“I think Americans watch too many superhero movies,” a senior White House staffer told me last week.
Bizarre conversations with White House staffers are not something new, especially in this administration. It has proven unique in its ability to provide both laughs and tears with a variety of background and off-the-record comments from certain staffers.
“Everyone is looking for a hero to bail them out and Hollywood gives them a convenient fantasy instead of showing how we can work out our problems ourselves,” the staffer went on to tell me. “That’s the problem with Hollywood. And the problem with you guys in the mainstream media is you always look for simple answers and provide them, whether or not they reflect reality. You want someone to blame and everyone else wants someone to save them.”
For once, I couldn’t argue with someone in the White House. Some of what this staffer said makes sense—and isn’t far from the truth. But he lost me when he said, “That’s why you will never give the president a break. You always blame him—even when he does good. If he wants to end DACA and give Congress six months to really help out ‘The Dreamers,’ you see it as him playing to the white supremacists and say he’s insulting the media.”
“No,” I replied, “When he calls me the enemy of the people and makes fun of physically handicapped reporters, I think he’s insulting the media. When he says there are some ‘good people’ marching with the Nazis in Charlottesville, I think he’s pandering to white supremacists. When David Duke comes out and cheers him, I think Trump is (in John Oliver’s words) feeding the cat. In addition I consider his surrogates disingenuous and consider Sarah Huckabee Sanders a standing affront to my senses on most days when she takes the press room podium.”
When the staffer asked how I came to that conclusion, I merely presented him with “The Compendium of Sanderisms.”
These are just a few of the stock statements Sanders has ready at a moment’s notice to avoid answering questions. She’s also been known to offer a snarky comment about the media and add a wry smile for her boss, who is always watching. Some of us remain convinced she carries these statements with her to the podium in a notebook, while others believe she practices by speaking them out loud in front of a mirror for an hour each day as if they are magic incantations.
Here are the 20 most common ways she answers questions, in no particular order:
“He loves people.” Sanders says this when she wants people to understand how caring the president is during times of a natural disaster—or a Nazi march in Virginia.
“Won’t get into the back and forth of it.” Sanders says this whenever someone else in government says something contrary to the official marching orders of the White House.
“The situation is ongoing.” She says this when she doesn’t want to address an ongoing situation. Of course, most situations the White House deals with are “ongoing.” If they’re completed actions in the past, that would be history, not news.
“We’ll get back to you on that.” Sanders says this when she never has any plans to get back with you on that. To be fair, this was also one of Sean Spicer’s favorite lines. On the second day of this administration, I asked a question in a press briefing, and I’m still waiting for someone to get back to me with an answer. Sometimes you will hear, “That’s a good question,” before Sanders et al. tells you they’ll get back to you.
“Haven’t had a chance to talk to the president on this issue.” She says this when she either hasn’t been briefed on an important issue she should’ve been briefed on or just doesn’t wish to answer the question. It doesn’t sound professional—it sounds more like she isn’t prepared. She will sometimes substitute “I’m not sure, I’ll have to ask” to give some variety to her response.
“I’m not aware of any specifics.” This is said particularly often when the specifics are well known.
“I’ll answer it the way I have X times before.” She deploys this when she’s been asked a question several times before and she hasn’t answered it once. Also, it should be noted that she operates under the 300 percent rule. If she says she’s been asked something 12 times, that’s usually a 300 percent markup. Divide by three to get the actual number of times she’s been asked—and hasn’t answered the question in dispute.
“X certainly is a priority for this administration.” This is used when discussing The Wall, repealing healthcare and a few other choice issues. Otherwise it’s merely another smokescreen.
“The president is/has been very clear.” Often used when the president or Sanders has not been clear at all.
“We’re pushing forward.” When Sanders wants to drop the issue at hand, she says this to move on to something the president or she would like to speak about.
“I hate to sound like a broken record.” Used enough that she sounds like a broken record.
“This isn’t chaos. Come over to my house and deal with three preschoolers if you want to see chaos.” This is another favorite to use when addressing the chaos of the current administration. While many laugh at the inadvertent comparison between preschoolers and the president, others have publicly wondered what kind of mayhem is going on in Sanders’ house.
“I refer this to what Ty Cobb/the president’s attorney said…” The go-to response when asked any question remotely regarding the Russian investigation.
“This is a witch hunt.” The other favorite go-to when asked about the Russian investigation.
“I have to remind everyone this administration can walk and chew gum at the same time.” It’s a sad statement to be taken at face value, since no matter how poorly a president performed in the past, most everyone believed he could walk and chew gum at the same time—current POTUS notwithstanding.
“All options are on the table.” This is the go-to statement about any conflict the U.S. finds itself in anywhere around the globe, but particularly useful in Afghanistan and North Korea. It is often followed with “We don’t want to telegraph/talk specifically about our next move.”
“This is a president who…” This statement is always followed by a long laundry list for which the president wishes to claim responsibility. The list usually includes repealing anything enacted by former President Obama as well as anything remotely encouraging on the economic front. It will never, by any means, include owning up to any mistake whatsoever. Those mistakes are the fault of Congress, or by default former President Obama or Hillary Clinton.
“The president remains committed to…” Here’s the court-of-last-resort statement Sanders uses when she wants to stress the president has taken an unrealistic stance from which he will not back down. It’s used often when POTUS or Sanders maintain that Mexico is going to pay for the invisible, solar-powered border wall that will never be built.
“The mainstream media is pushing this narrative.” This and its many derivations are used whenever someone reports something the president doesn’t like. Sanders will often follow this statement with the narrative that the president wishes to push and may include accusations of Clinton and Obama corruption.
And, finally: “The president has the utmost confidence in…” This is a statement used to show how much the president loves someone on his staff. This is often the kiss of death—kind of like when Michael kissed Fredo in The Godfather II. In Trump’s case, the person he is praising is either being forced out, fired or will quit soon. Jeff Sessions is the exception that proves the rule.
I do not believe, after I wrote these down and handed them to the man I was talking to, the subsequent rumors that staff members have started a pool to see how many of these 20 sayings Sanders uses during a press briefing—though one staffer offered to buy me a bourbon.