TOWOIT #349: “How is the president going to force the creation of a space force?”

WHDB on August 1, 2018

Now that July is over:

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 7.42.07 PM

OK, this briefing was mostly nothing about that space force title, but I just enjoyed that question for absurdity reasons.

Nearly everyone called on in that room is named either John, Steven, or David by the way.

Also, this is not the briefing that happened the next night (I’m behind), where Sarah Sanders wouldn’t say that the press is NOT the enemy of the people and Acosta walked out. But this briefing really laid the groundwork for the next night. There was plenty of disrespect, animosity and bullshittery on display from the podium.

Here are the questions from reporters:

  • (Zeke Miller, AP) Thank you, Sarah. First, just a quick note on behalf the press corps. Last month, there were only three briefings with you, totaling under an hour. If at some point, over the next month or two — obviously there’s travel concerns — but we’d appreciate if you were — if we’d have some more time. There are lot of issues we’d like to cover. One of those, first off, is the President’s tweet this morning about the Russian probe. His direction to the Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to end the Mueller probe right now. The President said a few weeks ago that he did — or a few months ago, sorry, that he was not going to intervene with the Department of Justice’s handling of that investigation. Does that tweet this morning mark a change in posture by the President?
  • And on a different topic, Sarah. You mentioned that the transfer of these remains marked a North Korea — the North Korean leader fulfilling his commitment to the President, as agreed in Singapore. There was a report yesterday that North Korea is still assembling ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] and — as well as, the Pentagon says it’s not yet possible to verify that the remains that have been transferred back are, in fact, human or American. How does that meet, sort of, the test of North Korea fulfilling its commitment that it agreed to in Singapore?
  • (John Roberts, Fox News) Sarah, on the next proposed tranche of tariffs against China, the figure initially for tariffs was 10 percent. But it’s our understanding that the President now wants to take that up to 25 percent. What’s the reason behind increasing it from 10 to 25? And in a tit-for-tat — if you want to call it trade war or something else — who has more bullets? China or the United States?
  • Does the President believe that —
  • I was just going to say, the President has made some headway with the EU in terms of lowering trade barriers, taking steps toward leveling the playing field.  Does the President and his team believe that that is possible with China, without taking some real punitive measures?
  • (Dave Boyer, Washington Times) Sarah, churches around the country, synagogues, some evangelical leaders have been up in arms in the last few weeks about last year’s tax cut law. They say there’s a provision in there that’s going to force them to pay a new 21 percent of federal income tax on the benefits that they give to certain employees. Can you assure churches, from the podium there, that they’re not going to have to pay a new tax?
  • These are traditionally tax-exempt groups. What is the President prepared to do to make sure they keep their tax-exempt status?
  • (Hunter Walker, Yahoo! News) Thank you, Sarah. Federal law says that, quote, “Any threatening letter or communication aimed at impeding a criminal investigation constitutes obstruction of justice.” Rudy Giuliani issued a statement saying he doesn’t think this morning’s tweet is obstruction because the President said Sessions “should” stop the Mueller probe, rather than ordering him to halt it. You just echoed that reasoning before. What I want to know is, is Rudy Giuliani the one giving the President legal advice on his tweets? And does that statement reflect the opinion of the President’s legal team? (She says he’s “not obstructing, he’s fighting back” and goes on to say there’s corruption in the FBI and most of America is angry)
  • He’s Attorney General Sessions’ boss, isn’t he putting pressure on him— (the White House transcript, usually pretty good at cross-talk, left this at “isn’t he putting—” without so much as an “(inaudible)” —their usual go-to— before and after) 
  • (Margaret Talev, Bloomberg) I’m sorry, were — were you just — okay. (This is Margaret awkwardly trying to see if she can insist that Hunter get his follow-up after he was cut off Sarah Sanders, who had just allowed follow-ups from John Roberts and Dave Boyer from conservative outlets. We can’t see on the C-Span feed but it sounds like she looked at Hunter and he waved her on to just ask her own question) Tesla plans to spend $5 billion to build a plant in China. They’re saying it’s not going to affect Tesla operations in the U.S.  But I’m wondering whether the administration has any concerns about Tesla’s plans.
  • (Jon Decker, Fox News Radio, aka a lawyer, aka no dummy) Thanks a lot, Sarah. There was reaction to the President’s tweets today from some of his allies on Capitol Hill. Republican Senator Hatch said, “I don’t fully get what he’s trying to do.” And another Republican senator, Senator Thune, said the Mueller investigation needs to move forward. He said they ought to let them complete their work. Do you agree with that sentiment expressed by Senator Thune that this investigation by Mr. Mueller ought to be completed and not be sort of cut off at its (inaudible)? (the word is clearly “knees” here… I’m not sure about this transcriptionist. Sarah Sanders then willfully misses the point and snarkily says that every agrees it “should be completed”)
