TOWOIT #266: Snookered

November 17, 2017… Day 302

Sarah Huckabee’s 33rd press conference as press secretary.

She wore a black dress with a large pale floral image partially visible (podium in the way) and a string of pearls. She looked doleful, as if weighed down by the souls of decapitated elephants and fondled nobodies.

Kevin Hassett, White House Council of Economic Advisers, was there. He smiled like a goon the whole time, smiled through his own words, smiled through the questions. He smiled as he said that trickle-down economics work, and he smiled as he refused to take follow-ups on that.

Questions for Kevin:

  • [John Roberts, Fox News] Kevin, I know you’re an economist but there’s obviously a political component to all of this. You got at least six senators up on the Hill, including Ron Johnson, saying that they can’t support the bill in its current form or they have serious concerns about it. You can only afford to lose two. Are you confident that you can get this passed through the Senate? Or could the President run into another situation, like he did with Obamacare? That he wins the House and then loses everything in the Senate.
  • [Unknown man] What makes you think trickle-down economics is going to work this time when it hasn’t worked before?
  • And the incentive — [No follow-ups!]
  • One of Senator Johnson’s concerns is that this bill does not do enough for medium-sized and small businesses. Can you talk about what the bill does do for medium-size and small businesses?
  • [Young woman on the side] One of the major differences between the House and the Senate bill is the elimination of the non-taxable tuition waivers. So while they’re trying to reconcile their differences on that tax reform bill, what do you foresee which could potentially move this tax burden to a lot of young Americans?
  • [not sure who this is, another man] Kevin, thanks for being here. On one of your TV appearances yesterday, you said that an average family, when this is all said and done, could accumulate a savings benefit of $4,000. That’s a lot of money.
  • Can you walk us through that?
  • [Jon Decker, Fox Radio News] One of the criticisms, Kevin, of the tax reform proposal is that the corporate tax rate is cut permanently. The individual tax rate phases out after 10 years. Why, in your view, is that such a good idea?
  • Hi, Emma Robinson, One America News. [ultraconservative outlet] The two bills are different in that the House bill repeals or does away with the estate tax and the Senate doesn’t. And I know that was a big point for the administration, and Vice President Pence has voiced his support for repealing the death tax, as they call it. What are your thoughts on that? And do you think a final bill will include a repeal of it?
  • [Eamon Javers, CNBC–another money guy] Thank you, Kevin. I appreciate it. Can you talk about this moment earlier in the week at the Wall Street Journal event? Gary Cohn was on stage, and the moderator asked a group of CEOs, “If tax reform passes, who here is going to increase their investment?” And only a couple of hands went up in the room. Gary Cohn said, why aren’t there more hands going up? Can you answer that question? Why aren’t there more hands going up in a room like that? You would assume that CEOs would say, yes, in fact, we are going to invest more if tax reform passes. Is the administration missing something there?
  • [April Ryan, American Urban Radio Network, not suffering fools] Yes, yes. Gene Sperling, who was once in your position in another administration, says that this tax plan — be it historic — costs $1.5 trillion and it’s a deficit hole. And he says that basically — this is in a tweet. I’m just paraphrasing his tweet. He says, it basically doesn’t justify that cost for 100 million households for a tax increase.
  • [Blake Burman, Fox Business News] I want to pick up where John, right in front of me, left off when he asked about the phase-out on the individual side. You’re an economist; however, the two answers that you gave were both political. One, there’s reconciliation rules. And two, hopefully politicians down the line solve it. But like I mentioned, you’re an economist. So can you not make an economic argument as to why this is good economically for people?
  • Correct. Is there an economic argument as to why this is good for the country as it stands right now to expire within eight years or so?
  • [Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg News] I actually want to follow up on that, though. You all made a value judgment to make the corporate tax cuts permanent and to make the individual tax cuts expire, even though you want all of them to be permanent. What’s the rationale for having corporations have that certainty of knowing that they don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen in Washington while families are going to have to worry about what politicians do six, seven years now?
  • You don’t see the value one way or the other, whether the corporate tax cuts versus —
  • [Major Garrett, CBS] Kevin, you’ve melded politics and economics here quite successfully, and I want to ask you a political and economic question. You’ve talked about growth covering what the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Tax Committee say could be a deficit hole, a deficit implication of $1.5 trillion. That is going to be measurable over time. There’s going to be a means by which either dynamic scoring or static scoring answers that question. And since it’s on the mind of some of your undecided Republican senators, is this administration willing to commit to a review five years in to see if the growth models have held along your lines and the deficit implications aren’t as large — or, if they aren’t, to reassess these tax cuts in order not to blow a hole in the deficit?
  • Do you think there would be —

Then Sarah came back. She took questions for 12 minutes. Questions to Sarah:

  • Thanks, Sarah. I have a non-Roy Moore question for you. Can you say definitively — I want to ask you about Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri. Can you say definitively, from this podium, that he has not been held hostage by the Saudis? And does the President plan to speak to Prime Minister Hariri at all? [She sidesteps this and refers the questioner to the disappearing state department]
  • [Cecilia Vega, ABC News] Thanks, Sarah. If it’s fair to investigate Al Franken and the allegation made by his accuser, is it also fair to investigate this President and the allegations of sexual misconduct made against him by more than a dozen women?
  • But how is this different?

