TOWOIT #308: “Does the president enjoy the drama?”

March 17, 2018

Yesterday’s briefing!

It was 33 minutes altogether. 8 minutes of legislative director Marc Short monologuing about Democrats being obstructionists, 10 minutes of reporters asking him questions, and then 15 minutes of Sarah Sanders Q&A.

  • (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thanks a lot, Marc. Thanks for coming out. You mentioned the plight of your nominee at the State Department for the Arms Control position, and you mentioned the need for having that person for the upcoming negotiations with North Korea, yet you still do not have a nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea. Why is that? When will you have that nominee? And is that position also important for your efforts?
  • (Couldn’t see who this was) On Rick Grenell, the President’s nominee for Ambassador to Germany, which Senator is actually holding up this nomination, withholding unanimous consent? And why doesn’t Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just — and is there reason he has been given for withholding unanimous consent, and why doesn’t Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just force a vote on the nominee.
  • (Brian Karem, Sentinel Newspapers) Marc, thanks. You know well what goes on on the Hill. This is part of the toxic nature that’s been going on for several years. I mean, the Democrats pushing back because of Republicans. What are you doing to ease or water down that toxicity? What can you do? And secondly, explain to those who don’t understand how it is that a minority party — when you control both the Congress — you know, both the House and the Senate — how you’re unable to get it through, because that is one of the big stumbling blocks for people to understand why you’re complaining.
  • Do you see it as a reflection of, for example, when Obama was in office and the Republicans said they were going to make it their prime concern not to pass any legislation that Obama favored. Don’t’ you see that as part of the problem?
  • And the Republicans don’t bear any of the blame?
  • (Steven Portnoy, CBS Radio News) But specifically, Marc, does the President still feel — do you still feel — do you feel that Rule 22 should be amended or eliminated to prevent what you’re describing which are national security ramifications. I mean, you have a number of positions that you are arguing are essential to the national security of the United States. And you say that this something the Democrats are obstructing, too; Republicans have 51 votes. What should happen?
  • Oh, well, I was going to ask if you’re concerned that this objection will carry over to the nominee for Secretary of State and the nominee for the CIA Director?
  • (Jeff Zeleny, CNN) Marc, has the President had any personal conversations with Senator Schumer about this “obstruction,” in your words — specifically, as he’s been having conversations about infrastructure and other matters. Has he has Senate Democrats over here? And why haven’t we heard more from him talking about this? And also, do you believe that, just given the backlog here, how many more confirmation hearings can this Senate withstand as it leads to other potential of personnel announcements that we may or may not be seeing in the coming days here?
  • (Shannon Pettypiece, Bloomberg) Marc, is there the possibility that the President could offer something — make a deal where not everyone gets what they want? But has he offered anything to Senator Schumer in exchange for helping get some of these nominations through?
  • I mean, in his conversations on DACA, has there been any suggestion — you know, we would make some concessions on DACA if you help get some of nominations through?
  • (Tamara Keith, NPR) On DACA, is there room for a smaller deal? Are you working a smaller deal now — one that doesn’t have all four pillars but that might be part of the omnibus?
  • That’s a yes, Marc?
  • (Louise Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal) Thanks. Just to be clear, Marc, do the challenges of getting personnel cleared through the U.S. Congress prevent the President from changing the makeup of his Cabinet right now if he wanted to?

 

Questions for Sarah Sanders, who presented it as some kind of treat that she would only take a few minutes of questions, as if she were some kind of unwieldy instructor from a Roald Dahl novel, letting her pupils out early for the day.

  • (Phil Rucker, Washington Post) Yeah, Sarah, an attorney for the porn star known as Stormy Daniels said this morning on a television interview that she was physically threatened to stay silent about her affair with President Trump. I’m wondering if you talked to the President about that? If he knows who might have threatened her? And more generally, if he has concerns about women accusers being threatened in that way?
  • Did the President have anything to say about it?
  • (Catherine Lucey, AP) Sarah, we’re hearing a lot from staff, behind the scenes, saying they’re “on edge,” “people are worried,” they “don’t know what’s happening,” in terms of staffing, exits, firings.  Has the President or the Chief of Staff made any kind of assurances to staffers today about what is to come
  • (Kevin Corke, Fox News) Thank you, Sarah. Life sentences for drug dealers, as part of the effort to fight opioid abuse and distribution — I’m just curious about the President’s plan with respect to that, and his thoughts on that. I know that you don’t want to get ahead of what he may be about to announce. But broadly speaking, is the ultimate penalty something that should be on the table when it comes to dealing with drug dealers and opioid abuse?

I’m confused about “ultimate penalty” here — wouldn’t that be the death penalty?

