WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has “a healthy respect for the First Amendment” and believes Saturday’s mass protest in Washington was a “beautiful” demonstration of US freedoms, his press secretary said on Monday.
At the same time, Sean Spicer downplayed the cohesion of the demonstrators, who he said weren’t all in Washington to protest the same issue.
“This is what makes our country so beautiful is that on one day you can inaugurate a president, on the next day people can occupy the same space to protest something,” Sean Spicer said. “But he is also cognizant to the fact that a lot of these people were there to protest an issue of concern to them and not against anything.”
Spicer was speaking during his first formal briefing from the White House, a rapid-pace affair that jumped from topic to topic at a steady clip.
He declared Trump willing to work with any partner on combating ISIS, including Russia.
He said the administration would work to develop bilateral trade agreements with Asian nations after Trump withdrew the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership.
And he announced that Trump hasn’t ordered intelligence agencies to stop investigating potential ties between his administration and Russia.
Spicer said Trump signed an order reinstating a rule that bans federal funding to non-governmental organizations that provide abortions. He wouldn’t preview any future actions reversing an order signed by former President Barack Obama that shielded certain children of undocumented immigration from deportations, but said the administration is focused on removing criminals.
“First and foremost, the President has been very, very clear that we need to direct agencies who address those who are in this country illegally and have a criminal record or pose a threat to the American people,” he said. “That’s where the priority is going to be.”
He began Monday’s session in a traditional fashion, outlining Trump’s busy schedule and detailing a phone call between the President and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Spicer said Trump had discussed the potential of el-Sisi visiting the White House in the coming months.
He detailed a plan to meet with American CEOs quarterly after a productive session in the West Wing Monday morning, and announced Trump would take his first out-of-town trip aboard Air Force One on Thursday when he travels to a Republican Congressional retreat in Philadelphia.
Later in the day, Trump is expected to meet a bipartisan group of congressional leaders. Spicer said part of the discussion would center on plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Spicer’s briefing followed an appearance in the briefing room Saturday in which he he delivered a furious tirade against the press for their accurate coverage of crowds at Trump’s inauguration. That session, which misstated several facts, ended with Spicer walking away as reporters shouted their queries.
Spicer told reporters Monday his “intention is never to lie to you.”
Insisting that news organizations sometimes make mistakes — often without any malicious intent — Spicer requested he and his colleagues in the administration be judged by the same standard.
“I think we should be afforded the same opportunity,” he said. “I’m going to come out here and tell you the facts as I know them.”
Spicer’s answers were quick, and he called on reporters by name, ensuring the session moved from topic to topic at a steady clip. He discarded a tradition fostered during the Obama administration of calling on a reporter from the Associated Press first.
Spicer has prepared heavily for his premiere press briefing. He’s undergone mock briefings, extensive research, and long hours watching his predecessor holding the near-daily ritual. Much of his press office staff is in place.
He acknowledged the cantankerous start over the weekend at the beginning of Monday’s briefing, saying he’d emailed his predecessor Josh Earnest to ensure him that his title as “most popular press secretary” — designated by a poll of reporters earlier this year — was safe for now.