Sarah Huckabee Sanders defends her boss: Trump will "fight back" against media critics

Sanders returned to the podium for the first time since Pittsburgh shooting and was on the defensive

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published October 30, 2018 10:35AM (EDT)

Sarah Huckabee Sanders (AP/Alex Brandon)
Sarah Huckabee Sanders (AP/Alex Brandon)

On Monday afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders hosted her first press conference since early October — in the wake of yet another mass murder in America. On Saturday, 11 people were tragically killed by an apparent white supremacist at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

"The American people reject hatred, bigotry, prejudice, and violence," Sanders told reporters on Monday. But many in the White House briefing room apparently found it difficult to take those words seriously, considering President Trump's history and his August 2017 description of far-right activists as "very fine people."

A reporter asked if Trump would stop name-calling his Democratic nemeses — such as Hillary Clinton or Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. -- on the campaign trail, in terms that have sometimes been understood as inciting or encouraging violence.

“The president’s going to continue to draw contrasts,” Sanders replied. “Let’s not forget that these same Democrats have repeatedly attacked the president, whether it was Eric Holder saying ‘Kick ‘em when they’re down,’ whether it was Hillary Clinton saying, ‘You can’t be civil until Democrats have control of Congress,’ or whether it was Maxine Waters who encouraged her supporters to get up not just in the president’s face, but all administration officials’ faces.

“Those actions from those Democrats, the president’s going to continue to fight back when these individuals not only attack him but attack members of his administration and supporters of his administration,” she added.

Later, CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked Sanders which media outlets Trump considers to be "enemies of the people. She declined to answer directly, saying instead, "I think it’s irresponsible of a news organization like yours to blame responsibility of a pipe bomb that was not sent by the president -- not just [to] blame the president but blame members of his administration for those heinous acts."

Sanders appeared to be referring to a statement made by CNN President Jeff Zucker last week after the network's New York headquarters were evacuated over a package bomb.

"The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter," Zucker said. "Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that. There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media."

NBC’s Hallie Jackson asked: "At what time does a national tragedy take precedence over the president needing to punch back? If not now, when?”

“I think you saw the president do exactly that in the wake of a national tragedy,” Sanders said.

When pressed further, Sanders continued to complain about media coverage she said was negative and unfair. “If anything, I think it is sad and divisive the way that every single thing that comes out of the media — 90 percent of what comes out of the media’s mouths is negative about this president,” she said.

John Harwood of NBC News wrote in a Twitter post that it was the first time he thought Sanders “looked shaken by criticism at the podium.”

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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