter of the reconnaissance flights needed to do his job, and, in fact, that did impact search-and-rescue missions. Is the White House concerned that U.S. forces in Africa do not have adequate resources and that that could have contributed to what happened in Niger?  And has there been any outreach by the White House to Nigerian officials? [This is Margaret Brennan, CBS news] 
  • And has there been outreach from the White House to Niger?
  • Sarah, back on Niger, an offshoot — the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson is concerned that there may not be remains in his coffin. What does this White House say as she is not able to get anything more than dog tags as it relates to trying to put to rest all of those? [April Ryan, the black reporter who became known after Trump tried to use her as a social secretary to hook him up with the Congressional Black Caucus]
  • And one last piece on another subject really fast. Beyond personality — beyond the President’s personality, beyond Flake, beyond Corker, beyond McCain, at issue there is a divide, be it in the nation, be it in your own party.  When is there an effort to unify? Because you have people saying, in their own party, in the President’s party, that the President is not helping to pave the way and the path that the President is taking is wrong? When is there an effort for this President to start unifying not just within the party, but with the country because there are so many divides? [Obama’s press secretaries would allow second questions and multiple follow-ups and they would engage in long, calm back-and-forths with reporters. At this point it has become quite ballsy and insistent to get that second question. But April Ryan has that gravitas.]
  • Sarah, the President is likening his tax cuts to what Reagan did. But as we all know, after those 1981 cuts, there were a series of tax increases, including the Social Security payroll tax increase, which affected middle-class Americans. Today, Social Security’s situation — fiscal situation — is far more dire. What does the President have to say about his intentions when it comes to these entitlements once these tax cuts go through?
  • Is he still planning no changes?
  • No changes?
  • The three Republican senators have hit at the same theme that there is this degradation of civility in American politics. And we’ve also heard that from three past Presidents in recent days. So does this White House agree with that sentiment, that there is a lack of civility in the conversation happening in this country right now from American politicians? And does this President bear any responsibility for that? [I think this is Cecilia Vargas from ABC news but I’m not sure.]
  • Thank you, Sarah. I wanted to ask you about the President’s tweet in which he called Pastor Robert Jeffress a “wonderful man.” Given that there are 70 million American Catholics, why would he say that about somebody who’s so viciously anti-Catholic?
  • Sarah, thank you. One of the aspects of civil discourse is for people in the discussion to acknowledge when they’ve made misstatements. And there’s a pattern in this White House and with the President that when they make misstatements, those are not corrected. For example, the Chief of Staff came out here at this podium and mischaracterized the speech by a congresswoman given at an FBI building dedication. Why won’t the Chief of Staff or you, right now, acknowledge that that was a mischaracterization and correct the record?
  • Just to follow up on that, why wouldn’t — even if President Trump meant to console the widow of Sergeant Johnson, why hasn’t he or anyone from the White House apologized for how she took his call? She took his call as insensitive.
  • Sarah, two quick questions for you. You talked about the President’s big policy initiatives, that that will be how history judges him. Obviously, so far right now, he has none that have made it through the legislative process on Capitol Hill. He wants to get taxes done.  Bob Corker — [Sarah interrupts Hallie Jackson (MSNBC) here to talk about Gorsuch]
  • I don’t know that that’s a policy initiative. [haha, Hallie]
  • So then to finish that first question, then. You talk about — when we talk about policy initiatives, like — I’m thinking of healthcare or, for example, tax reform — that have not been completed, at least not yet, on Capitol Hill, the lack of support from somebody like Bob Corker might make that a lot more difficult.  Given that, does the President feel like he’s winning?
  • So then does the President believe, Sarah, that there should be — [Hallie trying to ask her second question. Sarah seems a little wearied today–not warding off the follow ups with the same resolve as usual]
  • My second question, Sarah: Given those comments, does the President believe there should be a loyalty test for Republican senators? Does he demand — you’ve mentioned several times before —
  • Well, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake say that is where their loyalty lies.
  • So Sarah, I just want to —
  • Did the President have any reaction today to Chairman Nunes’s announcement that he’s going to open an investigation into the Obama administration’s deal to allow a Russian company to obtain U.S. uranium?
  • Sarah —
  • Sarah, thank you. So, the President regularly highlights the success of the stock market in his tweets, but only about 50 percent of Americans are invested in the stock market. And earlier today, I spoke with Grover Norquist, a prominent conservative voice pushing for tax reform. I mean, he characterizes the economy, and says — he says, “The economy itself still sucks.” So what’s your reaction to that, and for those people who aren’t benefiting from the success of the market right now? [This is Ronica Cleary from Fox5. This is interesting coming from her].
  • Sarah, I have two questions. One is, we understand that when the President gets hit, he hits back, but what is he trying to accomplish when he says that Bob Corker couldn’t win a race for dogcatcher? What is he trying to accomplish? [Mara Liasson from NPR, who I was raised on]
  • Okay, my second question is, can you point to any votes that Flake and Corker took that were against the President’s agenda?
  • Can you point to any votes that Flake and Corker took that were against the President’s agenda?
  • But I mean, you just–
  • I don’t think there ARE any [Mara would know, believe me]
  • You said before that Senator Flake and Senator Corker’s comments were “petty.”  What exactly of Senator Flake’s speech did you find to be petty? [I’m bad with accents but this guy’s is very Britishy, which somehow just makes all this more embarrassing]
  • But nothing in particular?
  •  I mean, I was going to ask about Fed Chair and I’m just interested if the vote that seemed to happen at the Senate meeting, where you saw — where, according to Senator Scott, John Taylor, got the most votes, if that is going to influence the President’s decision on that. And then, just a follow-up on Andrew’s question — [Sarah moves on without letting this woman follow up]
  • Sarah, thanks. To follow up on some of the questions that have been asked, how does fighting with members of his own party advance the President’s agenda and his stated goals for the American people? [This is Kristen Welker of NBC news. She and Hallie Jackson are like two sharp-eyed birds]
  • But you have — there is no margin for error, though, Sarah.
  • Let me just follow up with you very quickly. There’s some confusion around 401(k)s, and some Republicans are saying that’s making their job to actually get tax reform done more complicated. So can you say here definitively that the Republican tax reform proposal will not touch 401(k)s?
  • Is he committed to that?
  • Thanks, Sarah. On the opioid crisis, we’ve seen the President organize a commission, we’ve seen him host meetings, he’s used the word “crippling,” the words “national emergency,” we’ve seen the administration put more resources into law enforcement, and we’ve seen him take on this message of telling kids just not to start. But advocates for those who are addicted say they feel like they just haven’t seen enough work towards helping people who are currently addicted — that there is a need for a huge rush of money to get more people into treatment. What’s the President’s thinking right now? And can they expect anything in the coming days when it comes to getting help to those who are addicted and need treatment?
  • SARAH, WHY HASN’T THE PRESIDENT IMPLEMENTED THE RUSSIA SANCTIONS CONGRESS PROSCRIBED?? [This question was ignored as Sarah walked out of the room]

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