Politics

Sarah Sanders got into a heated fight with reporters over kids being separated from parents at the border

Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Jim Acosta are at it again — and this time, more reporters joined the fold.

The White House press secretary and the CNN political reporter traded barbs at Thursday’s briefing that evolved into a verbal brawl with some members of the press corps after Acosta asked about the Trump administration’s new ‘‘zero-tolerance’’ policy of forcibly separating immigrant children from their parents at the border.

At one point, a visibly emotional Playboy Magazine reporter asked of Sanders: “Come on, Sarah. You’re a parent. Don’t you have any empathy for what these people are going through?”

Advertisement

It was all started by an initial question from Acosta citing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had earlier Thursday cited the Bible in his defense of the border policy that has resulted in hundreds of children being separated from their parents.

Get This Week in Politics in your inbox:
A weekly recap of the top political stories from The Globe, sent right to your email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“Where does it say in the Bible that it’s moral to take children away from their mothers?” Acosta asked, following up with another question: “Is it a moral policy, in your view?”

Sanders replied that “it is very biblical to enforce the law.”

After some more back and forth, Sanders hit back at Acosta and accused him of misquoting her, telling him, “That’s not what I said. And I know it’s hard for you to understand even short sentences, I guess, but please don’t take my words out of context.”

“That’s a cheap shot, Sarah,” Acosta replied.

Advertisement

Sanders then blamed the separation of kids from their parents “is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close,” adding that Trump is simply enforcing laws that “have been on the books for over a decade.”

When Acosta asked how she could say it was moral “to take children away from their parents,” Sanders replied: “It’s a moral policy to follow and enforce the law.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders listens to a question from the media during the daily briefing, Thursday, June 14, 2018, in the Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Sarah Huckabee Sanders during the press briefing on Thursday.

After wrapping up with Acosta, Sanders called on Paula Reid of CBS News, who followed up on the CNN reporter’s points.

“It’s not a policy change to enforce the law,” Sanders said in response to one of Reid’s questions, earning an immediate rebuke from the reporter: “It absolutely is. Sessions made a change . . . No. Jeff Sessions made a decision in April that he was going to move from handling it as a civil matter to criminal, and then separating the families.”

Sanders again put the blame on President Trump’s rival party.

Advertisement

“We would like to fix these loopholes, and if Democrats want to get serious about it, instead of playing political games, they’re welcome to come here and sit down with the president and actually do something about it,” she said.

That’s when things got really heated.

Speaking out of turn from the back of the room, Brian Karem, the White House correspondent for Playboy magazine, called out to Sanders: “Sarah, don’t you have any empathy?”

Sanders tried to ignore him, but Karem continued: “Come on, Sarah. You’re a parent. Don’t you have any empathy for what these people are going through? They have less than you do.”

Brian Karem, White House correspondent for Playboy Magazine, reacted to responses by Sarah Sanders on Thursday.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Brian Karem, White House correspondent for Playboy Magazine, reacted to responses by Sarah Sanders on Thursday.

“Brian. Guys. Settle down,” Sanders admonished.

“Sarah, come on. Seriously. Seriously,” Karem said.

“I’m trying to be serious, but I’m not going to have you yell out of turn,” Sanders replied.

Sanders then accused Karem of trying to angle for more TV time, which he denied: “It’s about you answering a question, Sarah . . . Honestly, answer the question. It’s a serious question. These people have nothing. They come to the border with nothing and you throw children in cages. You’re a parent. You’re a parent of young children. Don’t you have any empathy for what they go through?”

Sanders then moved on to the next reporter, who asked a question about a different topic.

***

Read the full exchange in the transcript below, as provided by the White House:

JIM ACOSTA: Sarah, can you tell us why the President saluted the North Koreans when he was over in Singapore?

MS. SANDERS: It’s a common courtesy when a military official from another government salutes, that you return that.

Q Can I just ask a second question, completely unrelated, on these children who are being separated from their families as they come across the border? The Attorney General, earlier today, said that somehow there’s a justification for this in the Bible. Where does it say in the Bible that it’s moral to take children away from their mothers?

MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of the Attorney General’s comments or what he would be referencing. I can’t --

Q Is it a moral policy, in your view?

