White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer spent around 90 minutes Monday afternoon taking questions from reporters on immigration, China, and bilateral trade policy, among other pressing issues on President Trump’s agenda. But it was the topic of crowd size at last Friday’s inauguration that brought out the most animation in Spicer, who went on an extended and emotive explanation about how “demoralizing” and “frustrating” it is for Trump and his supporters to fend off constant criticism.
“The narrative and the default narrative is always negative,” Spicer said in response to a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta, the reporter Trump famously sparred with at his last press conference. Acosta asked why Spicer and Trump felt it necessary to address the subject of crowd size on Saturday. Spicer described how difficult it is to have doubters and critics trying to “undercut the enormous support [Trump] has.”
“It’s unbelievably frustrating,” he said. But it’s worth noting that this diatribe about negativity and complaints about undermining came from a man who works for Trump, who spent years trying to argue that President Obama was born in Kenya and thus not a legitimate president. And the desperate pleas for an “attaboy” when Trump succeeds brought to mind for some on social media the kind of person the president’s biggest fans would dub a “snowflake”:
The discussion of inaugural crowds also involved Spicer reasserting his claims that Trump’s was the most-watched inauguration of all time. “It’s unquestionable,” he said, referring to Nielsen ratings and livestreams. He also tried to recast a statement he made Saturday, when he said, “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.” While that sure sounds like he’s saying it was the largest audience “in person” as well as the largest audience “around the globe,” Spicer suggested he was combining those two audiences to come up with the “largest” combined viewership.
Asked if he always intends to tell the truth in the briefing room, Spicer said that he does, adding that the truth is not easy to agree on. “I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts,” he said. “If we make a mistake, we’ll correct them.”
Spicer was given an opportunity to do that when asked about Trump’s speech at the CIA Saturday, where the president blamed the media for creating a rift between him and the intelligence community. That’s clearly false and evidence for it is right there on Trump’s Twitter feed. But instead of walking that back, Spicer deflected and began talking about agents “hooting and hollering” during the president’s visit to CIA headquarters to prove that he had support in the agency. Asked about a CBS report that said the cheering came from about 40 people who came with Trump and sat in the first three rows, Spicer said it wasn’t true. He said around ten people traveled with the president to Langley and none of them sat in the first three rows.
On policy questions, Spicer moved quickly and told many reporters he’d have to get back to them with answers. Among his notable statements, though, was that “no decision” has been made on plans to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Regarding Trump’s remarks Saturday that the U.S. may get “another chance” at Iraq’s oil, Spicer said Trump won’t take “options off the table.” He also announced that the White House briefing room will soon be home to four new Skype terminals allowing reporters to participate remotely.