Trump administration officials play defence over backlash to his comments about NFL and NBA players

  • Steve mnuchinABCTreasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on ‘This Week.’

    On Friday, President Donald Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who kneel during the national anthem.

  • Players, owners, and star athletes from other sports defended their First Amendment rights on Saturday.
  • Trump continued his attacks through Sunday, and administration officials defended them.

Several members of President Donald Trump’s team were booked earlier this week for interviews during the Sunday political talk shows to discuss the president’s legislative agenda.

But after the president spent the weekend criticising National Football League players who kneel or sit for the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial inequality, administration officials were instead forced to defend the president’s inflammatory statements.

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin argued that the NFL “has all types of rules,” and that Trump was saying owners should “have a rule that players should have to stand in respect for the national anthem.”

“They can do free speech on their own time, but this is about respect for the military and the first responders and the country,” Mnuchin said.

Host Martha Raddatz pressed the treasury secretary, asking if it was appropriate or helpful when Trump called former San Francisco 49’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick a “son of a b—-,” at a rally on Friday for kneeling during the national anthem.

“The president can use whatever language he wants to use,” Mnuchin said. “The issue is the topic, ok? I agree with the president — why does the NFL have all these other rules that they enforce, that they fine players? This is about respect for the military, the first responders.”

“Is it not about the First Amendment, is it not about their First Amendment rights?” Raddatz asked.

“No, it’s not. They have the right to have their First Amendment off the field,” Mnuchin replied.

Other officials hoping to discuss the president’s legislative agenda also faced questions over his controversial statements.

White House legislative affairs director Marc Short defended Trump’s comments, saying the president was “standing with the vast majority of Americans who believe that our flag should be respected.”

“There are high school coaches across America today who are punished for leading their players in prayer. And, yet, when an NFL player takes a knee, somehow that player is presumed to be a martyr for a social cause,” Short told host Chuck Todd on “Meet The Press.”

Short continued:

“There are ways to express concerns about social causes, Chuck. But there are also generations of Americans who have fought and died for the freedoms we enjoy that are represented in that flag and our national anthem. And I think the president’s saying that yes, players have a First Amendment right. But NFL owners also have a right. And that right is that these players represent their teams. And if the owners want to get rid of them, they should be allowed to get rid of them.”

Short also denied that Trump’s comments on Friday and Saturday were an attempt distracting from his most recent failure to pass a healthcare reform bill, and said Trump believes it is his role to improve race relations.

“It’s also important to note that we had an historic election in 2008, electing the first African American president. But race relations didn’t improve under his tenure, either,” Short said. “So, we are anxious to engage in that conversation. I think you’ll see the president taking action on that.”

Todd said later in the show that the White House wasn’t happy when “Meet The Press” told officials the show would be focusing on Trump’s sports comments.

Trump’s statements on Friday, and subsequent decision to disinvite Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry on Saturday, set off a wave of criticism from NFL and NBA athletes and team owners alike.

NBA star LeBron James called Trump a “bum” on Twitter for uninviting Curry, who wasn’t planning on attending, while the Warriors themselves said they would not visit the White House.

For his part, the president doubled down for the second day on Sunday, blaming recent NFL ratings and attendance on “boring games” and players’ national anthem protests.

Watch the clip of Mnuchin via ABC:

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