Incoming Trump administration chief of staff Reince Priebus downplayed but confirmed news that Trump officials were considering plans to move the press corps out of the White House press room on ABC News Sunday morning.
Following a contentious press conference last week, several senior officials told Esquire on Saturday that the new administration was mulling plans to move the White House press corps out of the usual briefing room, and perhaps out of the White House altogether.
Priebus told George Stephanopoulos that the move was being discussed, but because of the small size of the briefing room, and claimed that any concerns are “getting way out of whack.”
“The only thing that’s been discussed is whether or not the initial press conferences are going to be in that small press room ― for the people listening to this that don’t know this, the press room that people see on TV is very, very tiny. 49 people fit in that press room. The one thing that we discussed was whether or not we want to move the initial press conferences in the EOB, which, by the way, is the White House. So no one is moving out of the White House. That is the White House, where you can fit four times the number of people in the press conference, allowing more press, more coverage from all over the country, to have those press conferences.”
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Priebus further argued that “people should be encouraged that there are some people in the press that want to participate,” suggesting that overwhelming demand for space was the primary reason for the rumored move.
Prebius also responded to a range of other simmering controversies, from President-elect Donald Trump’s Twitter attacks on Rep. John Lewis of Georgia to allegations of Russian interference in the presidential election specifically to aide Trump.
Starting with Lewis, Priebus expressed both indignation and incredulity that the Georgia representative and civil rights leader would question the president-elect’s legitimacy. Earlier this week, Lewis told NBC News’ Chuck Todd that he considered Trump to be an illegitimate president, due to the conclusion of the American intelligence community that the Russian government was involved in an effort to scandalize and weaken the Clinton campaign.
Priebus told Stephanopoulos that he believed Lewis, who he described as a “champion of voting rights,” needed to “recognize the fact that Donald Trump was duly elected,” calling it “incredibly disappointing” and “irresponsible for people like himself to question the legitimacy of the next United States president.”
“But here is the problem. We need folks like John Lewis, and others, who I think have been champions of voter rights, actually recognize the fact that Donald Trump was duly elected. He’s going to put his hand on the Bible in five days. And I think it’s incredibly disappointing, and I think it’s irresponsible, for people like himself to question the legitimacy of the next United States president. I think putting the United States down across the world is not something that a responsible person does.”
Priebus insisted that President Barack Obama should attempt to rally Democrats to “come together” and accept Trump’s legitimacy. Stephanopoulos challenged him on that, asking if it was hard to “come together” in light tweets coming from the president-elect. Trump attacked Lewis, calling the 76-year-old civil rights icon “all talk, talk, talk – no action or results,” and claiming he should focus on America’s “burning and crime infested inner-cities.” The tweets have been roundly criticized, both for Trump’s derogatory characterization of Lewis, and for their racially loaded subtext.
Priebus ignored Stephanopoulos’ challenge on Trump’s tweets, continuing to lambast Lewis for denying Trump’s legitimacy. He also insisted that Trump won in an electoral landslide, which is not true. He lost the popular vote by nearly three million, and in historical terms, his margin of victory in the electoral college was relatively narrow, placing him in the bottom fourth of presidents in terms of his electoral vote margin of victory. Whichever way you slice it, it wasn’t a historic landslide.
“And to question the legitimacy of the next United States president, and you’re worried about a tweet that says, hey, why don’t you get back to work instead of questioning my legitimacy? Too bad,” Priebus said.
Stephanopoulos responded by referencing Trump’s years-long embrace of birtherism, the thoroughly discredited accusation that President Obama is secretly foreign-born, and therefore ineligible to be president. Priebus insisted Trump had acknowledged the president’s Hawaiian birth for “over the last few years,” which is also untrue. He was still suggesting Obama’s birth certificate may have been a fake at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, and never conclusively stated otherwise until the final months of the 2016 election.
Priebus, 44, will have served as chairman of the Republican National Committee for six years, from 2011 to 2017, when he departs office to become Trump’s chief-of-staff on Jan. 20. He’ll reportedly be working alongside former Breitbart executive and Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon, who has been named Trump’s chief strategist.