White House responds to Bush and Obama criticising the state of the US: They weren't talking about Trump

  • White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama weren’t criticising Donald Trump in their Thursday comments.
  • She was asked repeatedly about what the two presidents said.
  • Both Bush and Obama made waves on Thursday after they lambasted the state of US politics.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at Friday’s press briefing that recent criticism from Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama was not directed at President Donald Trump.

Both Bush and Obama lambasted US political culture in separate Thursday speeches, drawing in plenty of attention despite the fact that neither mentioned Trump by name.

Sanders was first asked about the comments from the past two presidents when a reporter mentioned a comment Bush made at his Thursday speech about how “bigotry seems emboldened” and “our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

Sanders, seizing on the last half of the statement, blamed the press for that sentiment.

“I think if anybody is pushing a lot of fabricated things right now, it’s coming from the news media,” she said. “And we would certainly agree with that sentiment.”

“What about the bigotry?” another reporter shouted out. Sanders, however, did not answer, instead saying she already called on another reporter.

The speeches were brought up later in the briefing as well, when a reporter asked when Bush and Trump last spoke.

“I’m not sure the last time he spoke to President Bush,” Sanders said. “But it’s our understanding that those comments were not directed towards the president. And in fact, when these two individuals, both past presidents, have criticised the president, they have done so by name and very rarely do it without being pretty direct as both of them tend to be, so we will take them at their word that these actions and comments were not directed towards the president.”

The pair of presidents made their comments at two Thursday events separated by less than 20 miles. First was Bush, the most recent former Republican president. He blasted the state of US politics in his most pointed commentary since Trump took office in January.

“In recent decades, public confidence in our institutions has declined,” the 43rd president said at an event in New York hosted by his namesake institute. “Our governing class has often been paralysed in the face of obvious and pressing needs. The American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy. Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts. Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

Later that day, in nearby Newark, New Jersey, Obama hit the campaign trail for the first time since leaving office, criticising the “politics of division” that “we see now.”

“What we can’t have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before that dates back centuries,” Obama said at an event for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy in New Jersey. “Some of the things we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That’s folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century.”

It’s long-standing tradition for past presidents and vice presidents to provide a grace period for a new administration, during which they do not provide commentary critical of the current White House. While both Bush and Obama did not mention Trump, the criticism of US politics from both men is unprecedented at this young stage of a presidency.

It is rare for former presidents to criticise an administration at any point, even past the so-called grace period.

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