Sean Spicer apologised for his "inappropriate and insensitive" assertion that Hitler did not use chemical weapons amidst renewed calls for his resignation.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer triggered an uproar on Tuesday by saying Adolf Hitler did not use chemical weapons on his own people.
He apologised after his comments drew immediate criticism on social media and elsewhere for overlooking the fact that millions of Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers.
Spicer made the assertion at a daily news briefing, during a discussion about the April 4 chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed 87 people. Washington has blamed the attack on Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad.
"Frankly, I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive comment about the Holocaust and there is no comparison," Spicer told US broadcaster CNN.
"For that I apologise. It was a mistake to do that."
During a White House briefing, Spicer sought to intensify criticism of Assad, painting the Syrian regime leader's suspected use of sarin nerve agent against civilians last week as historically evil.
"You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons," Spicer said, comparing Assad unfavourably.
Demands for resignation
His comments — during the Jewish festival of Passover — prompted anti-defamation groups and Democrats to call for the already embattled press secretary's resignation.
"Sean Spicer must be fired, and the president must immediately disavow his spokesman's statements," said top Congressional Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
It also sparked outcry on social media.
The US Holocaust Museum did not mention Spicer's comments directly, but sent out a tweet shortly after the briefing that showed graphic footage of dead bodies US forces found while liberating the Buchenwald concentration camp.
The video was retweeted more than a thousand times, with many Twitter users referencing Spicer's comments.
Congratulations to Sean Spicer on earning an early retirement today by normalizing Hitler and Jewish lives lost in Holocaust #FireSpicer— Dave Dinoff (@ddinoff) April 11, 2017
Hitler "was not using the gas on his own people," says Sean Spicer, writing German Jews out of history.— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) April 11, 2017
Spicer is a frequent target of ire and satirists for his angry denunciations of press coverage and sometimes loose grasp of the facts.
But his latest claim brought anger from across the political spectrum and looks of astonishment from the assembled White House press corps, who offered Spicer a chance to clarify.
"I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing" said Spicer.
In a further written clarification, Spicer said he was "in no way ... trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust."
"I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable."