As one might expect, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked at the daily briefing about the overnight massacre of more than 50 people at a country music concert on the Las Vegas Strip. As one might also expect, some of those questions focused on the debate over new gun control legislation and whether President Trump was considering new regulations in light of the mass shooting.
“We haven’t had the moment to have a deep dive on the policy part of that,” Sanders said. “We’ve been focused on the fact that we had a severe tragedy in our country. This is a day of mourning, a time of bringing our country together and that’s been the focus of the administration this morning.”
“Can you explain why that’s different than Orlando, though, Sarah?” NBC’s Hallie Jackson asked. “That day, he was talking about the travel ban and saying he didn’t want congratulations essentially. Why is what’s happening now… ”
Sanders cut her off. “There’s a difference between being a candidate and being the president,” she said.
What Jackson was referring to was this tweet from Trump, sent less than 12 hours after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year — until Sunday night the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
A bit later, he was explicit about tying that attack to the need for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
(The perpetrator of that attack, incidentally, was an American born a few miles away from where Trump grew up.)
This was candidate Trump, Sanders is arguing, free to make the case for his preferred policy without taking a day to mourn the 49 people who had been killed. As president, Trump refuses to jump into the debate over policy (that he opposes) because it’s just not right.
Undercutting Sanders’s claim, though, is that Trump has also jumped to policy solutions in the response to other tragedies since Jan. 20.
There was the attack at London Bridge in which Trump tweeted about the need for a travel ban even before the metropolitan police in that city had identified it as terror-related.
More recently, the president seized on an attempted bombing of a subway in London to argue that “the travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific.”
These attacks do have the distinguishing characteristic of not being in America, in case that was a critical component of Sanders’s argument. (British leaders were not appreciative of Trump’s input.)
The last tragedy the nation faced — excluding the ongoing disaster in Puerto Rico — was the twin devastation from hurricanes Harvey and Irma. At that point, Trump took a stand on one matter of policy, downplaying any link to climate change since there have been big storms before those. (Before the storms hit, he repeatedly talked up the scale of the storms, in keeping with his affinity for hyperbole.) That response, though, came well after the storms hit. As for Puerto Rico, Trump’s been adamantly defending his administration’s response as fully adequate even as the island struggles to recover.
Incidentally, Sanders — Trump’s official spokeswoman — is herself bound by the candidate rules and not the presidential ones.
“I think one of the things that we don’t want to do is try to create laws that won’t create — or stop these types of things from happening,” she said in response to a question during Monday’s briefing about whether Trump would advocate for a bipartisan response on guns. “I think, if you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country. That certainly hasn’t helped there.”
That claim about Chicago’s gun laws isn’t entirely true, for what it’s worth, and lax gun laws nearby make it easier to obtain weapons. But, then, we understand that this is a day for mourning, not political arguments.