That’s not to say that McEnany’s presidential defenses have been substantive, honest, logical or helpful (i.e., good). They are not. They just have the optical trimmings of a legitimate news briefing — someone with no grounding in current affairs might come away thinking that her work is legitimate.
An exchange in the briefing room Wednesday, however, suggested that Trump’s off-the-cuff intemperance may be trickling downward. CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins noted that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had signaled that a presidential health-care plan would be forthcoming. During a town hall event with Pennsylvania voters on Tuesday night, Trump himself told a questioner, “We’re going to be doing a health-care plan very strongly, and protect people with preexisting conditions. . . . I have it all ready, and it’s a much better plan for you.”
Yet three top Trump health officials, at a Senate hearing on Wednesday, professed no awareness of a White House plan to replace President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Given their lack of knowledge, CNN’s Collins asked the press secretary, just who is working on this new plan? “We have a wide array of people working on it,” McEnany responded. She proceeded to tick off elements of the Trump plan. It would guarantee coverage of preexisting conditions, just like Obamacare, said McEnany.
McEnany neglected to mention that a Trump-backed lawsuit due for a hearing at the Supreme Court in November would kill Obamacare.
Yet, as McEnany consulted her binder for scripted points about Trump health-care ideology, she couldn’t — or wouldn’t — specify who, precisely, was crafting the program. Here’s how it played out:
Collins: But who is working on it is my question.McEnany: — multiple stakeholders here at the White House who work on policies.Collins: But not the CDC director or —McEnany: So our Domestic Policy Council and others are working on a health-care plan. Yes.Collins: Not the CDC director? Not Bob Kadlec? Not Admiral Giroir? None of them have any idea about the healthcare plan, they said.McEnany: I’m not going to give you a readout of what our health-care plan looks like and who’s working on it.Collins: I’m just wondering who is working on it.McEnany: If you want to know — if you want to know, come work here at the White House. Yes.Collins: Kayleigh, I just wanted to know who’s working on it.McEnany: Yes. Stakeholders here in the White House. And, as I told you, our Domestic Policy Council and others in the White House are working on a health-care plan, the president’s vision for the next five years. Yes. And if you want more, come join us here.
(Boldface inserted to emphasize the spectacle of a White House press secretary offering a job to a reporter in the middle of a briefing.)
The purpose of White House press briefings is to disseminate information to the public through the media. That’s why journalists are sitting there! Is the White House prepared to expand its payroll to accommodate everyone who has personnel questions? Had the press secretary considered that Collins’s question was unobjectionable, routine, normal — even pedestrian? Olivier Knox, a SiriusXM reporter and former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, says that White House press briefings are good vehicles for addressing this sort of reportorial “underbrush” — What is the president up to? Who’s working on this or that? Is the leader of the free world still working on a summit with so-and-so?
Here was a perfect underbrush question.
There’s a reason McEnany treated it as something approaching a national security crisis. It’s because the Republican track record on repealing and replacing Obamacare is one of bluster, unfulfilled promises and lightweight policy. The House — which was led by Republicans from 2011 until 2019 — voted more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare. Trump campaigned in part on the promise of a stupendous Obamacare replacement. All that excitement ended in a high-profile bust in 2017, as the Senate failed to pass a replacement bill. No matter to Trump, who throughout his presidency has touted a coming-down-the-pike health-care package as though it were a brand-new condo development: “You’ll have health care the likes of which you’ve never seen,” he said in October 2019. “Never seen” are the key words. (Much, much more on that here.) So who wants their name attached to another health-care promise from President Trump?
Come to think of it, who wants to do anything for President Trump? During an interview with journalist Greta Van Susteren this week, Trump was asked if he had any regrets about his pandemic response. “We did a great job except public relations-wise, my people got outplayed,” he said. It’s unclear exactly to whom Trump was referring. When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Stephanie Grisham was press secretary, though she had to quarantine for a good chunk of the early drama. McEnany took over on April 7, though the vice president’s office had handled messaging for pandemic policy since late February.
“Public relations-wise,” the real front person on covid-19 for the Trump White House was Trump, the guy who at one point endorsed the ingestion of disinfectant to combat the virus. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman noted that, as the president helmed those briefings, his support in polls dropped.
What a deal for all those flaks who sacrifice their credibility and their future for Trump every day: They get criticized by the media, liberals, Never Trumpers and their own boss. Not that they deserve sympathy; the immorality of serving this man has been apparent for years.
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