Friday Fun: McEnany Tussles with Press on Reopening Churches, Homework on Flynn Probe

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Friday brought us another White House press briefing featuring Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany batting behind President Trump and Dr. Deborah Birx and, predictably, McEnany continued to impress (except the ardent anti-Trump liberal media). On new CDC guidelines allowing houses of worship to safely reopen and then the Michael Flynn case, McEnany rattled their cages.

In the case of the former, she raised eyebrows when she informed the journalists assembled that they’re hoping “desperately” that “these churches and houses of worship stay closed,” leaving Reuters’s Jeff Mason to wage a vehement protest.

 

 

CBS’s Ben Tracy and NBC’s Kristen Welker built up to that when they repeatedly took issue with the announcement on houses of worship. Welker kvetched about there being “mixed messaging” as Birx left leeway for places to delay their reopenings if their areas aren’t yet seeing a decline in cases while Tracy asked about Trump’s authority to overrule states that ban them from reopening if they want to.

McEnany suggested to both that the administration hopes governors will respect the decisions of religious leaders that choose to safely reopen. At one point, she told Welker:

We’ll leave it to faith communities to reopen and Kristen, I think we can all --- we can all hope that this Sunday, people are allowed to pray to their gods across this country. That's a good thing, and I'd also note, there's detailed guidance in here about the way you can clean your facilities, promote social distancing.

Her answers didn’t satisfy the room and so McEnany pulled the pin on this rhetorical grenade: “The President will strongly encourage every governor to allow churches to reopen and, boy, it’s interesting to be in a room that desperately wants to seem to see these churches and houses of worship stay closed.”

Again, Mason was not happy. He replied that “I object to that” because not only does he “go to church,” he’s “dying to go back.” Instead, he and his colleagues were wondering whether it’s safe for anyone to do that and if not, why would Trump “encourage that.”

Of course, this line of thinking neglected the reality that not every corner of the country is still seeing large numbers of cases like the greater Chicago, New York City, and Washington D.C. metro areas.

McEnany reiterated her insistence about CDC guidelines and reminded journalists of how the First Amendment isn’t just about them, but that it also includes religion (click “expand”):

MCENANY: Jeff, it is safe to reopen your churches if you do so in accordance with the guidelines, which are laid very stringent detail here about promoting hygiene practices and there are five bullet points and cloth face coverings. If social distancing is not possible, it's recommended intensifying cleanings , promoting social distance and we lay them out meticulously, so I am thankful that we have a President that celebrates the First Amendment, the same amendment that gives you all the ability to ask me questions, is there to have the freedom of worship, so imams and pastors can go to their churches, can go to their places of and can celebrate what is a First Amendment right in this country, which is to pray to your God and to practice your faith. [TO CHANEL RION] Chanel.

MASON: And we celebrate that too. I just want to follow up by saying we celebrate that too. The first --- the First Amendment.

MCENANY: And should be thankful there are guidelines that allow us to reengage in that behavior ---

MASON: But we’re not --- we're not asking you if the President or people are allowing Americans to pray. That’s --- that’s not the question that we’re asking here.

Sure, Mason personally might “celebrate” freedom of religion “too” but it’s a bald-faced lie for him to suggest that the American news media are accepting of that portion of the First Amendment (pun intended).

Whether it’s ignoring a recent Mississippi church arson, gloating that a pastor unafraid of the virus caught it and died, mocking prayer, or anything from scripted television (or column by Gene Weingarten), the news media despise religion and specifically Christianity, making Mason’s claim a pants-on-fire falsehood.

Because at the end of the day, most journalists only care about the part of the First Amendment that celebrates themselves.

Going to the Flynn case, McEnany reminded journalists of the homework assignment she had given to question Obama administration officials on the alleged misdeeds and scandal they set into motion.

