- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2017

The Trump administration says its actions on reorganizing the National Security Council, issuing a Holocaust remembrance statement and forcing a pause in refugees all mirror steps taken by previous presidents — but his predecessors got nowhere near the venomous pushback President Trump has so far in his short tenure.

The perception of disparate treatment has put the White House on edge and prompted Mr. Trump and his top aides to repeatedly try to justify their actions by pointing to past administrations.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer tackled criticism Monday that a staffing update for the National Security Council had downgraded the role in intelligence officials, fuming that it was “utter nonsense.”

He also criticized reports that Mr. Trump’s putting White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon in NSC meetings was unusual, noting that President Obama’s political strategist had the same access without having formal membership status.

“Let’s be honest. I mean, David Axelrod walked in and out of NSC meetings quite frequently by his own account, by several of your accounts,” he said at the daily White House press briefing. “I think it shows that this administration’s trying to make sure that we don’t hide things and wait for them to come out after the fact.”

Mr. Spicer held up copies of memoranda from President Obama in 2009 and President George W. Bush in 2001 that were highlighted where the language was identical or nearly identical to the one by Mr. Trump.

“The idea is that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and [director of national intelligence] are being downgraded or removed is utter nonsense,” he said. “They are at every NSC meeting and are welcome to attend the principles meetings as well.”

At issue was the removal of required attendance of those officials at NSC principles meeting, which do not include the president and often deal with nonmilitary issues, such as response to pandemic flu.

Mr. Spicer considered it a nonissue and rebuked the press for reporting it as a shakeup.

“It’s really a disservice,” he said. “I’ve seen so much misreporting all this weekend about downgrading this individual or upgrading. The language could not be clearer. It is 100 percent identical. So any misreading of it otherwise is a spread of misinformation, plain and simple.”

The defensive posture is understandable given the absence of the traditional honeymoon period for Mr. Trump, who came under sharp attacks from the news media, Capitol Hill Democrats and liberal activists as soon as he took the oath of office.

However, Mr. Trump’s bold moves in his first week in the Oval Office invited some of the criticism, and the comparable actions by his predecessors often differ by degrees.

Mr. Trump said that his temporary halt to refugees and visitors for seven countries identified as terrorist hotbeds had a precedent in the Obama administration.

“My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months,” Mr. Trump said in defense of his action.

The Obama administration did temporarily halt refugees from Iraq in 2011 after two Iraqi refugee men who settled in Kentucky were caught in an FBI sting plotting a terror attack. The State Department imposed a six-month freeze on processing Iraqi refugees and a stricter vetting process was put in place.

The move was similar to Mr. Trump‘s, although not as broad, covering one country, and in response to a specific threat from the Iraq War.

Still, the questions directed at the Obama administration focused on whether it was doing enough vetting, not whether it was too much.

Mr. Spicer cited the same example when Mr. Trump’s “extreme vetting” plan was faulted for not accommodating Iraqis who risked their lives to support the U.S.-led fight in their country.

“That doesn’t mean that we just give them a pass,” he said. “The Obama administration [in 2009] let two people through the Iraqi program in. Those people came to the United States and tried to plan an attack in Kentucky.”

He also bristled at criticism that the president’s statement last week on Holocaust Remembrance Day did not specifically mention the mass murder of Jews. The criticism came from Jewish groups in the U.S.

“It wasn’t in President Bush’s acknowledgment either,” he said.

“To suggest that remembering the Holocaust and acknowledging all of the people — Jewish, gypsies, priests, disabled, gays and lesbians — I mean, it is pathetic that people are picking on his statement,” said Mr. Spicer.

While Mr. Bush did not mention Jews in his 2007 statement, he did specifically condemn anti-Semitism.

Mr. Obama mentioned the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis every year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, expect in 2009 when he did not issue a statement.

Mr. Obama was not widely criticized for skipping the statement in 2009.

He also was defended in the press in early 2009 for visiting Dresden, the Germany city obliterated by Allied bombings near the end of World War II, before visiting the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald. The bombing of Dresden, where raging fires killed an estimated 25,000 Germans, is often cited by Holocaust revisionists as equivalent to the genocide of Jews.

At the time, Mr. Obama said the sequence of the visits was due to the demands of his scheduling. The explanation was not significantly challenged by the news media.

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