White House insists public can trust Trump’s words – Politico
President Donald Trump should be taken literally and seriously, but only “if he’s not joking,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer explained Monday.
Spicer did not say how to tell what is and isn’t a joke.
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During a daily briefing in which he tried to parse, interpret and explain several of Trump’s recent tweets and statements, Spicer at first evaded a reporter’s question—perhaps the central question facing the new administration—about whether the public can trust what the president says, given his habit of making controversial accusations without any evidence, selectively recognizing government data and news reports that boost him, and broadly dismissing all that do not.
The president’s penchant for making extraordinary claims risks limiting his credibility on matters foreign and domestic. With Trump just beginning his first major legislative lift, an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill, his words have a tangible effect—on a skeptical public and on Republicans on Capitol Hill and outside stakeholders invested in the lawmaking process but struggling to decode often contradictory messages.
Monday’s question, posed by NBC’s Peter Alexander, arose from the administration’s dismissal of the Congressional Budget Office’s January report estimating that millions of Americans stand to lose healthcare coverage under the GOP’s prior Obamacare repeal plan—and from Spicer’s own acknowledgement last Friday that Trump’s willingness to accept the government’s economic data is political.
Spicer’s response, which followed a question as to why the president now accepts monthly job growth figures that he routinely dismissed during Barack Obama’s presidency, was partially obscured by a moment of levity. “I talked to the president prior to this,” Spicer told reporters at Friday’s briefing. “And he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.’”
Some reporters laughed.
Alexander, however, was determined to return to the statement on Monday and began by asking: “When should Americans trust the president? Should they trust the president? Is it phony or real when he says that [he] was wiretapped?”
Spicer focused on only the last question about Trump’s March 4 tweets accusing Obama of wiretapping him in a “Nixon/Watergate” scheme — which the White House has been unable to prove with any evidence — by conceding, for the first time, that the president hadn’t meant his words to be entirely taken literally.
“He doesn’t really think that President Obama went up and tapped his phone personally,” Spicer said.
When Alexander asked Spicer why Trump was willing to trust the CBO’s projections about Obamacare three years ago but no longer trusts its forecasts pertaining to the GOP replacement bill the White House supports, the press secretary defended the president’s position without commenting on the inherent conflict.
After another lengthy back and forth, Alexander crystallized his question in a way Spicer could no longer dodge.
“The bottom line is—the question that you still have not answered is—can you say affirmatively that whenever the president says something, we can trust it be real?” Alexander asked.
“If he’s not joking, of course,” Spicer said. “Every time that he speaks authoritatively, he’s speaking as president of the United States.”
Alexander countered another controversial and unfounded claim the president has made about voter fraud: “When he says 3 to 5 million Americans voted illegally, was he joking or does he believe that?”
“Yes, and he still believes that,” Spicer said. “He does believe it.”
On Monday, two hours after the briefing ended, the CBO released its score of the GOP Obamacare repeal bill, projecting that 24 million Americans would lose their health insurance by the year 2026 if the legislation were enacted.
At the briefing, Spicer attempted to preemptively question the accuracy of CBO projections. “The last time they did this, they were wildly off,” he said.