After Donald Trump characterized houses of worship as “essential services” and called upon governors to open them “right now,” Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany faced questions from reporters of what the president’s authority was to force state officials to do so.
But she also drew pushback when she claimed that reporters in the White House briefing room wanted to see churches remain closed.
More from Deadline
In some states have been closed amid the coronavirus pandemic, as states impose restrictions on large gatherings.
At a White House press briefing, CBS News’ Ben Tracy asked McEnany, “If a governor does not allow that, does the White House support churches that defy these executive orders?”
“The president has been very clear. He wants to see churches reopen in accordance with these guidelines.”
“The answer is yes?” Tracy asked.
She responded, “I gave you an answer and the president would like to do it in accordance with the CDC guidelines.”
Then Tracy pressed her 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 allow their churches to reopen, and boy, it is interesting to be in a room that desperately wants to seem to see these churches and houses of worship stay closed.”
After that remark, Reuters White House Correspondent Jeff Mason took issue with her comment.
“I object to that,” he said. “I go to church. I’m dying to go back to church. The question we are asking you and would have liked to have asked the president and Dr. [Deborah] Birks is, Is it safe? If it is not safe, is the president trying to encourage that, or does the president agree with Dr. Birks that people should wait.”
McEnany replied, “Jeff, it is safe to reopen your churches and you do so in accordance with the guidelines which are laid out in very stringent detail here,” outlining some of the provisions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
McEnany also said that it was a First Amendment issue, “the same amendment that gives you all the ability to ask me questions is there to have the freedom of worship, so moms 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 practice your faith.”
Best of Deadline