Amid White House tensions, briefing focuses on MS-13 gang work

MS-13 take down

As controversy engulfs the White House, new press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders focused half of Thursday's briefing on the administration's latest efforts to combat violence perpetrated by MS-13 gang members.

With a White House under fire for President Trump's surprise announcement to ban transgender troops from the military, brewing tensions between chief of staff Reince Priebus and new communications director Anthony Scaramucci, and the president's Twitter attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Sessions is heading to El Salvador for meetings on MS-13, immigration and drugs, and Mr. Trump is scheduled to give a speech about eradicating the gang in New York Friday.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Wed., July 26, 2017. Reuters

On Thursday, Sanders handed the podium off to Robert Hur, principal associate deputy attorney general and Thomas Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, on the heels of a Justice Department announcement that Salvadoran prosecutors charged 113 MS-13 gang members in El Salvador earlier in the day.

"The attorney general has answered the president's call and we at the Justice Department are moving forward aggressively against MS-13," Hur told reporters.

But Sanders, who reminded reporters to stay on the topic, couldn't keep them in line for long.

For the second day in a row, the White House had no answer for what will happen to transgender troops currently serving in the military. Sanders repeated what she said on Wednesday, that the White House is working out the details with the Pentagon. Asked whether the president's sudden announcement distracts from other important agenda, she said Mr. Trump can walk and chew gum at the same time, a line she has offered before in times of controversy.

Sanders paused before answering whether the president has confidence in Priebus, whose role seems to be overshadowed by the entrance of Scaramucci. Sanders declined to answer.

"Look, I think I've addressed this question when it comes to staffing and personnel many times, that if the president doesn't, then he'll make that decision," Sanders said. "We all serve at the pleasure of the president. And if he gets to a place where that isn't the case, he'll let you know."