Trump quip about North Korea's Kim sparks outcry on social media

WASHINGTON, June 15 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said he wished people would "sit up at attention" for him like North Koreans do for their leader Kim Jong Un, a joke that sparked instant outrage on social media and cable news.

It was the latest example of a Trump remark about strongmen leaders - delivered in a deadpan style - to fall flat and fuel perceptions among his critics that the president admires autocrats.

Trump was asked during a Fox News Channel interview outside the West Wing if he would invite Kim to the White House. The two met earlier this week to begin to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear program, a summit marked by what Trump said was friendly chemistry between them.

Trump indicated a White House visit by Kim was possible: "Hey he's the head of a country," Trump said.

"He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same," Trump said, pointing to the West Wing.

Kim is suspected of ordering the assassination of his half-brother in February and the execution of his uncle in 2013. U.N. investigations have also reported human rights violations, the use of political prison camps and the widespread use of starvation as a tool to enforce political loyalty.

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Scenes from Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's summit in Singapore
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Scenes from Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's summit in Singapore
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump (R) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have become on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un visits The Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore, June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
U.S. President Donald Trump flanked by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly attend a lunch with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and officials at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
US President Donald Trump (R) gestures as he meets with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have become on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Retired American professional basketball player Dennis Rodman speaks to the press as he arrives at Changi International airport ahead of US-North Korea summit in Singapore on June 11, 2018. - North Korea's Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump meet on June 12 for an unprecedented summit in an attempt to address the last festering legacy of the Cold War, with the US President calling it a 'one time shot' at peace. (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)
The motorcade of U.S. President Donald Trump travels towards Sentosa for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan takes a selfie with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un during a visit in Merlion Park in Singapore, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 11, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump (L) meets with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (R) to attend a bilateral meeting at the Istana, Singapore on June 11, 2018. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information, Republic of Singapore / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, center, tours the Esplanade in Singapore on Monday, June 11, 2018. Kim smiled and waved to a cheering crowd during a surprise late-night tour of Singapore on the eve of his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong walk together during a meeting at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, center, tours the Esplanade in Singapore on Monday, June 11, 2018. Kim smiled and waved to a cheering crowd during a surprise late-night tour of Singapore on the eve of his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump is pictured during a meeting at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) poses with US President Donald Trump (R) after taking part in a signing ceremony at the end of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un became on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump holds up a document signed by him and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un following a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un became on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - 2018/06/11: President Trump leaves the Sinagpore Istana after meeting with with Singaporean PM Lee Heisn Loong ahead of Trump-Kim Summit. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore as both leaders arrived in the Southeast Asian city-state on Sunday ahead of the landmark summit. (Photo by Sion Ang/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump (R) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have become on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un (3rd from left) leaves the Singapore's Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands on night before summit on June 11, 2018 in Singapore. (Photo by Chris Jung/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (R) walks with US President Donald Trump (L) during a break in talks at their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un became on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) walks along the Jubilee bridge during a tour of some of the sights on June 11, 2018 in Singapore. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled in Singapore for June 12 as a small circle of experts have already been involved in talks towards the landmark summit in the city-state. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
People watch a television screen showing live footage of the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, at a railway station in Seoul on June 12, 2018. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo answers questions at a press briefing June 11, 2018 in Singapore. Pompeo answered a range of questions related primarily to the historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un scheduled for tomorrow June 12 in Singapore. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: National Security Council press spokesman Robert Palladino (4th R) answers questions from reporters at the White House press filing center June 11, 2018 in Singapore. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore as both leaders arrived in the Southeast Asian city-state on Sunday ahead of the landmark summit. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump (L6) participates in a working luncheon hosted by Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana, Singapore on June 11, 2018. Officials from both delegations also attended the luncheon. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information, Republic of Singapore / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: In this handout provided by the Ministry of Communications and Information of Singapore, U.S. President Donald Trump (R) with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (L) on June 11, 2018 in Singapore, Singapore. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled in Singapore for June 12 as the world awaits for the landmark summit in the Southeast Asian city-state. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information Singapore/via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) as they sit down for their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have become on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Armed police officers patrol outside JW Marriot South Beach Hotel, a Marriott Group property, in Singapore, on Monday, June 11, 2018. Trump�met Prime Minister�Lee�Hsien Loong�at the city-state's presidential palace for more than two hours Monday for discussions that were expected to include everything from summit preparations to the U.S.'s tariff threats. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bodyguards of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un arrive at The Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore, June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Police officers walk around the perimeter of the Capella Hotel on Singapore's resort island of Sentosa, June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
The motorcade transporting U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
U.S. President Donald Trump and his delegation have lunch with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and officials at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
The motorcade of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un travels towards Sentosa for his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Official cameramen follow the motorcade of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un travels towards Sentosa for his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
The motorcade of U.S. President Donald Trump travels towards Sentosa for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Police stand guard outside the Capella Hotel in Singapore, on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. President�Donald Trump�plans to shake hands and have lunch with North Korean leader�Kim Jong Un, kicking off a historic summit on Tuesday between two adversaries that only last year had seemed at the brink of nuclear war. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
People watch a television screen showing live footage of the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, at a railway station in Seoul on June 12, 2018. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
People watch a television screen showing live footage of the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, at a railway station in Seoul on June 12, 2018. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump (L) leaves after his meeting with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (not seen) as part of the US-North Korea summit in Sentosa island, on June 12, 2018 at Paya Lebar Air Base in Singapore. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump waves his hand as he leaves after his meeting with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (not seen) as part of the US-North Korea summit in Sentosa island, on June 12, 2018 at Paya Lebar Air Base in Singapore. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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Trump was later asked by reporters what he meant by the remark. "I'm kidding. You don't understand sarcasm," Trump said.

The joke was reminiscent of one he made at a private dinner with donors in March, when he noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping no longer faced term limits.

"I said, 'President for life. That sounds good. Maybe we are going to have to try it,'" he later said, recounting the outrage that followed.

"But I'm joking," he said, complaining about the reaction. "I'm joking about being president for life."

At a rally in February, he said Democrats in Congress were treasonous because they did not clap at his State of the Union speech.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders later said he didn't mean it: "The president was clearly joking with his comments," she said.

Trump's controversial quips draw fire from the quick-to-tweet media because they feed into a caricature created by his opponents, said Chris Barron, a pro-Trump Republican strategist.

"They believe that Trump is somehow this autocratic despot and they're waiting for any words that fill in that narrative," Barron said in an interview.

"If Trump says something and it can be read two ways, immediately the benefit of the doubt is against Trump," he said.

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President Donald Trump jokes about his hair during speech
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President Donald Trump jokes about his hair during speech
U.S. President Donald Trump pretends to smooth his hair as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump pretends to smooth his hair as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump pretends to smooth his hair as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump pretends to smooth his hair as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump pretends to smooth his hair as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump pretends to smooth his hair as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump pretends to smooth his hair as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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But David Litt, a speechwriter to former President Barack Obama, said blaming the listener for not getting the joke is a way to avoid responsibility for going too far.

There are some topics that presidents should just not joke about publicly lest they make allies nervous or embolden adversaries, Litt told Reuters.

"Maybe Donald Trump is the kind of dry, deadpan humorist who does great material about how terrific dictators are - but if that's the case, he should wait until he retires as president to start breaking out that particular part of his act," Litt said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Bernadette Baum and Richard Chang)

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