Presidential press secretary Scott McClellan today told WND President Bush, in his comments at the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, was not comparing Jesus with Santa Claus in remarks he made.

McClellan sent WND an e-mail about the issue yesterday afternoon after the newssite had asked him at Tuesday’s press briefing about the Bush comments.

As WorldNetDaily reported, flanked by the first lady, as well as members of Congress and the Cabinet, Bush told the public at last week’s event: “The lighting of the National Christmas Tree is one of the great traditions in our nation’s capital. Each year, we gather here to celebrate the season of hope and joy – and to remember the story of one humble life that lifted the sights of humanity. Santa, thanks for coming. Glad you made it.”

The remark received a few chuckles from those in attendance, as Bush continued to speak to a Santa Claus figure, stating, “I know you’ve got a lot of commitments this time of year. By the way, we have a lot of chimneys at the White House if you’re looking for something to do.”

In response to WND’s question at yesterday’s briefing, McClellan stated, “The president meant exactly what he said.”

The e-mail several hours later said, “You were wrong when you suggested the president said Jesus was Santa,” adding, “They were two separate thoughts.”

Today, McClellan further clarified the issue, even joking that “a little elf” had sent WND the e-mail.

Here is the exchange:

WND: Scott, just one question today. At yesterday’s briefing, the transcript records my quoting the president in his saying, “Each year we gather here to celebrate the season of hope and joy and to remember the story of one humble life that lifted the sights of humanity. Santa, thanks for coming.” When I asked you WorldNetDaily’s question, will the president apologize to Christians offended by his referring to Jesus as Santa, you responded, “The president meant exactly what he said, Les.” But last night, I received an e-mail which had your name on it, which said there were two separate – (laughter.)

McCLELLAN: Keep working on my e-mails, sending you things.

WND: There were two separate thoughts –

McCLELLAN: Must have been a little – must have been a little elf. (Laughter.)

WND: Well, wait a minute, let me just tell you what was in the e-mail –

McCLELLAN: Go ahead. I want to give you the stage.

WND: – which it said, there were –

McCLELLAN: I think I know where you’re going with this.

WND: – two separate thoughts – after he spoke about the meaning of Christmas, he then recognized Santa. And first of all, I want to ask, was that your e-mail? And was it your final and conclusive answer rather than, the president meant –

McCLELLAN: Well, it was my e-mail. He wasn’t, as you phrased it yesterday, comparing the two. Santa was at the event for the children that were there, and I don’t think you want to take Santa away from all those children.

WND: Oh, no, no, I just want to clarify that the president did not mean exactly what he said, and your good correction.

McCLELLAN: No, the president – that’s what the president was saying in his remarks. He was changing topics in his remarks. He stated the meaning of Christmas –

WND: But you didn’t say he was changing topics in his remarks, yesterday, did you?

McCLELLAN: Les, I actually did not attend the event. I looked back at the remarks after the briefing to see exactly what it was –

WND: But it’s all clarified now.

McCLELLAN: – but what the president said stands.

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Bush’s Jesus joke: ‘Santa, thanks for coming’

Spokesman stands by Jesus-Santa reference

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A White House Christmas

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