White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s relationship with the media appeared to reach a new low on Thursday as she repeatedly threw insults at the press as reporters urged her to “unambiguously” denounce white supremacy.
Given multiple opportunities at the press conference to condemn groups such as the Proud Boys and white supremacist groups on behalf of Donald Trump, Ms McEnany refused, pointing instead to numerous past statements from Mr Trump and the White House calling for the federal execution of a white supremacist and stronger prosecutions for members of the Ku Klux Klan, among other similar areas.
“He has condemned white supremacy more than any president in modern history,” Ms McEnany declared.
His “record is not mixed in the slightest” on denouncing White supremacy, she claimed, eliciting protestations from reporters who had been asking her questions about the president’s recent comments at the first presidential debate telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” but not directly condemning them.
“His record is very mixed on this issue,” CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins shot back, saying the president has “equivocated” about the actions of white supremacists, such as his comments saying there were "very fine people on both sides" at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 where a white supremacist killed a liberal counter-protester by running over her with his car.
“He has equivocated at times because he didn’t want to acknowledge it or address it. His record is very mixed on this issue.”
Even at the debate on Tuesday, Mr Trump downplayed the threat of white supremacist violence and those groups' contributions to the pockets of violence at racial justice demonstrations this past summer.
Moderator and Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Mr Trump if was willing to denounce violence committed by white nationalist groups, many of whom have been aggressively and violently confronting left-wing activists in places such as Portland, Oregon.
“Sure, I would be willing to do that, but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing,” Mr Trump replied.
Mr Trump challenged Mr Wallace to name a specific group to condemn.
Mr Biden cut in to suggest the Proud Boys.
“Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by. But I tell you what — somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left wing problem,” Mr Trump said, referring to the loose collection of far-left anarchists whose stated goal is to topple fascist elements in the US.
While the vast majority (93 per cent) of the protests against police brutality and systemic racism this summer were nonviolent, a key study found, Mr Trump has seized on the pockets of vandalism, looting, and violence that have sprung up at times in places such as Portland and Kenosha, Wisconsin, as a way to attack Mr Biden and the Democrats.
Mr Biden has directly condemned Antifa and political violence “across the board.”
Ms McEnany took umbrage at reporters repeatedly pressing her to categorically condemn white supremacists groups on behalf of the president because his answer on the topic at Tuesday's debate was so ambiguous.
"You're contriving a storyline and a narrative," she told one reporter.
"No I'm not. I'm just asking you to put this to rest," he responded.
"I just did. I just read you all of the quotes. And if you need them in writing, I will put them in an email."
"You just read a bunch of quotes from the past," he said, after she once again pivoted away from his challenge to denounce white supremacy right then and there.
As the press conference spiraled, Ms McEnany stopped mid-sentence at ont point to harangue the gathered press for repeatedly interrupting and talking over her, something Mr Trump did to Mr Biden hundreds of times at the debate on Tuesday.
“It's quite funny that the media goes haywire about interrupting at the debate and then chooses to pursue that very same tactic themselves,” she said.
“This is a White House briefing. You ask a question, and you give me time to answer,” she said.