TOWOIT #281: Scripted Robot

January 17, 2018

(SHS said that Trump is not a scripted robot)

Today I’m recording WH reporter questions from yesterday AND today, but I can’t do the whole hour of the medical doctor from yesterday because that’s just too much, and a lot of it going around in circles. After yesterday’s briefing, one of the reporters could be heard saying “It felt like Josh Earnest was back.” Because Josh Earnest–Obama’s last press secretary–used to do long, patient back and forths with reporters, frequently drawing the briefing out past the hour mark. Of course, that’s not really fair, comparing Josh Earnest to Dr. Ronnie Excellent.

For her part, when Sarah H. Sanders took over yesterday she sounded much more like Sean Spicer than usual, with shades of Stephen Miller. Her voice is starting to pitch higher and she’s talking faster. There’s a strain to being the lying mouthpiece of racist idiocy.

Oh my gosh, I just went to to get the briefing transcripts and this is the splash page:

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*cough* Stormy Daniels *cough*

Questions they asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday:

  • (unknown man) Sarah, the President, is he still scheduled to release the “fake news” awards tomorrow?  And when and how is that going to be done?
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Thank you, Sarah. It was widely reported yesterday that, in contrast to his past three predecessors, the President did not take any part in any memorials to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or appear at any public functions on that. Any reason why?
  • (Hallie Jackson, NBC News) Sarah, Senator Graham said today on the immigration discussions that he thought that the President was on track to come to a deal with him and Senator Durbin up to two hours before last week’s immigration Oval Office meeting on Thursday. He said, “Something happened between 10:00 and 12:00.” He says the President got bad advice from his staff members, potentially including Stephen Miller, potentially including John Kelly. What happened in those two hours? What changed? Is Stephen Miller running the show now? What’s going on?
  • (Inaudible) merit-based, Sarah? (She won’t answer, but next reporter picks it up)
  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) Just picking up on what you just left off on — so does a good deal include, then, preferring white immigrants from Norway than black and brown immigrants from Haiti or African nations?
  • But the President DID mention it. But he DID mention country of origin. And the fact of the matter is, the countries that he mentioned, one is very white, and the others are very NOT white. So that is about race, is it not? (Sarah is getting really angry and flust(ered at these questions, turns to Blake from Fox, no dice)
  • (Blake Burman, Fox Business News) Sarah, thanks. To pick up from what Hallie had asked. Something clearly had changed between Tuesday, when the President said, bring me any deal you agree to, and — (She interrupts him, Spicer style and is sort of yelling at him)
  • So is it simply if you say that that they came here with one-tenth of the border wall funding, that if more money comes to the wall, you’ve got a DACA deal?
  • (Jordan Fabian, The Hill) Thanks, Sarah. Is the President concerned about what Steve Bannon might tell the Mueller grand jury? 
  • (Trey Yingst, OAN–after getting heated at Cecilia, Sarah’s running down the list of white guys from right-leaning outlets) Sarah, two questions for you. Did the White House tell Steve Bannon not to answer certain questions before the House Intelligence Committee today? (And even this whippersnapper from One America is asking a question like this!)
  • Sarah, in the Oval Office today, the President said that he wants immigrants to come in from everywhere. Does “everywhere” include those six countries that were on the travel ban list? (Still Trey Yingst!) 
  • (Shannon Pettypiece, Bloomberg) So does that merit-based system mean ending the TPS program so the U.S. would no longer provide a safe haven to countries having a natural disaster, a civil unrest? (TPS is temporary protected status, like the Haitians after the massive earthquake)
  • (Steven Portnoy, CBS Radio News) Can you explain, because I think this is still an open question, how did Senators Cotton and Perdue get here to the White House on Thursday? Who invited them?
  • Why?

Sarah says “The president.” And then when he asks why, she says “Doesn’t seem like an open question to me.” Pretty snottily, frankly. The guy presses on.

