Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders found herself under pressure when a question she dodged was chased up by three further reporters. It’s about time.
In an increasingly rare briefing from the podium on Monday – her first in 42 days – Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced a White House press corps that felt much more like it was actually doing its job of holding the president to account than it has on previous outings.
Nominally to announce the president’s proposed budget, an almost entirely fictional exercise given the Democratic party now controls the House of Representatives, the briefing quickly veered into combative territory over Trump’s statements about alleged anti-Semitism in the Democratic party. On Friday, the president slammed the Democrats as an “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish” party.
The tension between Sanders and reporters was so frosty by the end of the briefing that it led April Ryan, a veteran White House reporter, to note the “change in atmosphere in here.”
The first question Sanders was asked was whether Trump “believes that Democrats hate Jews,” referring to the preposterous statement the president made in response to the furore over criticism of the Israel lobbying group AIPAC by a Democratic representative, Ilhan Omar. The whole thing has been little more than an excuse for a political attack on one of America’s first female Muslim congressional representatives, and Trump has taken it as an opportunity to make political hay. But today, the White House press corps was having none of it.
The president, Sanders claimed, has “always been a friend to Israel and the Jews”. She said “it should be done like Steve King”, presumably suggesting that Omar should be formally censured by Congress, in the same manner as King, a self-professed white supremacist congressman. The president has remained entirely silent on King’s wide-ranging and unapologetic bigotry, as the reporter pointed out, protesting: “but the president has not condemned Steve King”. Sanders quickly moved on to another question.