TOWOIT #314: “something the president saw on television on Sunday morning”

April 4, 2018

The White House Press Briefing today was 44 minutes late, the White House youtube channel didn’t stream it for some reason, it started with Kirstjen Nielsen, Homeland Security Secretary, announcing that Trump is sending the National Guard to the southern border indefinitely, and it ended with (which reporter) calling after Sarah Sanders, “How is he ‘privately honoring’ Dr. King today?”

Secretary Nielsen spoke for 13 minutes about the threat on the borders, with several permutations of her opening statement: “border security IS homeland security which IS national security.” I really never thought I would spend so many of my waking hours thinking about fascism and authoritarianism. I was unnerved by her pinpoint pupils as she ginned up fear and dehumanized people in need. I guess at least her eyes weren’t dilated? She said the families arriving are fake families with borrowed children and she called them aliens over and over and over again.

Because the White House didn’t stream the briefing on YouTube like it usually does, I clicked between several livestreams by right-leaning and left-leaning websites. My god, the comments were terrible everywhere. I am sure it was from men across the political spectrum. Their disgustingness seemed totally decoupled from whether they agreed or disagreed with the politics of Nielsen and Sanders. Since the two speakers today were both women, you can just imagine. Yep. Men are still canceled.

Questions asked of Kirstjen Nielsen:


  • (Major Garrett, CBS News) Maybe for some context, could you compare what the President is contemplating with what President Bush did? Six thousand National Guard personnel for about a year and a half — Arizona, New Mexico, California. President Obama did about 1,200. Is he contemplating something larger than that and something of a longer duration? And how soon do you think — whatever the number is — the deployments will begin?
  • And size and duration of the force?
  • Would you say it will be more robust than the Bush deployment?
  • (John Roberts, Fox News) Madam Secretary, in terms of the operations that the National Guard will be involved in, Operation Jump Start specifically prohibited the National Guard from laying hands on immigrants; that they were only in a support capacity to the Border Patrol. Are you thinking of similar rules of engagement, if you will?
  • All right. So it wouldn’t be actual enforcement then?

SECRETARY NIELSEN: Correct. As of now. As of now. Yes.

  • (Jonathan Karl, ABC News) The President had also, in a tweet, he suggested that he would use some of the military appropriations to fund the construction of the border wall. Does the President have the authority to use money that Congress has appropriated to the Department of Defense to build the border wall?
  • (Jeff Mason, Reuters) Can you give a cost estimate for what this will cost, and who will pay for it?
  • Do you need congressional approval for any of that?
  • (Can’t see who said this) Madam Secretary, how much wall can you build with the money that you currently have?
  • The $1.6 billion from the omnibus?
  • So the new wall — how much new wall have we built at this point?
  • So replacing current wall would count as new wall, in your words?


  • And then how much will it cost to complete the entirety of the wall that you desire?
  • So we don’t have the total ticket price at this time? It’s still unclear what you think it will cost?
  • (Jeff Zeleny, CNN) I was wondering, I’m not sure I understand what the urgency for this is. It seemed like it ramped up, you know, just over the last several days and since the weekend, in fact. The House is not here; the Senate is not here. Why is this such an urgent priority right now for the President to sign?
  • But why not last year? I mean, what responsibility does the White House or the Department have for not urging Congress to do something more permanent, rather than having National Guard troops down to the border that are stretched thin already in their own states? Why now on this? All those problems were in place.
  • (Darlene Superville, AP) You said that you hope deployment begins immediately. But what exactly does that mean? I mean, does that mean the troops could be heading to the border as soon as tonight?

SECRETARY NIELSEN: It does mean that.

  • (Stephen Portnoy, CBS Radio News) Just a follow-up with Jeff’s question. Because this is the 440th day of the Trump administration. You talk about the urgency; you talk about it being April. But there’s a lot of speculation in the country that this might have something to do with something the President saw on television on Sunday morning, or it might have something to do with the fact that the President wants to shore up support amongst his political base. Can you speak to that speculation? Is it true?
  • Madam Secretary, how long have you been working on this plan? For how long have you personally been working on this plan?

