White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stands beside monitors showing US President Donald J. Trump delivering a statement on the economy, at the beginning of a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, January 4, 2018.
Michael Reynolds/EPA

Sanders’ dubious pitch: Pelosi shouldn’t have accused Trump of a crime


To hear the White House tell it, Donald Trump’s tantrum yesterday was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) fault. The Democratic leader told reporters yesterday morning that the president is “engaged in a cover-up,” and that kind of rhetoric was so incendiary, Team Trump claims, that it immediately derailed negotiations.

Indeed, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders apparently feels justified seizing on Pelosi’s quote to go on the offensive.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Thursday on CNN that “it’s insane” to think infrastructure talks can continue as if Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had not accused Trump of a “cover-up,” as Pelosi did Wednesday shortly before the White House meeting. Sanders said, “It’s real simple, you can’t go down two tracks.”

“It’s very hard to have a meeting where you accuse the president of the United States of a crime and an hour later show up and act as if nothing has happened,” Sanders told reporters outside the White House.

Trump’s press secretary added, “The president’s feelings weren’t hurt. [Pelosi] accused him of a crime. Let that sink in.”

Look, I don’t envy the position Sarah Huckabee Sanders is in. Her boss has asked her to defend a truly ridiculous position, and if I were in her shoes, I’d struggle to come up with a good argument, too. My point is not to sound unsympathetic.

But the fact remains that her argument is so obviously foolish, it’s as if Sanders didn’t give it any thought at all.

For one thing, Pelosi said the president has engaged in a cover-up because there’s overwhelming evidence that the president has, in fact, engaged in multiple cover-ups. If the White House press secretary is prepared to respond to the substance of the allegation, she should certainly do so, but going with the “Pelosi is a big meanie” defense isn’t likely to go well.

For another, yesterday’s rhetoric wasn’t altogether unique. Other Democratic leaders have used identical language in recent weeks – again, because it’s true – and it never caused a White House freak-out. It suggests this newfound outrage on Team Trump isn’t altogether sincere.

But even if we put these relevant details aside, if accusing a political rival of a crime is simply a bridge too far, and such rhetoric inevitably makes bipartisan cooperation impossible, perhaps Sarah Huckabee Sanders can comment on the many instances in which Donald Trump has accused Democrats of felonies.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but just off the top of my head, the Republican president has – just recently – accused Dems of treason, obstruction of justice, being “complicit” in murders, and supporting infanticide.

Literally yesterday, the Trump White House accused Democrats of committing an unspecified “crime.”

If Sarah Sanders is right, and “it’s insane” to think elected policymakers can hold negotiations in the wake of heated rhetoric, why did the president accuse Dems of being treasonous murderers?

Indeed, the White House is proving the opposite of its intended point. If Pelosi is willing to work on serious issues with Trump, prioritizing governing despite his insults, why exactly should anyone take the purported rationale behind the president’s latest tantrum seriously?

“Let that sink in.”