No Surprise: ABC’s Stephanopoulos Lobs Softballs at WH Chief of Staff, Fox’s Wallace Presses

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough appeared on four of the five major Sunday morning talk shows in advance of President Obama’s final State of the Union on Tuesday night and, when comparing those he sat for with ABC’s This Week host George Stephanopoulos and Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, the contrast couldn’t be any more stark with the former lobbing softballs as the latter repeatedly challenged McDonough.

On ABC, McDonough faced one of the friendliest faces in former Clinton administration official and Clinton Foundation donor Stephanopoulos, who started the interview by hyping the talk point from the White House that this last address to Congress will “be non-traditional” and “[w]hat does that mean?”

Stephanopoulos let McDonough go for a few moments before asking the only follow-up of the entire segment: “Is he focusing on the long-term because he knows he can't get much out of Congress this year?”

Alluding to the President’s numerous executive actions, Stephanopoulos fretted about the possibility that it could all be undone (by Republicans): “They've also promised to undo what the President has done on climate change, on immigration, guns. How worried are you that the progress that you just cited is ephemeral?”

In a nod to the President’s push for gun control, the Good Morning America co-host tossed this question McDonough’s way so he could attack GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio: “The President pushing hard on the issue of guns. We just spoke to Senator Marco Rubio. He said if the President could take away our guns, he would. Your response?”

Contrasting this short interview with the one he did for Fox, Wallace came at McDonough from almost the beginning after an introductory question about the President’s speech with one about Article I of the Constitution and the President’s repeated usurpation of Congress:  

Well, one of the ways that he's been moving the country forward is through executive action, not working through Congress. And I want to just take a look at a list of some of the executive actions over the last 14 months. November 2014, carbon emissions deal with China, same month, temporary amnesty for 5 million illegal immigrants. December 2014, normalized relations with Cuba. July, 2015, Iran nuclear deal. December 2015, Paris climate deal. This week, tightened gun controls. Mr. McDonough, whatever happened to Article I of the Constitution which says, all legislative powers herein granted should be vested in a Congress of the United States?

Unwilling to discuss the matter, McDonough ignored Wallace’s premise (much to his dismay) and so Wallace shot back: “But he did it on his own. He didn't do what the Constitution says, which is observe Article I, that all those legislative powers reside in the Congress.”

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Eventually, the Fox News Sunday host declared: “[B]ut the Constitution doesn’t say, well, all legislative powers are — are vested in the Congress unless they don't act, in which case the President can do whatever he wants. That — it doesn't say that.”

Wallace stuck to this idea of the executive and legislative branches on the topic of the administration’s desire to close Guantanamo Bay (that led to much the same result with fireworks between the two): “But Congress has repeatedly prohibited him from transferring prisoners from Guantanamo to the United States. And, in fact, just this November, the president signed a defense bill which barred him again. Question, why isn't that the end of the argument?”

After a third sparing of the Iran deal and the latest provocations by the Iranians that have gone without punishment, Wallace concluded the interview by thanking McDonough “for answering some questions and skillfully not answering some of the other ones.”

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is the Managing Editor of NewsBusters for the Media Research Center