Early Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump tuned into “Fox & Friends.”
For several days, Trump’s staff kept him away from television cameras. He spent the weekend hidden away at his private Florida club, then returned to the White House to privately sign a new travel ban and allow others to tout the release of long-awaited health-care legislation, while his aides attempted to defend his assertion that former president Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower in New York City. The president’s address to a joint session of Congress last week, a rare victory for the chaotic White House, was a distant memory.
On the Fox News Channel’s popular morning show, it was “National Pancake Day” – and the three anchors sat on a white couch and ogled three towering stacks of pancakes drizzled with syrup. (“This is the biggest stack I’ve ever seen in my life,” co-host Brian Kilmeade declared.)
At about 6:12 a.m. on the East Coast, it was time for some “HEADLINES.”
“A win in the war on terror,” a woman’s voice declared. “The Trump administration just killed a former Guantanamo Bay detainee released by Barack Obama. Yasir al-Silmi, once considered the worst of the worst, killed in a U.S. airstrike in Yemen. He had been released back in 2009 even though the Department of Defense recommended that he stay behind bars. One hundred twenty-two prisoners released from Gitmo have returned to the battlefield.”
Her last point was illustrated with a graphic showing a faded photo of a prison tower and coils of barbed wire, topped with the number “122” in gleaming gold and “GITMO PRISONERS REENGAGED IN TERRORISM” in a screaming shade of yellow.
The report did not note that of the 122 prisoners who were released and then reengaged in terrorism, 113 were released by the administration of George W. Bush, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. That omission might have confused some viewers.
At 7:04 a.m., the president tweeted: “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!”
The “Fox & Friends” family, meanwhile, chatted about news of the day, including the president’s new travel ban and health-care legislation. Just after 7 a.m., Fox News Washington correspondent Kristin Fisher ran through what’s in the bill and highlighted how some Republicans are already uncomfortable with it, even calling it “Obamacare Lite.” Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, appeared to defend the bill by attacking Obamacare” “[Obamacare] wasn’t really affordable care. It was affordable coverage.”
At 7:13 a.m., the president chimed in: “Our wonderful new health-care bill is now out for review and negotiation. Obamacare is a complete and total disaster – is imploding fast!”
For most of the campaign, the president’s favorite morning show seemed to be MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” and he would frequently call in to the show. In late January, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., appealed to Trump from the show, looking into the camera and saying: “President, I know you’re watching, so I’m looking forward to meeting with you. . . . Call me. I want to talk to you.” (The president later called him.)
But “Morning Joe” hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski have focused heavily on the president’s shortcomings and failures – and Brzezinksi became choked up on Monday as she said that Trump’s wiretapping allegations are “not funny” and that it’s okay for Americans to feel nervous because “we are all really nervous.”
“Fox & Friends” seems to be Trump’s new favorite show, and the hosts are well aware of it. White House aides can expect space to fully explain themselves without a flurry of follow-up questions and where the president can hear a defense of his policies and statements. In late January, the anchors jokingly told the president to flash the lights in the White House if he was watching and then showed footage of a light turning on and off on the upper floor – although they quickly explained that this was a “video effect” and that the president hadn’t actually responded.
But the same message was communicated from the White House to the white couch on Tuesday morning, as the @realDonaldTrump tweeted half-a-dozen messages that seemed to directly respond to the show. (Three of the tweets were also sent from the president’s formal account, @POTUS.)
Around 7:40 a.m., the morning crew interviewed Robby Mook, former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, and peppered him with questions about Russia and wiretapping, topics usually reserved for White House staffers. When Mook said that Trump won the election and that’s not up for debate, host Steve Doocy followed up by asking: “Without the help of the Russians?”
When Mook mentioned the email accounts of prominent Democrats being hacked, host Ainsley Earhardt cut him off: “But the information exposed were facts. Those were facts. . . . I mean, Hillary Clinton has nobody to blame but herself for that.” Mook warned that in future elections, the Russians could continue to try to influence the results – which could include targeting Republicans – and this should be of concern to all Americans.
At 8:13 a.m., the president tweeted: “For eight years Russia ‘ran over’ President Obama, got stronger and stronger, picked-off Crimea and added missiles. Weak!”
At about 8:08 a.m., conservative commentator Laura Ingraham – who is close to Trump and often advises him – was beamed into the show to comment on the new health-care legislation.
“The Trump-ism of the health-care reform, the Trump-iest parts of it, were transparency in pricing, competition across state lines. . . . Where is that in this plan?” Ingraham said, as two of the three hosts snickered at her made-up words. “I don’t see any transparency and control of the skyrocketing prices of health care. I certainly don’t see the competition across state lines. And the drug companies? There’s . . . no provisions about that, as far as I can see. Trump went across the country and was supported by both Democrats and Republicans in a lot of what he was saying there. But none of that – again, as far as I’m reading today – none of that is in the bill so far.”
“Good point,” Kilmeade said.
But Ingraham didn’t respond to him as if this conversation was happening with someone other than those sitting on the couch.
“So, if I’m Trump,” she continued, “I’m saying: Look, I went to the people on this, guys. This has to be in.”
And the president assured Ingraham and others that he was already on it, tweeting at 8:41 a.m.: “Don’t worry, getting rid of state lines, which will promote competition, will be in phase 2 & 3 of health-care rollout.” And just in case followers didn’t know what he was responding to, the president added the morning show’s Twitter handle, @foxandfriends.
Five minutes later, he followed up with another tweet: “I am working on a new system where there will be competition in the drug industry. Pricing for the American people will come way down!”
The president’s morning live-tweet session ended at 9:14 a.m. when he warned the American people against “FAKE NEWS,” a label that he likely wouldn’t apply to the friendly, pancake-eating hosts of “Fox & Friends.” The president then seemed to turn his focus to running the country, with a daily schedule that includes an intelligence briefing and meetings with congressional leaders.
“We are getting along great,” the president’s tweet read, “and getting major things done!”
“Don’t let the FAKE NEWS tell you that there is big infighting in the Trump Admin. We are getting along great, and getting major things done!”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Jenna Johnson