White House reporter Eliana Johnson, who was moderating the discussion, asked Sanders whether she found the president’s “contentious” interactions with women in the press corps appropriate.
“The president’s had an equal number of contentious conversations with your male colleagues,” Sanders told Johnson. “Women wanted to be treated equally, and we have a president that certainly does that.”
Sanders said the president is “certainly not singling out women,” and she called the framing of Johnson’s question a “detriment.”
But women in the press corps have often been targets of the president’s insults. To describe female journalists and cable-news hosts, he has used words such as “nasty” and “crazy.”
He told CNN’s Abby Phillip her questions were “stupid.”
“You talk about someone who’s a loser,” Trump said of April Ryan, a reporter for American Urban Radio Networks and a contributor to CNN.
“Am I upset that he called out a female reporter?” Sanders said at the Politico event. “Absolutely not.”
Her remarks were part of a broad conversation that touched on how she navigates her job as the first press secretary to be a working mother. Sanders said she believes women can “have it all” and that it would be a “true disservice to every woman in the country if we ever believed anything differently.”
“I think it’s absolutely vital to our society that we empower women and we help them believe that they can have everything,” she said.
But on the topic of her boss’s behavior toward female journalists, Sanders refused to say whether gender dynamics were at play.
Johnson reframed her question and asked if Sanders thought the president’s behavior toward the press was appropriate. Sanders wouldn’t answer directly, but she did say it would “benefit all of us to bring the temperature down” and that “both sides have a role to play in that process.”
“I don’t always find the behavior of the press to be appropriate, either,” Sanders said. “I think that the president is somebody who’s a fighter. When he gets hit, he always hits back.”
Those “hits back” have occurred on numerous occasions dating back to Trump’s campaign for president and continuing during his first two years in office.
Sometimes, his digs have fixated on the appearance of women.
He took a verbal swing at Megyn Kelly, then of Fox News, after she aggressively questioned him during a presidential debate.
“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” Trump said later. “In my opinion, she was off base.”
After he was elected, Trump called MSNBC co-host Mika Brzezinkski “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and claimed she “was bleeding badly from a facelift” on a previous visit to Mar-a-Lago.
And in November, Trump demeaned multiple black female White House reporters over the course of three days.
When CNN’s Phillip asked Trump whether he hoped acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker would “rein in” special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, the president sniped back: “What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question.”
“I watch you a lot,” he added. “You ask a lot of stupid questions.”
He called Ryan “very nasty.”
“She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing,” Trump said of Ryan.
The president has spoken harshly to male members of the press corps, too, and often labels journalists “enemies of the American people.”
In November, the White House suspended CNN’s Jim Acosta’s press credentials after a testy exchange between Trump and the reporter at a news conference.
On Tuesday, Sanders broadly characterized the president’s behavior in these situations as evidence of his “fighter” personality.
She spoke about challenges unique to professional women by discussing how she juggles her responsibilities at work and at home. She has three children under 6 and said she spends most mornings answering work emails and shuffling paperwork — not from the White House, but from preschool.
She copes, she said, by drinking “lots of coffee, and a little wine in the evenings.”
Sanders said she wants her young daughter to know she can be a mother and have a career, but that it is also okay to choose one or the other.
And though she and her husband talk about their jobs and the world of politics at home with the children, the reaction, she said, is usually lukewarm.
“My kids are very unimpressed by most of what I do,” she said.