  • (Jericka Duncan, CBS News) Thank you. Sarah, you took to Twitter last night to ensure the public that McMaster’s job was safe. But has the President spoken directly to either McMaster, Carson, or Shulkin to tell them that their jobs are, in fact, safe?
  • But as Mr. Short just pointed out, there is an issue when you look at the number of people that you’re hoping to confirm. So to look at the people in these top positions that continue to change — just wanting to know if the President gave assurances to Carson, to Shulkin, as well as McMaster that their jobs are, in fact, safe.
  • (Peter Alexander, NBC News) Sarah, just for clarity on this, though, I know you said that this is something that media wants to talk about right now, but frankly it’s the President who has repeatedly sort of stoked the speculation. Just yesterday, he said, “I think you want to see change.” Earlier this week, he said, “I’m really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.” So isn’t it the President himself who is sort of creating this aura of  — some use the word “chaos,” but simply put, turmoil or a potential upheaval within the West Wing and, frankly, across the administration?
  • Sarah, the President said, “I’m [really] at point where we’re getting close to having the Cabinet and other things [that] I want.” “There will always be change. I think you want to see change.” Those aren’t my words; they’re his words.
  • But initially he said —
  • he said he had the best people, so I guess my question is —

MS. SANDERS:  Sorry, I’m going to keep moving here.

  • (Shannon Pettypiece, Bloomberg) It’s been a week since the U.S. accepted the North Koreans’ offer for a meeting. Can you give us any update — has the U.S. had any direct or indirect contact with the North Koreans? Or are you still relying, right now, on this offer from the South Korean delegation?
  • Anything on timing? I know there’s been talk of May.
  • (Dave Boyer, Washington Times) Thank you, Sarah. The government said this week that we’ve reached a point now where the government has added a trillion dollars to the debt since President Trump took office. Obviously, that’s not the direction he promised to go in the campaign. And he really doesn’t talk about deficits much anymore. Has he given up on cutting deficits? Is he still concerned about it? Or what can he do about it? (This is a conservative newspaper) 
  • (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thanks a lot, Sarah. It’s also been a week since the President announced that he will impose both stiff sanctions on imported steel and imported aluminum.  And today the EU published a list of American products that would be targeted in retaliation for the tariffs the President intends to impose. It’s an exhaustive list: agriculture products; orange juice; motorcycles, like Harley Davidson; (inaudible); blue jeans; tobacco; motorboats. What’s your reaction to this threat of retaliation to the President’s plan to impose those tariffs?
  • Just real quickly on that, in your view and the administration’s view, would those EU tariffs hurt American workers? Would they hurt American industry?
  • (Can’t figure out who this is, she called on Trey who was right behind this guy, and he jumped in as if he thought she was calling on him — but I think he was just being plucky and knew he wasn’t called on) Sarah, you called for quick confirmation of the CIA Director and Senator John McCain put out a statement calling for further scrutiny of her record, and in particular of what he called a really “dark period” of torture and — what he calls “torture.” So are you concerned about that nomination? It looks like there could be one or two Republican Senators who would be against it.
  • You’re going to brief committees —
  • Well, you’ll brief committees about whatever they want to know about her tenure running the CIA black site?
  • You’re going to be — the White House is going to be as fulfilling as possible of that request to — regarding her tenure running a CIA black site in Thailand.
  • (Trey Yingst, OAN) Thanks, Sarah. Two quick questions for you. You said you spoke to the President last night regarding these stories about potential staff turnovers here at the White House and —
  • What was the President’s reaction to all of these stories? Did he see any truth in the reporting that was out there?
  • And if I could ask you about Syria. The President, last month, called the situation on the ground at Syria, “a humanitarian disgrace,” particularly in the suburb east of Damascus. Is the President taking any steps to try to correct this humanitarian disgrace, other releasing statements by the administration?
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Thank you, Sarah. Turning away from personnel within the administration — and personnel in the midterm elections. Danny Tarkanian, the insurgent candidate against Senator Heller, abandoned his candidacy to run for the House, he said, at the urging of the President. Will the President be involved in other contested primaries involving Republican incumbents and try to discourage these kinds of challengers, who, I might add, more often than not, are backed by Steve Bannon, and Sebastian Gorka?
  • (Olivier Knox, Yahoo! News) Thanks, Sarah. A couple on North Korea. One, I want to go back to Shannon’s question, has the United States received any direct or indirect confirmation that the North Koreans are interested? Or is the United States still acting on the South Korean representation of their negotiations?
  • And then seizing the opportunity offered by Marc’s presence here today, my understanding from talking to people in Congress is that the administration has been asking lawmakers to hold off on any new package of North Korea sanctions, telling them both that the executive branch powers are sufficient in case — should the need arise to impose more, but also to avoid inflaming the situation. Would either you or Marc address that?
  • (Jeff Zeleny, CNN) So we are about to enter the 15th month of this administration. Why is it that there is still a need for change inside the President’s Cabinet or among his circle of advisors?
  • Does the President enjoy the drama?

MS. SANDERS:  Sorry Jeff, I’m going to go to your colleague, here.

  • (Ayesha Rascoe, Reuters) Thank you. Britain, France, and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran, maybe in a bid to preserve the nuclear deal. Do you have any response to that or any response to their proposal to put new sanctions on Iran?

 

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