A top aide to President-elect Donald Trump urged President Obama on Sunday to tell fellow Democrats to stop questioning Trump’s legitimacy — and rejected comparisons to Trump’s own well-publicized doubts about Obama’s eligibility to serve.
The remarks from incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus came after a prominent lawmaker and civil rights activist, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), said Trump was not a “legitimate president” and more than a dozen fellow Democratic lawmakers announced that they would not attend Trump’s inauguration.
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Priebus acknowledged Lewis’s “historic contribution to civil rights and voting rights” but said his doubts about Trump’s legitimacy are “insanity” and “incredibly disappointing.”
“I think President Obama should step up,” he said, praising the cooperation from the White House on other transition issues. “I think the administration can do a lot of good by telling folks that are on the Republican side of the aisle: Look, we may have lost the election on the Democratic side, but it’s time to come together.”
Vice President-elect Mike Pence separately criticized Lewis on Sunday for questioning Trump’s legitimacy in interviews on Fox and CBS, calling his remarks “deeply disappointing.” He also defended Trump’s recent tweets attacking Lewis, saying Trump “has the right to defend himself.”
“I truly do believe this is a time when the American people should be celebrating the peaceful transition of power,” Pence said in a “Fox News Sunday” interview. “I hope that John Lewis, and some others who have joined his plans to take a pass on the inauguration, will rethink that.”
Many Democrats have bristled at the GOP calls to quietly accept Trump’s presidency, pointing to the president-elect’s prominent role in promoting the false “birther” movement to question whether Obama was born in the United States. Trump refused to unequivocally accept Obama’s status as a natural-born U.S. citizen until September — less than two months before Election Day — and has never apologized for his role in spreading doubts.
“What [Democrats] are right about is to talk about the racist past of Donald Trump,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Sunday, also on ABC. “We all remember that Trump was one of the leaders of so-called ‘birther’ movement trying to delegitimize the presidency of our first African American president, Barack Obama, which is an outrage.”
Priebus said Sunday that questions about Obama’s birth have “been resolved for at least two years in Donald Trump’s mind” and drew a distinction between questioning Obama’s citizenship and accepting the results of the elections that he won.
“This Week” host George Stephanopoulos corrected Priebus, noting that Trump continued to raise questions about Obama’s eligibility to serve well into his own presidential campaign.
“But look, George, that’s not the point,” he replied. “The point is not where Barack Obama was born. The point is is that we’ve got congressmen on the Democratic side of the aisle that are questioning the legitimacy of President-elect Trump, who won in an electoral landslide. That’s the issue. That’s where the outrage should be, not old news, but the fact that we are preparing for the transfer of power and we have been working with President Obama hand in glove. And I think that they, including the president, should step up and get his people in line and tell them to grow up and accept the fact that they lost the election.”
Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, noted in a CNN interview Sunday that Obama called Trump the “freely elected” president in his farewell speech Tuesday; McDonough used that terminology several times to refer to Trump.
“He called him the freely elected president of the United States, so that’s the charge that we have taken,” he said. “By the same token, these Democrats and others have pointed out that they have got significant concerns. … The intelligence shows that the Russians did intervene. They did intervene with the purpose of helping one candidate and hurting the other. So these are by no means trivial concerns.”
Asked about the birther movement by CNN host Jake Tapper, McDonough said Obama is “not going to get in the middle of this right now.”
“The president has made very clear that he believes that [Trump] is the freely elected president,” he said. “He will be inaugurated on Friday. And he will come into office hopefully strengthened by the kind of transition that we have tried to run in this White House.”