Since taking office in January, President Donald Trump has displayed various reactions to the pressures of his job, from angry tweets to effusive exaggerations to self-defeating candor.
On Monday, Trump tried something new: bathing in praise from his Cabinet in front of TV cameras.
“Never has there been a president, with few exceptions … who has passed more legislation, done more things.”
After a weekend dominated by discussion of whether he had committed obstruction of justice, the president called in reporters for what he billed as his first full Cabinet meeting. He began with an opening statement laced with the sort of wild, self-congratulatory boasts that are his trademark.
“Never has there been a president, with few exceptions … who has passed more legislation, done more things,” Trump declared, even though Congress, which is controlled by his party, hasn’t passed any major legislation.
He hailed his plan for the “single biggest tax cut in American history,” even though he hasn’t proposed a plan and Congress hasn’t acted on one. He said “no one would have believed” his election could have created so many new jobs over the past seven months (1.1 million), even though more jobs (1.3 million) were created in the previous seven months.
Taking turns to praise the leader
Typically, a president’s initial comments mark the end of on-camera coverage of White House Cabinet meetings, with administration aides then escorting members of the small press “pool” out of the room. But Trump invited reporters to remain as he called on his senior-most advisers to “go around, name your position” and say a few words about the administration’s work.
Watch: Cabinet members offer unadulterated praise for Trump
“Start with Mike,” Trump said, referring to his vice president. Mike Pence, whom Trump kept in the dark for two weeks after learning that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had given the vice president false information earlier this year, responded by saying that serving as Trump’s number two is “the greatest privilege of my life.”
“An honor to be here,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recently offered his resignation amid strains over the Russia investigation.
“My hat is off to you,” said Energy Secretary Rick Perry, referring to the president’s explanation of his decision to abandon a global climate change agreement.
“We thank you for the opportunity and blessing you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people,” said Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the subject of recent reports that Trump may fire him.
The spectacle was so unusual that Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer and his aides made a video mocking it.
New Gallup numbers don’t look good
In more than three decades of covering the White House, I’ve never seen such an extended public display of flattery for a president from his chosen subordinates. At moments it resembled the kind of fawning that some of the strongmen rulers Trump has praised — such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte — might receive from their deputies.
When it was over, reporters in the room asked questions of the president related to the ongoing Russia investigations. Trump answered, “Thank you,” signaling his aides to usher the media out of the room.
Trump succeeded in getting cable television networks to air the spectacle. What’s unclear is whether that helps or hurts the president with his political problems.
Shortly after the Cabinet coverage, the Gallup organization released its updated tracking poll of how Americans view their president’s performance. He is fighting from a deep hole: 36 percent approve his handling of the job, 59 percent disapprove.