MS. SANDERS: I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is, actually, repeated a number of times throughout the Bible. However, this --

Q But where in the Bible does it say --

MS. SANDERS: Hold on, Jim. If you’ll let me finish.

Q -- it’s okay to take children away from their parents?

MS. SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to comment on the Attorney’s specific comments that I haven’t seen.

Q You just said it’s in the Bible to follow the law.

MS. SANDERS: That’s not what I said. And I know it’s hard for you to understand even short sentences, I guess, but please don’t take my words out of context. But the separation of --

Q That’s a cheap shot, Sarah. That’s a cheap shot, Sarah.

MS. SANDERS: -- illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close. And these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade. And the President is simply enforcing them.

Q But how is it moral? How is it a moral policy to take children away from their parents? Can you imagine --

MS. SANDERS: It’s a moral policy to follow and enforce the law.

Q -- the horror that these children must be going through when they come across the border?

MS. SANDERS: Jim.

Q They’re with their parents, and then suddenly they’re pulled away from their parents. Why is the government doing this?

MS. SANDERS: Because it’s the law. And that’s what the law states.

Q It’s not. It doesn’t have to be the law. You guys don’t have to do that. It’s your policy.

MS. SANDERS: You’re right, it doesn’t have to be the law. And the President has actually called on Democrats in Congress to fix those loopholes. The Democrats have failed to come to the table, failed to help this President close these loopholes and fix this problem. We don’t want this to be a problem. The President has tried to address it on a number of occasions. We’ve laid out a proposal. And Democrats simply refuse to do their job and fix the problem.

Paula, go ahead.

Q Certainly both parties could fix it. But you don’t take children away from their parents.

MS. SANDERS: Sorry, Jim, I’ve given you enough time.

PAULA REID: Two questions. First of all, there is not law that requires families to be separated at the border. This was the administration’s choice to move from civil matters on immigration on to criminal, to criminally prosecute people who come across the border illegally and therefore you have to separate families.

So why did the administration find that this was necessary? And if it continues to not have much of a deterrent effect, will you continue this policy?

MS. SANDERS: Again, the laws are the ones that have been on the books for over a decade, and the President is enforcing them. We would like to fix the broken system that our immigration -- and fix our immigration problem. However, until Democrats are willing to actually fix this problem, it’s going to continue. But we would like to see it fixed.

Q But isn’t the administration -- it doesn’t want to take responsibility for its policy change from civil -- handling them as civil matters to criminal prosecutions.

MS. SANDERS: It’s not a policy change to enforce the law.

Q It absolutely is. Sessions made a change.

MS. SANDERS: That’s been this administration’s policy since the day we got here.

Q No. Jeff Sessions made a decision in April that he was going to move from handling it as a civil matter to criminal, and then separating the families.

MS. SANDERS: It has been our administration’s policy --

Q Your own administration said it was deterrent. They’re separating families to deter people from coming here illegally.

MS. SANDERS: Our administration has had the same position since we started on day one that we were going to enforce the law. I know it was something that wasn’t high on the priority list in the previous administration, but it is on ours. We’re a country of law and order, and we’re enforcing the law and protecting our borders.

We would like to fix these loopholes, and if Democrats want to get serious about it, instead of playing political games, they’re welcome to come here and sit down with the President and actually do something about it.

BRIAN KAREM: Sarah. Sarah, don’t you have any empathy?

MS. SANDERS: Jill, go ahead.

Q Come on, Sarah. You’re a parent. Don’t you have any empathy for what these people are going through?

MS. SANDERS: Jill.

Q They have less than you do.

MS. SANDERS: Brian. Guys, settle down.

Q Sarah, come on. Seriously. Seriously.

MS. SANDERS: I’m trying to be serious, but I’m not going to have you yell out of turn.

Jill, please --

Q But you’re sitting there telling us it’s a law. And they have -- these people have nothing. They come over here with nothing --

MS. SANDERS: Hey, Brian, I know you want to get some more TV time, but that’s not what this is about.

Q It’s not that. It’s not about that. It’s about you answering a question, Sarah.

MS. SANDERS: I want to recognize you. Go ahead, Jill.

Q Honestly, answer the question. It’s a serious question. These people have nothing. They come to the border with nothing and you throw children in cages. You’re a parent. You’re a parent of young children. Don’t you have any empathy for what they go through?

MS. SANDERS: Jill, go ahead.