SECRETARY NIELSEN: You know, it’s always on the table. It’s been done before, as you know. So it’s not a new concept. It’s nothing new.

  • (Andrew Feinberg, formerly and briefly of Sputnik and now he just seems to have this weird holdover press pass) Madam Secretary, you spoke of DACA and some more programs as a magnet. And the President has made similar arguments. That same argument was made against the Gang of Eight bill some years back. Can you describe what sort of immigration bill that covers people who are here without papers would be acceptable and would not be a magnet? Or is the only bill that would be not a magnet simply one that restricts immigration?
  • But at the time, Republicans who opposed the bill said that passing this bill will cause a wave of people coming to take advantage of it. And the President made a similar argument about DACA, even though people who arrive now aren’t eligible for it. And you just made a similar argument about similar programs. So what, other than a bill that only restricts immigration, do you think wouldn’t be a magnet? Because every time —
  • Not to be difficult —
  • But every time this issue comes up, and every time there is any sort of method where it — whether it’s administrative rule or legislatively — attempted to address this problem, the same people, every time, said, “It’s going to be a magnet. People are going to flood the borders trying to take advantage of it.” And so, I’m curious, if that’s constantly a problem every time this issue comes up, then how can you entertain any kind of comprehensive immigration bill?

SECRETARY NIELSEN: I understand your question. What I would say is, if we put together a package and then we pass it, the conversation is over. Vote for this tranche. Those are those who will receive some sort of permanent status. That’s what the President has been very clear on.

  • He rejected one this year.

Questions asked to Sarah Sanders:

  • (Jonathan Karl, ABC News) Back in January, the President told several of us that he was looking forward to, willing to answer questions under oath from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He said he’d expect it would happen in about two or three weeks. Does the President still intend to answer questions from the Special Counsel and do it under oath?
  • So nothing has changed in terms of his willingness to answer questions —

MS. SANDERS: Again, I would refer you to his legal team. He’s working out — they would make that determination.

  • And what was his reaction to learning that he is not a subject — or that he is not a target of the Special Counsel investigation, although he is a subject?
  • (Mara Liasson, NPR News) Thank you, Sarah. I have two questions. A Russia question and a DACA question. Does he agree with McMaster that we have failed to impose sufficient costs on Russia? (Sarah responds that actually McMaster was agreeing that no one has been tougher on Russia than Trump). 

Edit 4/5/2018: I was happy to see that someone called out this lie:


  • So the President thinks other nations should be tougher, but we’ve been as tough as we can? Is that what you’re saying?
  • On DACA, the President tweeted, “NO MORE DACA DEAL.” Does that mean when the courts resolve this issue, he will begin deporting the DACA kids.
  • (Major Garrett, CBS New) Sarah, Larry Kudlow and the Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, both said today that negotiations are the most likely way the trade dispute is going to be resolved. Does the President agree with that? Or does he in fact intend to put the tariffs on the table, make them real — because they’re not real yet — and then see what happens?
  • So absent any change in Chinese behavior, these tariffs will take effect?
  • And if they don’t, the tariffs will take effect? (This little back-peddling back and forth caused the markets to come surging back — the DOW did a 700-point swing today to end positive) 
  • (John Roberts, Fox News) In the meantime, Sarah, as all this is taking place, we’re seeing some really wild swings in stock market which represents billions and tens of billions of dollars in real money. Is the President worried that this saber rattling is causing many people in this country to lose money?
  • So he’s not worried about people losing money in the stock market?
  • (Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg) A question on Amazon: The Pentagon could potentially award a very large cloud computing contract to Amazon. Given the President’s recent criticisms of Amazon, is this something he would potentially have concerns about — about Amazon getting this contract? And would he ever personally intervene in the contract competition?
  • He wouldn’t be involved in that process whatsoever?
  • (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thanks a lot, Sarah. Following —

MS. SANDERS: There’s a lot of Johns here today. (Laughter.)

