White House press secretary Sean Spicer and NBC’s Peter Alexander had an intense back and forth during Monday’s press briefing.
Alexander’s line of questioning homed in on President Donald Trump’s credibility, after Spicer relayed a quote from Trump about the positive February jobs report at Friday’s press briefing. Trump had told Spicer that the reports “may have been phony in the past, but” were “very real now.”
Trump slammed the validity of jobs reports on the trail and after being elected as “phony” and “totally fiction.”
“You spoke on behalf of the president quoting him on the jobs report on Friday,” Alexander said. “You said they may have been phony in the past but it’s very real now.”
“They are very real now,” Spicer cut in.
“The question is, when should Americans trust the president?” Alexander asked. “Is it phony or real when he says President Obama was wiretapping?”
Trump set the political world ablaze when he tweeted earlier this month, without evidence, that Obama had ordered illegal wiretaps on Trump Tower phones. Neither hen or the White House has provided evidence to back up his claims in their aftermath.
“He doesn’t really think that … President Obama went up and tapped his phone personally,” Spicer said.
“He suggested that,” Alexander shot back.
“But I think there’s no question that the Obama administration, that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 election,” Spicer added. “That is a widely reported activity that occurred back then. The president used air-quotes around the word wiretapping in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities.”
Spicer claimed that “many news outlets” reported this during the election cycle — and that the same outlets are now asking for proof from Trump.
No outlets had reported that Obama ordered an illegal wiretap of Trump’s or his campaign aides’ phones prior to the election, however.
Alexander moved on to the Congressional Budget Office’s score for the American Health Care Act, the House Republicans’ plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. The NBC reporter asked if Trump viewed past CBO reports as “real” but now thought they were “fake” as related to the healthcare plan he hopes to pass through Congress.
Spicer said the CBO projection for the ACA was wildly off in terms of how many additional people would be insured by the landmark healthcare law.
“So the only point, Peter, is to understand that if you’re looking to get a bull’s eye, accurate prediction, as to where it’s going, the CBO was off by more than half last time,” he said. “So … this is not about what my understanding or my belief of the CBO is. The last time they did this, they were wildly off and the number [insured] keeps declining.”
“I guess the question is, when can we trust the president when he says something is phony and when he says it’s real?” Alexander responded, and the exchange started to become somewhat testy.
“Hold on, hold on, you asked a question about the CBO and now you’re conflating it with a question about the president?” Spicer said.
“When he says something, can we trust that it’s real?” Alexander asked.
“Yes!” Spicer cut in and exclaimed.
“Or should we assume that it’s phony,” Alexander said over Spicer. “Well … “
“But you just said it’s real?” Spicer asked in response.
“How can we believe that it’s real when you told us it was phony then but now it’s real?” Alexander said, adding, “The president said the numbers were phony then but they are very real now. So how can we trust anything he says that he won’t later say actually it was the opposite?”
Spicer said the point about the jobs report was centered on the unemployment rate, which fluctuates based on which calculation is being used to determine it. Going back to the CBO, Spicer said “that’s not a question of our credibility, it’s a question of theirs.”
Alexander then tried to ask his question in the shortest form he could.
“Whenever the president says something, we can trust it to be real?” he said.
“If he’s not joking, of course!” Spicer shot back, to which Alexander asked “how do we know he’s joking.
Spicer’s response: when he speaks authoritatively, he’s speaking “as the president of the United States.”
The exchange wrapped up with Alexander asking if Trump believes 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in this past year’s presidential election, as Trump has claimed, or if he was just joking.
“He does believe it!” Spicer said.
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