  • If I may —  (Sanders has already called on Cecilia Vega)
  • The Attorney General said — (Jon Decker is still fighting for his follow-up) 
  • The Attorney General recused himself from the Mueller investigation —  (“I’m sorry we’re tight on time, Sanders has said”) 
  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) Does the President still believe that millions of people are voting illegally in this country? Is that the basis for this push for requiring voter IDs? (I wish people wouldn’t even ask it like that about the millions of voters, it’s so blatantly untrue)
  • When was the last time the President went to a grocery store? (Sanders is trying not to let her say all this, is calling on Major, but it’s just kind of Cecilia being like “the President is insane; let’s discuss”) 
  • Well, because of what he said last night. Because he said you need an —
  • (Man’s voice:) He said last night that you need an ID to buy groceries
  • Cecilia again: YOU go to the grocery store; *I* go to a grocery store (Cecilia using both arms dramatically at the YOU and I to indicate the going of non-Trump people to grocery stores) I’ve never had to show an ID to buy my groceries.
  • I’ve never had to show an ID when I go to buy groceries. Most people don’t.
  • Is that what the President, who doesn’t drink, meant? (Because Sarah Sanders said you have to show ID to buy alcohol)
  • (Major Garrett, CBS News) Sarah, to follow up on Jon Decker’s question (Nice job, Major). You want the investigation to end. You want it to end, I presume, also without any obstruction, meaning without any interference. Many have described the President’s tweet this morning as blowing off steam. Is that a fair characterization? It’s just an opinion he’s throwing out there; it has nothing to do with his actual governmental control of, or supervision of, this investigation? (The president of the United States doesn’t get to “vent” in this manner. This is just me saying this)
  • Can I follow up on that? Because you had said a moment ago that the investigation itself is corrupt, the Mueller investigation. And then you mentioned Comey and McCabe and Strzok. They’re not — Strzok certainly isn’t anymore (part of the investigation, he means). He was for a time. (Sanders says a bunch of disproven lies about the origins of the investigation)
  • If it is corrupt, why doesn’t the President just end it, or use the powers he has to end it? 
  • If he believes that, why doesn’t he follow through on that?
  • (Sara Cook, CBS — she recently went from being in the back with NHK Japan Broadcasting to the second row. Fun resume fact from LinkedIn: For three years she was a Japanese translator for the National Cherry Blossom Festival)  Thank you, Sarah. Can you— I’m just wondering if you can clarify what — this tweet from this morning. Is it the President’s desire for, first, Sessions to un-recuse himself from the probe? And is it also his desire for the Special Counsel to be fired? (I THINK I’VE CLARIFIED THIS ABOUT TEN TIMES NOW, Sanders says snottily)
  • (Steve Herman, Voice of America) Yes, Sarah. Last night, at the Tampa rally, the President again pushed for creation of a Space Force as a new military branch. The Defense Department today missed the deadline to submit a report to Congress about how this Space Force is to be structured. And we’re told that the White House has now twice rejected drafts because the Defense Department doesn’t want a Space Force. It would rather create a Space Command under the existing military structure. In view of this, how is the President going to force the creation of a Space Force?
  • (Yamiche Alcindor, PBS News Hour) I have a question about — the President is meeting with inner-city pastors today. Secretary Carson has pushed policies that would raise the rent on many poor people. He’s also pushed policies that would slow anti-immigration initiatives. What is the President going to say to these inner-city pastors whose areas might be hurt by some of these policies?
  • (Inaudible) in inner cities —
  • Are those policies that are raising rents on poor people and that are slowing anti-segregation initiatives, are they helping inner cities, in the President’s opinion?
  • (Julie Davis, New York Times) Sarah, members of this administration are apparently talking about big cuts to the Refugee Resettlement Program, which is currently capped at 45,000, but I’m told it’s under discussion for cuts as low as 25,000 next year. Does the President feel that this country admits too many refugees? What does he think the proper level is? And what would the rationale be for scaling it back that dramatically for a second year in a row?
  • Does the President think the program is too big?
  • Does the President think there are too many refugees coming into this country?
  • (Jeff Zeleny, CNN) Sarah, you said the President wants this investigation to be completed, but he’s not yet made the decision if he will sit down with Bob Mueller. Isn’t he part of dragging this out a bit? And also, when he tells you something personally, do you take it is a directive or do you take it as his opinion? (Acosta is seen as the firebrand, but Zeleny asks good questions too)
