Today’s briefing was the first in a week. It only started 13 minutes late. Sarah Sanders looked tired and had very puffy ruffled sleeves on.
I’m never sure who self-selects to watch the briefing on the official White House live-streaming channel like I do. Is it mostly people who like and trust the White House? That would explain why the thumb’s up to thumb’s down ratio is always about 10 to 1. I watched the viewer count thinking SURELY it would be higher than usual.
The red line was today’s briefing and the blue line was that briefing on July 18 right after Trump came back from Russia and everyone was freaking out about his equivocating and submissiveness to Putin. (X-axis is minutes, Y-axis is number of viewers. The red line starts 30 minutes before the scheduled start time).
The briefing started with Sarah Sanders using Mollie Tibbet’s death — a very sad typical random snuffed-by-man college girl sort of death — using her death to bludgeon undocumented immigrants with. It was a classic white supremacy move and when she was done it just hung in the air in a gross way for a few seconds.
It didn’t erase it, but it was just the smallest bit of salve to have the first question go to Cecilia Vega in the front row who launched into a Michael Cohen question in a very businesslike manner.
August 15, 2018. The next day. We were wealthy in White House Press Briefings last week. This is the day that Sanders read a written statement from Trump that impugned former CIA director John Brennan’s character and revoked his security clearance. No president has ever done that before. Sanders also listed off others whose security clearances were being reviewed.
This was also the exciting time when Sarah Sanders worked really hard to not admit that there are no senior black employees in the White House.
This briefing was longer than usual at 45 minutes. Sarah Sanders had five departments in to talk about election security. It’s a briefing that might have been more reassuring in another context. It should have happened in February 2017 and been headed by the President. The President was not there and contradicted the main points of the briefing that evening at one of his eerie self-rallies. He said again it’s all a hoax, all a witch hunt.
This briefing was also notable because at the end, after her special guests left, Sarah Sanders refused to say that the media is not the enemy of the people. She was given three chances to say something, anything—and she wouldn’t. Again, people on Twitter said all the reporters should stop going to the briefings. But like Brian Karem tweeted, the children don’t get to chase the adults away. And like someone else tweeted, there will still be propaganda news outlets there no matter what. So the reporters show up. They tether their questions to reality. They read their reality-tethered questions into the record.
Here are the questions asked by reporters at the August 2 briefing:
There was a White House Daily Briefing on the C-Span agenda yesterday, but it never happened. It stayed on the agenda and even had the little orange “Live” tag on it at the appointed time. But when you clicked on the link it just said “Program Unavailable.”
The White House said they canceled it because they decided to let the press sit in on a school shooting discussion.
I myself have gone mostly numb, but I hear the last two days were a true whirlwind 48 hours of connected leaks and revelations about Trump-Russia and Kushner and Hope Hicks and Sessions-bashing and all the rest of it.
Overheard in the briefing room before the briefing started (thanks to C-Span), “You’re too YOUNG to be so cynical! But you’re right” (off-camera) and “Truth be told, Shep, the White House needs the NRA and the NRA needs this White House” (on-camera).
Questions reporters asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders today:
So many think pieces on how the White House Press Briefings shouldn’t exist anymore because they have become absurd. Just because they are absurd doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist. You gotta dance with the circus you’re stuck with.
“We’ve reshaped the judiciary for generations” — Sarah Huckabee Sanders
(John Roberts, Fox News) Two questions on tax reform. Both are quick, if I could. First of all, what’s the schedule for signing? I understand this may not happen until after the Christmas break?
Second question. The carried-interest provision — this is something that — this is a loophole that President Trump promised again, again, and again to close. The carried-interest loophole is still there in this bill. Why did the President not insist on getting rid of that?
(Cecilia Vega, ABC News) Thanks, Sarah. The President has said that this tax bill is going to cost him a fortune. It’s actually not the case. How does he figure this is going to cost him a lot of money?
But he stands to benefit from pass-through deductions, top-rate tax reduction, estate tax exception is doubled. He’s going to make money on that.
(Matthew Nussbaum, Politico) Thanks, Sarah. Early reports are indicating that that fatal Amtrak derailment out in Washington — similar to the 2015 derailment in Philadelphia — could have been prevented by positive train control, which Congress back in ’08 mandated was supposed to be on all lines by 2015. That’s been pushed back and it’s only on a quarter of passenger lines right now. Is this White House considering any steps to speed up the implementation of positive train control to stop these kinds of accidents?
(Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thanks a lot, Sarah. You ticked off a number of accomplishments that you see the President has made in this first year in office. Why are his approval ratings mired in the mid- to upper-30s, despite those accomplishments?
And separately, Sarah — just if I may — Matthew Peterson, since we last met, withdrew his judicial nomination. There’s been a viral video of his inability to answer some basic legal questions when he went up before his confirmation hearing. How did he sort of slip through the cracks? Why was he nominated? And are you doubling up your effort here at the White House, over at DOJ, to make sure that your judicial nominees can answer those basic questions when they go up to the confirmation hearings?
(Dave) Sarah, thanks. Where was the President watching when the House voted? And did you see his reaction? What did he do?
One thing on nominations. Can you explain, now that we’re near the end of year, why the President has submitted far fewer names to the Senate for nomination than his predecessors, at this point in his term?
(Blake Burman, Fox Business News) Thank you. Let me ask you a couple questions and pick up where John Roberts left off. He asked you about the carried-interest loophole. You said, essentially, that it fell within the President’s four main principles that he laid out. How is keeping the carried-interest loophole, or at least a portion of it, good for the middle class?
Let me ask you this way: An individual who makes roughly $83,000 would pay about 24 percent with their rate. Somebody who benefits, a millionaire — tens of millions, potentially hundreds of millions, if not more — still might pay 24 percent on that money. Does the White House believe that somebody who makes $83,000 paying as somebody who has, potentially, hundreds of millions, do you guys believe that is fair?
(Jordan Fabian, The Hill) Thanks, Sarah. I actually wanted to ask about UFOs. (Laughter.) Several media reports this week — (phone interruption) — sorry. (Laughter.)
Several of these reports have disclosed the existence of a secret Pentagon program that was researching UFOs. Funding ran out for that in 2012. Does the President believe in the existence of UFOs? And would he be interested in restoring funding for that program?
(Jennifer) Has the President made sure that the IRS has the resources it needs to implement these new tax reform rules?
Just to follow up on a couple of questions. Were you saying that this particular judicial nominee, who’s withdrawn after this viral video of his inept performance at the confirmation hearing, didn’t properly go through your preparation and vetting process?
But with this confirmation hearing, based on your process, you thought he was prepared?
And to follow up on Cecilia’s question, you don’t disagree with what she said about the personal benefits that will accrue to the President based on provisions in the tax cut bill? You don’t disagree that they will benefit him personally?
(Noah) Sarah, you said the focus is on the middle class. Why was one of the last provisions put in lowering the top bracket? And did the President support that? And if he did not support it, why did he not insist that that not be added at the end?
Does that help the middle class, to lower the rate for — the bracket for the top individual earners?
(Peter) What do you say to the millions of Americans who could, and likely will, end up paying more because the individual mandate is repealed in this tax plan?
To be clear, though, on the individual mandate specifically, you will acknowledge that many Americans will end up paying more as a result of it being repealed, correct?
To be clear, so for the time being, they’ll have to swallow paying more until that resolution comes?
Sarah, as women around the country continue to speak up about sexual harassment in the workplace, I wanted to check in with you and see if the President and this administration is considering any legislative fixes to protect women from harassment. There are two notable bipartisan bills that have recently been introduced. This is Gretchen Carlson’s bill to remove arbitration clauses from employee contracts, and the Congressional Harassment Reform Act, which would require members of Congress to be found personally liable for harassment settlements and allow victims to speak publicly about their cases. Would the President consider signing either of these bills if they arrived on his desk?
So at the moment, though, the White House isn’t considering legislation on this front?
(Hallie Jackson, NBC News) Sarah, I have one on taxes. But because at the top you mentioned “forgotten men and women,” I wanted to ask about Puerto Rico. It’s been more than three months since the hurricane hit. Would the President still give himself right now a 10 out of 10 for the federal government’s response?
So you think the President has been doing everything he can? Still a 10?
And on the tax situation, Sarah — you’re getting a lot of questions about what will benefit the President, what won’t benefit the President. I get that he doesn’t want to release his taxes. That would obviously put all of these questions to rest. So can you just elucidate why — for 2016, the President can release his taxes — why won’t he do that and put all of these questions away, back up what you’re saying, prove that what you’re saying is correct? That’s the way to do it.
