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The White House on Wednesday sought to reject suggestions that the widow of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens was used as a “prop” for President Donald Trump during his Tuesday-night address to a joint session of Congress.
During a press gaggle with reporters Wednesday, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said Carryn Owens, whose husband died in a January commando raid in Yemen, was invited by Trump in late January along with her three children to the White House. Spicer said Trump told her he would “love to have you as a guest” at his Tuesday address.
“It was she who accepted the invitation,” Spicer said, according to The Washington Examiner. “I think she has a right to honor the sacrifice and legacy of her husband.”
“If that’s the criticism that people have, they have a right to it in this country,” he later added. “But I would also suggest that we have a right to honor the sacrifice that [Owens] made … You can say what you want about a number of policies, but I hope to God that everybody in America could literally say that’s the country we live in and that you honor and support not just Ryan’s sacrifice, but recognize what she’s going to go through, what her children are going to go through.”
Spicer said the extended ovation she received, lasting minutes, was like nothing else he had seen during his two-plus decades in Washington, DC.
He said he had “never seen a sustained applause like that.”
The ovation was the most emotional moment of Trump’s Tuesday address, garnering praise from those across the political spectrum. But it did not come without controversy, as critics, including some military veterans, suggested they felt Trump was inappropriately exploiting a grieving widow for political gain.
The raid in which Ryan Owens was killed was among Trump’s first military actions as commander in chief. Last weekend, Ryan’s father, Bill, criticized Trump in an interview, saying the president should not “hide” behind his son’s death. The SEAL’s father called for an investigation into what went wrong in the raid, which also resulted in roughly 30 civilian deaths.
In addressing the matter Tuesday, Trump said, “Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero – battling against terrorism and securing our nation.”
“I just spoke to General Mattis, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, ‘Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies,'” he continued. “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom – we will never forget him.”
Carryn Owens then tearfully stood and clapped as the room stood for its longest applause of the night.
Veering from the script, Trump said Ryan was happily looking down because he “just set a record,” seemingly pointing to the lengthy ovation.