Michelle Wolf, comedian and host of Saturday night's White House Correspondents' Dinner, made a splash in Washington, D.C., with an irreverent routine at the annual gathering that included sharp barbs directed at Trump administration officials, members of Congress and the news media itself. Her speech hit everyone from Paul Ryan to Mike Pence and a notably absent President Trump, but it was her comments about White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that elicited uncomfortable silence in the room and immediate ire on social media.
Many commentators thought her lines about Sanders included inappropriate jabs about her physical appearance. Sanders' father, former governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, slammed the speech for celebrating "bullying, vulgarity and hate," adding that his daughter handled the jabs "professionally but I pray her kids never see that."
New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, whose coverage makes her a frequent thorn in Mr. Trump's side, said Sanders "absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance," adding that her measured reaction was "impressive."
MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski agreed with Haberman's assessment, saying "watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable."
Others, however, disagreed, saying Wolf's criticism of Sanders didn't center on her appearance.
So what exactly did Wolf say? Here's the relevant portion from her routine:
And, of course, we have Sarah Huckabee Sanders. We're graced with Sarah's presence tonight. I have to say I'm a little star-struck. I love you as Aunt Lydia in "The Handmaid's Tale."
Mike Pence, if you haven't seen it, you would love it.
Every time Sarah steps up to the podium, I get excited because I'm not really sure what we're going to get: you know, a press briefing, a bunch of lies or divided into softball teams. "It's shirts and skins, and this time, don't be such a little b----, Jim Acosta."
I actually really like Sarah. I think she's very resourceful. Like, she burns facts, and then she uses the ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like, maybe she's born with it; maybe it's lies.
It's probably lies.
And I'm never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders. You know, is it Sarah Sanders? Is Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Is it Cousin Huckabee? Is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders? Like, what's Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh, I know: Aunt Coulter."
On Sunday, Wolf defended her comments, tweeting that her jokes were about what she called Sanders' "despicable behavior" and not necessarily her looks. She said she was simply "compliment[ing] her eye makeup and her ingenuity of materials."
Sanders has been the butt of someone else's jokes in the past, including jabs about her looks. In May 2017, amid rumors that Sanders would take over for then-press secretary Sean Spicer, "Saturday Night Live" focused took on the subject with comedian Aidy Bryant portraying Sanders.
"For those of you who don't know me yet, my father is Mike Huckabee and my mother is a big southern hamburger," Bryant-as-Sanders told the press pool in a deep southern drawl during the skit. CNN's Chris Cuomo at the time said SNL was "fat-shaming" the press secretary and was "mean" to Sanders. Sanders' father also defended his daughter, telling Fox Business Network that the portrayal was "sexist and misogynist."