White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah praised the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and called today "a great day for Israel," and a reminder that when Donald Trump makes a promise, he keeps it.
But during the festivities surrounding the embassy's opening in Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers have shot and killed at least 52 Palestinians during mass protests over the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Under questioning from reporters at the White House briefing, Shah responded that Israel has the right to defend itself, and he blamed Hamas, "which frankly bear[s] responsibility" for those deaths. The responsibility "rests squarely with Hamas," he reiterated. Shah called it a "gruesome and unfortunate propaganda attempt" on the part of Hamas. Reporters pressed Shah on whether Israel should be exercising any restraint, but Shah would only say that the blame belongs to Hamas.
The president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, attended the opening of the embassy, in addition to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and several Republican senators.
Asked about President Trump's tweet saying that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping are working toget back into business, Shah said it is an issue of "high concern for China" and has been raised at various levels of the administration. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, he said, will look into the matter, consistent with applicable laws and regulations. Just last month, the Commerce Department blocked ZTE from importing components from the U.S. for seven years over accusations that it was violating sanctions against North Korea and Iran.
On North Korea, Shah said the U.S. policy has been to pursue the complete and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea. Asked about the friendlier tone the president has adopted toward North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Shah said his rhetoric "has reflected Kim Jong Un's actions" -- in particular, his pledges to halt ICBM and nuclear tests.
Shah was also asked repeatedly about Kelly Sadler, the White House aide who made a joke about "dying" Arizona Sen. John McCain. Shah told reporters that Sadler had apologized to the McCain family, but asked why she hadn't made a public apology, as Sadler reportedly promised Meghan McCain she would, Shah said only that Sadler had apologized directly to the family. "This is an internal matter," Shah said. She is still an employee and came to work today, Shah said.
Shah also told reporters that President Trump called the Waffle House shooting hero James Shaw to praise "his heroic actions and quick thinking." Shaw, a customer at the Antioch, Tennessee Waffle House,during a shooting last month.