Updated 10:30 p.m. ET
President Donald Trump passed Saturday on one of the biggest events on Washington’s annual social calendar and, instead, opted to spend his 100th day in office focused on trade and holding a campaign-style rally in Harrisburg, Pa.
Breaking with tradition, Trump was a no-show at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner Saturday night in D.C. It was the first time in 36 years that the president has not attended the event. Back in 1981, President Ronald Reagan did not attend because he was recovering from an assassination attempt. President Jimmy Carter did not attend in 1978 and in 1980. President Richard Nixon did not attend the dinner in 1974 and 1972.
Rather than attending the annual dinner — where the president traditionally is the opening act for a well-known Hollywood comedian and is also the butt of many of the event’s jokes — Trump opted to take a short trip from Washington to Pennsylvania where he visited a tool manufacturing company in Harrisburg and signed two executive orders focused on trade. One of the orders directed the Commerce Department and the U.S. trade representative to conduct a review of existing U.S. international trade and investment agreements and another created a new White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing to be led by Trump adviser Peter Navarro. Then Trump held a rally in in the Pennsylvania city and gave a nearly hourlong stump speech.
The move — to hold a rally in a battleground state and miss the annual dinner known for glitzy elbow-rubbing between Washington journalists and Hollywood celebrities — seemed designed to thumb the presidential nose at the Washington press corps, with whom Trump continues to have a tense relationship, while also highlighting Trump’s accomplishments on his 100th day in the Oval Office.
Predictably, Trump spent roughly the first 10 minutes of his remarks bashing the media. “A large group of Hollywood actors and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation’s capital right now,” the president told the enthusiastic crowd of supporters. He added that back in D.C. they are “gathered together for the White House correspondents’ dinner — without the president.” Trump then told the crowd he was thrilled to be with them instead, many miles away from Washington.
Reprising familiar themes from his campaign and his tweets, Trump declared that CNN and MSNBC were both “fake news.” He also once again referred to the New York Times as “failing.” Turning one of the traditions of the 100th-day milestone on its head, Trump suggested to the crowd that they “rate the media’s 100 days,” adding, “because, you know, they are a disgrace.” After rattling through a litany of what he saw as the Times’ bad business decisions over the years, the real estate mogul and former reality TV star declared that the national newspaper of record was “incompetent and dishonest people.”
Before turning his attention to what his administration has done since his inauguration, Trump rendered his verdict media critic in chief. The “media deserves a big fat failing grade,” the president said.
The remainder of the rally was ripped from Trump’s familiar political playbook and was like traveling back in time to his best moments on the 2016 campaign trail. He faulted his predecessor, former President Barack Obama: “the previous administration gave us a mess.”
Then, on the same day that marches had been held worldwide protesting his skeptical views on climate change and seeking great investments in protecting the climate, Trump informed that crowd that he would be making a big decision about the Paris Climate Agreement in the next two weeks.
The new president also sought to explain his decision in the past 100 days not to label China a currency manipulator by pointing to the tense situation on the Korean Peninsula and China’s critical role in dealing with the North Korean regime. Trump called Chinese President Xi Jinping “a good man,” adding “let’s see what happens.”
“I think it’s not exactly the right time to call China a currency manipulator right now,” the president told the crowd.
Trump spent the remainder of his remarks focused on what he referred to as his administration’s “100 days of action” and all the things he and his team of aides have done since inauguration:
- the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court;
- withdrawal of the U.S. from the the Trans-Pacific Partnership;
- his recently announced plan to renegotiate NAFTA, and, failing that, to terminate the trade agreement with Canada and Mexico;
- his recent directive to “buy American” and “hire American;”
- the performance of the stock market since Election Day;
- making energy exploration easier;
- clearing the way for the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines;
- cutting back on regulations emanating from Washington;
- the signing of more than two dozen new pieces of legislation;
- multiple moves by his administration to protect veterans as they seek care from the Veterans Administration health care system;
- his efforts to “drain the swamp” in Washington through prohibitions on lobbying after government service;
- increased immigration controls especially at the nation’s borders and increased efforts to help victims of crimes committed by people in the country illegally;
- his continuing commitment to build a wall on the Mexico border (“We’ll build a wall, folks. Don’t even worry about it. Go home and go to sleep. Rest assured.”);
- stepped-up efforts to fight crime caused by gangs and drug cartels and remove their compatriots who are in the U.S. illegally;
- a focus on so-called sanctuary cities;
- increased support for law enforcement;
- increased efforts to fight terrorism (“We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.”);
- a commitment to rebuilding the military (with a special shout-out to Defense Secretary James Mattis);
- a new plan to cut taxes and overhaul the tax system including cutting the corporate tax rate to 15 percent;
- a continuing commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare (which the president variously described as “dying,” “dead,” “gone,” and “in a death spiral);
- on gun rights, a commitment to defend the Second Amendment;
- on education, a commitment to increase local control of schools and end Common Core;
- and a commitment generally to stop federal overreach.
And echoing some of the rhetoric of his inaugural address, Trump told the crowd that regardless of race, “we all bleed the same red blood of patriots,” that “we are all made by the same Almighty God,” and that “we are Americans and the future belongs to us.”
The rally was the capstone of a past week the White House spent holding events, putting out press releases and otherwise seeking headlines intended to highlight what it views as the new administration’s successes in the last 100 days. Even before his rally Saturday night, the president himself seemed keenly aware that the day is historically a symbolic moment for the media, pundits, the country and perhaps even much of the world to assess his young presidency.
“Mainstream (FAKE) media refuses to state our long list of achievements, including 28 legislative signings, strong borders & great optimism!,” Trump tweeted Saturday afternoon.
Trump also used his annual weekly address to amplify his 100th day message. “My fellow Americans, I truly believe that the first 100 days of my administration has been just about the most successful in our country’s history,” he said in a video posted on YouTube Saturday. The president spent the remaining four minutes of the weekly address laying out his actions and accomplishments since taking office.
Despite Trump’s efforts to focus on his successes, he did not make it through his 100th day in office without another major protest.
The People’s Climate March occurred in Washington and other cities across the globe in an effort to bring attention to the new administration’s skeptical views on climate change, planned cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and generally more solicitous approach to business interests that might adversely impact the climate and the environment in various ways.
In Washington, thousands of demonstrators braved sweltering heat approaching 90 degrees and marched down Pennsylvania Avenue from near the U.S. Capitol to Trump’s new home, the White House.
Asked shortly before the Pennsylvania rally what his message was for the climate protesters back in D.C., the president responded, “Enjoy the day. And the weather.”