Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus claimed during a Sunday interview that Republicans never questioned the legitimacy of President Barack Obama’s election victory, despite the fact that President-elect Donald Trump himself spent years pushing the so-called birther movement.
In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Priebus responded to Rep. John Lewis’ (D-GA) comment that Trump is not “a legitimate president” by denying that Republicans ever questioned the legitimacy of Obama’s election victory.
“I and we look up to John Lewis and his historic contribution to civil rights and voting rights,” Priebus said. “And in particular his—”
“But the President-elect said he was all talk and no action!” George Stephanopoulos interrupted, referring to tweets Trump posted Saturday morning lashing out at the Georgia congressman and civil rights icon.
“But, let me answer, but here’s the problem,” Priebus said. “We need folks like John Lewis and others who I think have been champions of voter rights to actually recognize the fact that Donald Trump was duly elected.”
He called it “incredibly disappointing” and “irresponsible” for someone of Lewis’ stature to question Trump’s legitimacy as president.
“I think in fact President Obama could step up,” Priebus said, suggesting that the White House should come out in Trump’s favor.
“But isn’t it harder to do that after a tweet like that from the President-elect?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“But George, hang on! John Lewis stood up in an interview and said that Donald trump was not a legitimate president! That’s insanity, and it’s wrong!” Priebus replied. “You’re worried about a tweet that says ‘get back to work instead of questioning my legitimacy’? Too bad!”
“We just had Senator Sanders on the program. He did not question the legitimacy of the President-elect,” Stephanopoulos said. “But he did say that it was right to bring up questions like this because of Donald Trump’s past and questioning the legitimacy of Barack Obama with those years and years of questions about where he was born.”
“Donald Trump’s made it clear certainly over the last few years that President Obama was born in Hawaii,” Priebus claimed.
“Not until the end of the campaign!” Stephanopoulos replied.
“But hang on a second, George, we’re not questioning the legitimacy of the outcome of the election,” Priebus said. “You didn’t have Republicans questioning whether or not Obama legitimately beat John McCain in 2008.”
“It is a fact that Donald Trump was questioning whether President Obama was eligible to serve as president under the Constitution,” Stephanopoulos countered.
“And many people were, George, but that’s been resolved for years now, and it’s been resolved for at least two years in Donald Trump’s mind!” Priebus hit back.
“Just a factual point,” Stephanopoulos interrupted, speaking over Priebus. “He didn’t stop raising those questions until late in this campaign, not two years.”
“But look, George, that’s not the point!” Priebus said, visibly agitated. “The point is not where Barack Obama was born! The point is that we’ve got congressmen on the Democratic side of the aisle that are questioning the legitimacy of President-elect Trump.”
Despite Priebus’ claims, as recently as December 2015 Trump refused to say whether or not he still believed in the so-called birther conspiracy theory, which pushes the notion that Obama was born in Africa so his presidency is illegitimate.
In September 2016, Trump gave a thirty-second disavowal of the birther movement in an elaborate stunt at his new D.C. hotel where he was first introduced by a supporter of the movement and then bragged about the amenities available at the hotel.
“President Obama was born in the United States. Period,” he said at the end of the campaign event, before leaving the room and refusing to take questions from reporters.
In an interview less than a week later, he clarified that the only reason he disavowed birtherism was to “get on with the campaign.”
Watch the exchange between Priebus and Stephanopoulos below: