WH Accuses Philadelphia Eagles of Pulling a ‘Political Stunt’

Melanie Arter | June 5, 2018 | 8:32pm EDT
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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Screenshot}

(CNSNews.com) - The White House defended President Donald Trump’s decision Tuesday to disinvite the Philadelphia Eagles from a planned White House visit, saying the NFL team “changed their commitment at the 11th hour” from 80 members of the Eagles organization to “a tiny handful of representatives” to attend the event and tried to reschedule the visit when they knew the president would be overseas.

“On the president's decision to disinvite the Eagles, he's suggesting this is about the National Anthem. Is the president aware that not a single player on the Eagles, through the entire season, knelt for the National Anthem?” ABC News White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

“The president's position on not just the Anthem has been clear, but let's not forget this isn't -- there were 80 members of the Eagles organization that RSVP'd and committed to attend this event as recently as Friday, as well as over a thousand fans of the Eagles organization,” Sanders said.

She said the Eagles were the ones that “tried to change their commitment at the eleventh hour, and the president, frankly, thinks that the fans deserve better than that, and therefore, we changed the ceremony to be a focus on celebrating our great country.”

“But why is he acting like this is about the National Anthem? And is he concerned -- we heard from Steph Curry and from LeBron James the suggestion that whoever wins the NBA Championship, they're unlikely to be here. Is this about something more than the National Anthem, something other than the National Anthem?” Karl asked.

“Look, if this wasn't a political stunt by the Eagles franchise, then they wouldn't have planned to attend the event and then backed out at the last minute. And if it wasn't a political stunt, then they wouldn't have attempted to reschedule the visit when they knew that the president was going to be overseas,” Sanders replied.

“And if this wasn't a political stunt, they wouldn't have waited until Monday, well after a thousand of their fans had traveled and taken time out of their schedules to offer only a tiny handful of representatives to attend the event,” she said.

“To be clear on that point: This isn't about the National Anthem. It's about so few players coming in the end, correct?” a reporter asked.

“Certainly, the president has been very clear what his position is in regards to the National Anthem. We've never wavered on that. The president thinks that people should stand for the National Anthem, particularly when it comes to the NFL. It's not about a particular team. It's about having pride in our country and about being respectful to the men and women who have fought and died to preserve our country,” Sanders said.

“In terms of this, the Eagles are the ones that changed their commitment at the last minute. The president felt it was appropriate to change the event to be a ceremony to celebrate our country,” she said.

A reporter asked whether Trump risks alienating key voters in Pennsylvania by disinviting the Eagles and by the statement that the team abandoned the fans.

“Certainly, we would hope that all of the people of Pennsylvania would share the president's commitment to the National Anthem and the pride that we have in our country, and certainly not meant to be a slight to anyone, but, frankly, a reaffirmation of what a great country that we live in. And to stand for the National Anthem is something the president has been very clear on,” Sanders said.

“Are you saying the president bears zero responsibility in this cancellation? This is a president who called NFL players S.O.B.s, who implied that some players who don't stand for the National Anthem do not belong in this country. Does he bear zero responsibility for players like the Warriors and the Cavs not wanting to come and the Eagles bailing on this?” ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega asked.

“Look, the president -- his position hasn't changed on this throughout the process, and the president's position was very clearly stated in a number of forums and venues, and the Eagles made the commitment to come and to be part of that event well after the President had established his feelings in regards to the National Anthem. And once again, they made that change at the last minute, not the president. He's the one that has been completely consistent in his viewpoint when it comes to this,” Sanders said.

American Urban Radio Network’s April Ryan asked, “If it is about free speech and he supports these ideas, will the president commit to a roundtable with America's athletes on topics of social injustice?”

“I'd certainly be happy to ask him,” Sanders said.

“Just for clarity, has he not -- is it not something that has had any discussion to this point, given all the division in this country over this topic of social justice?” Ryan asked.

“Certainly, we look at ways every single day to unify our country. The president has worked actively and tirelessly to be the president of all Americans. I think you can see that reflected in the policies that he's put forth," Sanders said.

“I think one of the biggest things that you've seen come out of this administration, frankly, that is far and vastly different than previous administrations is providing economic opportunity for all Americans. And one of the greatest equalizers that we can have is to provide a level playing field, and the president has worked increasingly hard to make sure that that happens,” she added.

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