White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted Wednesday that President Donald Trump didn’t mislead or misspeak when he indicated last week that an “armada” was steaming toward North Korea in a show of U.S. military might.
U.S. Navy photographs over the weekend showed the USS Carl Vinson thousands of miles from the Korean Peninsula and heading in the opposite direction.
Spicer stressed it eventually would reach its originally stated destination, juggling with verb tense in seeking to clarify.
“The president said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula,” Spicer told reporters. “That’s a fact. It happened. It is happening, rather.”
Later, he added: “We said that it was heading there, and it was heading there. It is heading there.”
Spicer said he never spoke to the timeline of the aircraft carrier’s movements, only what message it sent: “foreign presence, strength and a reassurance to allies.”
On April 12, addressing tensions over Pyongyang’s ballistic missile testing, Trump told Fox Business, “We are sending an armada, very powerful.”
Three days earlier, U.S. Pacific Command said the Carl Vinson was directed to sail north from Singapore to a Western Pacific Ocean post.
But U.S. Navy photographs last Saturday showed it in the Sunda Strait in Indonesia and then in the Indian Ocean, heading for scheduled training with Australian forces.
The administration appeared to redirect the strike group soon afterward, and on Tuesday, Pacific Command said it now “is heading north to the Western Pacific as a prudent measure.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters Wednesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that the aircraft carrier’s schedule was changed. Like Spicer, he said it will wind up near the Korean Peninsula to reassure U.S. allies.
“We’re doing exactly what we said we were going to do,” Mattis said. “She will be on her way.”
Also Wednesday, Spicer announced that Trump will host Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on May 20 to discuss a “conflict-ending settlement between the Palestinians and Israel.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Trump in February.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump signed into law the Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act, which expands health care access and allows veterans to stay with their doctor.
“Some people have to travel five hours, eight hours, and they’ll have to do it on a weekly basis, and even worse than that,” the president said. “It’s not going to happen anymore.”
Trump on Thursday will receive Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni at the White House.