But I’m asking a different question, right? Not whether he will, but why won’t he.
I guess I’m asking the “why” part of it, Sarah. And I don’t mean to belabor it, but I understand that the President wants to wait until after the audit. I’m asking why.
Even though these questions (inaudible)?
(John Gizzi, Newsmax) I have two questions on Russia. First, the Kremlin has recently threatened Twitter with a complete shutdown throughout Russia if it continues to carry the Twitter account of what they call “Undesirables,” notably the dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia group. They’ve made a similar threat to YouTube recently. What’s the administration’s reaction when the Russian government wants to shut down American-run businesses bringing an expression of opinion to their country?
The other thing on Russia. Senator Rubio has introduced legislation to name the street in front of the Russian embassy here after the slain Russian dissident, Boris Nemtsov. Senator Corker has blocked it. Does the administration have an opinion on this at all?
(Anita) I wanted to ask you about the path forward on the Export-Import Bank. Now that a Senate committee is saying that Scott Garett’s name shouldn’t go forward, does the White House think that it needs to name someone else to run —
On his name or someone else?
(Brian Karem, Sentinel Newspapers) Sarah, just a couple of quick follow-ups. First, on Matthew, he was asking about Amtrak. There was a budget request, as I understand, from the President for $630 million reduction in the long-distance Amtrak routes. Because of the accident in Washington, do you plan on revisiting that issue?
On Matthew Peterson, the three that were turned down — it’s our understanding that they had close ties to the White House. Are you going to try to change the vetting process?
And then finally, on the one on UFOs —
The one on UFOs is the last one.
Well, the first one was on the Amtrak —
But because of their ties to the White House, because it’s looked upon as those were friends of the White House and that’s why they got that nomination, are you going to change the vetting process? Are you going to look at it more closely?
(James) Sarah, the new National Security Strategy specifically calls out Russia for using subversive tactics to interfere with the affairs of other countries. Why didn’t the President use that kind of aggressive language in his speech yesterday?
(Jill) Thank you, Sarah. Two things. First, I just wanted to go back to the Scott Garett issue. Does the President, at this point, regret having nominated someone who had advocated, previously getting rid of the Export-Import Bank to lead it?
And I also just wanted to ask — the President spoke with Prime Minister May today. Did they have any discussion at all about the President’s planned visit? Have you settled on any timing of a potential visit?
(Jim)The President did say that this tax cut bill would cost him a fortune. That was false, right?
Has he looked at how it would balance out corporate versus personal, if he’s going to come out ahead?
Sarah Huckabee Sanders held a press briefing today. She wore a pink blouse of a shinier, less structured fabric than usual. The neckline plunged a bit, showing some cleavage. I have not noticed her showing cleavage before and I do not like it when she opens herself up to sartorial criticism because then I feel honor-bound to defend her. I wondered if she felt self-conscious, or if maybe it had not seemed at home like the neckline plunged as much as it did indeed turn out to plunge.
Cleavage notwithstanding, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is like a giant damper pedal. Well, that’s not quite apt. But whereas Sean Spicer used to rattle and hum and spice things up by getting all zesty and testy, Sarah Sanders just takes all the energy and life in the room and absorbs it and keeps it. Everything falls quiet and slow. Just slow quiet lies in a deadened room.
John Kelly came to the White House Press Briefing today. It was sad on so many, many levels.
He walked everyone through what happens when someone dies in the armed services. He said this about the Congresswoman who was riding in the car with the widow and the mother in Florida:
It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred. You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.
(“Women were sacred” was a really weird, WTF moment for me.)
He only took questions from reporters who knew someone who had died. Here are the three questions he took:
Well, thank you, General Kelly. First of all, we have a great deal of respect — Semper Fi — for everything that you’ve ever done. But if we could take this a bit further. Why were they in Niger? We were told they weren’t in armored vehicles and there was no air cover. So what are the specifics about this particular incident? And why were we there? And why are we there?
General, thank you for being here today and thank you for your service and for your family’s sacrifice. There has been some talk about the timetable of the release of the statement about the — I think at that point it was three soldiers who were killed in Niger. Can you walk us through the timetable of the release of that information? And what part did the fact that a beacon was pinging during that time have to do with the release of the statement? And were you concerned that divulging information early might jeopardize the soldiers’ attempt to be (inaudible)?
