Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., tried to test whether President Trump's nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget believed in facts or "alternative facts" in a confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
With the incoming Trump administration repeating falsehoods about the size of crowds at the president's inauguration, Merkley asked Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., to look at two side-by-side photos — taken at roughly the same time during former President Obama's inauguration in 2009 and Trump's just last week — to gauge which, in fact, was bigger.
"I'm not really sure how this ties to OMB," Mulvaney said, somewhat puzzled. But he did concede that "from that picture, it does appear that the crowd on the left-hand side [for Obama's first inauguration] is bigger than the crowd on the right-hand side."
Merkley assured Mulvaney there was a reason behind his riddle — he wanted to know if, as OMB director, the South Carolina Republican would be truthful in his budget presentations and recommendations to the president.
"The reason I'm raising this is because budgets often contain buried deceptions. ... This is an example of where the president's team, on something very simple and straightforward, wants to embrace a fantasy rather than a reality," Merkley said.
"Are you comfortable as you proceed as a key budget adviser presenting falsehoods as simply an 'alternative fact'?" the Oregon senator continued, referring to Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway's assertion on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that White House press secretary Sean Spicer was simply giving "alternative facts" to rebut evidence of smaller crowd sizes for Trump's inauguration. What Spicer presented were assertions riddled with inaccuracies.
Mulvaney, still sounding somewhat perplexed over the unusual line of questioning, assured Merkley that he was "deadly serious about giving you hard numbers; I intend to follow through on that" if confirmed as OMB director.