At the White House’s first press conference in nearly two weeks, press secretary Sean Spicer dodged nearly every question reporters asked him before abruptly ending the briefing.
Spicer spent around 11 minutes Tuesday on a preamble largely detailing President Donald Trump’s recent international trip. He left about 20 minutes for questions from reporters, who pressed him to elaborate on Trump’s recent tweets and last week’s reports that Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner had talked to Russia last year about the possibility of opening up a secret communication channel.
In response to questions about whether Trump knew of the alleged discussions, Spicer repeatedly insisted that reports citing anonymous sources did not merit discussion.
“I’m not going to get into what the president did or did not discuss, but what your question assumes are a lot of facts that are not substantiated by anything but anonymous sources that are so far being leaked out,” Spicer said.
“You’re asking if he approves of an action that is not a confirmed action,” Spicer said when pressed again on the issue.
Another reporter pointed out that Trump had just retweeted an anonymously sourced Fox News story contradicting Washington Post and New York Times reports that Kushner proposed the backchannel, but confirming such discussions did take place. In response, Spicer sidestepped once again.
“I’m not going to get into confirming stuff,” he said. “There’s an ongoing investigation.”
Spicer also once again dodged questions asking him to clarify statements Trump made in tweets, including what part of the health care plan the president wants to “add more dollars to.”
“The bill’s in progress,” Spicer said. “Obviously it’s in the Senate right now, and he’s willing to work with them to do what it takes.”
Spicer also sidestepped questions about whether Trump had discussed lowering the Senate’s 60-vote threshold with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) before tweeting about it Tuesday morning.
“The concerns that he’s had with the pace of the Senate have been longstanding,” Spicer said of Trump. “I think he wants to see action done.”
Spicer also declined to say whether Trump stands by his praise of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, which has killed an estimated 9,000 people, including many small-time users and dealers.
“I think the president recognizes the need to combat drugs, but he also believes in human rights,” Spicer said.
He gave another non-answer when asked if the president believes the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to climate change.
“I haven’t asked him,” Spicer said. “I can get back to you.”
In the final minutes of the press conference, Spicer returned to his frustration with media coverage of the Trump administration.
“While you get to decide what’s big and what’s not, there’s a lot of this stuff that’s been pushed out based on unnamed, unaccountable sources that’s been very troubling, and I think when you see the same kind of thing happen over and over again, it is concerning,” he said, pointing to job growth since the election. (Trump has played little to no role in the improvement.)
“That should be a big story,” Spicer said.
“The reason the president is frustrated is because there’s a perpetuation of false narratives, a use of unnamed sources over and over again about things that are happening that don’t ultimately happen, and I think that is troubling,” he said.
Soon after, Spicer abruptly ended the press conference.