White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders led a somber press conference on Monday just hours after a gunman in Las Vegas left at least 58 dead and more than 500 injured at an open-air music festival near the Mandalay Bay hotel.
After choking up somewhat in her opening statement, Sanders offered the first question to Reuters’ Jeff Mason. The veteran White House correspondent wasted no time, wading into the contentious territory of gun control.
“Sarah, many times when these horrible massacres occur, it leads to questions about gun control. Has this particular massacre made the president think anything more about pursuing tighter gun laws such as background checks to prevent the massacres like this from happening again?” he asked.
It was a question that was bound to come up. Sanders parried, with the well-worn talking point that it was too soon to politicize a tragedy. Instead, she urged Americans to “unite as a country.”
“Look, this is an unspeakable tragedy. Today is a day for consoling the survivors and mourning those we lost. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those individuals. There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country,” she said. “It would be premature to discuss policy when we don’t fully know all of the facts of what took place last night.”
The issue was again raised by CNN’s Jeff Zeleny who wondered whether President Trump might use the tragedy to break through the traditional left-right logjam on gun control.
Again, Sanders dodged.
“I think there will be time for that policy discussion to take place but that’s not the place we’re in at this moment. but certainly I think there’s a time for that to happen,” she said.
The polite, but tough, words from Sanders are likely a harbinger of things to come, as the United States grapples with the appropriate federal response to the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.