  • We worked it out that way.
  • The President — as Jennifer mentioned this — railed against Amazon over the course of the past few weeks, calling the deal that they have with the United States Postal Service, “a sweetheart deal.” My question to you though has to do with another sweetheart deal, that’s the $50-a-night payment that the EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt pays to — paid to a lobbyist that did business with the EPA. As you know, Sarah, the President promised to drain the swamp. His behavior — his actions seem very swamp-like. Why is the President okay with this?
  • Does the President have confidence in the EPA Administrator at this point?
  • Again, two Republicans have called for his —
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax)  Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. Last week, BuzzFeed reported that Christopher Steele was claiming, in a report, documented evidence the FBI had a second report on the mysterious death of Mikhail Lesin, founder of Russian Television, RT, and former press secretary to Vladimir Putin. He died at the Hotel DuPont. Originally, it was said from a fall, but this report said he was bludgeoned after by people hired by oligarchs close to Putin. Does the administration have any comment on this given the concatenation of commentary on Russia and response to Russian activities abroad?
  • The other things is, can we have a readout from the Mexican Foreign Minister’s meeting here recently, including with the White House staff, and Jared Kushner?
  • I understand —
  • Yes.
  • (Jeff Mason, Reuters) Sarah, was the President persuaded by his advisors that it’s important for the United States to stay in Syria? (There was a news alert shortly after this, saying the president is ordering troops out of Syria. Natasha Bertrand of Business Insider, who has been doing a lot of good Russia coverage, tweeted out that it was a big win for Russia)
  • The President has repeatedly expressed his annoyance or his dissatisfaction with Iran and criticized the Iranian regime. Wouldn’t taking U.S. presence out of Syria simply embolden Iran even further?
  • (Julie Davis, New York Times) Sarah, just to follow up on that. The President said yesterday he wanted to see American troops come out of Syria — come home from Syria.
  • Right. So what does that look like? What is the yardstick for measuring what eradicating ISIS looks like in Syria right now based on the conditions on the ground that military commanders are looking at? And secondly, what did he tell his commanders yesterday during this meeting about how quickly he wants to see that play out?
  • But what do you mean by transitioning to local forces doing more —
  • Will that be happening now?
  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) I’m going back to two things that were talked about earlier. This sense of urgency about sending the National Guard to the border — the Secretary sort of sidestepped this question: Does this have anything to do with the report that the President saw on Fox News?
  • (Noah Gray, CNN) This announcement of sending the military to the border is coming a week before the President makes his first ever trip, as President, to Latin America. What consideration has the administration given to the signal that sends to a region where the United States has had a long history of military involvement that’s been very unpopular in the region? And how does that affect his ability to present the United States’ vision of Latin America while he’s there?
  • (Peter Alexander, NBC News) Sarah, on Syria. Just to be very clear that — you were saying earlier, as the White House said, that the military mission is coming to a rapid end. The President, just a couple of months ago — just last month — said, “We should never ever have left,” referring to Iraq. He talked about that vacuum. So why wouldn’t leaving control over local forces that allow for a new vacuum just repeat what the President promised would not happen?
  • So he thinks local forces, at some point — he has confidence that local forces, independently, will be able to manage those countries and those situations?
  • Just quickly, on Dr. King — just because, obviously, this is a historic day —

MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I’m just going to keep going because we’re running light on time.

  • (Stephen Portnoy, CBS Radio News) A quick one on Scott Pruitt. The President called him the other night. Why?
  • It was reported that he called to tell him to buck up, to keep fighting.
  • (She called him Mark and he seems to be sitting in the Sirius XM seat, but I cine’t nail down who he is) Sarah, thank you. Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego tweeted, “Using the National Guard to do border security is very expensive. For what it would cost the Guard to make just TWO arrests at the border, we could give a homeless veteran permanent housing for an entire year.” What’s your response? And how concerned is the President with the cost of sending the military?


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