TOWOIT #276: Meetings on the Course

January 2, 2017

I only had a handful of regular readers I’ve alienated most of them by writing only about the White House press briefing. There’s a lot I could do to write about the White House Press Briefing with more pizzazz, but I’ve been a little busy and preoccupied with other writing projects. But I still like cataloging those events here, even if only for myself. I always mean to get more insightful and funnier about them, and hey–that could happen at any time!

You get all those reporters in the room, and they have twenty minutes to ask Sarah Huckabee Sanders questions. There are all these competing angles and interests. Left-leaning vs. right-leaning outlets. TV vs. radio vs. print. Mainstream vs. wackadoo publications. Quirky journalists vs. very bland ones. The most essential dynamic though is reality-based, truth-seeking journalists vs. the mouthpiece of a corrupt, lying, obfuscating, incompetent administration.  It’s Orwellian to me, so I watch. The reporters are very human to me, so I listen. We are lucky to have a Constitution and a first amendment, so I pay attention.

I like having my commentary on the Trump administration narrowed down to this one event. There’s four walls to the James Brady Press Room, there’s a set cast of characters, there’s an expected series of events. Within these set parameters, little microdramas unfold at every briefing. Inside this little arena the questions themselves contain a chronicle of what is happening week by week in this country. So, that’s what I pin down.

But just the questions, not what Sarah Huckabee Sanders says. Because her answers are worthless and this is not a place to amplify her words.There’s a lot to criticize about the press briefing and the press corps and the media in general — but compared to the Trump administration, they are champions to me.

Here are the questions from yesterday afternoon, before Trump took to Twitter with his nuclear brinksmanship and freaked everybody out last night.

