At least one reporter asked the question on most of America’s mind concerning Obama’s anti-Christian National Prayer Breakfast comments: “What the hell was he thinking?”
“Lest we get up on our high horse and think that this is unique to some other place remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” Obama said.
Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz spoke to the media aboard Air Force One en route Indianapolis Friday.
According to the White House transcripts, here is how he answered the question about Obama’s untimely lecture:
Q Can you talk about yesterday — the President got some criticism for his comments at the prayer breakfast. Was he surprised by that? And what is your response to that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I saw that commentary, Anita. I think that the President has spoken many times to his belief in American exceptionalism. And the President believes America is the greatest country on Earth not only because of our military might or economic prowess, or because we serve in a unique leadership role amongst the international community, but part and parcel to America’s standing in the world is our values, and those are values like equality, tolerance, fairness, civil rights, human rights, treating every human being with respect and decency — no matter their gender, their race, their faith, their sexual identity. Part and parcel to that and our values are holding ourselves up to our own values and our own standards.
So the President believes that when we fall short of that, we need to be honest with ourselves and look inward, and hold ourselves accountable. That’s what gives us the moral standing around the world — not just because we assert it, but because we hold ourselves accountable. So whether that’s our elected officials, whether that is a free and vibrant press, a judiciary system that’s independent — those are the values the President was talking about.
Q Did he think he would have that kind of criticism? Was he surprised by that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Fair question. I have not spoken with him about the reaction to the remarks, but I know that there’s a failed presidential candidate, an RNC chairman from the past who have criticized us. But I don’t have a response to either of those two people.
Q He’s also being criticized by some Republicans, like Rob Portman, who’s not one of these conservative pundits. He’s a Republican senator who said that he’s troubled by the idea that the President was drawing some sort of moral equivalency between what ISIS does and things done in the name of Christianity. Was he trying to draw a comparison and a sense of equivalency between those two things? Or does he reject that characterization?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, what I think the President was trying to say is, over the course of human history there are times where extremists pervert their own religion to justify violence. And that’s what the President was trying to talk about yesterday.
Q How did President choose the national prayer breakfast to make those points?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I think if you look at the entire text of the remarks, you’ll see how well suited they were for that audience and that setting. And again, I think the President — I’d refer you to his speech earlier this year at the United Nations General Assembly, where he spoke very compellingly about the United States’ standing in the world and how part and parcel to that standing is us living up to our own values and our own principles.