White House gets selective about its post-violence standards

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

During her press briefing yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders twice used the word "premature" in very specific contexts.

The first came when a reporter, referencing the mass shooting in Las Vegas, asked, "Has this particular massacre made the President think anything more about pursuing tighter gun laws, such as background checks, to prevent massacres like this from happening again?" Sanders replied:

"Look, this is an unspeakable tragedy. Today is a day for consoling the survivors and mourning those we lost. Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with all of those individuals. There's a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country. There is currently an open and ongoing law enforcement investigation. A motive is yet to be determined, and it would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don't fully know all the facts or what took place last night."

A few minutes later, a reporter asked if Sunday night's mass murders amounted to an act of domestic terrorism. The press secretary returned to the "premature" talking point:

"Again, we're still in a fact-finding mission. This is an ongoing investigation and it would be premature to weigh in on something like that before we have any more facts."

At face value, these aren't necessarily bad answers. It's hardly outrageous to think a White House, in the immediate aftermath of a horrific mass shooting, would choose to delay comment on provocative aspects of the larger issues.

The trouble is, this White House doesn't exactly apply these standards evenly.

For example, in the same press briefing in which Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she didn't want to talk about gun policy, she also took a moment to condemn what she sees as unsuccessful progressive gun policies: "I think if you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country. That certainly hasn't helped there."

But more broadly, I kept thinking about her boss. For a quite a while, when the president has learned of deadly terrorist incidents, Donald Trump has responded with incredible speed to use the word "terrorism," and to use the attacks to promote elements of his agenda -- including building a border wall and imposing a Muslim ban.

In other words, it looks as if the White House is trying to limit the scope of the debate in ways that serve the president's needs, which is pretty outrageous given the circumstances.

NBC's Hallie Jackson reminded Sanders yesterday that "after the Orlando shooting, the president that day was out on Twitter talking about policy; he was talking about his travel ban."

Quite right. If walls and bans are fair game for the president within hours of deadly violence, why exactly is gun safety off limits?