White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday stood by chief of staff John Kelly calling Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson (Fla.) an "empty barrel," adding her own description for the congresswoman.
Kelly castigated Wilson during Thursday's White House press briefing for revealing details of a phone conversation that President Donald Trump had with the widow of a soldier this week. Kelly also said that Wilson lived up to "the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise" by boasting to the audience at a 2015 ceremony for a new FBI building dedicated to bureau agents killed on the job that she obtained funding for the project.
A reporter asked Sanders if Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, stands by those comments given video of the speech that has surfaced, which shows Wilson not claiming credit for helping to fund the building.
"Absolutely," Sanders replied. "General Kelly said he was stunned that Representative Wilson would make comments at a building dedication honoring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress, including lobbying former President Obama on legislation."
"As General Kelly pointed out, if you're able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes all about yourself, you're an empty barrel," Sanders added. "If you don't understand that reference, I'll put it a little more simply: as we say in the South, ‘all hat, no cattle.'"
Another reporter took issue with Sanders' characterization, saying that Wilson "effusively praised" the FBI agents in "the bulk of the speech." Sanders said she saw the speech and does not think it disproves anything Kelly said.
"[Wilson] also had quite a few comments that day that weren't part of that speech and weren't part of that video that were also witnessed by many people that were there," Sanders said.
The reporter went back-and-forth with Sanders, asking her if Kelly misrepresented Wilson, which she denied. Sanders summarized Wilson's actions as "grandstanding."
"There was a lot of grandstanding; he was stunned that she had taken that opportunity to make it about herself," Sanders said.
The reporter asked if Kelly would address the matter further since he was "wrong," and Sanders dismissed that claim.
"If you want to go after General Kelly, that's up to you," Sanders said. "If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that's something highly inappropriate."