White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was hoping for a softball when she called on a schoolboy during Wednesday's media briefing.
“Hopefully these aren't as tough as bring-your-kid-to-work-day questions,” she said.
Instead of going easy, 13-year-old Benje Choucroun, on assignment for the magazine Time for Kids, posed a question that caused Sanders to choke up.
“At my school, we recently had a lockdown drill,” Choucroun began. “One thing that affects my and other students’ mental health is the worry about the fact that we or our friends could get shot at school. Specifically, can you tell me what the administration has done and will do to prevent these senseless tragedies?”
“I think that as a kid, and certainly as a parent, there is nothing that could be more terrifying: for a kid to go to school and not feel safe. So I’m sorry that you feel that way,” Sanders said, her voice cracking. “This administration takes it seriously, and the school safety commission that the president convened is meeting this week again, an official meeting, to discuss the best ways forward and how we can do every single thing in our power to protect kids in our schools and to make them feel safe and to make parents feel good about dropping them off.”
On Twitter, many journalists remarked on the rare display of emotion by a spokeswoman who, as Jason Schwartz recently wrote in Politico Magazine, “can deaden a room.” But some also observed Sanders did not really answer Choucroun, who asked her to “specifically” identify steps the administration is taking to prevent school shootings.
The commission referenced by Sanders formed in March — one month after a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., left 17 dead — and is led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. President Trump previously signed a memorandum directing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to propose regulations to ban “bump stocks,” which enable semiautomatic weapons to mimic the rapid-fire capabilities of machine guns. The memo could qualify as a concrete step to prevent mass shootings, though Sanders did not mention it.
The significance of the commission is harder to gauge. Trump directed the body to “study and make recommendations” on “age restrictions for certain firearm purchases,” which represented a retreat from his earlier calls to raise the minimum purchasing age for military-style rifles from 18 to 21.
Sanders insisted at the time the commission launched that Trump “hasn’t backed away ... at all.” Put on the spot Wednesday by Choucroun, however, Sanders came up short on specifics.