It's one of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders's go-to responses — right up there with “I don't know” and “I haven't asked the president that question”:
“I'll get back to you.”
Sounds hopeful, right? Maybe the media won't get an answer at today's briefing, but surely the desired information will arrive at tomorrow's.
It usually doesn't work that way.
Three times at Thursday's news briefing, Sanders offered to follow up on questions to which she had no immediate answers. Yet when she reconvened reporters on Friday, she showed up empty.
I counted 23 times since the beginning of July that Sanders or former White House press secretary Sean Spicer said during briefings that they would get back to reporters on various questions. Twice Sanders returned with an answer the next day; on the other 21 occasions — 91 percent of the time — journalists were left hanging.
“I like to do my best to get back to you,” Sanders told reporters on July 12, one of the rare days on which she did.
“Yesterday, I received a question from John Gizzi about whether we'd support changing Senate blue-slip procedures for judicial nominees,” she continued, referring to a Senate custom that a nomination does not proceed unless the nominee's home-state senators signal their consent to the Judiciary Committee. “The White House is deferring to the Senate on this Senate procedure.”
More often, a question to which Sanders promises a delayed answer simply fades away.
Sometimes, reporters ask again, but persistence seems to make little difference. On three consecutive days last month, journalists asked whether President Trump views Russia as an ally or an adversary.
“I asked you this question on Monday, and I did not get an answer from you,” Fox News Radio correspondent Jon Decker said on the third day. “I believe the same question was asked of you yesterday. You said you’d get back to us. And I think it’s a pretty basic question as to whether or not the president views Russia as a friend, a partner, an ally or an adversary. Do you have an answer yet on that question?”
“I don't,” Sanders replied. “But, Jon, I do assure you I will certainly work to make sure I get that answer to you.”
The answer never came.
Also last month, The Washington Post's Philip Rucker asked Sanders whether the president had helped Donald Trump Jr. craft a statement to the New York Times that later proved misleading. Sanders said she did not know but would circle back.
Sanders didn't. A couple of weeks later, citing multiple unnamed sources, Rucker and colleagues Ashley Parker, Carol D. Leonnig and Tom Hamburger reported that Trump had not just helped but also had dictated the statement in question.
So, while “I'll get back to you” seems promising, the reality is that it typically means reporters won't receive an answer — now or later.