MSNBC Anchor Hallie Jackson interviewed Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) Friday and seemed extremely skeptical of DeSantis’s claim that the president was being tongue-in-cheek when he told reporters he wanted to thank Putin for expelling American diplomats from Russia “because we’re trying to cut down our payroll.”
“The president yesterday made a lot of headlines when he said he wanted to thank Vladimir Putin for taking those diplomatic staffers off the payroll essentially the ones that were expelled from Moscow,” Jackson said. “Should the President be thanking Vladimir Putin for that?”
“I interpreted that as being tongue-in-cheek,” DeSantis replied.
“He didn’t smile,” Jackson insisted.
“But that’s kind of the nature of how he’s done it I mean he didn’t want to make it seem like that was something that really had affected us negatively,” DeSantis explained.
“Do you talk to the President do you know that it was sort of a tongue in cheek comment,” she pressed, emphasizing, “it seems like it’s a fairly significant comment that the president is thanking Vladimir Putin for this move and you’re reading it as sarcasm, I’m just wondering what you’re sort of basing that on, is that sort of giving the president some running room there?”
“Just based on knowing the president knowing how he reacts to it I think he was trying to diminish what Putin had done and basically just slough it off,” DeSantis explained, “and so I know it’s an issue with Russia that the media’s very interested in but I think if you look at what’s happened since this administration U.S. policy is tougher towards Russia today than it had been seven months ago.”
DeSantis is not alone in his interpretation of Trump’s comments as tongue-in-cheek, Politico and The New York Times noted in their coverage of the response that it “wasn't clear if Trump's remarks were meant to be in jest” and that he “said it with a somewhat light tone.”
Update: President Trump clarified to reporters Friday evening that he was "absolutely" being sarcastic thanking Putin and he thought they knew that.