I have a probably erroneous notion (stemming from watching too many utopian fantasies about well-run governments like “The West Wing” and “Veep”) that in the distant past there was a time when news conferences were informative and gave useful answers to members of the media that allowed them to write better stories about the things that were happening.
If such a time ever existed, it is over now. Here is a summary of Wednesday’s news conference. It is, I think, representative of how every news conference goes in this Trump era, on-camera or off-, in that it was both uniquely alarming and entirely predictable. You can print all the answers in advance except for the one terrible and alarming surprise that is guaranteed every day to take the news cycle by storm and devour it slowly.
[Twenty minutes pass after stated start time of news conference]
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: Here I am. First, an attempt at folksy and winning banter that will go over like a lead balloon. Now here is a terrifying person who will speak on behalf of President Trump, or maybe just a Cabinet secretary. Not Rick Perry, as he turned out to have charisma and at one point during his Q&A, which lasted more than the regulation eight seconds, he gave something that almost resembled an actual answer to a reporter’s question and I could barely drag him off in time. Today, to alarm and unnerve you, I have brought Stephen Miller from the large rock outside the oval office where he customarily suns himself and feasts on the bones of small rodents. He is here, as our custom is, to defend a policy idea that is bad.
Stephen Miller: The president’s new green-card policy is really not so bad, and we did it to make black people’s lives easier.
April Ryan: That doesn’t seem true.
Miller: Too bad there is no opportunity for us to discuss it now but maybe someday when our lives have calmed down I can tell you why.
Reporter: Do you have any statistics to support why this bill limiting immigration will actually help create jobs?
Miller: No, it’s just a feeling I have
Reporter: Have there been studies that contain information that you can cite?
Miller: I have the names of authors of studies, is that what you mean?
Miller: SHH, LET ME FINISH ANSWERING.
Reporter: Was your answer going to actually give me information or …
Miller: Nope! But I can list up to MULTIPLE names of people who have written studies and I can’t tell you what the studies said but I can tell you that they ABSOLUTELY SUPPORT this policy which is good.
Reporter: The actual data on immigration and jobs seems to be in pretty direct conflict with what you have just said to be the case.
Miller: LISTEN, IF YOU’RE NOT CAREFUL I WILL SEND CHEAP IMMIGRANT LABOR TO THE NEW YORK TIMES. IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT? Look I don’t know what the numbers say. Who among us can? But more important, I feel in my common sense that this is a good policy. My gut tells me so, specifically the bacteria, who are very avid viewers of Fox and Friends.
Jim Acosta (pointedly wrapping himself in a flag and releasing several eagles from his vest pockets): STEPHEN, IS THIS WHERE WE ARE AS A COUNTRY? WHAT ABOUT LIFTING A LAMP BESIDE THE GOLDEN DOOR? WHAT ABOUT THE HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE? Is requiring immigrants to speak English and possess advanced skills — is this what the Statue of Liberty means?
Miller: Well, actually the poem was added to the statue LATER. Really the statue doesn’t have to mean that immigrants are welcome. You know who carries torches usually? Angry mobs. Maybe she’s saying GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM YOU JOB THIEF, ever think about that? I mean who among us can really know what a statue means. I don’t know what any statue means. You can’t pay any attention to things that were added later, be those things poems or so-called constitutional amendments.
Reporter: Wouldn’t this policy give an unfair advantage to immigrants from English-speaking countries —
Miller: WOW. WOW. DO YOU HEAR YOURSELF? Way to show your “cosmopolitan bias.” “English-speaking countries.” WOW. Typical elitist, assuming that the whole WORLD can’t speak English as well as people from countries where English is the primary spoken language? You should be ashamed. NO FURTHER QUESTIONS!
Sanders: Here I am again. And, to add insult to injury, I will read another letter from a child. This is my only source of joy, these letters. These children don’t remember a time before. To them, this is normal. Today’s child’s name is Frank and he wants to mow the White House lawn. In three months when a child is spotted mowing the white house lawn and complaining that he has not been paid at any point, this will be why. Now, your questions.
Reporter: Does President Trump think white people are discriminated against?
Sanders: I don’t know. Who can truly know what another person is thinking?
Reporter: Can you ask him?
Sanders: I can, but I won’t.(1)
Reporter: Did the president lie about what the Boy Scout leaders said in praise of his speech?
Sanders: No. He said something that was not factually correct, a very different thing than a lie.
Reporter: Does he accept that Russia was involved in the election?
Sanders: “Accept”? I don’t know. I can’t say what is in his heart. I don’t have any sort of special access to him. All I can describe are the words that come out of his mouth in speeches, which I watch on TV as do the rest of you.
Reporter: Do you have anything to say about the removal of 755 diplomats from Russia?
Reporter: You said you would.
Sanders: Well, I don’t.
Reporter: Are you going to ask?
Sanders: Probably not. Not a subject that really interests me all that much, to be frank with you. If I do, though, in some fluke accident, happen to find out what the president thinks about this, I may tell you, but then again, I probably won’t.
Reporter: How does the president feel about this new green-card policy?
Sanders: I don’t know. Why do you keep asking me what the president thinks? We are clearly two separate people.
Reporter: How do you see your job?
Sanders: My job is to convey the president’s message.
Reporter: What does the president think about Sen. Jeff Flake’s criticism?
Sanders: On that, as on any subject, I don’t know what the president thinks. How could I? Everything he says and does comes to me as a total and unpleasant surprise. In fact, if you find out what he thinks on any given subject, please do not tell me. If I wanted to know, I would ask. And I have no plans to ask. Thanks guys, see you tomorrow, when I will read a note from a child named Fern who wants President Trump to come butcher her prize pig.
(1) Actual exchange from Tuesday’s news conference:
Q: Sarah, you just told April that you would have to ask the president if an apology would be appropriate. Are you saying you will ask him and get back to us?
Sanders: No, I said I would have to in order to answer that question.
Q: Well, could you please?
Q: Would you?
Sanders: I’ll let you know if I do.