AMHERST, NOV. 28, 2018 (State House News Service) — Addressing a crowd of over a thousand at the University of Massachusetts Tuesday night, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he doesn’t regret serving in the Trump administration, discussed his career path and autobiography, and talked about his time in the White House during a free, public event hosted by the UMass College Republicans.
“My life changed in ways that I could never describe,” Spicer said about becoming press secretary. “Did I make mistakes? Absolutely.”
His proudest moment, Spicer said, was “bring[ing] more voices, more people of different backgrounds into the conversation [in the press room].”
Students, faculty and community members filled nearly every row in the Fine Arts Center to hear Spicer speak. About 1,300 tickets had been reserved in the hours before the event, according to Nick Consolini, president of the UMass Republicans club.
Spicer opened the hour-long talk with details about his childhood. Growing up in Rhode Island, Spicer said his family discussed public issues, but not politics. “I don’t think I knew the difference between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, well into college,” he said.
In college – Spicer graduated from Connecticut College in New London, Conn. – Spicer took to politics. Soon enough, he was volunteering on campaign trails, knocking on doors, placing signs and eventually campaigning for congressional candidates in various states.
“I was doing anything I could to get involved in politics to make ends meet,” Spicer said.
Over time, Spicer said, he developed an interest in working with the press.
Spicer highlighted his work in the National Republican Congressional Committee, House Budget Committee, the Office of the United States Trade Representative during the Bush administration, and on the campaign trail with former Florida Congressman Clay Shaw and former Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
After speaking for roughly 40 minutes, Spicer shifted gears to answer pre-selected questions. Members of the audience had an opportunity to submit questions on index cards before they entered the auditorium.
A few audience members protested, shouting, “Take questions from the crowd!” and “Free speech!” A handful of students in the audience chanted, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, fascists, bigots go away!” They sang “Solidarity Forever,” eliciting negative remarks from others in the crowd.
Spicer responded, “When you’re getting booed and I’m not and we’re on a college campus that tells you something.”
He encouraged the protesters to vote and engage in elections.
When asked if he regrets exaggerating Trump’s inauguration turnout, for which he faced much backlash in 2017, Spicer said, “There’s no question in my mind that that was not my finest day.”
“It was our first day, we were trying to counter our narrative, and I don’t think we did it well. And I take responsibility for that,” he added.
In between answering pre-selected questions, Spicer fielded a few questions from protesters in the audience.
When asked by a crowd member about his level of respect for the news media, Spicer said, “We need to make sure that we protect journalists, [and] we need to make sure that this is an example of a fair, free press in this country.”
Spicer briefly promoted his book, “The Briefing: Politics, The Press and The President,” which was published in July.
Earlier in the day, about 30 protesters gathered at the Student Union to protest Spicer’s visit, organized by the UMass Graduate Employee Organization.
“We don’t think that the university should be giving him this platform,” said Graduate Employee Organization Co-Chair Alyssa Goldstein in a phone interview.
Students waiting for doors to open at the Fine Arts Center said they were interested in hearing what Spicer had to say.
“I just want to see how he handles questions, because he didn’t do a good job of that in his previous job,” said Casey Kelleher, a junior political science student, who attended the event in a “Notorious RBG” T-shirt.
“I thought it would be worth it to come hear him talk,” said Louis Shenker, a member of the UMass Republicans, who donned a “Make America Great Again” hat.
Sandra, a UMass senior who prefers to go by her first name, admitted that she doesn’t tend to agree with Sean Spicer’s actions. “I’m just here to observe,” she said. “I feel like you learn more from just observing.”
Sandra added that she’s terrified of the current campus climate, in reference to incidents when racist messages were found in residence halls this semester, and in September, police were called about a black man who was on his way to work in the Whitmore Administration Building.
“I think the problem in this country right now is demonizing both sides [Democrats and Republicans],” Spicer said. “Where we are missing the boat is where we demonize each other,” he added.
The event, which cost the university $10,000, was funded by the Student Activities Fee, paid by all undergraduate students.