A frustrated reporter shot back Friday at White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany after she berated “all journalists” for being “desperately” opposed to reopening houses of worship.
She seemed to be implying that reporters are anti-religion.
“I object to that,” Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason countered. “I go to church. I’m dying to go back to church.” What reporters want to know, he emphasized: “Is it safe.”
The confrontation occurred after President Donald Trump demand that churches and other houses of worship open immediately amid the COVID-19 crisis. He threatened to override governors who ignore him out of concern for health and safety — even though most legal experts say he has no authority to do so.
McEnany was first pressed by CBS News’ Ben Tracy about Trump’s legal authority to second-guess governors. “What specific provision of federal law allows the president to override a governor’s stance?” he asked.
McEnany dodged the question, answering: “The president will strongly encourage every governor to allow their churches to reopen.” (At another point, she referred to the situation as “hypothetical.”)
Then she added: “Boy, it’s interesting to be in a room that desperately wants to see these churches and houses of worship stay closed.”
That’s when Mason unloaded.
“The question we are asking you and would have liked to have asked the president” — who left without answering any questions after his announcement — “is: Is it safe?” Mason said.
“Jeff, it is safe to reopen your churches if you do so in accordance with the guidelines” issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, McEnany declared.
In fact, the revised CDC guidelines on reopening houses of worship do not say it’s “safe” to return to holding services. It recommends certain steps to take to decrease the risk of spreading the coronavirus in such a gathering.
The CDC issued a report Friday that detailed a COVID-19 infection rate of more than 30% among members of a rural Arkansas church in March that resulted in four deaths.
Mason also emphasized to McEnany that he and his colleagues celebrate the First Amendment right to freedom of religion, and their questions don’t concern prohibiting people from praying but instead addressed safety.
In addition to the Arkansas case, a number of houses of worship have ignored health and safety regulations in various states to reopen, triggering new COVID-19 cases and deaths. Outbreaks not only occur among church members but in surrounding communities as congregants return to their homes, their jobs and stores.
Sources told Politico that Trump demanded that houses of worship reopen because of slipping poll numbers among white evangelicals and white Catholics, who had been crucial backers.
CNN’s Jack Tapper bashed McEnany’s comment as “such a hideous and inappropriate thing to say. And just wrong,” he added in a tweet. “Many journalists are people of faith. It’s also our job to ask if it’s ‘safe’ for people to go back to churches and other houses of worship.”
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