Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sparred, withdrew, advanced, and attacked in a contentious briefing with reporters on Thursday as the White House ramps up its defense strategy six weeks away from the election.
McEnany bickered repeatedly with the press in her 25 minute briefing. The topics included a river where President Donald Trump claimed absentee ballots were found and about his comments on white supremacists.
And, in a rare backstep for the press secretary, she also apologized for making a mistake about Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s academic record.
The back-and-forths from McEnany were reminiscent of President Donald Trump’s posture at Tuesday’s presidential debate, when he repeatedly interrupted and talked over his Democratic rival Joe Biden.
McEnany acknowledged the parallels as tension rose in the room as she deflected questions on several controversies involving the president and reporters kept asking them. People talked over one another. McEnany attempted to regain order. The atmosphere grew chilly as the briefing ticked on.
Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sparred, withdrew, advanced, and attacked in a contentious briefing with reporters on Thursday
Fox News’ John Roberts pressed Kayleigh McEnany to clarify where President Trump stood on white supremacists
After the briefing, Fox News Chief White House correspondent John Roberts went on cable network to call out McEnany: ‘So stop deflecting. Stop blaming the media. I’m tired of it’
After being asked by several reporters to clarify – in simple, straight forward language – whether or not the president condemned white supremacists, she snapped back.
‘We’re not having a debate on a cable news network right now. You need to let me finish,’ she said. ‘It’s quite funny that the media goes haywire about interrupting in debates and then chooses to pursue that very same tactic themselves.’
Fox News Chief White House correspondent John Roberts, in a stunning display of anger and frustration, went on his cable news network – of which President Trump is a frequent viewer – to slam McEnany.
‘For all of you on Twitter who are hammering me for asking the question, I don’t care because it’s a question that needs to be asked and clearly the president’s Republican colleagues a mile away from here are looking for an answer for it, too. So stop deflecting. Stop blaming the media. I’m tired of it,’ he said from the White House lawn with the executive mansion visible behind him.
After his appearance, McEnany took to twitter to refer to a post from his wife, ABC News correspondent Kyra Phillips, who had questioned the president on Wednesday about his white supremacist comments in the debate.
‘@johnrobertsFox I would refer you to your wife’s reporting from 21 hours ago… accurate reporting I cited in the White House Press Briefing,’ McEnany wrote.
‘Just now: @realDonaldTrump tells me he DENOUNCES white supremacists,’ Phillips wrote.
Trump had come under fire from Biden and some members of his own party for failing to condemn white supremacists when given the chance on the debate stage.
‘I’ve always denounced any form of any of that,’ the president said Wednesday on the South Lawn of the White House before he left for Minnesota. ‘Any form of that you have to denounce.’
But additional questions were raised when the president didn’t give a straight yes or no answer.
Roberts started off Wednesday’s press briefing when he got the first question and asked: ‘If I could start off, I would like to ask you for a definitive and declarative statement without ambiguity or deflection. As the person who speaks for the president, does the president denounce white supremacists.’
Bloomberg White House reporter Justin Sink asked Kayleigh McEnany to clarify her claim Judge Amy Comey Barrett was a Rhodes’ scholar
Supreme Court nominee Amy Comey Barrett actually attended Rhodes College in Tennessee
The briefing descended into chaos from there with McEnany trying to answer questions reporters fired at her, both sides talking over the other repeatedly.
CBS’ Paula White and CNN’s Kaitlan Collins also asked her to clarify President Trump’s remarks on white supremacy.
‘The president has denounced it repeatedly. The president was asked this. You are contriving a story line and narrative,’ McEnany told reporters.
That was in the first five minutes. Next McEnany had clarify her remarks about President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
In her opening statement at the briefing, McEnany called Barrett a ‘Rhodes scholar.’
The Rhodes Scholarship is a prestigious academic award to study at Oxford University in England. Each year 32 are awarded. Past recipients include President Bill Clinton, retired General Wesley Clark, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
‘She also is a Rhodes scholar,’ McEnany said of Trump’s nominee. Barrett actually received her BA from Rhodes College in Tennessee.
‘You said Justice Barrett was a Rhodes scholar. I don’t know if that’s true,’ Bloomberg’s Justin Sink said to the press secretary.
‘That’s what I have written here,’ McEnany replied.
Upon being told Barrett attended Rhodes College in Tennessee, McEnany said: ‘Attended Rhodes College. So my bad.’
The White House, led by President Trump, has taken a more defensive posture since polls show him trailing Biden both nationally and in several key states.
In one memorable back-and-forth, McEnany refused to name the river where President Trump claimed several mail-in ballots had been dumped. The president has been a vocal critical of mail-in voting, saying it will lead to a ‘rigged’ election but has offered no proof of his allegations.
Fox Radio correspondent Jon Decker asked Trump’s claim that some people found ballots in a river. He asked McEnany multiple times to name the river where the ballots were found and who found them.
She never gave a name and indicated it was actually a ditch the ballots were found in.
‘Local authorities. A ditch if Wisconsin where they were found. That’s what the president was referring to. You are missing the forest for the trees,’ McEnany told him.
Trump said of the ballots: ‘There’s fraud. They found them in creeks. … They are being dumped in rivers. This is a horrible thing for our country.’
He appeared to be referring to a situation in Wisconsin where three trays of mail were found in a ditch off a highway. The mail trays included a variety of mail and not just absentee ballots. It’s also unclear if those ballots had ever been filled out. There is an ongoing investigation.
Kayleigh McEnany also didn’t name the river where President Trump claimed mail-in ballots were found after being asked to repeatedly by Fox Radio reporter Jon Decker
‘I cover the news and I like to report accurately in the news. When the president said they found a lot of ballots in the river. Where is the river?,’ Decker said to her.
‘You want to ignore the fact of the matter,’ she told him.
‘I got asked so many questions. Where is this river? I want to have accurate information and that’s why I’m asking you,’ he replied.
McEnany then pivoted to a situation in Pennsylvania under investigation where nine mail-in ballots were found in the trash, seven of which were Trump votes.
‘This is what is happening here. You are ignoring the problem here. Last week in Pennsylvania you had ballots found in a ditch. That’s a fact. In Wisconsin seven military ballots marked for Trump were found cast aside,’ she said. ‘I don’t understand the lack of journalistic curiosity on that.’
‘Where is the river? That’s curiosity,’ Decker said. ‘I am asking you where the river is and you’re not giving an answer.’