For the White House Press Corps, Football Is Issue #1

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders did a press briefing today. She began by talking about several items the White House is working on. Here is the first sentence or two on each topic that she raised in her remarks:

On the economic front, this week, the President will continue his push to secure tax relief for hardworking American families. …

We are pleased to announce that the President will be traveling to Indianapolis, Indiana on Wednesday. While there, he will deliver remarks on the historic tax cuts and reforms that he has been working on with members of Congress. …

While working to grow the economy of today, the President will also sign a presidential memorandum to ensure that American children are empowered to succeed in the workforce of tomorrow. …

The timing of this memo, which will be so important to America’s underserved communities, is particularly fitting today. September 25th is the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine’s first day of class at Central High School.

Did the press corps want to talk about any of that? Don’t be silly. This was the first question:

Q Sarah, clearly the President has strong views on whether or not players in professional sports teams should stand for the National Anthem. Given the response that the President has gotten over the last 48 hours, even from Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, who believes that what the President said on Friday night was very divisive, does the President regret at all describing these players who take a knee for the national anthem as SOBs who should be fired?

Fifteen questions on the same topic followed. All were hostile toward the president’s position on the national anthem:

Q I understand all that. I understand General Dempsey’s position. I think people would thank him for his service to this great nation. But did the President go too far in referring to these players as SOBs who should be fired?
Q Sarah, let me ask you — you’ve often talked about how the President uses Twitter as a platform to sort of emphasize those things that are most important. Over the course of the last 72 hours, the President has tweeted more than a dozen times about sports, about kneeling, about NASCAR, and this topic. He tweeted zero times about Puerto Rico. So I guess the bottom-line question is: What message is the President sending by emphasizing sports right now and not a big crisis that’s affecting so many people?
Q So to be very clear, you say the President is instead emphasizing something that brings Americans together. Then what message does it send for the President to stand behind the presidential seal at a rally in Alabama and call an American citizen who is expressing his First Amendment rights a “son of a bitch”?
Q Is it appropriate to use that language about an American citizen?
Q How about to promote the First Amendment?

Is there a reporter anywhere who actually knows anything about the First Amendment?

Q Thanks, Sarah. Does the President believe that there are very fine people who kneeled yesterday watching those games? Or are they all SOBs?
Q A quick follow-up, if I can. The President said that kneeling has nothing to do with race. Colin Kaepernick took a kneel — took to his knees in these games — many of these games — specifically because he said black people in this country were not being treated fairly by police. How is that not an issue of race?
Q Sarah, from this podium you’ve often expressed some frustration about the media not focusing on the agenda that the President has — substantive issues, things he wants to get done, tax reform, healthcare, etc.

When did the President decide at this rally that he was going to spend so much time talking about the flag itself? And doesn’t that distract from the things that you are trying to accomplish this week, whether it’s tax reform or healthcare or the efforts in Puerto Rico or the showdown with North Korea?
Q Sarah, when Colin Kaepernick says that his protest is about fighting police brutality, fighting racial disparity, racial injustice, you’re not taking him at his word. You’re saying the focus has long since moved on. But when white supremacists say that their protest is about heritage and not hate, the President does take them at their word. So why is there this disparity about who gets to decide what protest is about?
Q This is a significant week, a pivotal week for the President, for Republicans. It’s an opportunity — some are saying the last best chance for repealing and replacing Obamacare, and yet much of yesterday and the beginning part of today was focused, as far as the President is concerned, on the NFL, on players who take a knee. Can you explain how that’s helpful to that effort of repealing and replacing Obamacare, when the President spent so much time on that other issue — the issue involving sports?

Let’s pause for Sanders’ response to that question, and the next two:

MS. SANDERS: It really doesn’t take that long to type out 140 characters. And this President is very capable of doing more than one thing at a time and more than one thing in a day.

Q But you see, Sarah, how it’s taken up so much oxygen, right? When the President speaks about that particular issue, you see how the majority of questions that have been asked of you so far today have been about this particular issue.

MS. SANDERS: But that’s determined by you guys.

Q He has a tremendous amount of power when he tweets, and we report on it. And so when he tweets something, it does take away from his legislative agenda, would you not agree?

MS. SANDERS: No, I don’t, because I think that it’s important for a President to show patriotism, to be a leader on this issue — and he has.

More football questions:

Q Sarah, can you just clarify, were you saying that — are you encouraging NFL players to protest police?
Q I just want to suss out, I think, a question that has been going around here today, because you talk about the President wanting to defend the flag. You know the oath of office was to defend the Constitution. So does the President have a problem with the First Amendment?
Q Can I follow up on what Hallie was asking? Why is it that the President, over the weekend, is going after or seeming to go after African American athletes, and then this morning he’s putting out a tweet praising NASCAR, which obviously is geared towards a different demographic, and the way they stand in respect and honor of the flag? Is he trying to wage something of a culture war?

There were a handful of questions on other topics, but it was mostly about football. Reporters seem to think that Trump is vulnerable on the anthem, but I suspect that they are wrong. I think Trump speaks for most voters when he expresses disgust with pampered athletes who go out of their way to show contempt for their country. And on company time, no less.

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