White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer continued Wednesday with trying to repair any damage done to President Donald Trump and himself by a flubbed comparison he attempted the day before about Syria’s leader and Adolf Hitler.
Spicer said he is asking “for folks’ forgiveness” after initially contending that the aircraft-delivered gas attack on Syrian citizens blamed on the country’s President Bashar Assad was somehow worse than Hitler’s use of gas chambers to murder thousands of Jews in World War II, including German Jews. He said the incident was “really is painful” on a personal and professional level.
“I sought people’s forgiveness because I screwed up,” Spicer said during an event at the Newseum. He repeated that even trying to make such a comparison was a mistake — he dubbed it “inexcusable and reprehensible” — and said he is trying to “own it.”
Spicer noted that his misstep, which drew calls for his firing from Democratic lawmakers and Jewish groups, came during what is a holy week for both Jews and Christians, which he said only “compounds that kind of mistake.”
It “really is painful for myself to know that I did something like that,” he said. “That, obviously, was not my intention. … There is no comparing atrocities.”
On a professional level, “I think I’ve let the president down,” Spicer said, adding that Trump has had an “unbelievable” few weeks after a summit with his Chinese counterpart, Justice Neil Gorsuch joining the Supreme Court, and last week’s airstrike in Syria.
He said he failed Tuesday because the role of the press secretary is to “amplify” such things rather than “distract” from them.
Tuesday’s flub came as Spicer was responding to a question during the daily White House briefing about Russia’s relationship to Assad and the support the Syrian government has gotten from President Vladimir Putin.
American officials have said Assad killed dozens of his own people using chemical weapons. In response, Trump ordered a Tomahawk missile strike on a Syrian air base on Thursday.
The ‘H’ word ...
“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said.
Later, a reporter asked him to clarify.
“I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said.
But Hitler did use chemical agents on some of his own people: German Jews.
“The Nazi regime brought an industrial approach to mass murder of its citizens and others it sought to exterminate,” the nonpartisan fact checking organization Polifact wrote Tuesday afternoon. “The construction of gas chambers and the use of deadly gas was fundamental to that strategy.”
As Spicer struggled to walk back the misstatement, he did acknowledge the Nazi death camps where the Nazis slaughtered thousands of European Jews using chemical agents.
“He brought them into the Holocaust centers, and I understand that,” Spicer said.
Spicer continued, but stammered as he attempted to correct course. He then inexplicably seemed to contend that deadly chemicals released from planes is somehow more barbaric than doing so in gas chambers.
“But I was saying in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent — into the middle of town,” the on-his-heels White House press secretary said. “It was brought — so, the use of it — and I appreciate the clarification. That was not the intent.”
In a written statement made just after the briefing ended, Spicer tried to explain and walk back his remarks. But it wasn’t enough for Democrats including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said Trump should immediately relieve him of his duties.
“Sean Spicer must be fired, and the president must immediately disavow his spokesman’s statements,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “Either he is speaking for the president, or the president should have known better than to hire him.”
But Spicer was back on the job representing the White House on Wednesday, and has vowed to return to the podium for a daily briefing on Thursday. Trump, whose son-in-law Jared Kushner is Jewish and whose daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism before marrying Kushner, has yet to publicly weigh in on the incident.
Speaking of Kushner, who is Trump’s senior White House adviser, Spicer attempted to downplay reports of a feud between him and Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist.
“A lot of it is overblown,” Spicer said of media reports about the Kushner-Bannon bickering. He said it is “healthy” and productive for the White House senior staff to have “a spirited” and “very serious debate” about policy matters as the president mulls a final decision.
The American people are more concerned with Trump and his top aides making their lives better and the country safer than that “somebody’s getting along,” Spicer said.
Trump confirmed in an interview with the New York Post on Tuesday that he did indeed order his son-in-law and Bannon to work through their differences.
Yet, he signaled to the Post that he is mostly siding with Kushner, leading to speculation that Bannon’s days in the White House might be numbered.
“I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump told his hometown tabloid newspaper. “I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing ‘crooked Hillary.’”
“Steve is a good guy,” the president said, “but I told them to straighten it out or I will.”