TOWOIT #345: A lot of friendly laughing today

Press briefing from Monday, July 2, 2018.

Sarah Sanders has these down to 20 minutes a week now. I’ve had a harder time forcing myself to re-listen on C-Span in the evening now that it’s a less regular thing. I’m just so sick of this administration. Nice pitch for my blog! No but seriously, I’m so tired of the friendly chuckling in the room with Sanders.

But here we go, belatedly. Sarah Sanders usually kicks off the briefing by calling on John Roberts from Fox News. Today there was someone new in the front row, John’s wife Kyra Phillips. Kyra left CNN this spring after 13 years to take a role at ABC News as a D.C.-based correspondent. At this briefing, Sarah called on Kyra first.

Read on to see the questions that Kyra and other reporters asked Sarah Sanders:

  • (Kyra Phillips, ABC News, recently moved from CNN) Sarah, did you just call on me before my husband?  (Laughter.)
  • For the record, did you call on me before my husband?
  • Okay, does that mean the President will do “GMA Live” instead of “Fox and Friends”?  (Laughter.)
  • Yeah, you got it. Maybe two.
  • (John Roberts) Sarah, this is history. You realize that.
  • (John again) You realize this is history?
  • (Kyra) During the campaign, the President said, “I am pro-life and I will be appointing pro-life judges.” Is the President still committed to appointing pro-life judges?
  • Senator Susan Collins says that she wants a nominee that will respect precedent and that Roe v. Wade is settled law. Does the President agree that Roe v. Wade is settled law? (Kyra tries to ask a follow-up after this but Sarah curtly cuts her off by saying “Go ahead, Major. We see see Kyra sit back in her seat with a quick, chastened look. Major is sitting next to John Roberts, so when the camera moves to him, we catch John shooting his wife a smile of encouragement or understanding across the row).
  • (Major Garrett, CBS News) Sarah, is there any concern the President has, based on — over the weekend — reports out of North Korea that it is either continuing on with its nuclear program, making efforts to enhance it, and in any way seeking to deceive this administration about its denuclearization intentions?
  • When you say you’re continuing to make progress, how can the public evaluate that progress? What’s happened?
  • (Dave Boyer, Washington Times) Thanks, Sarah. Who are the four judicial candidates that the President met today?
  • Can you comment on the CBS report today that judges Kavanaugh and Barrett are now at the top of his list?
  • (Matthew Nussbaum, Politico) Thank you, Sarah. The President last Thursday wrote on Twitter, “HOUSE REPUBLICANS SHOULD PASS THE STRONG BUT FAIR IMMIGRATION BILL, KNOWN AS GOODLATTE II, IN THEIR AFTERNOON VOTE TODAY…” (I’m really enjoying that the White House transcriptionist all-capped that) And then on Sunday, he wrote on Twitter, “I never pushed the Republicans in the House to vote for the Immigration Bill, either GOODLATTE 1 or 2…”  Why would the President lie about something like that?
  • (Margaret Talev, Bloomberg) Thank you, Sarah. There was a report that it’s even kind of, maybe, on the table that President Trump would —
  • invite Chairman Kim to New York around the U.N. And I just wanted to get on the record if you can put that in context for us. Number one, is that in play?  Number two, it sounded — I mean, a number of conditions would have to be met, but is that really something he would consider doing?
  • And then, without getting into who all the four were, the President said that two of the five he’s looking at for the Supreme Court, at least, are women. Were any of the people he met with today women?
  • (Jon Decker, Fox News Radio) Thanks a lot, Sarah. Following up on that question, is this an important consideration for the President, getting a conservative woman on the U.S. Supreme Court?
  • And then just one more, Sarah, if I may, on trade. Canada responded to the steel and aluminum tariffs that the President has imposed already on imported steel and aluminum. What’s the response from the White House, from the President, to that action by Canada? (Sarah says “We’ve been very nice to Canada for many years and they’ve taken advantage of that.”)
  • (Jordan Fabian, The Hill)  Thanks, Sarah. The National Security Advisor, John Bolton, appeared to leave the door open to the U.S. recognizing the Russian annexation of Crimea in his upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin. Will you rule out the U.S. acknowledging that annexation? Or is that on the table?
  • Would recognizing Crimea be a possibility in the future if Russia —
  • I said, would recognizing the annexation be on the table if Russia agrees to certain concessions?
  • (Steve Herman, Voice of America) Sarah, following up on North Korea, the President had declared on Twitter that there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. And even putting aside these reports about the intelligence material, there’s also commercial satellite imagery showing activity going on at these North Korean sites related to uranium processing, as well as the missile facilities. So does this administration believe that there is no longer a nuclear threat? Also, John Bolton yesterday, on “Face the Nation,” said that the overwhelming bulk of the program could be dismantled within a year, while experts are saying it could take 10 to 15 years. So could we get a little bit of clarity on that, please?
  • (Anne Gearan, Washington Post) Sarah, on Friday, the President said that one of the topics up for discussion with President Putin would be elections and that we don’t want election meddling. Does that mean he intends to raise the possibility of Russian interference in the midterm elections? And does he have any proposals or anything specific he would like to hear from President Putin about that? (What a joke, but get it on the record, I guess)
  • (Jill Colvin, AP) Thanks, Sarah. I wanted to ask — firstly, the President said he’d spoken to the new President-elect of Mexico. Does the President believe that López Obrador’s election is going to have any impact on NAFTA negotiations — improve or change the terms?
  • And then, just on a second topic, is the President worried, after his comments this morning, that Michael Cohen is going to flip? And has he considered at all paying Michael Cohen’s legal fees?
  • (Blake Burman, Fox Business News) Sarah, thank you. Picking back up on trade, the EU has responded with retaliatory tariffs. Canada did so over the weekend as well. Mexico has done so as well. China has put their tariffs on as well — some of them — and some are expected to come 34 billion dollars’ worth in the next few days. Is the United States winning this battle? And if so, how?
  • But how long is the “long term”? Because if there’s — for the folks who are actually impacted by this, and they just hear, “Well, we’re in it for the long term” — is the long term weeks, months, years? How long is the long term?
  • And so he’s going forward with the $34 billion on Friday?
  • (Hallie Jackson, MSNBC) Sarah, two clarifications, just quickly here on two different topics. Number one, would the President like to see Roe v. Wade overturned?
  • Not about this conversation with these justices. I’m saying, does he himself — as just a matter of how he feels, his own policy — does he want to see Roe overturned?
  • That is a presidential policy question. I’m not asking about the conversations.  Does he have a position on it or is he not (inaudible)?
  • So let me ask about North Korea. Does the President still trust Kim? Does he believe he’s a credible negotiator?
  • (Jeff Mason, Reuters) Sarah, the President said today that the WTO treats the United States very badly and, if that doesn’t change, that he’ll do something. Is he considering anything other than leaving the WTO? And does he have a timetable for that decision?
  • So what he said today — that if the WTO’s treatment of the U.S. doesn’t change that he’ll do something — what was he referring to?
  • (Kaitlin Collins, CNN) Does the President feel that Senator John McCain should resign so the governor can pick a new senator who will then vote on his Supreme Court nominee? (Sarah Sanders conveniently hasn’t asked the President about much of anything, has no changes to announce about anything, can’t talk about whole slates of things for vague reasons, and seems quite fuzzy on matters of previously stated policy)
  • One more question. This is such a pivotal choice for the President. It’s going to affect his legacy for decades to come. Why is the White House moving this so quickly? When he announces on Monday, that will be just a little over two weeks, I think, since Kennedy announced he’s retiring.
  • (Ayesha Rascoe, NPR) Thank you. Just to follow up on the question that Jeff asked, so what exactly does the President want to see from the WTO? What actions does he expect them to take?
  • (Francesca Chambers, Mail Online) Thank you, Sarah. Two questions: one domestic and then one foreign. Back on Michael Cohen, can you at least tell us whether the President watched the interview this morning, and potentially how he feels about the idea that his former attorney said that he would put his wife, his son, his family, his country first, but not the President?
  • Okay, and then the other question. In response to Jordan, you made very clear that sanctions for Russia, as it pertains to Crimea, are not on the table going into this meeting with Vladimir Putin. But what can you tell us about election meddling? Are sanctions for the election meddling on the table in this discussion?
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Yeah, thank you, Sarah. Two questions, please: one foreign and one domestic. A week ago —
  • A week ago, you told us that the President intended to call President Erdoğan of Turkey following his reelection, or his election as President. And we never got a readout on that call or whether or not he congratulated him. Would you elucidate on the call that he made to President Erdogan?
  • Will you put out a readout?
  • And the other question I had was regarding the President’s position on Roe v. Wade. In the third debate with Secretary Clinton, the open question was about this very subject, and he did say the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and the issue of abortion would be returned to the states. Is that still his position now?
  • (Her face is hidden but she has dark hair and is sitting in the WSJ chair so she could be Rebecca Ballhaus) Just a quick question on China trade.  You said that a lot of negotiations are taking place right now.  Is there any reason to assume or to see that there have been progress with the Chinese before the deadline to implement tariffs this week?
  • (Saagar Enjeti, Daily Caller) Thanks, Sarah. Now that Goodlatte I and Goodlatte II are both dead in the House, is the President open to any standalone bill which would stop family separation at the border permanently and reform the U.S. asylum process, which is led by GOP senators and some members in the House?
  • To follow up on that.  What is current U.S. policy at the border?  Is it zero tolerance or is it catch-and-release?
  • (Eamon Javers, CNBC) Thanks, Sarah. Going back to trade for just a second. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which generally works very well with Republican Presidents, launched a campaign today to oppose the President’s tariff agenda. They’re saying that the administration is threatening to undermine the economic progress it worked so hard to achieve. What does the President make of that criticism of his agenda?

