President Donald Trump was joking when he suggested that Democrats were being "treasonous" by not clapping for him during his State of the Union address, a White House spokesman said Tuesday.
Trump's remarks were "tongue in cheek," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told NBC News. The president's point, he added, was that all Americans, regardless of political party, should applaud positive news for the country.
CNBC reached out to the White House for further clarification on the president's remarks in light of Gidley's explanation Tuesday. Treason is a federal crime punishable by death or imprisonment.
Trump made his remarks Monday during a speech in Ohio meant to tout the GOP tax-cut plan and the Republican message for the midterm election campaign this year. In one of his trademark riffs, the president zeroed in on his Democratic rivals for not applauding during parts of his State of the Union address last week.
"You're up there, you've got half the room going totally crazy — wild, they loved everything, they want to do something great for our country," Trump said. "And you have the other side — even on positive news, really positive news like that — they were like death. And un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, 'treasonous.' I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not! I mean they certainly didn't seem to love our country very much."
This isn't the first time the White House has walked back incendiary remarks from the president by suggesting he was only kidding.
In August, for instance, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was being "sarcastic" after he thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for cutting the U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia. In July, Sanders said Trump was probably joking when he said police officers should treat gang suspects roughly when they are arrested.