The White House Holds Its First Press Briefing of 2019

By A.J. Katz 

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders held the first White House press briefing of 2019, and the first since Dec. 18, 2018.

Fox News, C-SPAN, and CBSN took the briefing. CNN and MSNBC did not.

Sanders began the briefing by saying, “missed you guys,” in a sarcastic tone, before turning to National security advisor John Bolton, U.S. treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin and chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow.

Bolton and Mcuchin stepped up to the podium and announced America’s decision to place sanctions on PDVSA.

“Today… we’re going to announce sanctions” on Venezuela’s “state owned oil monopoly,” said Bolton, speaking of PDVSA (Petroleums of Venezuela). He said that $7 billion in assets will be blocked, beginning today, and later commented “the president has made it clear that all options are on the table” when asked if the U.S. considering using military force in the South American nation.

U.S. treasury secretary Mnuchin spoke about the sanctions being placed on PDVSA, calling for President Nicolas Maduro to step down and for the immediate transfer of control of oil assets to the new, Democratically-elected Venezuelan government.

Kudlow spoke about the economy more generally.

“The state of the economy, to me and to my colleagues is strong,” he remarked.

Kudlow disputed the most recent CBO report that found the shutdown cost U.S. economy billions, claiming there is not a macroeconomic effect on the U.S. economy; but he said he is concerned about the hardships suffered by furloughed employees.

Here are some of the questions that were asked of Sanders:

  • ABC News’ Jonathan Karl – “Is the president really willing to go through another shutdown if he can’t get money from the Democrats for a border wall?” Karl later asked, “What about those like Republican Rob Portman and others who say the shutdown should be taken off the table. If they’ve introduced a law that says shutdowns are off the table, would the president sign that?”
  • Reuters’ Steve Holland – “The proposals for protecting the DREAMers, some of the other concessions he made in the immigration speech, are they still on the table?”
  • Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey – Question about the NY Times report about Trump Organization hiring undocumented immigrants at Trump golf properties. Sanders says that she can’t get into specifics about the president’s organization outside of the White House.
  • Fox News’ John Roberts – “Why doesn’t he [the president] believe that they deserve or should have a path to status?
  • Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender – “Will the White House have a representative in these meetings, the congressional conference on health?” He also asked:  “What’s your data point onthe idea that the Democrats are ready to get serious about immigration reform? What has the president specifically gotten from Democrats?”
  • Jordan Fabian from The Hill – “Stephen Miller is quoted in Cliff Simms book as saying, “I would be happy if no refugee ever again touched American soil.” Is the policy of this adminstration to eventually get refugee resettlement down to zero?”  Fabian also asked if “the president have a physical exam soon?” (Sanders said yes, he will indeed have his annual physical.)
  • April Ryan from CNN/American Urban Radio Networks – “Can this economy sustain another government shutdown?”
  • Fox News Radio White House correspondent Jon Decker asked if Speaker Pelosi had extended an invitation to President Trump for the State of the Union. Sanders said that the answer was no. Apparently, Decker was another to something with his question, as the new date/time for the SOTU was announced not long after the briefing.
  • Daily Mail’s Francesca Chambers: “What is your message to federal workers who may not get another paycheck if the government closes down again in fewer than three weeks?”  Sanders’ response: “My advice would be to call your Democrat member of Congress and ask them to fix the problem so we don’t have to continue having this process.”
  • Newsmax’s John Gizzi: “The president has spoken increasingly of declaring a state of emergency after Feb. 15 and using funds already there for the building of the wall under the aegis of national security, homeland security. Several conservatives who are normally supporters of the president warn not to go in that direction that it would create too many problems with federal authority interceding with state authority. President Bush in 2005 wouldn’t declare a state of emergency over Hurricane Katrina because he did not want to get into that argument with governors. has the president considered this and the criticisms and warnings of fellow republicans, notably Sen. Blunt of Missouri?”
  • NBC News’ Kristen Welker: “Has the president ruled out a pardon for Roger Stone?” (Sanders remarked that she would not entertain a question like that). “Why will he wait three weeks to declare a national emergency?,” Welker also asked. (Sanders spoke about a legislative process everything has to go through, and urged Americans to call their Democratic represenatives).
  • CBS News’ Major Garrett asked if there was a possibility of President Trump accepting less than $5.7 billion for a border wall?”
  • There was also a question asking about promise of border wall by end of 1st term; end of Afghanistan war.
  • CNN’s Jim Acosta: “Is the president concerned as more and more of his associates are indicted that this presidency is in danger?” Her response: “…The deeper we get into this process, the more we see this has nothing to do with President Trump.”