When White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany took to the lectern on Monday to address reporters, it was presumably her intention to defend President Donald Trump. That is, as she sees it, her job. But whatever her intentions, the defense she offered of the president was anything but.
She portrayed the president as uninformed, steadfastly resistant to new information, and recklessly bumbling his way through presidential duties.
Addressing the most recent international scandal plaguing the White House, McEnany said the president was never briefed on intelligence reports that Russia put bounties on the heads of American soldiers to incentivize Afghanistan fighters to kill them. She said the intelligence community did not have a "consensus" on the reports of the Russian bounties.
"This has not been briefed to the president, because it was not, in fact, verified," she said.
But CNN's Kaitlan Collins pointed out that "not everything in his daily briefings, or in the presidential daily brief, that's the written document, is airtight. They let the president know about what they're hearing."
McEnany responded by saying the intelligence agencies brief the president "as necessary," but didn't explain why it wouldn't have been necessary to brief the president on these findings. Asked if the president has a specific message for Moscow in light of the reports, McEnany said no, "because he has not been briefed on the matter." She said there were "dissenting opinions."
Kayleigh isn't doing so well. Here she is painting herself into a corner pic.twitter.com/p5H3kqgxUi
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) June 29, 2020
There's reason to doubt McEnany's denials — it's quite possible Trump was briefed on the findings about the Russian plot, and he simply dismissed them because of his fondness for President Vladimir Putin. Her remarks could indicate that Trump clung to qualifications and caveats of uncertainty in the reports, even if the overall conclusions of the intelligence community on the matter were solid.
But even if we accept McEnany's claims as true, they're a damning indictment of the president. They suggest he has no interest in hearing intelligence reports with any nuance in them, and that he insists on not being briefed about facts unless they're entirely certain. This is a disastrous position for a president to take because presidents must always act with some level of uncertainty. Not being briefed about uncertain matters is a childish and frankly negligent practice for a president to engage in.
One plausible interpretation of McEnany's defenses of the president is that, while the reports about the bouties were made available to the president in written form, no one ever verbally briefed him on the matter. This, too, would be another damning fact about the president, because it implies his lack of interest in reading prevented him from knowing vital information as he has been in repeated contact with Putin.
The idea that Trump is simply too lazy or incompetent to be fully informed about matters he should know came up in another McEnany defense of the president. Discussing the fact that the president shared a video on Twitter of his own supporter cheering the words "white power" at a counter-protester, McEnany said the president was unaware these words were in the video.
"Does the president retweet other people's tweets and video without knowing the full contents of what he's retweeting?" asked a reporter.
"He did not hear that particular phrase," she said.
"Did he listen to the video before he retweeted it?" the reporter asked again.
"He did, and he did not hear that particular phrase," said McEnany.
This is hard to believe because the chants of "white power" occurred after less than 10 seconds into the short video. Again, the most likely interpretation seems to be that Trump and McEnany are lying. But even if McEnany is telling the truth, it again suggests an ignorant, bumbling president who can watch a video of his own supporters and not even realize that they're spewing vile racist slogans. This may be better than a president who is intentionally spreading racist vitriol, but it's still deeply disturbing and disqualifying for the office.
But perhaps worst of all was the White House's response to the raging coronavirus pandemic in the United States.
Tamara Keith of NPR noted that "cases are on the rise, this is a very serious time," and asked: "What is the president's message to the American people, and why aren't we seeing him publicly talk to the public, encourage them to do things to stay safe?"
McEnany played down the dangers, noting (correctly) that the population of those infected appears to be younger than has previously been the case, meaning the risk of death is much lower. But she didn't acknowledge that these spikes in cases are likely to spread to more vulnerable members of society, and she referred to the intense flare-ups as mere "embers that need to be put out." She gave no indication that the president is going to take any personal steps to address the rising crisis, such as by personally embracing the use of masks to prevent the spread.
Once again, this message — put out by the White House press secretary — reflected a president who is disengaged, ignorant of the risks, and unwilling to put in the effort it would take to acknowledge and address a major crisis. Instead, he seems to be hoping everything will just work itself out without his having to make any sacrifices or work hard at all.
.@PressSec Kayleigh McEnany on Coronavirus: "We're aware that there are embers that need to be put out."
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 29, 2020
Now, to repeat, McEnany is a known liar. Trump lies constantly. So there's no reason to believe that the White House's excuse-making is anything more than the lastest round of intentional deceptions. McEnany's claims about Trump not being briefed, in particular, seem to contradict his own Sunday night tweet. But even if McEnany's assertions were true, they make the president look terrible. So what must they be hiding if they prefer telling such lies instead of admitting the truth?