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Trump’s cabinet takes turns at lavishing him with praise at press meet

Addressing media, Trump said his administration was among a few exceptions that achieved as much, working at a “record-setting pace”.

world Updated: Jun 13, 2017 21:54 IST
The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian
Donald Trump,Trump cabinet,Trump on Twitter
US President Donald Trump salutes as he arrives at Newark International airport in New Jersey on June 9, 2017. (Reuters)

Before a contingent of cameras on Monday, US president Donald Trump convened his first full cabinet meeting. Seated around an oval mahogany desk in the Cabinet Room of the White House was his newly-assembled brain trust, the collection of secretaries, directors and senior staff he appointed or hired to execute his vision, a task made more difficult by the sometimes fickle @realDonaldTrump.

Trump began with an appraisal of his presidency.

“Never has there been a president, with few exceptions, the case of FDR – he had a major Depression to handle – who’s passed more legislation who’s done more things than what we’ve done,” Trump said, his eyes trained on cameras.

No matter that the Republican-controlled Congress has not passed a single major piece of legislation since Trump took office. Or that his budget was laughed off by lawmakers as “magical thinking”. Or that his travel ban remains tied up in the courts . Or that the former FBI director James Comey, whom he dispatched in a shocking turn of events, testified under oath that Trump had asked him to shut down an investigation into his former national security adviser’s ties to Russia.

“We’ve achieved tremendous success,” Trump continued. “We’ve been about as active as you can possibly be at just about a record-setting pace.”

Behind him, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon sat, staring ahead intensely as if running through the unchecked items scribbled on a dry-erase board in his office. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, leaned against the window next to Bannon.

Trump then suggested the group go around the table and introduce themselves before reporters were ushered out of the room.

“I’m going to start with our vice-president. Where is our vice-president?” Trump asked, swiveling his head to look for Mike Pence before spotting him seated in the vice-president’s assigned seat, directly across from the president.

“There he is,” Trump said jovially to titters from the others.

“We’ll start with Mike and then we’ll just go around, your name, your position,” Trump instructed, like a teacher on the first day of school.

“This is just the greatest privilege of my life,” Pence said, offering a few remarks before turning it over to the attorney general, who on Tuesday will be hauled before the Senate Intelligence Committee to testify about his contacts with Russian officials.

“It is so great to be here,” said Jeff Sessions, who had reportedly offered his resignation just days prior.

The flattery continued as they went around the room.

“My hat’s off to you,” said energy secretary Rick Perry, praising Trump for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord , to which every country is a signatory except for Syria, which in the middle of a years-long civil war, and Nicaragua, which did not believe the pact went far enough in combatting climate change.

“It’s a new day at the United Nations,” Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, declared. “I think the international community knows we’re back.”

“I want to thank you for getting this country moving again,” said transportation secretary Elaine Chao. She thanked the president for visiting the Department of Transportation during “infrastructure week”, the White House’s attempt to refocus attention on its domestic agenda while more than 19m people tuned in to hear Comey call the president a liar.

“Hundreds and hundreds of people were just so thrilled, hanging out, watching the whole ceremony,” she said of his visit.

“I apologize for being late to work,” quipped Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative, the last member of Trump’s cabinet to be confirmed. “For months I got bogged down in that swamp that you’ve been trying to clean.”

CIA director, Mike Pompeo, drew laughs from the table, including the president, who gave an approving nod of his head, with a barb aimed at the press.

“In the finest tradition of this day, I am not going to say a damn thing in front of the media,” Pompeo said.

“We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda,” said chief of staff Reince Priebus, whose employment future is reportedly uncertain.

The cabinet-level circle of adulation proved too much for Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer.

Schumer and his staff mocked the president’s cabinet meeting in a spoof video posted on Twitter with the exclamation: “GREAT meeting today with the best staff in the history of the world!!!”

Not one to be outdone, especially by Schumer, who he has accused of crying “fake tears”, Trump on Monday evening tweeted a video of the meeting and praised his “great team”.

First Published: Jun 13, 2017 11:18 IST