President Trump created all sorts of headlines in his over one hour news conference at the White House on Thursday, as he strongly defended the work of the new administration, using almost every chance he had to slam the press corps, accusing reporters of doing all they could to undermine his efforts to turn the nation in the right direction.
“To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess,” the President said, as he accused the press of distorting his message.
Here are 10 notable takes from that news conference.
1. President Trump keeps himself aimed at the press. As he did on the campaign trail, the President didn’t shy away from trashing the press corps at every turn in this news conference, as he started on that in his opening remarks. Mr. Trump said the press was “out of control.” “The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people,” the President added at one point. Mr. Trump was more than happy to keep the press focused on that divide, and so were many Republicans.
2. Many Trump supporters thought this was pure gold. If you were a Trump detractor, this news conference probably confirmed your feelings about the President. But if you were a supporter, you couldn’t get enough of Mr. Trump lambasting the news media to their faces. Rush Limbaugh said on his radio program that “this was one of the most effective press conferences I have ever seen.” “A total beat down!” said Sean Hannity. And it also seemed to play well with others who may not have been sold before on Trump. The press is a great punching bag.
3. Real leaks but fake news. As the President blasted the press and the Intelligence Community over leaks about his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump was asked about that criticism. “I mean the leaks are real,” the President said to one reporter. “You know what they said, you saw it and the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.” Those two lines don’t really seem to match, but that didn’t stop Mr. Trump from putting them together.
4. Sidestepping answers about Russia. Asked a number of times about ties between officials on his campaign and Russia, the President said such stories were a “ruse,” as he repeatedly accused reporters of trafficking in fake news. When asked about Russia, Mr. Trump also kept bringing up Hillary Clinton, criticizing her policy “re-set” with Russia while Secretary of State in the Obama Administration. It was obvious that the Russia questions were aggravating him. “How many times do I have to answer this question?” Trump said to Julie Pace of the Associated Press. “Can you just say yes or no?” Pace pressed. That’s when Trump said, “Russia is a ruse.”
5. Blowing up that Russian spy ship. Pressed repeatedly by Major Garrett of CBS News on the issue of Russia, Mr. Trump at one point said recent military provocations by Russia were due in part to the news media doing stories about Trump-Russia ties. That’s when the President raised the specter of using the U.S. military to go after a Russian vessel that’s been “loitering” (in the words of the Pentagon) off the East Coast for the past few days. “The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles offshore right out of the water.”
6. Post-game reaction from Fox News. Maybe the bluntest review of President Trump’s press conference on the cable TV networks came from Shep Smith on Fox News, who said, “This President keeps telling untrue things,” as Smith almost seemed speechless at times after the news conference had wrapped up. Smith may not get many Christmas cards from Trump supporters for this review.
7. Post-game reaction from my listeners and readers who backed Trump. They LOVED it. “Best. Press. Conference. Ever,” one said. “I wish that press conference could have gone on all day.” “Republican voters have been waiting for a Republican politician to stand up to the media like that for my entire lifetime,” said another. “Made me proud that I voted for him.” This reporter has been telling you for over a year that Trump struck a chord with people outside of the big cities, and this event only confirmed that opinion. Trump supporters think this is fantastic stuff.
8. Some live fact-checking of President Trump. For a second straight day, the President was at a news conference when he suddenly started talking about his Electoral College win of last November, as he once again falsely said that his win was the largest since Ronald Reagan. Peter Alexander of NBC called Trump on that, as Trump shifted to say it was the biggest GOP win since then (it wasn’t). Trump’s explanation? “I was given that information.” Alexander then asked, if you can’t tell the truth on something simple like that, why should people believe you on other things?
9. A somewhat odd moment on the Congressional Black Caucus. In a back and forth with April Ryan, the veteran White House correspondent for American Urban Radio, the President was asked if he was going to meet with black lawmakers in Congress. Trump quickly asked Ryan – who is black – if she would do the background work. “Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” the President asked Ryan, who is a reporter, not an employee of the CBC. “Black lawmakers baffled by Trump’s suggestion to a black reporter that she could set up a meeting with them,” was one post-news conference headline.
10. Anti-Semitism question prompts brusque response. For a second straight day, the President was asked about rising reports of anti-Semitism in the United States; Mr. Trump seemingly misinterpreted the question and quickly shut down the reporter from a Jewish magazine. “Sit down,” Mr. Trump said. “I understand the rest of your question,” the President snapped. “Number one, I am the least anti- Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” Trump said, as he rebuked the reporter for having asked a “very insulting question like that.” Or maybe not.
11. Trump leaves door open for immigration “Dreamers.” While the President campaigned on a promise to immediately reverse President Obama’s immigration actions, he has hedged on the issue of DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. His answer on Thursday will certainly cause some heartburn among Republicans who thought a Trump victory would mean the end of DACA, immediately. Asked about the issue, the President did not sound like someone who was ready to lower the boom on all of those who had been spared the threat of deportation by President Obama. Some conservatives grumbled that it sounded like “amnesty.”