President Donald Trump and his team are still fuming over evidence of a relatively small crowd for his inauguration, with his chief of staff claiming the reports are an effort to “de-legitimize” Trump and another senior adviser explaining that the administration is offering “alternative facts.”
It has been an extraordinary start for the newly sworn-in president, in which Trump and his advisers have fixated on the inaugural crowd size and the well-attended protests, while also taking actions to freeze federal regulations and gut Obamacare.
Early Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to lash out at the millions of protesters worldwide who came out for the Women’s March on Washington — before sending a much more conciliatory tweet later in the morning.
“Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly,” Trump tweeted at 7:47 a.m.
Almost two hours later, he followed up with a message that carried a significantly different tone. “Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views,” the later message said.
But much of the attention remained on the public fight over whether the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd truly paled in comparison to that of his predecessors. Aerial images and Metro ridership statistics indicate that significantly few people attended Trump’s inauguration on Friday, compared to former President Barack Obama’s ceremony in 2009.
Hitting the Sunday morning shows, Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway sought to downplay the fracas while highlighting what she called the president’s “unfair” treatment.
“I don’t think, ultimately, presidents are judged by crowd sizes at their inauguration. I think they’re judged by their accomplishments,” Conway said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” before going on to say, “I think it is a symbol for the unfair and incomplete treatment that this president often receives.”
She also tried to defend press secretary Sean Spicer, who called reporters to the White House briefing room on Saturday night to accuse the media of “deliberately false reporting,” while delivering a statement on crowd size that was riddled with inaccuracies.
When asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” why Spicer used falsehoods during the statement, Conway offered an explanation that quickly went viral.
“You’re saying it’s a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that,” she said.
“Alternative facts are not facts,” Todd responded. “They’re falsehoods.”
White House chief of staff Reince Preibus doubled down during his Sunday morning show tour, saying that Trump’s administration will continue to fight back against the media.
“The point is not the crowd size,” Preibus said on Fox News. “The point is the attacks and the attempt to de-legitimize this president in one day, and we’re not going to sit around and take it.”
“We are going to fight back tooth and nail every day and twice on Sunday,” Preibus added.
Spicer has taken heat for his main claim that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe,” while offering other inaccurate statements including that Trump’s was the first inauguration in which white floor coverings were used on the mall. White floor coverings were used during Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.
Spicer also used misleading numbers to highlight Metro ridership, comparing essentially half-day statistics for Obama’s last inauguration to longer-day statistics for Trump’s.
Trump’s focus on the attendance and ratings at his inauguration comes amid intense interest on which executive orders Trump will next introduce. On Friday, the president got off to a quick start, signing an order that has the potential to gut Obamacare by broadly advising agencies to ease the burden of his predecessor’s legislative achievement. He also put a freeze on federal regulations, much like Obama did in 2009.
Since Friday, however, much of the attention has been on the Trump administration’s comments about the inauguration.
Trump even hijacked a speech in front of the Langley Memorial wall at the CIA headquarters that was intended to patch up his relationship with the intelligence community. Instead, he delivered a strongly political speech that exaggerated the inaugural crowd size and blasted the “dishonest media.”
“Had a great meeting at CIA Headquarters yesterday, packed house, paid great respect to Wall, long standing ovations, amazing people. WIN!” Trump wrote on Twitter Sunday morning.
But while Trump saw the speech as a win, recently departed CIA chief John Brennan said he was “deeply saddened” by Trump’s speech, where his focus seemed to stray from the CIA agents in attendance to his own accomplishments.
“Former CIA Director Brennan is deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA’s Memorial Wall of Agency heroes,” Brennan’s former of deputy chief of staff Nick Shapiro said in a statement on Saturday. “Brennan says that Trump should be ashamed of himself.”
On ABC’s “This Week,” Conway hit back at Brennan, saying the former director “sounded like a partisan political hack about the president of the United States.”
“I think everybody needs to take a step back and a very deep breath … and think about what their words are,” Conway said.
It wasn’t just crowd size that Trump focused on during his third day as leader of the free world. He was also fixated on television ratings for his big day.
In a third tweet on Sunday, he said, “Wow, television ratings just out: 31 million people watched the Inauguration, 11 million more than the very good ratings from 4 years ago!”
Trump’s assessment of the ratings was just slightly off. His inauguration received 30.6 million viewers, compared to 20.5 million for former President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2013.
In 2009, however, Obama received nearly 38 million viewers for his first inauguration.