White House press secretary Sean Spicer in his daily media briefing on Thursday falsely accused journalists of holding President Trump to a different standard than they applied to former president Barack Obama, when it comes to criticizing the judiciary.
Responding to questions about the propriety of Trump's recent tweets about a federal judge who ruled against a travel ban on refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, Spicer drew an imperfect comparison to Obama's public opposition to the Supreme Court's decision in the 2010 Citizens United case and said inaccurately that “there was no concern” from reporters at the time.
“The idea of one branch talking about or commenting on another branch is as old as our republic,” Spicer said. “So, I don't know why — and I, I find it interesting [that] when President Obama criticized the Supreme Court for its Citizens United comments in the State of the Union, there wasn't a similar concern about that. … It seems like there's clearly a double standard when it's how this is applied. When President Obama did it, there was no concern from this briefing room. When [Trump] does it, it's a ton of outrage.”
Just in case you don't remember exactly what Obama said about the Supreme Court in his State of the Union address seven years ago, here it is:
Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well, I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that's why I'm urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.
And here is what Trump has tweeted about U.S. District Judge James L. Robart:
Trump's rebuke was far more intense than Obama's.
Obama, a lawyer, merely labeled the Supreme Court's decision “wrong” and called on Congress to pass a bill that would reverse it. Trump cast aspersions on Robart's qualifications by referring to him as a “so-called judge” and blamed him for a hypothetical, future terrorist attack.
It is one thing for a president to disagree with a ruling, on the merits; it is another to suggest that a “so-called” judge could have blood on his hands.
Still, Obama's critique of the Citizens United decision was a big deal — especially because Justice Samuel Alito could be seen on camera shaking his head as Obama spoke. The episode was dissected at length on cable news:
It was covered on the front page:
And at the first White House press briefing after the State of the Union, it, of course, came up:
Q: Would the president support requiring shareholder approval before a company could spend money on ads, like in reference to the Supreme Court decision?
DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY BILL BURTON: There are a series of reforms that the president is looking at and talking to members of Congress about. I don't want to get into the specifics of the negotiations and what those are, but campaign finance reform has become a lot more important in the course of the last couple of weeks and the president and his team are focused on it.
Q: What's the president's reaction to Justice Alito's reaction to his speech?
BURTON: Well, this issue is something that many have serious concerns about. It's something that Justice Ginsburg brought up in her oral arguments. It's something that Justice Stevens wrote about in his dissent. It's an issue that the court could have specifically addressed in its findings, but they didn't. And the American people deserve the right to know that foreign corporations cannot interfere with American elections.
So this is another one of the issues that the president is looking at in terms of campaign finance reform. In terms of the specific reaction to Justice Alito, one of the great things about our democracy is that powerful members of the government at high levels can disagree in public and in private. This is one of those cases. But the president is no less committed to seeing this reform.
Once again, Spicer stood before a roomful of journalists and made an assertion that is totally at odds with the facts.