On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended chief of staff John Kelly’s widely-criticized comments about the Civil War for the second straight day — specifically, his remark that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War,” not the Confederacy’s refusal to abolish slavery.
During Tuesday’s briefing, Sanders was pressed about Kelly’s ahistorical comments. She defended him, saying, “If some individuals had been willing to come to some compromises on different things, it may not have occurred.” Sanders didn’t specify exactly what sort of “things” she thinks could’ve been the subject of a grand compromise that would have averted hostilities.
So on Wednesday, Sanders was asked to clarify. Reporter April Ryan asked, “What is the definition of ‘compromise’ as it relates to slavery and the Civil War?”
Sanders tried to punt the question, but not before she attacked Ryan and made clear she stands by her defense of Kelly.
“Look, I’m not going to get in and relitigate the Civil War, just like I told you yesterday,” Sanders said. “I think I’ve addressed the concerns that a lot of people had and the questions that you had, and I’m not going to relitigate history here…. Why don’t you just ask [your question] in the way that you’re apparently accusing me of being?”
But Sanders hadn’t actually “addressed the concerns that a lot of people had.” In fact, at the end of Tuesday’s briefing, she ignored a question about whether the Trump administration thinks slavery was wrong.
So Ryan tried again.
“Does this administration — does this president believe slavery was wrong?” she asked.
Sanders didn’t directly answer. Instead, she said, “I think it is disgusting and absurd to suggest that anyone inside of this building would support slavery.”
Despite Sanders’ dissembling, it remains unclear what Kelly was talking about when he suggested that the Civil War was partly the Union’s fault due to their unwillingness or inability to “compromise.” Prominent historians, such as Ken Burns, have made clear they’re also unsure what Kelly and Sanders are talking about.
Many factors contributed to the Civil War. One caused it: slavery.
— Ken Burns (@KenBurns) October 31, 2017
Sanders made a show of indignance in response to Ryan’s questions on Wednesday, but it’s reasonable for people to wonder to what extent the Trump White House sympathizes with the Confederates who fought on behalf of slavery. Trump has repeatedly spoken out on behalf of preserving of Confederate monuments. The president has also defended violent white supremacists using language very similar to what Kelly deployed on behalf of the Confederate cause.