24 Jan 2017

'Sometimes we can disagree with the facts' - Trump spokesman

11:11 am on 24 January 2017

A White House spokesman has defended his claim that President Donald Trump's inauguration was the most-watched ever, insisting to media that "our intention is never to lie to you."

Donald Trump, left, and his press secretary Sean Spicer.

Donald Trump, left, and his press secretary Sean Spicer. Photo: AFP

Sean Spicer, Mr Trump's press secretary, earlier said it had been "the largest audience to ever see an inauguration", even though figures he cited add up to under 750,000 people.

In his first official press briefing today, Mr Spicer defended his statement, citing viewership on television and other media.

"I believe that we have to be honest with the American people. I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts," Spicer told the news briefing.

"I'm going to come out here and tell you the facts as I know them. And if we make a mistake, we'll do our best to correct it," he added.

Mr Spicer had been sharply criticised for his comments on Saturday by media, which noted photographs from former President Barack Obama's first inauguration showed much larger crowds than Trump drew on Friday.

He said the new US administration would hold the media accountable.

The presidential motorcade driving down Pennsylvania Ave towards the US Capitol.

The presidential motorcade driving down Pennsylvania Ave towards the US Capitol before President Trump's inauguration. Photo: AFP

At today's conference, Mr Spicer also spoke with the press about:

  • Mr Trump's moves to withdraw the United States from the TPP
  • His plans to ban federal money going to international groups which perform abortions
  • Ongoing issues with China's actions in international waters
  • A forthcoming announcement on filling a vacancy on the US Supreme Court

Earlier this month Trump said he would pick from among 20 Supreme Court candidates suggested by conservative legal groups to fill the vacancy caused by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February last year.

"I think we'll have a nomination within the next couple of weeks. He continues to make that a priority of his," Mr Spicer said.

At the briefing, Mr Spicer also said Mr Trump had resigned from the Trump Organization and his sons Don Jr. and Eric were now in charge of the business.

"He has resigned from the company as he said he would before he took office. Don and Eric are fully in charge of the company," Mr Spicer told reporters.

Chinese whispers

Mr Spicer was also asked if he agreed with comments by Mr Trump's Secretary of State nominee, Rex Tillerson, that China should not be allowed access to islands it has built in the contested South China Sea.

Mr Spicer said Mr Trump has vowed that the United States would prevent China from taking over territory in international waters in the South China Sea, something Chinese state media has said would require Washington to "wage war."

"I think the US is going to make sure that we protect our interests there," Mr Spicer said today.

"It's a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yeah, we're going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country."

Mr Tillerson's remarks at his Senate confirmation hearing prompted Chinese state media to say the United States would need to "wage war" to bar China's access to the islands where it has built military-length air strips and installed weapons systems.

Mr Tillerson said at the hearing, when asked whether he supported a more aggressive posture toward China: "We're going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed."

The former Exxon Mobil Corp chairman and chief executive did not elaborate on what might be done to deny China access to the islands.

China's Foreign Ministry said it could not guess what Mr Tillerson meant by his remarks, which came after Trump questioned Washington's longstanding and highly sensitive "one-China" policy over Taiwan.

US President Donald Trump reads an executive order withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership prior to signing it in the Oval Office of the White House.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order today ending any funding for international groups which perform or provide information on abortions. Photo: AFP

Abortion policy 'silences health workers'

The US president's executive order to ban federal money going to international groups which perform or provide information on abortions showed he "wants to stand up for all Americans, including the unborn," Mr Spicer said.

The executive order - known as "the Mexico City Policy" - is likely to concern pro-choice groups, already wary of his anti-abortion stance.

Mr Trump supports a US abortion ban.

But this is not the first time a foreign funding ban has been put in place. Republican President Ronald Reagan first created the Mexico City Policy in 1984 introducing the ban, only for the Democrats to later rescind it under the Clinton administration.

The policy requires non-governmental organisations receiving federal funding to agree to "neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations".

For decades, it has been the case that no US money could be spent on overseas abortions but the Mexico City policy takes that a step further.

In 2009, Barack Obama ended the policy, which had been reinstated under President George Bush's tenure.

Pro-choice groups have criticised the move by Mr Trump.

"It's telling that one of Trump's first executive actions combines two of his favourite things: silencing anyone who disagrees with him and repressing women," a statement from advocacy group Naral Pro-Choice America.

"Just two days after the historic Women's March and one day after the anniversary of the historic decision in Roe v. Wade, Donald Trump's misguided priority is to reinstate a policy that silences health workers at the expense of their patients."

On the campaign trail, the formerly pro-choice Republican told MSNBC "there has to be some sort of punishment for the woman" if abortion was banned. He later retracted the statement amid a widespread outcry.

His campaign said Mr Trump believed decisions on the legality of the procedure should be left up to individual states, with any criminal penalties being reserved for abortion providers.

He has said he supports an abortion ban exception for "rape, incest and the life of the mother".

Mr Trump has also promised to fill a Supreme Court vacancy with a socially conservative judge.

Meanwhile, Congress has signalled its intention to withdraw federal funding from Planned Parenthood, a group that provides reproductive health services in the US and overseas.

- Reuters / BBC

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs