MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski said on Friday that when asked if his tweet about building up the US’s nuclear arsenal would spur other countries to do the same, President-elect Donald Trump replied, “Let it be an arms race.”
The comments were apparently made off-air while Brzezinski’s “Morning Joe” cohost, Joe Scarborough, was on the phone with Trump’s incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer.
“Let it be an arms race – we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all,” Brzezinski said Trump told her.
Trump tweeted on Thursday that “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
Spicer later attempted to clarify Trump’s comments to Brzezinski, telling the “Today” show’s Matt Lauer that “there is not going to be” an arms race. He told CNN shortly thereafter that he was “not privy” to the conversation Trump had had with Brzezinski, but that Trump “will not take anything off the table.”
“He’s not going to sit back and let another country act,” Spicer told CNN. “He needs to send a clear and concise message, which he’s done, that he’s going to be a president who defends America’s interests and defends America’s people. … It’s him articulating how he is going to be as president.”
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius told “Morning Joe” that while Trump’s “initial move is to unbalance things, to disrupt, to say the unsayable,” his tendency to double down on controversial comments “when he is cornered” is worrisome.
“You can create space, but the space is then there to be able to negotiate, not to throw more wood on the fire,” he said. “If you say, ‘What I really do want is an arms race,’ you’re going to lose the country. The country doesn’t want another arms race.”
Russia on Thursday also called for strengthening “the military potential of strategic nuclear forces” in the country.
Trump’s proclamation came days after he met with top Pentagon officials, including the Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, a post that broadly oversees the Air Force’s nuclear weapons capabilities.
The Trump transition team did not respond to a request for further comment.