President Donald Trump held a confusing and contradictory press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday, moments after the Senate voted along party lines to proceed on a motion to gut health care.
Speaking in the Rose Garden, Trump thanked Republican senators for their vote while Hariri looked on.
“Now we move forward towards truly great health care for the American people,” the president said. “We look forward to that. This was a big step.” Of Republican Senators Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK), who both voted against the motion, Trump said only, “It’s sad. For them.”
Lebanon has notably worked to expand universal health care to its citizens — but that irony wasn’t the only strange turn of events to come out of the press conference. Here were the highlights:
1. Trump praised giving health care to refugees.
Trump has spent his first six months in office actively working to both repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and impose stringent policies banning refugees from the United States. Earlier this month, the United States shut the door on refugees, as the country reached the limit set by the president, and Trump has sought to target Syrian refugees in particular.
Alongside Turkey and Jordan, Lebanon has disproportionately shouldered the burden of taking in refugees from Syria. Approximately one million Syrians are currently displaced in Lebanon, which has a population of less than six million. Trump acknowledged the high number, before going on to laud the country’s efforts to provide for refugees in a range of ways, including providing food, water, shelter — and health care.
It was an irony not lost on U.S. citizens, many of whom took to Twitter:
— Bob Naja (@BOBNAJA) July 25, 2017
Trump denies Syrian refugees from US
Trump denies healthcare to millions of Americans
Trump takes credit for giving refugees healthcare?!
— Cecily Tomlinson (@CeeScott12) July 25, 2017
2. Trump thanked Lebanon for fighting a part of its own government.
In one of the stranger moments of the press conference, Trump thanked Hariri for Lebanon’s efforts in fighting extremist groups, including Shia Muslim militant organization and political party Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region,” Trump said. “The group continues to increase its military arsenal which threatens to start yet another conflict with Israel. With the support of Iran, the organization is also fueling humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.”
There’s only one problem: Hezbollah is in the Lebanese government.
Hariri became prime minister following a 29-month political stalemate in Lebanon that only ended after Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah, became president. Aoun named Hariri prime minister as part of a compromise deal of sorts, and while Hariri has an adversarial relationship with the organization, its members nonetheless have significant power within the government.
— Farnaz Fassihi (@farnazfassihi) July 25, 2017
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) July 25, 2017
Trump previously came under fire as a presidential candidate when he commented that the difference between Hezbollah and the Palestinian organization Hamas did not matter to him.
3. Trump said the war against ISIS was going very well.
Another striking moment in the Rose Garden saw Trump lauding his administration’s progress in the war against ISIS.
“We’ve made more progress in the last four or five months than the previous administration made in eight years,” Trump asserted. He went on to reference a ceasefire brokered with support from Russia resulting in “a lot of lives saved.”
That claim comes just one week after an Airwars investigation revealed civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq are on track to double under Trump. Over 2,200 civilians have died since Trump took office, almost twice the number killed during the entirety of Barack Obama’s presidency — hardly “a lot” of lives saved.
Presumably the result of relaxed rules of engagement and greater resolve to wipe out ISIS at any cost, the staggering casualty rate hasn’t yielded a clear victory for the United States. ISIS still retains significant control over territory in both Syria and Iraq. That reality is one neighboring Lebanon is familiar with, despite Trump’s comments.