  • (Major Garrett, CBS News) The Iranian protest — does that create an opening or renew the President’s desire to re-impose sanctions as part of the Iran nuclear deal?  And I have a follow-up on Pakistan also.
  • Has the Iranian protest changed the calculations about that — meaning, created a situation in which the President, who was already inclined to be moving in that direction, could move more rapidly in that direction to send a signal not just to the Iranian regime but to the world?
  • And on Pakistan, what precipitated the President’s tweet about threatening to withhold future U.S. aid?  Is there something in particular that he was either briefed upon or that he noticed?  Because it’s not necessarily a secret that there’s been a long-running dispute between the United States government and Pakistan about how cooperative Pakistan has been with counterterrorism measures and other issues.
  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) What did the President mean when he said the “deep state Justice Department”? And does this administration believe that the “deep state” is a real thing? That there is this shadow government out there actively plotting to sabotage him?
  • Does he believe the entire Justice Department and its more than 100,000 employees are a part of this deep state?
  • (Steve–Reuters or CNN?) What does the President see as the end game in Iran?  Would he like to see regime change?
  • Just to follow up, is there a risk that, by encouraging these demonstrators, that there could be a backlash against them from the Iranian government?
  • (Matthew Nussbaum, Politico) Thanks, Sarah. Another question on one of this morning’s tweets. Is the President requesting that the Department of Justice investigate Huma Abedin? And how did he reach his conclusion that she should be in jail given that she hasn’t been indicted or convicted of any crime?
  • (Jordan Fabian, The Hill) Thanks, Sarah. Was the President disappointed that Senator Hatch decided not to seek reelection? And is he committed to campaign for whoever the Republican nominee would be in 2018?
  • (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thanks a lot, Sarah.  President Moon of South Korea has reached out to North Korea about a possible meeting between North and South Korean officials as early as next week.  Is this a meeting that the administration supports?  Would it any way upset your strategy for dealing with North Korea?
  • Would such a meeting be helpful, though, in terms of defusing a situation that exists now in the region?
  • (Trey Yingst)Thanks, Sarah. Two on Iran. The President tweeted over the past weekend that the U.S. is watching very closely for human rights violations. What actions are being considered by the Trump administration should these violations occur?
  • And if I could follow up on Steve’s question about regime change.  There are protestors who are calling for regime change in the country.  Does the Trump administration support regime change in Iran?
  • (Francesca Chambers, Daily online) Thank you, Sarah.  Today, Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said that the aid cut for Pakistan was not tied to the United Nations vote on Jerusalem. But what is happening to the countries that did not vote with the United States? Both Ambassador Haley and President Trump made threats against those countries. And I also wanted to ask you about what the President’s schedule is today, the rest of the week, and what he has been up to lately. We know that he had a lunch today, we know that he had his intelligence briefing, and clearly we saw him tweeting. What else is on the President’s agenda?
  • First, in terms of Pakistan, as I said, our goal is that we know that they can do more to stop terrorism, and we want them to do that.  That seems pretty simple.  In terms of specific actions, I think you’ll see some more details come out on that in the next 24 to 48 hours, and we’ll be sure to keep you guys updated on that front.
  • (Ashley Parker, Washington Post) Sarah, this morning the President tweeted that Hispanics and DACA activists will soon be falling in love with him and Republicans.  So what protections is the President, if any, prepared to provide to DREAMers?  And would any protections for DREAMers have to be tied to a tangible, physical wall on the border?
  • Can you provide any specifics?
  • Can I follow up?
  • There are folks on Capitol Hill that are under the impression that the White House is going to provide another document, a smaller list — more narrow list — of policy proposals it’s looking for in exchange for protections for DREAMers.  So they’re expecting some other kind of document.  Is that going to — is that coming?  And is that something you’re going to talk about tomorrow?
  • Can I ask one quick question?
  • There are a couple —
  • There are at least a couple of folks that were nominated last year that did not get confirmed by the Senate.  Will you — will the White House re-nominate them?  Or are you looking for other people to nominate?
  • (Steven) I want to go back to North Korea for just a second. The President, in one of his tweets this morning, said that sanctions and other pressures aren’t having a big impact on North Korea. But we learned this afternoon that Kim Jong-un is apparently making preparations for another missile launch, either this week or next. There was the rhetoric over the weekend about a nuclear button on his desk.  Can you point out how these pressures are having a big impact, as the President says? And I know a lot of people want to know: If we stay on the current course of maximum pressure, are we moving further from war or closer to the brink?
  • (Mike) To follow up on that point — if the policy is denuclearization and Kim won’t talk to the U.S. about that, how can it be good news — as the President suggested in his tweet — that North Korea wants to talk to South Korea about the Olympics?
  • He said it may be good news that North Korea wants to talk to South Korea about the Olympics. In what scenario is that good news for the White House?
  • (Kristen Welker, NBC News) Sarah, thank you.  Just to follow up — does the United States support North Korean athletes’ participation in the Olympics
  • Is that something that you plan to determine in the coming days? Is it something that could (inaudible)?
  • All right, let me try to drill down on the President’s tweet about Iran earlier today.  I know you’ve been asked a version of this question, but just to be very specific, the President said it’s time for change in Iran.  Did he mean in leadership or in policy, or both?
  • Does the President think it’s possible with the current leadership?
  • (Kevin) Happy New Year, Sarah.
  • Let me ask you about some agenda items and then I’ll follow up with a question about the budget.  Infrastructure, welfare reform, border security — which of these is the primary focus in the early stages of 2018?  Or is this a buckshot approach and you’re simply going to go for them all and see which one you can stick the landing on first?
  • And speaking of the meetings, both tomorrow and even coming up this weekend, for the American people who might be wondering, “So what happens in a meeting like this,” can you sort of lay out what the expectation might be from the President’s point of view?
  • (Jill) Thanks, Sarah.  I wanted to circle back to the Orrin Hatch retirement decision.  The President and Mitt Romney have obviously traded some very harsh words against one another.  Would the President be open, though, to supporting Mitt Romney if he decides to run?
  • And then I also wanted to follow on the questions about the President’s Pakistan tweet.  Just to be perfectly clear, so there was no particular incident, nothing the public doesn’t know about, that prompted that tweet yesterday?
  • (John) Thank you, Sarah. Several of the Iranian exile groups in the United States have praised the President’s comments and statements on Iran, as have former prisoners of the Iranian government, Pastor Saeed Abedini among them. Is the President in touch, either directly or indirectly, with any of the exile groups, notably the National Council for Resistance, in Iran?
  • (Peter) Sarah, can I ask about another presidential tweet today? The President today appeared to take credit for zero commercial airline deaths in 2017. In fact, there hasn’t been a commercial — U.S. commercial airline crash, fatal crash, in the country since 2009. So does President Obama deserve credit for that long stretch that dates back to 2009?
  • Just to follow up.  Michael Huerta, the FAA Administrator — obviously, he’s had a successful run — he’s an Obama holdover and his term expires this week. Will he extend Michael Huerta?
  • And one follow if I can, because you started talking football, so I’ll ask you about football.  The two teams that are going to be in the national championship game come from the state of Georgia and the state of Alabama, as you know well. Obviously, Alabama just elected a Democratic senator.  You said they’re right in the heart of Trump country.  Does the President see the country as “Trump country” and the rest of the country?
  • SEC —
  • (Brian) I’m not going to ask you specifically about — well, I’m not going to ask if you worked during the holiday, because I think I know what you’ll say there.  But what I do want to ask you —
  • (Laughter) Right? What I wanted to ask you is, will he give a comprehensive breakdown of what he accomplished during the holiday season? And specifically, he met with Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, Robert Lighthizer — his Trade Rep, his Commerce Secretary, and his Treasury Secretary.  Did you accomplish anything during that break? And could you let the American public know what it was that you accomplished?
  • Does he plan to hold — he’s had one solo press conference in a year. Is there any chance we could get him out here to answer some questions from us anytime soon
  • (Hunter) Thank you, Sarah.  And Happy New Year.
  • So, in less than a year in office now, President Trump has visited golf courses 91 times. There’s confirmation that he’s played the game of golf at least 75 times.  Sean, back in March, told me that this was different than President Obama’s use of golf, which was — Obama played far less than President Trump, but Sean said Trump was using the game much differently.  Can you tell me the biggest single thing the President has accomplished for the American people during his time on the golf course?
  • If so much has been accomplished during this time, there seems to be a bit of a transparency issue with his time on the golf course. We don’t always get confirmation of what he’s doing there, despite a lot of requests.  There was this incident with the box truck.  Why does it seem as though the White House is self-cons–er–has some kind of issue about his time on the course?
  • Is there a reason for no readout or confirmation when he’s having these meetings on the course?
  • (Eamon Javers, CNBC) Thanks, Sarah.  Earlier, the President tweeted about tax reform, saying, “Companies are giving big bonuses to their workers because of the tax cut bill. Really great!” Will the employees of the President’s own companies be getting bonuses as a result of the tax cut bill this year?
  •  Does the President feel that companies that can afford to pay bonuses this year, as a result of the tax bill, should do that for their workers?
  • Does the President feel that companies that can afford to pay bonuses should pay bonuses to their workers this year?

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