White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was very put out at Monday's press briefing because reporters kept asking her about Steve Bannon's combative lunacy of an interview on “60 Minutes” on Sunday night. Wasn't there any reporter there who wanted to ask her a question on some other topic that she could spin, deflect and obfuscate?
Yes, you, Hallie Jackson of NBC, you have a question about the opioid crisis. A grateful press secretary thanks you for your service:
JACKSON: Something that happened back on August 10, as you know, which is the president declaring that he wanted to have a national emergency when it came to the opioid crisis. It has now been more than a month since he said that. That's a delay for a president who likes to do things quickly, as he has often said. Is the president taking this seriously enough, and when does he intend to declare this emergency and actually get the ball rolling on that?
SANDERS: Absolutely taking it very seriously. The commission and members of the administration have continued to meet and work on the details of that national declaration, and that's certainly a big priority for the administration, and we'll continue to focus on pushing that through.
OK, done deal, right? No:
JACKSON: What's taking so long? You know, this is a president who —
SANDERS: It's a much more involved process, and that's something that they're working through on the legal side, the administrative side, and making sure that it's done correctly.
That is likely true, but still, the slowness that Jackson mentioned has been much remarked upon lately. Especially considering how the president's decision to declare a state of emergency came into being.
A quick timeline: On July 31, Trump's opioid commission, chaired by Chris Christie, issued a report recommending the president declare a state of emergency on the crisis and do so swiftly. That would allow the Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, to deploy resources to fight opioid addiction.
He could authorize Medicaid money to go toward treatment, redeploy substance abuse counselors to areas with high rates of addiction, and waive restrictions on using naloxone and other medications that treat overdoses, just to name a few.
However, a week after the report came out, Price publicly said that declaring an emergency was unnecessary and that he already was working with various agencies on a plan to combat the crisis. Price had reportedly been loath to declare an official state of emergency because of the costs associated with freeing up some of the resources such a declaration would entail.
Then two days later, during some idle yapping on one of his golf courses, Trump said:
“The opioid crisis is an emergency. And I'm saying officially right now, it is an emergency. It's a national emergency. We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.”
This has left the administration scrambling to change course.
So the best guess: Trump had no idea what it means for a president to declare a national emergency or that it is not just a matter of him saying, “Yes it's an emergency,” just before heading off to the tee box on the first hole but involves an actual legal and bureaucratic process.
Now, his secretary of HHS and other officials are either fighting behind the scenes to figure out how to free up the resources to take on a directive of a national emergency declaration or trying to slow down the process out of a resistance to spending money or using too many government resources to help people who need treatment, or slow-walking their work out of pique.
Or the understaffed administration doesn't have enough people to work on the issue with all the other crises (hurricanes, North Korea) that have been sucking up so much attention and energy.
Any way you slice it, however, it all comes down to the president throwing his administration into chaos through an idle comment whose import escapes him. Again.
Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.