Someone, maybe Eamon but the voice sounded more forceful, tries asks why former prime minister of Canada Stephen Harper was at the White House bu Sarah ignores the question and calls on Goyal.

  • (Raghubir Goyal, who does not actually seem to represent an active news outlet) Two-part question. But before that, if I can make a quick comment. Sarah, you are most welcome at any Indian restaurant across the U.S., including especially in this area.
  • My question is — two-part question. One, when the President is going to make history by visiting India? Because 1.2 billion Indians are waiting for him because he’s very famous in India.
  • Second part, please. I’m sorry. As far as legal immigration is concerned, people who came here legally and people who are living here legally, they are waiting at least 15 years to get a green card. And if this trend continues, that almost 500,000 green cards are backlogged, then it will take about 70 years for them to get green card. So any (inaudible) as far as clearing this backlog for the legal immigrant who are going across the U.S. demonstrating and asking the U.S. President for help?
  • (Damn, I’m coming up empty on this guy’s name — a newspaper reporter, I think, an older white guy–I’ll come back when I figure it out) Thanks, Sarah. Just continuing on immigration. Vice President Pence was just in Central America telling leaders that they need to do more to control immigration. President Trump has threatened to cut foreign aid to Central American nations if they don’t do more to address the outflow of immigrants.  Can you tell me what specific steps the White House has taken to carry out this threat? Has there been any meetings with USAID, State Department, to outline what could be cut?

“What’s the administration doing to ensure that the 2,000 children are brought back to their parents… Sarah?”

(Probably Brian Karem, to Sarah’s back. C-Span leaves it in, the White House you tube channel usually slices these out)

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