President Trump shrugged off the latest staff resignations and tumult on Saturday night with a big dose of humor, calling it “another calm week at the White House.”
In a speech at the annual Gridiron dinner in Washington, Mr. Trump took self-deprecating aim at his management style, and also poked fun at Democrats, the media and some of his own advisers.
Just days after he lost trusted communications director Hope Hicks, and son-in-law/adviser Jared Kushner had his security clearance downgraded, Mr. Trump quipped, “We finally have it running like a fine-tuned machine.”
“We were late tonight because Jared could not get through security,” the president told the crowd. Turning to his daughter, he said, “Ivanka, you’ve got to do something!”
One of Mr. Kushner’s top aides, Josh Raffel, also announced his resignation last week. And White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned last month, part of a staff turnover of more than 33 percent in the West Wing in a little more than a year.
“So many people have been leaving the White House,” Mr. Trump said tongue-in-cheek. “It’s actually been really exciting and invigorating. I like turnover. I like chaos. It really is good.”
Referring to reports that Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has been limiting the access of Mr. Kushner and Ivanka Trump to the Oval Office, Mr. Trump deadpanned, “There’s been a lot of criticism of John Kelly in the press, which I think is very, very unfair. He’s doing an amazing job. He even told me he would let Ivanka visit the Oval Office when she gets home from representing us in the Olympics and she did so.”
He added, “Now the question everyone keeps asking is, ‘Who’s going to be the next to leave? [Adviser] Steve Miller or Melania?’ … That is terrible, honey, but you love me, right?”
The president also referred to the continual friction between himself and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who angered Mr. Trump at the start of his presidency by recusing himself from any Russia investigations.
“Attorney General Sessions is here with us tonight. I offered him a ride over and he recused himself,” the president said.
He said Vice President Mike Pence “starts out each morning asking everybody, ‘Has he been impeached yet?'”
Turning to the media, Mr. Trump said CNN “lost a tremendous amount of credibility this year, but they also lost one of their true stars, the guy who got you the most scoops … your really very best reporter. There was nobody like him — [former White House strategist] Steve Bannon. That guy leaked more than the Titanic.”
Mr. Trump jokingly compared his TV show to his presidency.
“Many people have asked me how my time as a reality TV star prepared me for the presidency, the truth is there’s very little overlap between the two,” he said. “In one job, I had to manage a cutthroat cast of characters desperate for TV time, totally unprepared for their … jobs, and each week afraid of having their asses fired. In the other job, I was the host of a smash television hit. Television’s so easy compared to this.”
The president spared almost no Democrats in his speech.
On Rep. Adam Schiff of California, a House Intelligence Committee member accused by the White House of frequent leaks to the media: “He doesn’t know what committee he’s on because he’s on the phone so much. He was going to come tonight and then he heard that this was not a televised event so he stayed home.”
On former Vice President Joe Biden, who is said to be considering a run for president in 2020: “There’s talk about Joe Biden, Sleepy Joe, getting into the race. Just trust me, I would kick his ass. But Joe — give me a break. The guy who keeps making outrageous statements thinks he has a shot at being president? Guy makes outrageous statements. He’s going to be president? He doesn’t have a shot.”
With many media members in the room, Mr. Trump concluded by extending an olive branch of sorts to the press, after a year in which he has clashed with them repeatedly.
“I do want to say this is one of the best times I can ever remember having with the media. This might be the most fun I’ve had since watching your faces on election night,” he said. “I do have a lot of respect for a lot of the people in this room. Even people that have been very strong opponents, I’ve developed a lot of respect. Fairness is important to me, but you know, you’ve got your point of view. And a lot of you cover things very squarely and there are few professions that i respect more.”
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