  • You said that his tweet this morning was his opinion. When he tells you something, as a member of his staff, how do you know if it’s a directive from the President or if it’s simply his opinion?
  • This morning, though, it seemed pretty clear. His tweet this morning said that he wanted to — it was time for the investigation to be stopped. Does the President know that Jeff Sessions can’t stop the investigation? Has he directed Rod Rosenstein to?
  • (David Jackson, USA Today, I think) What does the President plan to do specifically about 3D plastic guns? And has he spoken to the NRA about this issue?
  • (Steve Holland, Reuters) The case of the pastor in Turkey: Has the President raised this directly with President Erdoğan?
  • And is he upset about it or what?
  • (Blake Burman, Fox Business News) Sarah, thank you. I wanted to ask you one on taxes and one on the possibility of a shutdown. On taxes: Does the President support possibly restructuring the way capital gains are taxed? And on the possibility of a shutdown: Is the President talking about potentially endorsing a government shutdown before November’s elections? After November’s elections? Or both? (I love how low key crazy this question sounds)
  • Does the President, though, have a personal opinion as to whether or not the current system works or that it should be changed?
  • (David Martosko, Daily Mail) Thank you, Sarah. Two quickies about last night in Tampa. First of all, does the President encourage the support of people who showed up last night in these “QAnon” and “Blacks for Trump” fringe groups? And secondly, is the White House willing to say right now, in view of what happened with one of our TV colleagues last night, that it is wrong for his most vocal supporters to be menacing toward journalists doing their jobs in a situation like that or any situation? (She does her usual vague “people shouldn’t hurt each other” sort of response… then she goes on to repeat a debunked urban myth that suggests the press is responsible for September 11)
  • Sarah, nobody was being violent last night. They were trying to prevent a broadcaster from getting his broadcast out and yelling that his network sucks.  Is that right or wrong? (Martosko is yelling this insistently as a follow up, with both hands thrown up in the air in a big frustrated “WHAT GIVES” gesture. He can sound pretty conservative in how he frames questions—there’s always a startling difference in tone between him and his young co-worker Francesca Chambers—and the rumors were that he hoped to be White House press secretary himself. He also was one of Sarah Sanders’s big defenders after the whole Michelle Wolf correspondents dinner thing. But I guess he’s getting a little fed the fucked up too) 
  • I SAID, no one was being VIOLENT last night in terms of HITTING anybody. And no broadcaster was broadcasting state secrets. They were trying to do stand-ups at a public rally, and you had people trying to yell over them, preventing them from doing their jobs, and yelling that their network sucks on live TV. Does the White House support that or not?
  • (Ayesha Rascoe, NPR News) Thank you. So you talked a little bit about the tweets earlier. But he also — President Trump also tweeted about Paul Manafort and comparing his treatment to that of Al Capone. And he seems to say that he felt he was being treated unfairly. I guess, first of all, why does — or does the President feel like Paul Manafort is being treated unfairly? And when he talked about this issue of solitary confinement and the fact that Manafort hasn’t been convicted yet, does this administration have larger concerns about solitary confinement being used for people who haven’t been convicted, outside of Paul Manafort? (pffft)
  • (Goyal) Thank you. Two questions, please. One India, one is Pakistan. Sarah, can you confirm if the President has accepted the invitation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be the special guest on the India’s — Republic Day of India next year, on January 26?
  • And Sarah, Pakistan is concerned that with the historic election and Mr. Khan, he ran on a corruption election in Pakistan. He had very little to say — good things — about India, U.S., and Israel, but still, he’s the Prime Minister of Pakistan today. How are you going to deal with him?
  • (Inaudible) the U.S.-Pakistan relation?
  • (Peter Alexander, NBC News) I’ll make them quick. Does the President believe that Paul Manafort is innocent of the charges he faces?
  • Sarah, may I ask then, to follow up on the views of the President expressed on Twitter today saying that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this rigged witch hunt right now — has the President said that directly to Jeff Sessions at any point?
  • Has he said it at any point to Rod Rosenstein?
  • (Mike Bender, Wall Street Journal) Just to follow on that. So the President — it’s the President’s opinion that Sessions should end the Mueller probe, but it’s also his opinion that the Mueller probe should play itself out?
  • Just one last follow-up on that.
  • The President — you’ve also said the President believes he can fire Mueller.  Doesn’t it look weak on Twitter for him to say Sessions should end this probe, when it’s Rosenstein that can end the probe and the President believes HE can end the probe?

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