White House press secretary Sean Spicer held his first official news briefing on Monday, taking questions from reporters for over an hour.
The press conference was a departure from last Saturday, when Spicer refused to take questions from the podium while delivering a statement that included false claims about Inauguration Day.
PBS Newshour correspondent Lisa Desjardins and online politics editor Dan Bush went on Facebook Live following the briefing to put Spicer’s remarks in context.
Here are a few takeaways from Spicer’s first full back-and-forth with the press.
Crowd size still an issue
Spicer did not repeat his claim from Saturday that the white platforms covering sections of the National Mall on Inauguration Day were not used at previous inaugurations. (That was not true: the platforms were used for former President Obama’s second inaugural address in 2013.)
But Spicer did stand by his assertion that President Trump’s inauguration set a viewership record, when combining the people who watched the ceremony in person and viewers around the country and the world who tuned in on television or online.
It’s difficult to verify the global online streaming numbers. But some viewership figures are clear: Roughly 31 million people watched the inauguration on television, according to Nielsen. Approximately 38 million people watched Obama’s 2009 inauguration on TV, and about 41 million watched Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration in 1981. There’s no official estimate for how many people showed up in Washington, D.C. in 2017, but a crowd expert hired by the New York Times estimated the crowd as about a third of the 1.8 million people who attended Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
Fighting over facts
In response to a question about his approach to his job, Spicer said on Monday that he believed the Trump administration has a responsibility to “be honest with the American people,” adding that “our intention is never to lie.”
But Spicer also said there was room for debate about the truth. “We can have disagreements about the facts,” he said. The remark echoed Kellyanne Conway’s comments over the weekend. In a television interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Conway, a senior White House adviser, defended Spicer’s version of events on Inauguration Day, calling them “alternative facts.”
The Trump presidency is still in its infancy. But comments like these signal that top officials in the administration are prepared for a combative relationship with the press. Spicer admitted as much later on in his press conference on Monday. “The default narrative [around President Trump] is already negative. And it’s demoralizing,” he said.
Spicer did make some news Monday, though most of it came in the form of updates to previously discussed plans (like President Trump’s plan to nominate a Supreme Court justice in the next few weeks).
A lot of questions went unanswered, however. Spicer did not provide details on President Trump’s plan for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects around 750,000 people from deportation. The Trump administration has signaled that it will roll back the program, which was put in place by Obama. On Monday, Spicer did not go into specifics, though he said that President Trump was focused on drafting a plan to remove undocumented immigrants with criminal backgrounds.
Spicer also provided no new clues on the Trump administration’s replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act. President Trump signed an executive order last Friday, shortly after his inauguration speech, directing federal agencies to ease the regulatory burdens associated with Obama’s signature law. But the administration, and congressional Republicans, still have not agreed on a broader plan to replace the law with something new.