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White House: Streep's Speech a 'Fairly Straightforward Exercise of Her First Amendment Rights'

Iraqi Special Forces soldiers gather before advancing against Islamic State militants in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, on July 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

WASHINGTON — The White House said today that Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech — which didn’t name Donald Trump by name, but was clearly aimed at the president-elect — should be viewed as “a fairly straightforward exercise of her First Amendment rights as this is the United States.”

Press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at the daily briefing that he hadn’t spoken with President Obama about the speech, and he’d only read about it himself.

“There was one performance this year that stunned me. It, it sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. It was — there was nothing good about it. But it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. And I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life,” Streep said while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award.

“And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing,” she continued. “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

Tweeted Trump hours after the awards broadcast: “Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never ‘mocked’ a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him ‘groveling’ when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad.”

Streep and Trump were referring to a November 2015 rally at which Trump went after New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, whose right arm is crooked upwards due to congenital arthrogryposis.

Earnest said Streep, who was at the White House on Friday night for a celebrity get-together, “clearly was delivering a thoughtful, carefully considered message that she believes in deeply.”

Questioned about why Obama hasn’t been more critical of Trump, Earnest said the president has “institutional responsibilities” to ensure a smooth transition.

“I’m not aware that the United States Constitution includes any institutional responsibilities for the lifetime award-winner of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association,” he added.

American citizens, the spokesman said, “have the opportunity to exercise their right to free speech in any way that they choose.”

“And certainly when it comes to standing up for deeply held values, the American people get to choose how and when and whether to express those sentiments. President Obama is in a different position because he has institutional responsibilities. He’s got strongly held political views that he frequently and passionately conveyed on the campaign trail. And those views have not changed as I’ve said on a number of occasions,” Earnest continued.

“But because of his institutional responsibility as the president of the United States to ensure a smooth and effective transition to the next president, he has to set aside those personal feelings in order to preside over an effective transition and give the incoming team every advantage associated with a running start. And the president has faithfully presided over a process that’s done exactly that.”

Pressed on the Trump and Kovaleski on CNN this morning, incoming presidential counsel Kellyanne Conway said, “You can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this and he’s telling you what was in his heart? You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.”

Later on CNN, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) countered that “we will never know what is in his heart, but we can judge what his actions were.”

“He mocked a disabled reporter. He mocked him mercilessly, continuously and never apologized,” Sherman said. “And if his heart pushes him in the other direction, his heart doesn’t seem to have much impact on his behavior.”