MS. SANDERS: I think in one case, specifically, Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing, and the President hasn’t. I think that’s a very clear distinction.

  • [Major Garrett, CBS News] So I want to revisit something we discussed yesterday. You said, one of the ways that Alabama voters might be able to figure out if these allegations against Roy Moore are true is in the court of law. That’s a direct quote from you. There’s no criminal means by which that could happen. So are you suggesting that Roy Moore sue the accusers in order to hash this out in court?
  • But that’s the venue you meant when you talked about “in the court of law.”
  • The only reason I raise that is because, during the campaign, as you well remember, then-candidate Trump said, after the election he would sue all the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, and that you have, from the podium, deemed all liars. He hasn’t done that. Why hasn’t he done that?
  • [The handsome and plaintive-looking Jeff Mason of Reuters] Sarah, some critics have said that it was hypocritical of the President to tweet about Al Franken and not weigh in on Roy Moore.
  • [Sara Murray, CNN, sitting next to Jeff in the front row] Can you tell us whether the President believes the women who are making these allegations against Roy Moore? And would he be willing to ask the Alabama governor to delay the election or take a step like that to try to intervene in this electoral process in Alabama?
  • [Matthew Nussbaum, Politico] Thank you, Sarah. In light of the national discussion about the importance of taking these kinds of accusations seriously, I wanted to check: Is it still the White House position that all the women who have accused the President of sexual misconduct are lying?
  • [Blake Burman, Fox Business News] Thanks, Sarah. Let me ask you about something else — the pending potential AT&T and Time Warner merger. The President had said on the campaign trail, back in October of 2016 — and I quote here — he said it was a “deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” Does the President still feel that way?
  • [April Ryan] Sarah, is this an uncomfortable conversation about these sexual allegations for this White House be it Al Franken or be it Roy Moore?
  • A follow-up. [We’re tight on time, says Sarah and calls on someone else]
  • A follow-up. I talked to Hillary Clinton[April! says Sarah]
  • I talked to Hillary Clinton today about the President’s past — and going back to what Matthew said, she said, look, I worry about everything from his past because it tells you how he behaves in the present and will in the future. What do you say to that as it relates to these allegations against the President?
  • [Alex Pfeiffer, The Daily Caller, conservative wunderkind, was a correspondent already when a freshman in college] Two questions. One on taxes, then immigration. A recent Quinnipiac University poll said 61 percent of voters think the Republican tax plan will benefit the wealthy while the White House has pitched this plan as a working-class tax cut. Why the disconnect?And then on immigration — [she doesn’t allow his second question]
  • [John Roberts, Fox News] Let me come back and ask you the same thing I asked Kevin. You’ve got six Republican senators either “no” or seriously on the fence here. Can you win enough over in order to pass this? And if the President gets snookered again by the Senate, what’s his reaction going to be?
  • The fact that you didn’t get any Democrats in the House, how does that portend for getting them in the Senate?
  • Safe to say the President will not be pleased if he gets snookered by the Senate again?
  • [Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg News] Thanks, Sarah. The administration put out a disaster funding request for about $44 billion today. It’s much less than what a number of different governors and officials in the various affected territories and states have requested. Can you explain sort of why the number is so low compared to what the local officials say they need?
  • Are you expecting (inaudible) much more requests forward in the future, specifically for Puerto Rico?
  • [Kristen Welker, NBC News] Sarah, thank you. Steven Bannon is sending a strong message to the establishment to back off of Roy Moore. Does the President’s allegiance to Steve Bannon in any way implicate his response?
  • Has he spoken at all to Steve Bannon or any outside advisors?
  • How concerned is he, Sarah, about losing this seat to a Democratic candidate, who, right now, according to the polls, is leading?
  • [Jon Decker, Fox Radio News] Thanks a lot, Sarah. Just in regards to that question regarding the supplemental requests: The President and the administration has put forth $44 million. Puerto Rico has requested $94 million. Are they going to get somewhere along that order? I think half of the island is still without electricity.
  • Did the President notify Governor Abbott —
  • Did the President notify Governor Abbott of the lesser amount that he’s put forward? [She won’t answer, keeps moving]
  • [White woman, looks like she is WAPO or NPR from seating chart] Yesterday, the joint investigative mechanism was vetoed by Russia at the U.N. Security Council, and Ambassador Haley tweeted afterward that the veto proves that Russia cannot be trusted as a partner going forward in trying to solve the political situation in Syria. Does the President have any response to the veto, first? What is the U.S. view, going forward, of how chemical weapons will be investigated and dealt with in Syria? And is it the U.S. position now that Russia cannot be a partner in trying to solve, or do a next-day political situation by —
  • [Steven Portnoy, CBS Radio News] There’s been some extraordinary pushback on the administration’s decisions with respect to elephant trophies and hunting of lions and elephants in Africa. Can you shed some light on the decisions the administration has made? And will you make that pushback?
  • [Darlene Superville, Associated Press] The senate tax bill has a tax break for corporate jets. How does that help the middle class?
  • [Not sure who is talking, a man] Thank you, Sarah. Yesterday — on Jared Kushner and on his campaign e-mails — that Senate Committee, they’re asking for those e-mails in the Russia investigation. You punted it to Kushner’s attorney. Today, what’s the White House reaction to those previously undisclosed e-mails?

She completely did not answer with a White House reaction, and left the room.

 

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