In one sentence Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer just eliminated any doubt you may have about whether the media should pay attention to President Trump’s tweets.
“The president is the president of the United States, so they are considered official statements by the president of the United States,” he said in response to a reporter’s question.
(Are you listening, Republican leaders in Congress? That includes you. More on that later …)
In other words: Duh, we should pay attention to Trump’s tweets. He’s the president. What he says can move financial markets, move Congress, move world leaders and move people across the globe. What Trump says matters.
What doesn’t matter is whether he says it or tweets it. As Austin Evers, president of the government watchdog nonprofit American Oversight, said to me this week about Trump’s travel ban tweets: “If this were a speech in the Rose Garden, we wouldn’t be having this debate” about whether his tweets matter.
Spicer backs up what we in the media have been saying all along, when we’re asked (mostly by those who don’t like the president) about why we’re giving Trump’s social media so much attention.
Imagine if Trump had announced a news conference in the East Room on Monday morning, and he stepped in front of a microphone, and said: “People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN.”
People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2017
No one would question whether the media should report that. Spicer is essentially saying that the president’s tweets are the equivalent of that East Room news conference.
But while Spicer may have just solved a lingering debate between the media and some of its critics, by legitimizing Trump’s tweets, he also just created some new problems for the White House and Republicans in Congress.
Trump’s tweets are like a direct link to what he’s thinking. And when Trump tweets his thoughts, they become the equivalent of official White House statements without all of the sanitizing that traditional White House statements go through.
There’s no vetting by lawyers (at least, not that deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is aware of), there’s no vetting by communications staff. It’s just a president and his iPhone, speaking for the entire White House.
Let’s follow that to its logical conclusion. During the past 48 hours, the White House has said quite a few eyebrow-raising things. Like:
- London Mayor Sadiq Khan, whose city is picking up the pieces from a terrorist attack, made a “pathetic excuse” after the White House took Khan’s “no reason to be alarmed” statement out of context.
- The White House has accused Democrats of being “OBSTRUCTIONISTS!”
- The White House just called its travel ban a “TRAVEL BAN” despite the fact that its own lawyers who are arguing for the Supreme Court to reinstate the ban avoid that term.
- The White House just said it wants the Justice Department to “seek much tougher version” of a travel ban, despite the fact a “tougher version” got struck down by the courts, too.
- The White House also doesn’t seem to agree with its own Justice Department’s legal strategy: “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.,” the White House said in an official statement Monday morning.
- The White House also repeatedly refers to the national media as “FAKE,” despite the fact it has an entire staff dedicated to answering reporters’ questions.
See what I’m getting at here? The White House is on the hook for every tweet — even if the president completely undermines his administration in 140 characters.
Actually, it was already on the hook before Spicer confirmed Trump’s tweets speak for the White House. But some Trump aides refused to acknowledge that reality.
No longer can Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway go on TV and brush off a question about Trump’s tweets. (“Every time you say Twitter, imagine if you said terrorist. Maybe we’d have a different type of vigilance,” she told “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie on Monday. The Fix’s Callum Borchers called that Conway spin “first-rate straw man construction.”)
And if Spicer just boxed in the White House about how to frame Trump’s tweets, well, he just really made life difficult for Republicans in Congress.
Often, lawmakers react to Trump’s tweets by saying something to the effect of: They’re just tweets. Who cares?
Rather than answer a question last month from CNN’s Jake Tapper about Trump’s tweet that fired FBI director James B. Comey better wish there are no “tapes” of their conversations, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said this: “I’ve decided I’m not going to comment on the tweets of the day or the hour. I haven’t seem them all to be candid with you.”
James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Now, Tapper — and every other reporter with a Republican lawmaker who supports Trump on the other end of the microphone — can counter: “Yeah, but, this was an official statement by the White House.”
Ryan. Republicans in Congress. Conway. The entire White House. The courts. The media. And, yes, people who don’t like Trump and his social media habits. None of us have any excuses anymore for ignoring what Trump tweets. They are officially official. End of debate.