For the second time in a week, the United States bore witness to an animated and interruption-filled political discussion. The first one was Tuesday’s debate, but Thursday’s White House briefing wasn’t that different.

And, perhaps more than any briefing before it, it reinforced the White House’s credibility problem.

Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s briefing was contentious on a level we’ve rarely seen, even in this White House. McEnany attempted to turn aside questions about Trump’s wishy-washy comments on self-declared white supremacists and his dubious claims about mail-in voting, while playing up his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

On all three topics, McEnany flubbed or skirted the details.

First came the latest in attempts to get past Trump’s oblique comments about denouncing self-proclaimed white supremacists at Tuesday’s debate.

“I’d like to ask you for a definitive and declarative statement without ambiguity or deflection,” Fox News reporter John Roberts began, adding, “Does the president denounce white supremacism and groups that espouse it in all their forms?”

McEnany didn’t oblige. Instead, she came prepared with comments that she argued showed Trump had already answered this question:

  • Of the debate, McEnany said, “He said ‘sure’ three times.”
  • Of Trump’s comments Wednesday, McEnany said, “He was point-blank asked, ‘Do you denounce white supremacy?’ And he said, ‘I’ve always denounced any form of that.’ ”
  • She noted Trump said in August 2019, “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.”
  • She noted Trump said in August 2017, “Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups.”

Roberts tried again multiple times, at which points McEnany again repeatedly pointed to past comments while claiming this amounted to the kind of declarative present-day statement Roberts sought.

The thing is, Trump has at times been more definitive — particularly in the aftermath of white supremacist violence and when reading from remarks prepared for him, which account for both the 2017 and 2019 comments McEnany cited. But as CBS News’s Paula Reid quickly noted, those few more direct statements have been interspersed with many more equivocations and halfhearted comments — much like him saying “sure” repeatedly at the debate and then telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” Even his August 2017 comments came as he repeatedly suggested there was blame for “both sides” in the tragedy in Charlottesville, where self-declared white supremacists marched, and one of them killed a protester.

And if you think this is some kind of media invention, just take a look at the people who have argued Trump wasn’t clear enough at the debate: “Fox and Friends” host Brian Kilmeade; the only Black GOP senator, Tim Scott (S.C.); Trump’s own debate coach, Chris Christie; and Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.). Roberts, in a live Fox News hit after the briefing, responded angrily to critics of his question.

McEnany was also given a chance to respond to Scott’s suggestion that Trump simply “misspoke,” but she disputed it, saying, “The president denounced white supremacy and said, ‘Sure.’ No, he did not misspeak.” Sorry, senator.

McEnany was also wrong on the facts; Trump in fact only said “sure” twice at the debate, according to a transcript.

But that wasn’t the only fact she got wrong. At the beginning of the briefing, she referred to Barrett as a “Rhodes scholar,” when in fact she’s not. Instead, Barrett went to Rhodes College in Tennessee.

Confronted on this, McEnany explained, “That’s what I have written here. Attended Rhodes College — my bad.” At least she acknowledged that one.

Arguably the biggest credibility issue for the White House emanating from Thursday’s briefing, though, came on voter fraud. Another Fox News correspondent — Fox News Radio’s Jon Decker — pressed McEnany on Trump’s claim that ballots have been found in a body of water, which was one of many dubious claims Trump offered at Tuesday’s debate to call into question the security of voting by mail.

The problem with that particular claim? There is no record of votes being found in a “river” or a “creek,” as Trump claimed at the debate. McEnany clarified that the ballots were found in a ditch in Wisconsin. Decker, like Roberts, kept pushing, repeatedly asking McEnany where the river was.

“If he misspoke, that’s fine,” Decker said. But McEnany wasn’t even willing to concede that, saying, “You’re really missing the forest for the trees.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany clashed with a reporter on Oct. 1 over President Trump's claims that mail-in ballots were found dumped in a river. (The Washington Post)

Decker kept pushing.

McEnany eventually responded: “This is what is happening here. You are ignoring the problem here, which is last week in Pennsylvania, you had ballots found in a ditch. That is a fact. In Wisconsin, seven military ballots all marked for Trump were found cast aside. There are problems with mass mail-in voting. I actually don’t understand the lack of journalistic curiosity and reporting on this.”

McEnany, though, mixed up her states — even while saying “that is a fact.” She also said all seven military ballots (which were found in Pennsylvania) were for Trump. In fact, nine were found, and seven were for Trump, with two others unclear. The Justice Department initially wrongly claimed all nine were for Trump, a controversy that would suggest McEnany should be well-versed on this topic. There’s also no indication that there was anything nefarious about it.

What’s most stunning about this, though, is that the debate wasn’t the only time Trump said the ballots were found in a river. He also said it Sept. 24, 25 and 26, at one point referring to a “riverbed.” The debate was, in fact, the fourth time he misstated what happened.

And that’s really the point here. If we’re going to believe he has examined these situations carefully for malfeasance, he might want to have the basic facts down. Otherwise, it undermines his entire point and raises valid questions about just how discerning he is in raising this as some type of highly speculative voter fraud.

The same goes for McEnany. It’s one thing to argue Trump has at times been more definitive; it’s another to gloss over all the other times in which he has been far from that while not reading from a script, or to pretend that saying “sure” is definitive. We get it that the White House may feel that providing something more definitive today would be playing into the hands of his critics and legitimizing the issue. But it’s clearly a legitimate issue for even many Trump allies, and the White House seems bent on prolonging the whole thing.