These days, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has it easy — and that is saying a great deal about a cabinet official who has endured so many violent threats and abusive insults that she and her family require around-the-clock Secret Service protection.
For the last few months, Sanders has seen her once-prominent role within the Trump administration dramatically reduced, and she now averages just one press briefing per month. But if Sanders appears to be coasting on cruise control these days, it’s not by her design.
Exit stage right
Nowadays, the White House doesn’t seem to have much need for a communications director. To explain her single, 15-minute press conference in the entire month of December so far, Sanders said that President Donald Trump “loves to engage directly a lot more with the press.”
The White House press pool didn’t see much of Sanders last month, either, when she held just a single, short briefing on Nov. 27. When, a few days earlier, a plump Thanksgiving turkey wandering into the White House press room moments before it was set to receive a presidential pardon in a national tradition, reporters joked that the domesticated bird had made more press appearances behind the podium that month than the press secretary.
Sanders has been keeping count, however, and according to her tally, in the past two months, President Trump has answered “700 times more questions from the media than his predecessors during that same period of time.” She explained the unprecedented level of transparency from the 45th president in a forum hosted by Politico last month, saying:
I always think that it’s to the benefit of everybody in this country when they can hear directly from the president versus a spokesperson. On the days when we can have the president have that back and forth and answer questions from the media, I think that’s far more important than them hearing from me.
Like an open book
Trump has been remarkably candid and open with reporters since he was elected, and he often responds to questions that are hurled at him at unscheduled moments or long after his briefings have concluded. In fact, his willingness to maintain a dialogue with reporters caused issues earlier this year when White House staff had to ask CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins some 27 times to stop shouting questions at the president long after his conference had concluded.
Like CNN’s Jim Acosta, who was temporarily banned from sitting through press conferences, Collins’ credentials were revoked for a short period before she was allowed back into the White House press room.
Soon after, another presidential spokeswoman and advisor, Kellyanne Conway, called for “civility” from reporters and said “just being polite to the process, to the presidency, to the protocol, and not shouting questions long after the press has politely been asked to leave, long after you’ve had opportunity to be there with the president, I think it’s a very reasonable request.”
Although he is constantly contending with a hostile media, Trump has displayed remarkable patience with reporters who are often more concerned with scoring political points and grandstanding than they are with informing the public of White House policy.
Sanders, however, may be less forgiving than the president. When she concluded her briefing after just 15 minutes on Dec. 19, Breakfast Media’s Andrew Feinberg could be heard yelling after her: “Do your job, Sarah!”
Feinberg later complained that the press secretary “does not respond to emails, [and] she does not meet with (most) reporters.” Another veteran reporter, speaking on conditions of anonymity to The Washington Times so as not to be seen sympathizing with the administration, felt that Sanders was justified in cutting her appearances short.
The press conferences “went away because she doesn’t want to be yelled at,” the anonymous reporter claimed. “She thinks [reporters] should not be screaming. I agree with her on that. I don’t think the answer is not having any briefings. The more you have them, and the longer they are, and the more questions you answer, means people aren’t going to be so frantic. The answer is more access, not less.”
While the president appears to have assumed the role of press secretary for himself, the situation wasn’t always this way at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Sanders used to hold briefings as many as five times per week, but as the occasions started to turn increasingly chaotic, and journalists transformed the events into two-way debates rather than Q&A sessions, the White House spokeswoman eventually felt compelled to surrender the floor to Trump.
Can you blame her?