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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was slated to take reporters' questions Monday in her first official press briefing of 2019.
The rare briefing arrives on the heels of an agreement between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats to temporarily reopen the government while continuing to negotiate border security funding. Even as both groups emerge bruised from the longest-ever partial government shutdown, neither has yet shown a willingness to compromise on the key disagreement: whether a funding deal should include billions of dollars toward a new barrier along the southern border.
If no deal is reached by the time the three-week stopgap measures expires on Feb. 15, Trump has threatened to let the government shut down once more, or use his presidential powers to declare a national emergency to bypass Congress.
The partial shutdown, which hobbled nine federal agencies, lasted a record 35 days. There were no White House press briefings held during that time.
Formal press briefings in the James S. Brady Briefing Room, in which Sanders or another White House representative answers questions from a gaggle of journalists, have nearly disappeared in 2018.
Sanders has said that Trump's willingness to regularly answer questions from the press himself — and his prolific use of Twitter — are a better alternative for reporters than relying on communications staff.
Trump himself tweeted his own explanation: "I told her not to bother," he wrote, because "the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately."
Trump tweet The reason Sarah Sanders does not go to the "podium" much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately, in particular certain members of the press. I told her not to bother, the word gets out anyway! Most will never cover us fairly & hence, the term, Fake News!
That policy shift has been significant. Sanders led press briefings at the Brady room podium at least 11 times last January, for instance. But Monday's briefing marks the first such event this year, as well as the first since mid-December — 41 days earlier.
A lot has happened since then.
In the previous briefing, Sanders fielded questions about Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn, as well as his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, after the president called Cohen a "liar" and a "rat." Both men have pleaded guilty to charges lodged by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his ongoing investigation of Russia's election meddling and possible collusion with Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.
On Friday, Mueller charged another of Trump's campaign associates: Roger Stone, a longtime GOP operative who was Trump's confidant and ally in 2016. Stone is charged with seven counts including witness tampering, obstruction of justice and making false statements to Congress. He vowed to plead not guilty.
In the gap between briefings, Democrats took control of the House of Representatives. They made their new majority status known in shutdown negotiations, as well as by calling on Cohen to publicly testify before the House Oversight Committee.
Earlier, retired Gen. James Mattis announced that he would step down as Trump's defense secretary in February. Mattis, who was among the most well-liked officials in Trump's Cabinet, revealed in a letter to Trump that he was stepping down over his disagreements with Trump.
Mattis' resignation came shortly after Trump announced his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. That initial plan to begin withdrawal quickly was softened later, though Trump insisted at the time that the plan had not changed.