"My bad": McEnany falsely claims Barrett is a "Rhodes Scholar" days after incorrect Fox News segment

Trump Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett attended Rhodes College, and there is a difference between the two

Published October 1, 2020 9:37PM (EDT)

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Monday, July 06, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Monday, July 06, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday repeated the false claim made days earlier on Fox News that Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett was a Rhodes Scholar. Barrett attended Rhodes College, and there is a difference between the two.

Touting Barrett's credentials, which were compiled in her infamous briefing binder, McEnany claimed that Barrett "also is a Rhodes scholar." McEnany later acknowledged the mistake after a reporter corrected her.

Her explanation? "That's what I have written here."

"My bad," the top White House spokesperson added.

The Rhodes Scholarship is a prestigious international postgraduate scholarship to study at Oxford University in the U.K. Recipients include former President Bill Clinton, former Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and John Kennedy, R-La. Journalists Ronan Farrow and Rachel Maddow are also members of the elite group.

Barrett earned her B.A. at Rhodes College, which is not located in Europe but rather in Tennessee. The homonyms apparently provide for a cheeky play on words for students at the University of Memphis, a state school in the same southern city. 

Barrett graduated summa cum laude from Notre Dame School of Law, where she was the top student in her class, according to the university. She currently teaches there. (A Rhodes scholarship also was awarded to former Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg, who was the mayor of South Bend, Ind., where Notre Dame is located.)

While the source of McEnany's confusion remains unclear, the same mistake appeared in a Sept. 25 Fox News segment about Barrett's background.

It is unclear whether the president, known to be sniffy about Ivy League educations, was aware of the difference. Trump reportedly made a degree from Harvard or Yale a prerequisite for his 2018 Supreme Court nominee. Though Barrett made Trump's short list that year, the president nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a Yale alum who taught law at Harvard. (Trump was also rumored to have been "saving [Barrett] for Ginsburg.")

Trump often boasts that he graduated from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution, where he had transferred after two years at Fordham University in the Bronx. That feat was called into question earlier this year in a tell-all book by the president's niece. Per The New York Times:

As a high school student in Queens, Ms. Trump writes, Donald Trump paid someone to take a precollegiate test, the SAT, on his behalf. The high score the proxy earned for him, Ms. Trump adds, helped the young Mr. Trump to later gain admittance when he transferred as an undergraduate to the University of Pennsylvania's prestigious Wharton business school.

Trump additionally appears to prize distinguishing Wharton from Penn itself. The university's student newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian, reported that Trump name-dropped "Wharton" 52 times between June 2015 and January 2018. The president has called it "the hardest school to get into" and "super genius stuff."

A Penn official told The Washington Post that the school did not have a record of its acceptance rate for 1966, the year Trump entered. But the school's website says the acceptance rate in 1980 was "slightly greater than 40%." The school announced that its admissions rate for the class of 2023 was 7.4% — or five times more exclusive.

"It was not very difficult," an admissions officer who interviewed Trump for the slot previously told The Post.

"I certainly was not struck by any sense that I'm sitting before a genius," the officer added. "Certainly not a super genius."

The Biden-Harris Democratic national ticket will be the first since 1984 to not include a candidate without an Ivy League degree. Presidential nominee Joe Biden attended the University of Delaware, while vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris attended Howard University, a historically Black college.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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