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Thursday’s Hangout With Steven Mnuchin and Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Global elitism, FISA, a possible stock market dive pepper White House day

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly waits to speak as press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders introduces him during a White House briefing last year. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly waits to speak as press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders introduces him during a White House briefing last year. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A Treasury secretary says the Davos gathering of global elites isn’t a hangout for global elites. A press secretary says tweets that seemed to contradict each other didn’t contradict each other. A president predicts a stock market dive if he doesn’t get his way. In other words: Thursday at the White House.

Among the business-as-usual moments were White House officials blaming Democrats for delays on immigration and government-funding measures, even while the White House chief of staff was trying to close the deal, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announcing that taxpayers should see bigger paychecks next month — as long as new withholding tables the IRS is circulating work like they are designed to. 

Mnuchin led off Thursday’s White House press briefing, and in addition to discussing the tax withholdings, he matter-of-factly contended a meeting of wealthy global political and business leaders is not an annual gathering of globalization enthusiasts.

“I don’t think it’s a hangout for globalists,” Mnuchin said from the podium, referring to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which President Donald Trump will participate in later this month.

Mnuchin, himself a wealthy former Wall Street executive, was pressed on the matter because Trump ran on an “America first” agenda while slamming the effects of globalization on the U.S. economy. Since taking office, Trump has touted that philosophy during his first global trips, to Europe and Asia.

Mnuchin, who will lead the U.S. economic delegation to Davos, said the Trump team will discuss the “America first” philosophy and the president will speak there about “reciprocal, free and fair trade,” a favorite topic.

Exit Mnuchin, enter White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Trump’s top spokeswoman blamed Democrats for holding out on an immigration deal, signaled that overhauling entitlement programs is no longer a 2018 priority and contended a series of Trump tweets about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, minutes before the House was set to vote on reauthorizing the program, were just fine. 

[Fact Check: Trump’s Dossier Tweet Full of Dubious Claims]

Huckabee Sanders contended a Trump tweet claiming FISA was used to “abuse” his 2016 presidential campaign and one nearly two hours later expressing his support for the law just before the House passed a six-year extension were not contradictory.

She also said the president has a “great understanding” of the program; Democratic lawmakers, disagree, with the House Democratic Whip Office blasting out an email saying the episode was just “the latest example of President Trump undermining American security and not knowing what’s happening in Congress.”

Shortly before Sanders and Mnuchin appeared in the briefing room, Trump told reporters that immigration negotiators should remain mindful that a failure to strike a deal on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals immigration program that he said he would unilaterally unwind himself,  would send the stock market spiraling downward.

What’s more, as two GOP senators involved in immigration talks, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, disagreed over whether lawmakers and the president have struck a deal, Sanders was more clear.

“There has not been a deal reached yet,” she said. “However, we still think we can get there. And we’re very focused on making sure that happens.”

What’s the holdup? Sanders blamed Democrats.

White House officials and Republican immigration negotiators are still trying to convince Democrats to agree to “the other side of the deal,” an apparent reference to a border security funding section that Trump says must provide funds for his proposed southern border wall.


On Capitol Hill, Democrats were not impressed.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, for instance, was critical of the negotiations between the No. 2 congressional leaders and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, calling them “the five white guys” and joking about them opening a hamburger stand — an apparent reference to the Five Guys burger chain.

Even so, Pelosi said there was already plenty of groundwork on the immigration deal, “there is plenty of other bipartisan activity going on that gives me hope that we’re pretty close.”

[Analysis: Defiant Trump Returns After ‘Performance’ for Members]


Government funding expires on Jan. 19. So far, Senate Democratic leaders want an agreement on codifying the DACA program codified into law before spending issues like how to treat domestic and defense caps is resolved.

Finally, Trump’s top spokeswoman’s omission of what White House officials late last year wanted to be a top legislative goal for their second year signaled the president and his team now believe midterm election year politics make it too difficult.

[WATCH: Trump’s 2018 Legislative Agenda is Already Slipping]

When Sanders provided an update on the president’s 2018 legislative priorities, welfare reform did not make the list. The top priority is a government spending bill, followed by striking a deal on DACA and other immigration policies. From there, the president intends to pivot to his long-promised-but not-yet-delivered, infrastructure overhaul package.

— Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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