White House Press Secretary Opens Mouth, Inserts Both Feet

Picard Facepalm

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer put his own feet in his mouth at today’s White House Press Briefing:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, in an effort to shame Russia’s alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his use of chemical weapons, said Tuesday Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” during World War II.

While Hitler did not use chemical weapons on the battlefield, Hitler and the Nazis used gas chambers to exterminate Jews, disabled people and others.
Spicer, asked for a clarification by a reporter about the comments that Hitler did not use chemical weapons, said: “I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.”

Reporters in the briefing room offered the Holocaust as an example of chemical weapons use.

“But in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns and dropped them down to innocent in the middle of towns,” Spicer said, defending his statement.

“I appreciate the clarification, that was not the intent,” he said.

Here’s the video:

Almost immediately after the briefing ended, Spicer sought to “clarify” his statement:

Spicer happens to be correct that Nazi Germany never used chemical weapons on the battlefield, but he did, of course, use them on his own people as well as Jews, Catholics, Gypsies, the “defective,” homosexuals, and dissidents, many of whom were German citizens. And when you have to clarify something, you know you’ve made a mistake.

The MSNBC chyron says it all:


You don’t say…..

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    One minor point: the Jews of Germany were ‘his own people.’ He was the ruler of Germany, they were his citizens.

  2. pylon says:

    “But in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns and dropped them down to innocent in the middle of towns,” Spicer said, defending his statement.

    Hitler just took the innocent from the middle of towns to where the gas was. Or is he saying the Jews weren’t “innocent”.

    Lesson: Never let Gorka write your copy.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:
  4. Modulo Myself says:

    He actually called concentration camps ‘Holocaust centers’. Basically we are dealing with people for whom the Holocaust represents something as distant as the War of the Roses. When you spend your time denying climate change or pretending that there’s a war on cops or that the civil war was somehow about anything other than slavery, you have people who are essentially willing to deny the Holocaust. This is Pat Buchanan’s party now.

  5. Scott says:

    Normally, I would have sympathy for people who have to speak extemporaneously and manage to garble the message. There is a long list of free speaking that get people into trouble (you didn’t make that, basket of deplorables, you can keep your doctor, binders full of women, etc) To any sensible person this is just linguistic sloppiness. But Spicer has well used up any well of good will be might have started with and so… blast away.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    @Scott: Scott, you took the words right out of my mouth. I don’t know anything about Spicer that would lead me to think he is even mildly anti-semitic, much less a holocaust denier. But he works in the administration along with Gorka (literally a member of an anti-semitic, fascistic, East European death squad party), Bannon (literally someone who made his bones as the editor in chief of a virulently white supremacist, misanthropic, anti-semitic, rascist, homophobic trash website) and Trump himself (who actually had staff members in one of his first real estate ventures label applications from African Americans with a “C” (colored) so they could be ignored. And whose father, who he has nothing but praise and adulation for, was literally arrested at a Ku Klux Klan rally in NYC when they started rioting)

  7. Scott says:

    I am also torn by the calls for Spicer’s firing. By calling for it (as the Anne Frank Center and Nancy Pelosi called for firing), it gets backs raised up and therefore lessening the probability of his being fired. On the other hand, I thing Spicer should stay because he screws up so often that it is an advantage to have him stay. Such a dilemma.

  8. Hal_10000 says:

    I mean, I get the point he was trying to make, I suppose. But it was incredibly silly and pedantic point to make. And I agree with what Ross Douthat said: it’s concerning that we’re only a week into Trump’s Syria policy and we’re already down to Reducto Ad Hitlerium.

  9. DrDaveT says:


    we’re only a week into Trump’s Syria policy and we’re already down to Reducto Ad Hitlerium.

    Is there a Godwin’s Law for administrations?

  10. al-Ameda says:

    Can we give Sean Spicer the benefit of the doubt here? He watched documentary footage of the German Luftwaffe’s bombing of Pearl Harbor and he did not see gas or chemical weapons used. It’s a mistake anyone could make.

    Seriously though, I used to think that Spicer simply had a tough job trying to spin Trump’s twitters and often incoherent sales talks into positive news leads. But now I’ve come around, I think he’s in way over his head – not that that sets him apart from most of the Trump team.

  11. MarkedMan says:


    I am also torn by the calls for Spicer’s firing.

    I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t really matter whether Spicer stays or goes. He’s second rate at best, but who would he be replaced with? A competent straight-shooter? And that person would last, what, one press conference before being fired? In fact, why would such a person even accept the job? The only way I see a Spicer sacking working out is that Trump would put in someone even worse.

    As my kids say whenever he is mentioned: “Spicey! No Spicing!” ( http://dora.wikia.com/wiki/Swiper )

  12. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    This is, in spite of the anti-semitic nature of this administration, clearly a mistake. A huge mistake, but a mistake.
    No matter…Spicer is a bigger liar than even Ari Fleischer. He started from the beginning with his famous Saturday Press Conference describing the Inauguration crowds as the biggest in history.
    He has continued lying, unabated, until present day.
    I think he should be fired…but when his boss lies like Comb-over Donnie lies…really what’s it matter?

