Staffers at the Trump White House go out with either a bang or a whimper — and with this week’s announcement that Sarah Huckabee Sanders is ending her (relatively) enduring tenure as White House press secretary, add one more to the whimper pile. Without the flustered, combative spirit of Sean Spicer or the foulmouthed Trumpian id of Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci, Sanders was a less-than-flashy target for Saturday Night Live. Still, SNL’s writers and cast member Aidy Bryant took aim at the way in which Sanders weaponized information or spun falsehoods with a dead-eyed sneer. While this impression won’t go into the books like Melissa McCarthy’s Spicey, Bryant took on the challenge with aplomb and delivered a handful of memorable moments. Here they are:
Sean Spicer Returns
After filling in for White House press briefings on a couple of occasions, Sanders is offered as an alternative to the snippy Spicer. “For those who don’t know me,” she says, all drawl, “my father is Mike Huckabee and my mother is a big southern hamburger.” This really is McCarthy’s sketch as Spicer, but it’s a little haunting now to remember that Sanders once seemed a reasonable, rational replacement for Spicer. One of the reporters in this sketch petitions her to do the job, calling her “articulate and charming.” Um.
The Chaos President Cold Open
Many of Bryant’s Sanders appearances on SNL featured her in the show’s cold opens, and given her stoic, unflappable demeanor, she usually plays a calm counterpoint to anyone else onstage — in this case, the blustering Trump (Alec Baldwin). As Trump talks about why chaos helps consolidate his power, loyalist Sanders calmly agrees to peddle that chaos as stability. As to why people listen to her, she gives this little encapsulation of her career at that point: “Folks listen to me because I’m no-nonsense but I’m all nonsense.”
Trump Doctor Press Conference Cold Open
Much of this press conference revolves around Trump’s chief medical adviser Ronny Jackson (Beck Bennett), who takes the stage to review details of the president’s supposed physical and mental fitness. Before he does so, Sanders steps up to laud the Women’s March — which, she tells us, marks Trump’s amazing first year in office — and to talk about the proposed border wall. “It will be paid for by Mexico with U.S. taxpayer money,” she says.
Michael Cohen Wire Tap Cold Open
This cold open is a really expansive one, with a huge cast of characters, including not just Cohen (Ben Stiller) but also Trump (Alec Baldwin), Melania (Cecily Strong), Jared and Ivanka (Jimmy Fallon and Scarlett Johansson), Omarosa (Leslie Jones), Rudy Giuliani (Kate McKinnon) and the real Stormy Daniels. Even with all of this swirling around, Sanders has a nice and very telling moment somewhere in the middle of things. “I have lost all credibility,” she says. “Did you lie to me about the Stormy Daniels affair?” When Trump replies in the affirmative, she says, “Just as long as we’re on the same page. I’m good to go, see you Monday!”
This commercial parody answers a question directed specifically to Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “How do you sleep at night?” (SHS doesn’t just hear it occasionally, confessing that “people scream it at me all day long.”) The answer is HuckaPM, a sleep aid strong enough for anyone trying to sell the president’s whoppers. It’s got not only melatonin but also quaaludes and something Michael Jackson’s doctor called “one-and-dones.” And it’s effective enough that it knocks Sanders out even if she falls face-first from the bed or crashes through her second-story railing onto the ground. The best aspect of this sketch may be the chance for Bryant to do some genuine pratfalls.
While still early in her tenure, this take on Sanders is the most incisive. This press conference highlights the WHPS’s adversarial relationship with the journalists with whom she is meant to communicate, all while repurposing Demi Lovato’s anthem “Confident.” Sanders casually dismisses queries about Trump’s sexual harassment, uses a maze on a McDonald’s place mat to explain taxes, and avoids a question about a John Kelly gaffe by describing history as “a bottle of moments filled with time and horses and the invention of the telephone.” It’s a great distillation of Sanders’s perspective, style, and substance, and gives Bryant more room to really play.
Don’t Stop Us Now Cold Open
Another big ensemble piece, this sketch shows an essentially unchallenged and unhinged Trump White House celebrating another year and looking forward to 2019. While Sanders is certainly a supporting role here, it’s also likely her final appearance on SNL. (Unless, of course, she runs for governor of Arkansas or is invited to do some cutesy talk-show appearances like Spicer was.) As the cast sings alternate lyrics to the Queen hit “Don’t Stop Me Now,” Sanders also gets to deliver this silly and ominous warning: “Just try to impeach / We might even get rid of / Freedom of speech.”
Sarah Palin Advice
This sketch seems particularly pointed now as it imagines a series of Trump loyalists and other related hangers-on considering life after encounters with the president. Sarah Palin (Tina Fey) first reminds everyone that she’s not dead, it’s just that political life goes by “in the blink of a Scaramucci.” Then Kellyanne Conway (Kate McKinnon), Rex Tillerson (John Goodman), Stormy Daniels (Cecily Strong), Omarosa (Leslie Jones), and Michael Wolff (Fred Armisen) sing a version of A Chorus Line’s “What I Did for Love” alongside Sanders. Though SHS asks to be pointed toward Fox News, she does confess, “I might regret what I did for Trump / What I fibbed for Trump.”