General, when you talk about Niger, sir, what does your intelligence tell you about the Russian connection with them? And the stories that are coming out now, they’re —
My dearly beloved, who is a good person, a booster, a staid friend, a man who works quietly behind the scenes, an all-around unsung hero and the person who always shows up with a big car to help people move… THAT guy has a modest little Kickstarter going for a nifty illustrated fan-zine that brings together several of the coolest independent comics artists on the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver,BC corridor. I would like for him to have big success. In return for how he handled (handles) my voluble and recurring post-election storms with kindness and true emotional support, I now must do all I can to put eyes on his Kickstarter so that his quirky, arty, toilet-themed, sumptuously illustrated movie review book will see the light of day. Here’s the link.
HERE’s one of the rewards (designed by Brandon Graham aka @royalboiler):
*** And we now return to our regularly scheduled program, Nightmare World with Lil ***
This August 16, 1973 would also make a great enamel pin:
All across the media and the Internet, people are talking like this is a real turning point for the Trump Administration. Not the kind they used to talk about, the pivot, but a kind from which there’s no turning back for Trump. His ghostwriter for Art of the Deal thinks Trump will resign by the end of the year.
But I’ll believe it when it happens. Too many unbelievable things already happened to get us here. Plus, last night Rachel Maddow made vague intimations of the first signs of something maybe going awry with the Mueller investigation. And there’s always the threat of a big distracting war. So I’m not holding my breath.
I’m just waiting to see what happens when the Juggalos march on Washington and come across the Proud Boys next month.
Speaking of which, a warning just came into my Facebook timeline, all the way from Japan:
Good news. Healthcare bill still not going well for Republicans.
And Malala popped up to say hello to Twitter. It was her last day of high school.
Questions from today’s press briefing by Tillerson and Mnuchin on the G20:
Mr. Secretary, Nick Waters from Bloomberg News. Can you tell us whether President Trump said whether there would be any consequences for Russia to the interference in the U.S. election? Did he spell out any specific consequences that Russia would face? And then also, on the Syria ceasefire, when does it begin? And what makes you think the ceasefire will succeed this time when past U.S.-Russian agreements on a ceasefire have failed?
Mr. Secretary, you spoke, when you were speaking of the ceasefire, about there being detailed information about who would enforce it. Can you give any more information on what conclusions were reached? And you spoke of the future leadership of Syria. Do you still believe that Assad has no role in their government?
Does the administration still believe that Assad has no role in the future government of Syria?
Thank you. Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times. On North Korea, did President Putin agree to do anything to help the U.S. to put more pressure on North Korea? And secondly, you seem to have reached somewhat of an impasse with China in terms of getting them to put more pressure on North Korea. How are you going to get them to go beyond what they’ve done already? And what is President Trump going to say to President Xi on that issue tomorrow?
And you haven’t given up hope?
Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I have issue — you just mentioned on the DPRK. We note China and Russia recently said — they asked North Korea to stop the — to freeze, actually, the nuclear activities, and also they asked the U.S. to stop the deployment of THAAD system. So did President Putin bring up his concern about the deployment of THAAD system? And also, what’s the expectation of President Trump on tomorrow’s meeting with President Xi Jinping, other than the DPRK issue? Thank you.
Margaret Talev with Bloomberg. Mr. Secretary, could you give us a roadmap? Did you agree on a next set of talks between the President and Mr. Putin? And I guess I have kind of like a fluffy, color question on general impressions. We thought this was a 30-minute meeting. It ended up being 2 hours and 16 minutes. That’s a lot of time to watch those two leaders interact and also to just — whatever. Any insights on all those? Also, real quickly, any update on the dachas? Are they getting them back? And on Ukraine sanctions, any resolution or progress on those? Thanks.
Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, can you say if the President was unequivocal in his view that Russia did interfere in the election? Did he offer to produce any evidence or to convince Mr. Putin?
Things are wild and bad so hug your loved ones, call your reps, sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite. The bears in Alaska are irrationally hostile this year. Zuckerberg is in Alaska discovering things about the social safety net and tweeting. The North Koreans can hit Alaska now. The Russians used to own Alaska. Trump might give Alaska back when he talks to Putin this week.