After Donald Trump characterized god houses as “essential services” and urged governors to open them “right now,” Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany faced reporters’ questions about what the president’s authority was to force state officials to do so.
But she also pulled pushback when she claimed that reporters in the White House’s information room wanted to see churches remain closed.
In some states, churches have been closed amid coronavirus pandemics and restrictions on large gatherings.
At today’s briefing, CBS News’ Ben Tracy McEnany asked: “If a governor doesn’t allow it, does the White House support churches that defy these executive orders?”
She replied: “The president has been very clear. He wants to see churches open in accordance with these guidelines. “
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“The answer is yes?” Tracy asked.
She replied, “I gave you an answer, and the President would like to do so in accordance with the CDC’s guidelines.”
Then Tracy pressed on what provision of federal law would allow the president to override a governor on the issue.
She replied: “The president will strongly encourage every governor to have their churches reopened, and boy, is it interesting to be in a room that desperately wants to see these churches and god houses remain closed.”
After that comment, Reuters correspondent at the White House Jeff Mason raised the issue with his comment.
“I oppose it,” he said. “I go to church. I die going back to church. The question we ask you and would have liked to have asked the President and Dr. [Deborah] Birx is, is it safe? If it is not safe, the president tries to encourage it, or agrees with the president. Birx that people should wait. “
McEnany replied, “Jeff, it is safe to open your churches again and you do so in accordance with the guidelines set out in very strict detail here,” and describes some of the regulations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
McEnany also said it was a first amendment, “the same amendment that gives you all the ability to ask me questions is there to have freedom to worship, so imams and pastors can go to their churches, go to their places of worship, and can Celebrate what is a First Amendment right in this country, which is to pray to your god and to exercise your faith. “
Separately today, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that the state will issue guidelines by Monday for the reopening of god houses, despite Trump’s insistence that they be allowed to open immediately for personal services.
The White House last month set guidelines for states to reopen their economies, but Trump has given rise to protesters who want to immediately reopen. Some saw his recent announcement of the house of God as yet another way to exploit cultural divisions. “He doesn’t have much authority,” Gloria Borger told CNN. “He can create a lot of chaos.”
McEnany’s briefing also had a strange moment with the White House reporter for One America News Network, known for its pro-Trump coverage. OANN’s correspondent, Chanel Rion, asked her “if the president has considered forgiving President Obama for illegal interception, illegal espionage against citizens and other potential crimes out there.”
Rion’s question seemed to be a way for McEnany to go to one of her talking points when she went to a series of prepared photos about the Michael Flynn case and Obama, Joe Biden and Susan Rice. “It’s a long weekend, you have three days to follow up on those issues, and I really hope that the next time I ask, some hands up, for Obama’s spokesman should be asked those questions, because President Trump’s spokesman really would be. “
Rion had no room at the briefing, but stood off the back of the room, despite the guidelines of the White House correspondents on social distancing during the krona virus crisis. She had previously said that she was invited to press releases by the press secretary.