White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. 
Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

White House’s Sanders won’t say if Russian elections were ‘free and fair’


Part of “leading the free world” is taking a stand in support of free and fair elections. It’s what administrations from both parties have done for generations.

It’s also what made this exchange yesterday between a reporter and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders so striking:

Q: Does the White House believe that the election in Russia was free and fair?

SANDERS: Look, in terms of the election there, we’re focused on our elections. We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate.

It wasn’t a trick question. Donald Trump’s chief spokesperson could’ve very easily acknowledged international concerns that the Russian elections – in which Vladimir Putin’s rivals were not allowed to run – were little more than a sham intended to give the appearance of legitimacy to an autocratic ruler’s ongoing reign.

But that’s not what Sanders said. Instead, she dodged, suggesting how other countries conduct their elections are their own business. MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, noting a video clip of the exchange, was exactly right when she wrote, “This is just a truly astonishing moment coming from the White House podium.”

I’m especially interested in the selectivity of Team Trump’s principles.

When Venezuela held its controversial elections in January, Vice President Mike Pence condemned the elections for not being “free and fair.” Pence added that the Venezuelan election were “undemocratic, unconstitutional, and globally opposed,” and U.S. pressure would continue.

Indeed, last summer, the White House issued a written statement from Trump in which he called for “free and fair elections” in Venezuela.

Just last month, meanwhile, the White House criticized elections in Cambodia, which U.S. officials considered so illegitimate, they cut off aid to the Asia-Pacific nation.

Can Sanders explain why it is that when it comes to promoting democracy and fair elections around the world, Team Trump seems to have one standard for Russia, and a different standard for other countries?

Postscript: Mike Pence is scheduled to deliver remarks today to the Organization of American States, and he’ll reportedly speak out in support of “free and fair elections.” Perhaps the White House hasn’t yet told him that the administration is unconcerned with “how other countries operate.”