  • Well, so why did he invite them? I mean, Senators Durbin and Graham wanted to come and present their proposal. Why did the President feel he needed other people in the room?
  • (Kristen Welker, NBC News) Sarah, thanks. The President again today called the Russian probe a hoax. So why not encourage Steve Bannon to be completely transparent today on Capitol Hill to help (inaudible).
  • (Inaudible) not answering some questions, right?
  • And is there any reaction to Steve Bannon being subpoenaed by Mueller? (Sarah won’t answer Kristen and turns to Ashley) 
  • (Ashley Parker, Washington Post, who isn’t always a stranger to a bad take) In that meeting, the President reportedly used vulgarity. The White House has said he did not use that specific word. The President has said that, as well. But a number of people in the administration said he used “tough language,” “rough language,” “strong language.” Can you clear up once and for all what the President did say?
  • (Anita Kumar, McClatchy) I have two quick questions. One, since a deal does not look like it’s in sight — now we’re three days until the federal government doesn’t have any more money — does the President —
  • A deal on immigration.
  • And so right now there’s no deal. Does the President support a short-term CR to get us through the next few weeks to keep the government open? (CR is continuing resolution, which kicks the can down the road for funding the government)
  • Sarah, I said I had a second question. (Anita plays it like this is the old days when saying you had a second question at the outset meant your question would be honored. Sarah shuts her down and moves on). 
  • (Jonathan Karl, ABC News) Sarah, can you clarify exactly what has been denied here? Because the day of that meeting, Thursday night, the White House put out a statement that did not deny the President said what was widely reported. You now said we’ve been spending five days talking about one word.  Is that the only thing that’s being disputed here in this denial is which profanity the President used? Do you deny the general characterization? Do you deny that he said —
  • (Jill Colvin, Associated Press) I wanted to follow up on Shannon’s question there first, and I’ve got another one. Does the President — will he agree to some type of deal that traded the diversity lottery for making permanent the TPS protections?
  • Would he be open, though, to that kind of trade-off?
  • And then, Secretary Nielsen today was testifying on the Hill. And at one point, she said that she was in that meeting, and she said she was surprised by the fact that the folks in that meeting were using such profane language. Is that something that bothers the President at all? And how often does he use that kind of language that we’re all talking about?
  • Profanities, how often does he —
  • (Ayesha Rascoe, Reuters) Thank you.
  • Thank you. I just want to kind of pinpoint. I know this has been talked about, but when you say that the President, he’s not politically correct — so would the White House then consider, if there was some type of derogatory language used to describe Haiti or Africa or the countries of Africa, to say that these are not good countries to come from — that that’s an issue of being politically incorrect? Or is that — (Finally someone tries to bring up that it’s not about correctness or vulgarity or roughness, it’s about racism. But Sarah interrupts and shuts down Ayesha, and then leaves the room quickly.) 


Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 7.36.09 PM

Ok, all right then! Now we get to move on to today.

