Republicans are not exactly known for being camera-shy, but in the wake of the angry and chaotic Obamacare town halls and the revelation that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn lied about his contacts with Russia, the GOP was largely absent from Sunday show guest lists this week.
Republican guests typically dominate the airwaves on the Sunday political shows, including last week, where Vice President Mike Pence was joined by elected Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) on the Sunday circuit.
But that dynamic changed sharply this week, with the White House offering only relatively low-wattage senior advisor Stephen Miller to four of the shows, and no national Republicans booking appearances. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was the only elected Republican to appear, on CNN’s State of the Union.
This curious freeze comes on the heels of a week in which it was revealed that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn lied when he said he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador, and that his contacts with Russia predated the election. That directly contradicts emphatic statements made by both Pence and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, both of whom were sidelined from the Sunday shows this weekend. Republicans in general have remained silent about the Flynn scandal, perhaps waiting for cues from a White House that has been caught flat-footed by the bombshell report.
The White House even brazenly acknowledged their stonewalling on Flynn by sending Miller out to refer questions on the matter to the exact administration figures whom they had declined to offer as guests (emphasis added):
STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course, the Washington Post reports, after talking to nine intelligence officials, said that he did discuss the sanctions. And General Flynn has changed his response — before, he denied it; now he’s saying he doesn’t remember.
Number one, did he mislead the vice president? And how do you respond to Democrats like Nancy Pelosi who say that General Flynn’s security clearance should be revoked until the FBI investigates his contacts?
MILLER: Well, I don’t have any news to make to you today on this point. It’s a great question for our chief of staff, it’s a great question for the office of vice president. I think that —
STEPHANOPOULOS: (INAUDIBLE) …if you can’t answer the questions being posed to the White House?
MILLER: I don’t have — I don’t have any information, George, to change anything that has previously already been said by the White House on this matter. General Flynn has served this country admirably and with distinction. He’s a three star general. He served in the Defense Intelligence Agency. There’s no information that I have, as the policy director for this White House, to contribute any new information to this story this morning. And I’m sorry to disappoint you, but that’s just where things stand.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you think he can continue to serve as National Security Adviser after misleading the vice president?
MILLER: I don’t — I don’t accept that what your question is saying is accurate. I don’t have any information one way or another to add anything to this conversation. I understand it’s an important matter; I understand it’s a sensitive matter, and I’m sure you’ll have an opportunity in the near future to interview someone from the vice president’s office or interview the chief of staff, who can elucidate further on this very sensitive issue.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I should actually say that we did invite the chief of staff to join us this morning, and the White House refused to put him out, perhaps because you guys don’t want to answer that question.
A separate question on Kellyanne Conway —
MILLER: I don’t know — I don’t know if that’s true, George, but I think that they wanted to put me out here so we could discuss the very important issue facing our national security and the problem of open borders and the threat of terrorism.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It is true that we asked for the White House chief of staff also.
There were also a series of high-profile town halls in places like Tennessee and Utah this week, at which constituents were in open revolt over Republican plans to gut Obamacare. So far, the only spin any of them could come up with to respond to red state residents’ resistance has been to baselessly accuse them of being paid protesters.
The Republican absence from the Sunday shows demonstrates two key developments that ought to encourage those engaged in the resistance against the Trump administration: First, in the case of the town halls, it shows that resistance is effective, forcing Republicans into the equivalent of a defensive crouch; second, it provides solid evidence that journalistic accountability matters, and that when reporters do good and fearless work, it can have a tangible effect.