Matt Schlapp seemed to know that the question was coming. The American Conservative Union chairman's interview on NPR on Monday had touched on foreign policy issues involving China, Israel, Iran and North Korea before “Morning Edition” co-host Rachel Martin pivoted:
MARTIN: Lastly, I can't let you go without asking about a story that is getting headlines domestically ...
MARTIN: ... about the White House. Not a great one for the administration. This is the dust-up between the White House and Sen. John McCain.
Schlapp's “sure” — uttered before Martin could even specify the topic — conveyed anticipation that he would have to address a four-day-old story about White House press aide Kelly Sadler remarking in a closed-door meeting that McCain, battling brain cancer, is “dying anyway,” rendering meaningless the Arizona Republican's opposition to Gina Haspel's nomination to lead the CIA.
“The White House hasn't even apologized,” Martin noted.
Indeed, the absence of a public apology has extended a story that the White House might have been able to blunt, before it carried over to a second week, with a single word: sorry.
CNN reported Sunday that Sadler had apologized privately to McCain's daughter, “The View” co-host Meghan McCain, and had said she would also apologize publicly but has not followed through.
A public apology would, of course, confirm that Sadler made the cruel comment attributed to her in news reports based on anonymous sources.
“I'm not going to validate a leak out of an internal staff meeting, one way or the other,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at Friday's televised media briefing.
Yet there is zero doubt that the reported quote is accurate. For starters, the White House did not dispute it, and Sanders did provide a measure of validation by referring to “a leak out of an internal staff meeting.” A remark can't be leaked if it doesn't exist; a remark that doesn't exist is a fabrication.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney offered a more explicit validation Saturday on Fox News when he said: “The remarks are awful, but let's look at this in context. That was said in a private meeting inside the White House.”
Schlapp, whose wife, Mercedes Schlapp, is the White House director of strategic communications, said in the NPR interview that “Kelly acknowledged that the words she used in this meeting were unfortunate, and she called Meghan McCain immediately to apologize.”
At a media briefing Monday afternoon, deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah acknowledged Sadler's remark but did not apologize for it or condemn it.
“I understand the focus on this issue, but it's going to be dealt with, and has been dealt with, internally,” Shah said. “I was told Kelly Sadler called the McCain family late last week and did apologize. Beyond that, I don't have any further comment.”
If the White House hoped that refusing to apologize would create uncertainty about whether Sadler really spoke dismissively of the ailing McCain, the calculus was wrong. The White House's stubbornness is only generating more bad coverage.