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I look forward to the days (she said, hopefully) when I can go back to being super-critical of the mainstream media and Democrats without feeling like I’m playing into the hands of monsters by doing so. I am still critical, but I miss the privilege of being critical without worrying so much about the imminent dissolution of our democratic norms. 
  • (Sagar Meghani, AP) Great.  Sarah, there have been some suggestions in the media today that the President does, in fact, suffer from heart disease, and his weight is larger than was indicated yesterday. Does the White House stand by Dr. Jackson’s report?
  • (John Roberts, Fox News) Not too long ago, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona took the Senate Floor to again denounce the President — this time likening him to Stalin in his approach toward the media, saying that he’s inspired dictators the world over. This is of a pair with the statement from Senator John McCain, saying that the President should stop attacking the press. At some point today, you’re supposed to give out fake news awards. What do you think of what Senators Flake and McCain have said? And what’s up with the awards?
  • What about following on what Senator McCain said, and then the awards that I asked you?
  • And the awards?
  • (Margaret Brennan, CBS News) We’ll be looking for that.
  • Indeed. There’s been frustration from both Republicans and Democrats who were in the room yesterday with Steve Bannon when he was being asked about some of the claims that he’s made about this administration and the President’s family. But specifically, some of the criticism has been aimed at the White House because of guidance that has supposedly been given as to what can and cannot be said — specific topics that are off-limit and the scope of executive privilege. Without getting into the details of that, can you at least define for us what the White House is telling attorneys falls into the scope of executive privilege here?
  • But what about allegations that the SCOPE of that executive privilege — not just the time in the administration, but time after it and time during the transition — is broader than it has been in past administrations?  Is that accurate?
  • And are there off-limits categories that the White House is —
  • (Ashley Parker, Washington Post) Thank you. Following on that question, there is news report today that Steve Bannon’s attorney was relaying the questions he was asked by the Senate Intel Committee in real time to the White House. So my questions are, who was he relaying the questions to? Is that something the White House specifically asked his attorney to do? And if so, why did the White House think that was a necessary step in handling Bannon’s testimony?
  • (Jordan Fabian, The Hill) Thanks, Sarah. The House Republican leadership is proposing a funding bill that would provide the government funding through February 16th and reauthorize CHIP for six years. Is that a proposal that the White House supports?
  • (not sure who this was) Sarah, does the President think it’s acceptable for Republicans or Democrats to allow a government shutdown at the end of the week? And you know — obviously, different options here, but does he think it’s acceptable for a shutdown to a occur this week?
  • But Republicans control Congress, they control the White House. Isn’t it your responsibility?  (After she said it would be all the Democrats’ fault)
  • (Cecilia Vega, CBS News) Thanks, Sarah. You just said the President certainly doesn’t want a shutdown. Last year, he tweeted that a shutdown would be a good thing. So what caused his views to evolve?
  • A good shutdown is what he said.
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Thank you, Sarah. In an interview last Friday with Newsmax Television, the ambassador of Pakistan, Ambassador Chaudhry, commented on the President’s decision to rollback most of the aid for security assistance to the Islamabad government. And he said Pakistan does not want aid but, more importantly, and I quote, “Pakistan wants respect. Pakistan wants recognition of our work and our contribution and our sacrifices.”  Regarding the President’s comment, Pakistan has responded to the aid with, “lies & deceit.” He simply said, “We won’t dwell on that part because it’s not beneficial to either party.” Your response to Ambassador Chaudhry?
  • And you stand by the “lies & deceit” comment that the President made?
  • (Hallie Jackson, NBC News) Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. I’m just going to follow up on a couple of my colleagues’ questions here on the negotiations. But on the first one about Steve Bannon — understood your points about process and how this all works, but sort of, broadly, is the White House afraid of what Steve Bannon might say in these interviews?
  • And on negotiation, the President has talked about wanting to find a bipartisan solution. You said you want the Democrats to come to the table. If there is a government shutdown in, what, three days from now, does the buck stop with President Trump?
  • (Mike Bender, Wall Street Journal) There is a — some legal experts are suggesting that the subpoena for Bannon shows this investigation becoming more aggressive instead of winding down. A couple questions. Is the President prepared for this investigation to last into the months to come? And following up on Hallie, would you encourage Bannon to tell all, like his camp is saying he will, to Mueller?
  • (Steven Portnoy, CBS Radio News) Just in the interest of clarity, you’ve spoken of how the White House Counsel’s Office has been involved in this process up on the Hill. Has the White House, to this point, actually asserted executive privilege? Or are you talking about the potential that —
  • One question on the CR. You speak of how the President would like to see a short-term CR passed. Is he going to lean on the fellow Republicans who are in the House Freedom Caucus to see to it that they vote for it?
  • So the answer would be yes, that he will encourage the House Freedom Caucus to vote for it?
  • (Blake Burman, Fox Business News) Sarah, when you look at the calendar, then — January 17th — the budget deal, potentially that goes to February 16th; the DACA expiration is up March 5th. Does the President want to see a DACA deal get struck before the next CR would end? Or is he willing to potentially take this up to the deadline in early March?
  • You also are rolling out an infrastructure plan this month. So if the CR gets passed this week, is priority number one next week DACA or trying to get support together for infrastructure?
  • (Kristen Welker, NBC News)  Sarah, thank you. This weekend, President Trump is planning to go to Florida and apparently some celebrations for the one-year anniversary of his inauguration. Is that appropriate if there is, in fact, a government shutdown? Or would he consider changing his plans?
  • How does he see his role, Sarah, in getting the ball over the finish line? I know you’re pointing the finger at Democrats, but bottom line — HE’S the President. So how does he plan to make sure this government stays open?
  • (Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg) Thank you, Sarah. North Korea and South Korea have agreed to march together during the Winter Olympics in the opening ceremony under a unified Korea flag. Does the President, does the White House support both North Korea and South Korea marching together and coming more closely together during the Olympics?

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