WASHINGTON – What a difference a few days makes.
If the bulk of the major media had been experiencing grief over the election of President Trump, it appears as though the White House press corps has reached the stage of acceptance.
Acceptance that Trump is the president, Sean Spicer is the White House press secretary, and that’s the way it will be.
A truce, of sorts. And a largely amiable one at that.
It was just last Wednesday that the establishment press appeared to be in an all-out war with the White House.
When President Trump used a press conference to attack what he called fake news coming from some major news outlets, reporters complained bitterly and launched fiery exchanges with the commander in chief.
(Although, as WND reported, the president himself seemed more amused than aggravated, with Rush Limbaugh remarking, “Folks, he’s enjoying this like I’ve never seen a president enjoy a press conference. He’s toying with these people.”)
Trump then followed up with a tweet on Friday that read: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
Chris Wallace of Fox News took umbrage with that on his Sunday show, complaining to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, “When the president says we’re the enemy of the American people, it makes it sounds like if you are going against him, you are going against the country.”
However, as Limbaugh pointed out on his Monday radio show: “‘The press is the enemy of the people,’ is not what he said. … He was talking about a subset of the media … He was talking about those elements of the media that continue to report things that aren’t true.”
And, immediately upon assuming his duties as White House press secretary a month ago, Sean Spicer’s initial encounters with the press corps at the daily briefings were so combative, some in the mainstream media wondered if he would last long in the job, while many Trump supporters cheered the refusal of the administration’s spokesman, as they saw it, to kowtow to the mandarins of the Fourth Estate.
How things have changed in those four weeks.
Tuesday’s was the first daily press briefing in a while, owing to the president’s travel to Florida and the federal holiday Monday.
Spicer began on a friendly and collegial note, saying he had missed the press, evoking a ripple of gentle laughter.
And that set the tone.
The daily White House briefings appear to have settled into a groove of a mostly cordial, calm and professional mutual respect.
Reporters and Spicer alike seemed relaxed and friendly, while always staying on point, pursuing their own agendas and topics of interest.
There was a sense that although most of the press and the administration are largely on opposite sides of the fence, professionally, at least, everyone was in this together. After all, everyone was crammed into one very, very, very small room – and they were a captive audience. Just seven rows of seven seats. And packed to the walls with standing room only.
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t the occasional flare up of intensity. On a few occasions, Spicer refused to roll over in the face of certain assumptions embedded into questions.
One particularly striking, and somewhat bizarre, instance occurred as reporter April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks asked what the president had gained from his tour that morning of the National Museum of African American History & Culture.
“And the reason why I’m asking this,” she added, “is because when he was candidate Trump, he said things like, you know, ‘We made this country,’ meaning white America, not necessarily black.”
His voice rising, a visibly shocked Spicer emphatically replied: “I don’t know why you would say that. What do you mean–?”
Ryan insisted: “No, no, no. He said that. I heard him say that.”
Mediate’s Alex Griswold later reported, “I searched up and down for any evidence that candidate Trump ever intimated that white America specifically deserved credit for building America, or that he ever said something like ‘we made this country’ in a context where ‘we’ obviously referred to white Americans.”
He concluded, “I came up short,” and, “Given that this would’ve certainly caused an immediate uproar and would’ve been seized on by the Clinton campaign, I have to conclude that my memory isn’t failing and it never happened.”
Instead of continuing to take issue with the apparently fake quote, Spicer simply proceeded to list the ways the president was deeply moved and overwhelmed at what he saw at the museum, particularly the exhibit on slavery.
He said the president found the experience “very eye-opening and powerful.”
Spicer also relayed how proud and deeply moved the president was to be at the side of Dr. Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, as he saw his own exhibit in the Smithsonian for the first time.
The very first question of the day also contained an assumption that Spicer rejected. He was asked if the president regretted calling the press the “enemy of the people.”
Echoing what Limbaugh had said previously, Spicer pointed out that the president was referring only to “certain outlets” in the media and their tendencies to “not be completely accurate and fair in reporting what’s going on.”
Spicer also shot down an assertion made by HBO’s Bill Maher, and repeated by a reporter, that claimed the president was briefed on North Korea in front of dinner guests at his Mar a Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
An incredulous Spicer said just because the president was photographed looking at a piece of paper at the dinner table does not mean it was a briefing paper. It wasn’t, he said. He chided a “disbelieving” press for jumping to such rash conclusions.
The press secretary said Trump had been briefed on North Korea, both before and after dinner. But certainly not during dinner. And, of course, not in front of guests.
The biggest news of the day concerned memos issued by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to implement changes in border enforcement ordered by Trump. They included a directive to hire 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, agents and 5,000 Border Patrol agents.
The memos put an end to the practice of “catch and release” by law enforcement and specify categories of illegal immigrants targeted for deportation.
The memos also authorized the beginning of work to complete a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Asked to further explain the memos, the main point Spicer returned to again and again was that the objective was to carry out the laws already on the books.
The orders were needed, he said, to provide clarification as to what the priorities were for ICE and Border Patrol officers, and what they should actually do, because there was so much confusion created by the Obama administration’s actions carving out exemptions for certain classes of illegal immigrants.
Spicer said agents had had their hands tied with so many rules issued by the Obama administration.
The priority, he stressed repeatedly, was to catch and deport those illegal immigrants who pose a threat to public safety and those who have committed crimes in addition to entering the country unlawfully.
The new order “lays out the exact procedures for that subset group of people. That’s it,” he said.
A reporter asked if that meant all others in the country illegally should not worry.
“No,” replied Spicer. “It means we are focusing our resources on our priority.”
He added, “Remember, there is no right to be in this country illegally.”
However, when asked what would become of the millions of illegal immigrants in the country without criminal records, Spicer noted the president has said before he has “a big heart and understands their plight.”
Spicer said the administration will consider their situation later as priorities evolve.
He also promised a new executive order was coming soon that will institute a travel ban from seven countries rife with terrorism. Spicer predicted it will stand because the Justice Department has been tailoring the new order to make sure it will fit what the courts require and recognizes their concerns.
At the same time, the administration will not rescind the original executive order instituting a travel ban, now tied up in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Spicer was confident that original order ultimately will be upheld by the courts and the administration will prevail.
When asked if Trump would send any terrorists captured overseas to the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Spicer said the president will continue to refuse to say what he will or will not do in that regard. But he reiterated that Trump has said the prison is important.
Spicer was asked if newly appointed national security adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster will be more “hawkish” toward Russia. The press secretary replied the new adviser will be “great,” but it is the president who will decide the course of relations with Russia.
Spicer said the administration will try to strike a deal with Russia on common grounds of interest, such as expanding the two nations’ economies and fighting ISIS, but he suggested it won’t be easy because others have tried before and failed.
Spicer said the president found the wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers “horrible and painful.”
A reporter noted a statement from the Anne Frank Center had accused the administration of xenophobia, and the reporter asked why the president didn’t condemn anti-Semitism in even stronger terms.
Spicer said the president has said time and again that the U.S. must root out such prejudice and evil. And he said Trump will continue to speak out against anti-Semitism, but that it will be his actions that will ultimately convince people of his beliefs and commitment to eliminating that evil.
An exasperated Spicer also noted that no matter how many times the president condemns prejudice, for some, “it is never good enough.”