  13. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Col. Lawrence Wilkerson:

    “I see so much rank amateurism at work here…the White House is not only is low on people, it’s low on experience and talent….They can’t seem to even manage the grounds of the White House [referring, obviously to the annual Easter Egg hunt which is reportedly being botched] let alone such significant issues as Russia and Syria and North Korea and on and on…at least Mr. Cheney was competent, experienced and an extremely good bureaucrat…This is amateurism and amateurism looks to the world just like what it is: amateurism.”

  14. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Modulo Myself: Has been since 1964.

  15. KM says:


    I am also torn by the calls for Spicer’s firing.

    Ditto as the replacement can be much much worse. I don’t want a competent liar smoothing over Trump’s BS. I don’t want a confident-sounding, smooth-rhetoric delivering ad man putting a smiley face on the mess streaming out of the White House. We need honesty in packaging here – Spicer shows them for what they are near daily. Trump has a cult following so he gets weird immunity with his nuts but everyone else is fair game.

    Marketing shouldn’t be able to save you when you suck. It’s not Spicer’s fault Trump sucks but it is Spicer’s fault he sucks. Keep him.

  16. dmhlt says:

    I suppose we can be thankful that Spicer did not brag that Hitler gave people free train rides to those “Holocaust Centers”.

  17. SKI says:


    Seriously though, I used to think that Spicer simply had a tough job trying to spin Trump’s twitters and often incoherent sales talks into positive news leads. But now I’ve come around, I think he’s in way over his head – not that that sets him apart from most of the Trump team.

    Here is the thing. I know Sean. We were on the same hallway freshman year and while we were never friends, between that close living proximity and sharing a major at a small liberal arts college, we interacted with some regularity. He isn’t stupid (though he isn’t brilliant either). And he definitely isn’t antisemitic. What he is is obstinate and bull-headed and somewhat amoral. He carved out a niche at Conn and since by being the outraged conservative surrounded by north-east liberals. He also is far more likely to “wing it” rather than prepare extensively.

    Sean has to know he is defending the indefensible but just doesn’t care. In the instant case, he tried to be “cute” and regurgitate a message someone floated last week and overstepped the talking point – and then screwed up the exit strategy. Not evil, just ill prepared and foolish.

  18. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Doesn’t help that this happened on Passover. On the same day that Trump and his immediately family all blew off the White House staffers’ Seder.

    Whether it was intentional or not, it speaks to a lack of awareness in the current White House. Given that there are a number of known anti-Semetic and white supremacists roaming the halls, and what happens to minorities when people like that have power, the public is justified in having their hackles raised, and reading everything the White House says and does through that lens.

  19. Kylopod says:

    Those quickest to make Nazi analogies usually turn out to know very little about the real ones.

    For me, the ultimate example has to be the 2010 speech by New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino comparing gay marriage to the Holocaust. What struck me most wasn’t the absurdity of the comparison itself (Godwin’s Law is just too commonplace to be shocking anymore, no matter how idiotic), it was the laughable historical illiteracy in his remark, “During World War II, all decent people were angry at Hitler’s extermination of six million Jews in the gas chambers of Aushwitz [sic].” Unless this was just really sloppy phrasing, he apparently thought the entire 6 million all died in Auschwitz gas chambers. He seemed unaware that there were other death camps, that not all those Jews died in camps, and that they certainly didn’t all die in gas chambers. I guess if all your information about this terrible chapter in history comes from soundbites, your notion of what happened might get a little smashed together. It’s like that time in college I mentioned to a girl that my mom’s parents were Holocaust survivors, and she replied, “Did they know Anne Frank?”

    Spicer’s remarks reflect a similar cluelessness. Take his tweet that Hitler didn’t use gas against “his own people.” It’s not just the racist assumption that the Jews of Germany weren’t “his own people,” it’s also Spicer’s apparent ignorance of the fact that the Nazis gassed numerous ethnic Germans!

    To a lot of Americans, the Nazis are simply the world’s greatest cartoon supervillains. The point of invoking them isn’t to show any true grasp of the reality of the events of the 1940s, but to take comfort in the idea that the villains are easy to identify, like the black coat and hat in a Spy vs. Spy comic. It’s a notion that tempts people who want to believe that all the messy, complicated business of contemporary American politics can be reduced to simple good vs. evil. And it usually is based on a dim understanding of the actual historical events. It fits perfectly with the Trump Administration’s omission of Jews from their statement on Holocaust Memorial Day, not because Spicer is a Nazi like Bannon or Gorka, but because he demonstrates the exact kind of ignorance that makes people susceptible to the anti-Semitic campaign on the far right to minimize and trivialize the Holocaust without explicitly denying its occurrence.

    As Deborah Lipstadt wrote in her 1994 book Denying the Holocaust, “In certain respects it is more insidious than outright denial because it nurtures a form of pseudohistory whose motives are difficult to identify. It is the equivalent of David Duke without his robes.”

  20. Pch101 says:

    Holocaust Center sounds like the sort of place where you might be able to get a decent latte.

    Then again, Holocaust Centre would have a bit more gravitas, while Holocaust Depot would make it sound like a market share leader that is traded on an exchange.

    Not sure how much more of this winning that I can take.

  21. Eric Florack says:
  22. Kylopod says:

    @Eric Florack: Right, how biased the news media was for not getting on the case of Press Secretary Chris Matthews.

    …oh, wait.