Gay lawmaker Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) is leading calls for White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to resign in the aftermath of his remarks during a news briefing mangling Holocaust history and suggesting Adolf Hitler didn’t use poisonous gas to kill Jewish people.
Cicilline, who’s Jewish, said in a statement Spicer’s comments on the Holocaust are consistent with the anti-Semitic reputations of other senior administration officials, such as White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.
“Donald Trump’s White House does not get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to anti-Semitism,” Cicilline said. “Steve Bannon made his name running a website that trafficked in anti-Semitism and racism. Seb Gorka has a history of working with anti-Semitic groups and individuals. And today, Sean Spicer made despicable, ignorant remarks about the Holocaust and Adolf Hitler. Enough is enough.”
Cicilline concluded the time has come “for some real accountability” at the White House, and that accountability “should start with Sean Spicer’s resignation.”
Making the case for the heinous nature of Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attacks in Syria, Spicer invoked World War II history in response to an unrelated question about why Russia would abandon the Syria leader.
“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” Spicer said. “You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons. So you have to, if you’re Russia, ask yourself is this a country that you and a regime that you want to align yourself with? You have previously signed on to international agreements rightfully acknowledging that the use of chemical weapons should be out of bounds by every country. To not stand up to not only Assad, but your own word, should be troubling.”
Spicer’s comments — which inspired outrage on social media — forget Hitler employed Zyklon B to murder victims of the Holocaust at concentration camps, which contributed to the death toll of 6 million Jewish people.
After the briefing was concluded, Spicer issued a statement seeking yet again to clarify his position, although many observers deemed it insufficient.
“In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust,” Spicer said. “I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”
It was Spicer’s second attempt at clarifying his remarks. A reporter during the briefing asked him to clarify his remarks after quoting them back to him, but Spicer seemed to only dig himself in deeper by referring to concentration camps as the “Holocaust center.”
“He brought them into the Holocaust center, I understand that,” Spicer said. “But I’m saying in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent — into the middle of towns. It was brought — so the use of it — I appreciate the clarification there. That was not the intent.”
Cicilline isn’t the only lawmaker saying Spicer’s remarks demonstrate the need for him to exit the White House. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement saying President Trump should the fire the spokesperson and disavow his comments.
“While Jewish families across America celebrate Passover, the chief spokesman of this White House is downplaying the horror of the Holocaust,” Cicilline said. “Sean Spicer must be fired, and the President must immediately disavow his spokesman’s statements. Either he is speaking for the president, or the president should have known better than to hire him.
The controversy ensues as the White House has faced persistent accusations of anti-Semitism. That most prominent is the role at the White House of Bannon, who has been called “toxic” for operating the right-wing website Breitbart. One headline for an article on the website referred to Bill Kristol, who’s Jewish and a Republican opponent of Trump, as a “Renegade Jew.” The White House also faced criticism for omitting in a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day any explicit mention of Jewish people.
The White House has undertaken efforts to denounce anti-Semitism. At the beginning of a speech before a joint session of Congress in February, Trump repudiated acts of violence amid reports of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries by saying the United States “stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.”
The Washington Blade has placed a request for comment with the White House on calls for Spicer to removed from his position.