When no one raised their hands, McEnany provided them a series of questions to ask of the former President’s spokespeople. In a mic drop move, she recited the questions and then left the podium (click “expand”):

So, I would like to lay out a series of questions and perhaps if I write them out in a slide format, maybe we’re visual learners and you guys will follow up with journalistic curiosity. So, number one, why did the Obama administration use opposition research funded by a political organization and filled with foreign dirt to surveil members of Trump campaign? Number two, why was Lieutenant General Michael Flynn unmasked not by the intel community entirely but by Obama's chief of staff, by the former vice president, Joe Biden, by Susan Rice, by the treasury secretary? This is extraordinary and, you know, if it were political appointees in the Trump administration, I can guarantee you I would have question my inbox right now but apparently Obama spokesperson does not. Why was Flynn’s identity leaked in a criminal act? It is a criminal act to leak the identity of Michael Flynn to the press, but it happened. Where are the questions to Obama spokesperson because my team would be around this building if this had happened under the Trump administration.

Why did the DOJ, Sally Yates learn about the unmasking from President Obama! So, much for going by the book as Susan rice said three times, thou not protest too much, Susan Rice. And finally question number five, why did James Clapper, John Brennan, Samantha Power, and Susan Rice privately admit under oath they had no collusion while saying the opposite publicly? It is a long weekend. You guys have three days to follow up on those questions and I certainly hope the next time I ask, some hands go up because Obama spokesperson should be asked those questions because President Trump's spokespeople would certainly be asked.

To see the relevant transcript from May 22’s briefing, click “expand.”

White House Press Briefing
May 22, 2020
2:23 p.m. Eastern

KRISTEN WELKER: A couple of questions to follow up on the President's announcement. First, just to clarify, he came out and said, I'm calling upon governors to allow churches and places of worship to open up right now. Dr. Birx just said in areas where they have high cases of COVID-19, maybe they should think about waiting a week. So, which is it and why the mixed messaging?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY: That's up to the governors. As it's said in our guidance, we note that while many types of gatherings are important for civic and economic well-being, religious worship has particularly profound significance to communities and individuals, including as a right protected by the First Amendment. The President wants to see these communities opened. Dr. Birx was integral to make these guidelines and they lay out a pretty clear path for faith communities to reopen.

WELKER: But Kayleigh, the President said he’s going to override the governors. Under what authority would he do that? And to your point, he said several weeks ago, this is all up to the governors.

MCENANY: Well, I think you're posing a hypothetical and I think we can all hope that we see governors ---

WELKER: No, he said he override the governors.

MCENANY: --- you're posing a hypothetical, though. You're assuming the governors are going to keep churches shut down, keep mosques shut down, and keep synagogues shut down. That is a hypothetical question and we will leave it to these

WELKER: But Kayleigh, the President stood there and said if governors listen to him, he will override their authorities.

MCENANY: --- faith communities to reopen. We’ll leave it to faith communities to reopen and Kristen, I think we can all --- we can all hope that this Sunday, people are allowed to pray to their gods across this country.

WELKER: By what authority would he use to override governors?

MCENANY: That's a good thing, and I'd also note, there's detailed guidance in here about the way you can clean your facilities, promote social distancing. So, this is something we should all look at and be thankful that we are encouraging these faith communities to reopen and do so in a safe way, and we'll leave it to parishes to open in a safe fashion.

WELKER: But what --- what, authority is the President referencing here?

BEN TRACY: Kayleigh, does the White house now support these churches that are defying governor's orders and opening up?

MCENANY: The President’s been very clear. He wants churches to reopen and do it safely. He wants them to do it in accordance with our guidance. It’s laid out and very detailed. It's posted now, so you can all take a look through it and he wants to see all of those churches open in a safe fashion.

TRACY: What if a governor does not allow that? Does the White House support defying these executive orders?

MCENANY: The President has been clear he wants to see churches reopen in accordance with his guidelines.

TRACY: So, the answer is yes?

MCENANY: I just --- I gave you an answer. The President ---

TRACY: And just to follow up on what Kristen asked ---

MCENANY: --- would like churches to reopen and in accordance with the guidelines.

TRACY: What specific provision of federal law allows the President to override a governor’s decision?

MCENANY: The President will strongly encourage every governor to allow churches to reopen and, boy, it’s interesting to be in a room that desperately wants to seem to see these churches and houses of worship stay closed.

