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Non-Denial Denials and Disbelief: Tuesday at the White House

Reporters seemed to have trouble accepting medical report on president

Reporters seemed stunned that Donald Trump's first physical as president showed no health issues.  (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Reporters seemed stunned that Donald Trump's first physical as president showed no health issues.  (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Non-denial denials and an hour of stunned disbelief dominated Tuesday’s White House proceedings.

President Donald Trump and his top aides danced around his alleged vulgar comments about black-and-brown skinned immigrants while also bashing Democrats over what appears to be a longshot immigration bill. And his military physician, who served in the same position under two other commanders in chief, faced an hour of increasingly incredulous questions from the White House press corps after he deemed Trump is of sound physical and mental condition.

Flanked by his Kazakhstanian counterpart in the Oval Office, Trump told reporters he wants immigrants to come in from “everywhere.”

The president was then pressed on whether his alleged description of Haiti, El Salvador and African locales as “shithole countries” from which he wants fewer immigrants in favor of places like majority-white Norway means he wants only Caucasian immigrants from “everywhere.”

“Out,” he said to the questioner, CNN’s Jim Acosta, motioning toward a door.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spent parts of their days stopping short of denying Trump used that term during a Thursday afternoon Oval Office meeting; they contended that Trump has not denied using “tough language” while rejecting a bipartisan immigration measure negotiated by a group of members led by Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

A few days after Trump sounded receptive when inviting the duo to the White House to discuss their bill — only to change his tune after consultations with immigration hardliners from his own staff and the House and Senate GOP conferences — the White House tried to derail that measure even as Durbin and Graham said it was gaining Republican supporters.

Sanders called the Graham-Durbin immigration bill a “complete failure” in terms of meeting the criteria Trump had laid out, adding it would provide on about one-tenth of what DHS official said “they needed” for border security.

She dismissed questions about whether a “merit-based” immigration system, which Trump has called for, would be race-based. Rather, it would be focused on “whether or not this person would be contributing to society, she said.

Sanders took questions for only a few minutes after reporters chose to pepper Trump’s military physician with questions — some becoming redundant, others mundane — for nearly an hour. She did not directly respond to one about whether the president would sign another stopgap funding measure later this week to avert a government shutdown at 12 a.m. Saturday, but she said White House officials do not want the federal lights to go dark.

Before she sidestepped that one, Ronny Jackson, a Navy rear admiral who is the president’s military doctor, fielded questions about everything from Trump’s cardiovascular health to his mental capacity to his lack of an exercise routine to his sleep habits to what kinds of food the White House chefs are preparing for him.

Overall, Trump is in “excellent” health, Jackson said. But as the briefing wore on — and on — it became clear many of the reporters in the room did not believe him. Even if one watched via a live-stream of the event, a sense of collective disbelief seemed to dominate as Jackson took question after question.

How could a 71-year-old man who has bragged about his love of fast food and mocked those who exercise regularly be in such good physical shape, several asked in so many words?

“Incredibly good genes,” Jackson answered at one point. Another reason: Trump claims to have never consumed alcohol or smoked tobacco products.

Still, his doctor has advised the 6′3, 239-pound president to eat better and exercise, and Jackson is upping his daily dose of Crestor to lower his cholesterol level — though the doctor said he is not concerned. And the president has told his doctor he would like to drop 10-15 pounds over the next year.

But reporters were most incredulous about how Jackson, who has been observing Trump for a calendar year, could conclude the often-erratic, self-wounding (politically) president is mentally fit for the job.

“I had absolutely no concerns about his cognitive ability or his neurological functions” before Friday, Jackson said. Trump requested a cognitive test after questions emerged in recent weeks. Jackson said he and his team picked a more involved version, and Trump “did exceedingly well on it.”

That did not satisfy reporters, who kept hammering Jackson, then was finally let go. He yielded to Sanders, who fielded only a few more questions about “shithole countries” and the looming government shutdown.

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