Trump marks 100 days in office with snub to White House press corps
The White House press corps gathered on Saturday for its annual black-tie dinner, a toned-down affair this year after Donald Trump snubbed the event, becoming the first incumbent US president to bow out in 36 years.
Without Trump, who scheduled a rally instead to mark his 100th day in office, the usually celebrity-filled soiree hosted by the White House Correspondents’ Association took a more sober turn, even as it pulled in top journalists and Washington insiders.
Most of Trump’s administration also skipped the event in solidarity with the president, who has repeatedly accused the press of mistreatment. The president used his campaign-style gathering to again lambast the media.
“I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away,” he told a crowd in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, calling out The New York Times, CNN and MSNBC by name.
In Washington, WHCA President Jeff Mason defended press freedom even as he acknowledged this year’s dinner had a different feel, saying attempts to undermine the media were dangerous for democracy.
“We are not fake news, we are not failing news organisations and we are not the enemy of the American people,” said Mason, a Reuters correspondent.
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Instead of the typical roasts – presidents of both parties have delivered their own zingers for years – the event returned to its traditional roots of recognizing reporters’ work and handing out student scholarships as famed journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein presented awards.
“That’s not Donald Trump’s style,” NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell told MSNBC, referring to the self-deprecating jokes presidents in the past have made despite tensions with the press.
Instead, the humour fell to headline comedian Hasan Minhaj.
“Welcome to the series finale of the White House correspondents’ dinner,” Minhaj, who plays a correspondent on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” program, told the crowd.
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He also joked about Trump, despite organisers’ wishes, saying he did so to honour US constitutional protection of free speech: “Only in America can a first-generation, Indian-American Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president.”
In a video message, actor Alec Baldwin, who has raised Trump’s ire playing him on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” program also encouraged attendees.
Few other celebrities graced the red carpet, although some well-known Washingtonians, such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California, appeared.
Trump attended in 2011, when then-President Barack Obama made jokes at the expense of the New York real estate developer and reality television show host.
In an interview with Reuters this week, Trump said he decided against attending as president because he felt he had been treated unfairly by the media, adding: “I would come next year, absolutely.”
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In Pennsylvania, Trump told supporters the media dinner would be boring but was noncommittal on whether he would go in 2018 or hold another rally.
Trump hit the road to celebrate his first 100 days in the White House with cheering supporters at a campaign-style rally, touting his initial achievements and lashing out at critics.
Trump said he was just getting started on meeting his campaign promises.
He also repeatedly attacked an “incompetent, dishonest” media, saying they were not telling the truth about his administration’s accomplishments.
“My administration has been delivering every single day for the great citizens of our country,” Trump said in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
“We are keeping one promise after another, and frankly the people are really happy about it.”
Daily Show comedian Hasan Minhaj performs during the White House Correspondents’ dinner at the Washington Hilton in Washington, DC.
Trump listed what he said were some of his key early accomplishments, including the successful confirmation to the US Supreme Court of Justice Neil Gorsuch and clearing away many regulations on the environment and business.
He also listed his approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, killing a pending Asian trade pact, and enhanced security measures that have led to a sharp decline in illegal border crossings at the southern border.
“The world is getting the message: if you try to illegally enter the United States, you will be caught, detained, deported or put in prison,” Trump said.
The rally occurred on the same day as a climate march at which thousands of protesters surrounded the White House.
Thousands of marchers made their way through Washington’s streets during the People’s Climate March, a protest against Trump’s moves to roll back environmental regulations.
Asked by reporters accompanying him to Pennsylvania what he had to say to the climate change protesters, Trump said: “Enjoy the day, enjoy the weather.”
After the rally, the White House said the president had signed two trade-related executive orders, one for top US officials to review all U.S. trade pacts for potential abuses and another setting up an office in the White House to advise him on trade-related issues.