TRACY: But the President said that he ---

JEFF MASON: Kayleigh, I object to that. I mean, I go to church. I’m dying to go back to church. The question that we're asking you and would have liked to asked the President and Dr. Birx is, is it safe? And if it's not safe, is the President trying to encourage that or does the President agree with Dr. Birx, that people should wait?

MCENANY: Jeff, it is safe to reopen your churches if you do so in accordance with the guidelines, which are laid very stringent detail here about promoting hygiene practices and there are five bullet points and cloth face coverings. If social distancing is not possible, it's recommended intensifying cleanings , promoting social distance and we lay them out meticulously, so I am thankful that we have a President that celebrates the First Amendment, the same amendment that gives you all the ability to ask me questions, is there to have the freedom of worship, so imams and pastors can go to their churches, can go to their places of and can celebrate what is a First Amendment right in this country, which is to pray to your God and to practice your faith. [TO CHANEL RION] Chanel.

MASON: And we celebrate that too. I just want to follow up by saying we celebrate that too. The first --- the First Amendment.

MCENANY: And should be thankful there are guidelines that allow us to reengage in that behavior ---

MASON: But we’re not --- we're not asking you if the President or people are allowing Americans to pray. That’s --- that’s not the question that we’re asking here.

MCENANY: --- to gather in their places of worship, to attend church services, to pray together and the President has laid out a clear path. The CDC has laid out a clear path for this to take place, for our first amendment to be exercised in a way that is safe and a robust and that is something that is a good thing and I’m thankful that we have a President who celebrates the First Amendment and helps it to be celebrated in its fullest and most robust way possible.

CHANEL RION: Thank you, Kayleigh. I'd like to switch gears asking about President Obama. We had a --- a --- does the President --- we had an interesting article from Joel Pollak this morning and I would like to ask you if the president has considering pardoning President Obama for illegally wiretapping on Trump Tower, illegally spying on U.S. citizens and other potential cri --- potential crimes out there, has he considered that?

MCENANY: So, I have not spoken to the president about that, but who I did speak to about President Obama and asking Michael Flynn were the men and women in this room. I haven't spoken to him on that specific point. I have spoken to him about the matter generally and I laid out a series of questions that any good journalist would want to answer about why people were unmasked and all sorts of questions and I just want to follow with you guys on that. Did anyone take it upon themselves to pose any questions about Michael Flynn and unmasking to the President Obama spokesperson? Oh, not a single journalist posed that question, okay.

JONATHAN KARL: But --- but --- but Flynn’s name wasn’t unmasked. Kayleigh, Kayleigh ---

MCENANY: So, I would like to lay out a series of questions and perhaps if I write them out in a slide format, maybe we’re visual learners and you guys will follow up with journalistic curiosity. So, number one, why did the Obama administration use opposition research funded by a political organization and filled with foreign dirt to surveil members of Trump campaign? Number two, why was Lieutenant General Michael Flynn unmasked not by the intel community entirely but by Obama's chief of staff, by the former vice president, Joe Biden, by Susan Rice, by the treasury secretary? This is extraordinary and, you know, if it were political appointees in the Trump administration, I can guarantee you I would have question my inbox right now but apparently Obama spokesperson does not. Why was Flynn’s identity leaked in a criminal act? It is a criminal act to leak the identity of Michael Flynn to the press, but it happened. Where are the questions to Obama spokesperson because my team would be around this building if this had happened under the Trump administration. Why did the DOJ, Sally Yates learn about the unmasking from President Obama! So, much for going by the book as Susan rice said three times, thou not protest too much, Susan Rice. And finally question number five, why did James Clapper, John Brennan, Samantha Power, and Susan Rice privately admit under oath they had no collusion while saying the opposite publicly? It is a long weekend. You guys have three days to follow up on those questions and I certainly hope the next time I ask, some hands go up because Obama spokesperson should be asked those questions because President Trump's spokespeople would certainly be asked.

NB Daily Coronavirus Religion Anti-Religious Bias Christianity Reuters CBS NBC White House Press Briefing Jeff Mason Ben Tracy Kristen Welker Kayleigh McEnany Donald Trump
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