White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer moved swiftly Monday to change up how the daily press briefing is conducted, giving the first questions to publications seated toward the back while announcing the creation of “Skype seats” – as he also tried to hit reset with the media after a weekend dispute over inauguration crowd estimates.
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Instead of calling on front-row outlets like the Associated Press and others, Spicer gave the first questions of his first full-blown White House briefing to a New York Post reporter. He also called early on reporters from the Christian Broadcasting Network, Fox Business Network and Univision.
Spicer further announced the White House would create four “Skype seats” for reporters not in the Washington area or who don’t have a hard pass to attend the briefings in person.
While doing so, Spicer moved to dial down the temperature with the media after a heated dispute broke out Saturday, when he excoriated reporters for allegedly underplaying President Trump’s inauguration turnout.
At the Saturday briefing, Spicer also condemned a reporter’s erroneous claim, since retracted, that a Martin Luther King Jr. bust was removed from the Oval Office. But he focused on the dispute over crowd sizes – and in making his case, incorrectly cited statistics from the Metro transit system to suggest Trump’s inauguration attendance was bigger than that of then-President Obama’s 2013 inauguration.
Spicer joked Monday that he wouldn’t be claiming his predecessor Josh Earnest’s title as most-popular press secretary any time soon, and went on to acknowledge he made a factual mistake.
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“Knowing what we know now, we can tell that WMATA’s numbers are different,” Spicer said, referring to the agency that controls the Metro system. He said he was operating off stats given to him, and didn’t pull them from “thin air.”
He also noted the media routinely publish corrections, and said the administration “should be afforded the same opportunity.”
Spicer, though, stood by a claim he made Saturday that Trump’s audience was the largest “to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”
Spicer said Monday: “It was the most-watched inaugural.”
He cited online audiences around the world in addition to television audiences and the in-person attendance.
“I’d love to see any information that proves that otherwise,” Spicer said.
It is difficult to verify the claim, as such comprehensive statistics are not available. There is little question that Obama’s 2009 inauguration drew a bigger in-person crowd than Trump’s ceremonies on Friday, based on aerial photography, Metro ridership statistics and other factors.
Monday’s press briefing and agenda, however, saw a return to some of the core issues Trump campaigned on in 2016 – especially on the economy.
After Trump took action earlier in the day to withdraw the U.S. from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, Spicer highlighted Trump's meetings on "working day one" with business and union leaders.
"The president's top priority is to retain and attract American jobs," he said.
Spicer also slammed Senate Democrats for holding up Cabinet nominations. "It's time for Senate Democrats to stop playing political games with the core functions of government," he said.