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Josh Earnest Insults Top Republican, Says He Should 'Look Up' Word in the Dictionary

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"Maybe after they look up 'duplicitous' in the dictionary..."

White House press secretary Josh Earnest listens to a question during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, where he answered questions on immigration, Iran and Ukraine. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Thursday accused Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) of putting on an "astounding display of duplicity" regarding the timing of a vote on Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, then piled on by saying Republicans might need to look up 'duplicitous' in the dictionary.

Lynch's nomination has been delayed for several weeks now, as Republicans are using it as leverage to force a vote on a human trafficking bill that includes anti-abortion language.

But in his White House briefing, Earnest accused Grassley of high deception, for arguing that some of Lynch's delay was due to the decision of Democrats to take up the nomination this year, instead of late last year.

Earnest read through a comment Grassley made in 2014, when the senator said he hoped Obama wouldn't rush a new attorney general through the Senate. Then, he noted a comment Grassley made today in which he implied that Democrats are overstating the extent of Lynch's delay by including the time used up late last year.

"If you want to subtract November and December from that long timeframe, you should do it," Grassley told Bloomberg. "The Democrats were in control of the Congress, and they decided not to bring her up."

"That in my mind is an astounding display of duplicity," Earnest said. He even tweeted out a story showing that Grassley was asking for the delay.

It's not entirely clear why Earnest sees Grassley's comments as an example of "duplicity," since both of his comments are true — Republicans did seek a delay, Democrats did agree to that delay, and Grassley seemed to be making the point that the clock on Lynch should be seen by all as having started in 2015. Still, Earnest called Grassley's comments a "dramatic reversal," and even implied that Grassley may need to leave Washington.

"It's possible that Sen. Grassley has been in Washington too long," he said.

When asked later if his remarks were "helpful" to the process of getting Lynch confirmed, Earnest didn't back down, and seemed to imply Republicans might need a dictionary to decode what he was saying.

"I'll just observe ... that being nice has gotten us a 160-day delay," he said. "Maybe after they look up 'duplicitous' in the dictionary, we'll get a different result."

Grassley's office replied in a formal statement that accused the White House of "rewriting history."

"The fact of the matter is that when Eric Holder announced his intention to step down in September, Senate Democrats had a 55 seat majority," said Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine. "If you believe the White House and Senate Democrats had Republicans' best interests in mind when they delayed consideration of the Lynch nomination last fall, you hadn't watched how Harry Reid ran the Senate."

"It was abundantly clear then – just as it is now – that Senate Democrats' priorities didn't include the Lynch nomination," she added.

Levine said it's been reported that Democrats purposefully decided on their own to wait on Lynch and move ahead with dozens of other judicial nominations.

She also returned fire by saying blaming Democrats for opposing anti-abortion language in the human trafficking bill, which has prevented the Senate from moving to Lynch.

"Instead of lodging personal attacks against a highly respected senator, the White House would be better off spending time getting their left-wing lobby to drop their opposition to legislative language that has been the law of the land for more than 35 years," she said. "Maybe at that point Senate Democrats would stop filibustering a bill that would help end sex slavery and human trafficking and the Senate could then turn to the Lynch nomination."

— This story was corrected to reflect that a spokeswoman for Grassley replied to the White House, not Grassley himself.

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