Fox News’ White House correspondent John Roberts sent a strong message to the Trump administration today when he walked out of the off-camera press briefing and said that he would have stayed if it had been on camera.
It’s hard to know if Roberts intended to make a statement about the Trump administration’s handling of the press or whether he just shot from the hip in response to a comment from deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Regardless, it's a strong message, especially since it comes from Fox News.
As the official White House transcript shows, Sanders ribbed Roberts as he got up to leave in the middle of the briefing. His response surprised the room.
MS. SANDERS: John Roberts is bored today. He’s headed out. (Laughter.)
Q John, stick around.
Q If it were on camera, I might not.
The “Oh’s” were really a loud chorus from what had to be many reporters. You can hear the exchange at about 15:39 in the YouTube recording of the briefing below, from ABC News.
Before you read too much into this Fox "rebellion," Roberts signaled a very friendly intent toward the Trump administration earlier in the briefing when he repeatedly but unsuccessfully prodded Sanders to jab with him at senators who had previously voted to repeal Obamacare in 2015 and have now come out against repealing it. (Coincidentally, that echoed the blame-Congress-not-Trump message from Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade earlier today)
The White House transcript identifies the questioner only as John but the voice is clearly Roberts’, as heard at about 4:20 into the briefing:
Q Sarah, three Republican senators—Collins, Murkowski, and Capito—have come out against this idea of repeal. Collins, not surprising, she voted against it in 2015. However, Murkowski and Capito both voted for repeal in 2015, and now they’re saying they’re against it. Is this thing dead before it even leaves the barn?
MS. SANDERS: I think the thing that’s dead here is Obamacare. I think we’ve seen that it’s completely failed, and at this point Congress needs to do their job and they need to do it as quickly as they can, because every day that they don’t, we go further into collapsing under Obamacare. And so I think that, at this point, inaction is not a workable solution, and so they need to come to the table and figure out how to reform the system and fix it.
Q So what do you say to these two senators, Murkowski and Capito, who voted for repeal in 2015 but now say they won’t vote for it in 2017?
MS. SANDERS: I think we say what the Vice President said today: Do your job. It’s time for Congress to do their job and do it now.
Q Speaking to members of the House, Paul Ryan a short time ago said it’s pretty difficult to explain to your constituents why you voted for something two years ago but aren’t voting for it now. Is that the tact that this White House will take, as well?
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s something that those senators will have to answer to their constituents. That’s not something that the White House has to answer on behalf of those members.
Later, Roberts Tweeted about his exit in another message about the off-camera briefings:
To all who are musing over me leaving the @SHSanders45 Briefing...I have a live shot. Had the brief been on camera, it would 1/2— John Roberts (@johnrobertsFox) July 18, 2017
Would have been on TV, not me. I would have waited until it was over.— John Roberts (@johnrobertsFox) July 18, 2017
The lack of on-camera briefings have become a major issue with the press, as they should be. The fact that Fox News’ White House correspondent is now siding with the press against the administration is a clear message to Trump. The question is, will he listen?
You can catch the entire July 18, 2017 briefing below, via ABC News.