“It’s so nice to be among friends,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday night at a gathering for White House reporters, “which is why we invited so many people from the White House press staff.”
Sanders’s joke caused much of the crowd at the White House Correspondents Association’s holiday party to laugh, a reaction not often heard during the White House press secretary’s daily briefings, which are known more for their combativeness and dissembling from the podium. But inside a ballroom at the JW Marriott hotel on 14th Street, Northwest, over buffet spreads of sliders, beef tenderloin, and made-to-order pasta, White House reporters and the press-office staff with whom they deal were as clubby as ever in closing out a supposedly abnormal year.
After months of party invitations being used as political cudgels—President Trump skipping the WHCA’s annual dinner in April, CNN loudly backing out of attending the White House’s holiday party, Jewish Democrats left off the invite list for the White House’s Hanukkah Party—there was little animosity on display at the association’s get-together. Sanders’s deputies, Hogan Gidley and Lindsay Walters, mingled chummily with the journalists their boss’s boss constantly trashes. Kellyanne Conway and Omarosa Manigault worked the room, too, the latter showing me and a couple other reporters photos and video of the traditional Nigerian wedding ceremony she and her husband, John Allen Newman, held after their early-April nuptials at the Trump hotel. (Manigault’s gown for that party, she said, was woven with bits of 24-karat gold.)
Finally, Sanders got her turn at the party lectern, and she brought jokes. “With so many writers in the room and so many people working on books, we thought the best way to do that was to walk through the top ten book titles of the first year of the Trump Administration,” Sanders said. “In true Trump Administration fashion, instead of ten we actually have 13 because we want to be the biggest and the best, and frankly we’re not that great at math.”
Among the faux book titles Sanders suggested: Off the Record, by Anthony Scaramucci, the foul-mouthed and short-lived communications director; An Insiders Guide to the Hatch Act, by Conway with a foreword by Walter Shaub, the former director of Office of Government Ethics who’s now one of Twitter’s most popular Trump antagonists; Please Call on Me, by Brian Karem, a magazine stringer who loudly admonished Sanders in June after one of her “fake news” riffs; and Moving Markets by Brian Ross, the suspended ABC News correspondent who incorrectly reported last week that Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, was preparing to testify against Trump in the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. (Ross’s report was blamed by many on the right wing for causing a brief, albeit sharp, drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.) Only the shot at Ross incurred more groans than chuckles.
“In all seriousness, I think that often people say I have the worst job in Washington,” Sanders said in leading a toast. “I think I have one of the best jobs in Washington. I love my job, I love the people I get to work with everyday, including most of the White House press corps.” For a little while on Thursday night, that press corps seemed to believe her.