Sanders and correspondents discuss Trump's first year

On Monday, GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) and the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) hosted a discussion of President Donald Trump’s first year in office and its implications. Guests included White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and a panel of political correspondents. The conversation was co-moderated by SMPA Director Frank Sesno and Margaret Talev, president of the WHCA.

The discussion provided a unique format for dialogue between Sanders and journalists, and the evening was distinctly civil. In her opening remarks, Sanders emphasized that openness and transparency is an important aspect of the Trump administration. She also expressed that she hoped for an evening of “friendly and fun back-and-forth conversation.”

When asked about President Trump’s top priorities and progress made by the administration, Sanders asserted that the president is “making a lot of progress,” but not as rapidly as he would like. She also said that the president’s current legislative priority is passing tax reform before the end of the year.

As discussion turned to the apparent turmoil that has characterized the Trump presidency so far, New York Times correspondent Glenn Thrush noted that the administration is “learning on the job.” John Roberts, White House correspondent for Fox News, also explained that Trump’s long-term effect on the Republican Party and conservatism remains to be seen. However, he noted the implications of failing to repeal Obamacare despite repeated campaign pledges to do so.

Sarah Binder, a political science professor at GW, explained that lawmakers are unsure of the president’s stance on many issues, which complicates the legislative process. Olivier Knox of Yahoo! News also noted that, while Trump has not fulfilled his pledge to “drain the swamp,” former lobbyists and others with political experience have allowed for the administration’s “systematic, methodical rollback” of regulations.

Comparing Trump’s first year to that of past presidents, Glenn Thrush explained that the administration is “not functioning as a normal presidency” and suggested that this is related to Trump’s lack of specific policy proposals during the campaign. Margaret Talev also noted that, in the first months of Trump’s presidency, interactions with press were “completely antagonistic.” However, the panel largely agreed that press relations have improved under Sanders, with April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks adding that the press office is still not as organized as journalists would like.

Sanders acknowledged that tension between correspondents and the White House is not new, but she said she has observed a “greater sense of hostility” towards the Trump administration. Sanders cited a study which found that 93 percent of coverage of the Trump presidency is negative. She compared this to a statistic showing roughly 60 percent positive and 40 percent negative coverage of the Obama administration. To applause from the audience, Sanders emphasized that she wants more White House press communications to be on the record and noted that anonymous sources are a major problem.

Throughout the conversation, Sanders noted what she considers the Trump administration’s major achievements so far, including developing relationships with the international community to put pressure on North Korea. She also referenced Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia in May as a “historic moment.”

Sesno and Talev concluded the discussion by taking questions from the audience, including one about Trump’s use of Twitter and its implications. Sanders described the president’s tweets as a “direct line of communication” and as “candid and authentic.” However, the panel noted that views expressed by Trump on Twitter are unpredictable and present messaging problems for his administration. Olivier Knox added that reporting on the president’s tweets has required a “reassertion of news judgment.”

At the end of the evening, Talev observed that whether recent changes are “permanent changes to the political landscape” or unique to Trump remains to be seen.

In her closing remarks, Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that there is an “important relationship” between the White House and journalists, and she emphasized that she hopes to continue to improve relations between Trump’s administration and the media.

Originally published on by Stephanie Gemmell on 10.25.2017.

CampusStephanie Gemmell