It’s happening again. The media outlets that are not friendly to President Trump are at it again. The First Lady hasn’t been as visible to the press as they would like her to be so some stories have begun to bubble up about that. With the government shutdown still going strong, a new twist has been included in the narrative. A piece by CNN’s Kate Bennett even put forward the reporter’s opinion that the First Lady has “virtually ghosted.” Yes, ghosted, as in the First Lady has just disappeared. Nevermind that the last big public splash Melania Trump made was during a trip to Iraq with her husband during the holidays. Nevermind how rare it is for a First Lady to travel into a war zone.
Melania Trump and her son Barron left Thursday for a long-planned holiday weekend in Florida just as the air travel drama was playing out between President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s CODEL to Afghanistan via Brussels. How dare she. The real reason the First Lady has been mostly off the radar is that she was spending time with her son during his winter break from school and she hosted a scaled-down celebration over the New Year weekend at Mar-a-Lago. She hasn’t been a shut-in.
But the partial shutdown hasn’t halted the first lady’s travel. On Thursday night, just an hour after news broke that her husband nixed the use of military a government plane, bound for Mar-a-Lago.
A White House official said the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend trip was long-planned and is being spent with her son.
That trip marked Melania Trump’s fifth solo flight since the shutdown began. Per security protocols set in place by the government and the United States Secret Service, the first lady, along with the President and the vice president, must always fly via military aircraft,leaving the Trump private air fleet, or commercial flights, out of the question. Her Secret Service detail, which is accompanying her on the trip per safety protocol, is part of the 800,000 federal employees working without a paycheck.
The premise is that the First Lady has played a low-key role during the government shutdown. I don’t understand what the problem with that is, though. If reporters looking for a chance to drag the First Lady complain that she’s “ghosted” the press and isn’t maintaining a robust public schedule, wouldn’t it just make more sense to acknowledge that she has adjusted her public schedule to accommodate the shutdown? But, common sense and reporting on the First Lady usually don’t go hand in hand.
The First Lady has a small White House staff. Due to the government shutdown, her staff is even smaller. She continues to hold staff meetings and is in daily contact with her staff. Mrs. Trump’s spokesperson said that they are using a quieter time to plan for upcoming events.
The core of the first lady’s office has been allowed to continue to work, yet her staff was already tight at 12, less than half of the staff of her two most recent predecessors. The shutdown made that small number even tinier. Grisham and Lindsay Reynolds, the first lady’s chief of staff, remain working.
“The first lady is in daily communication with her staff,” Grisham said of how Trump has spent the shutdown in her East Wing office. “We’ve been using the time to plan for upcoming White House and initiative events.”
White House social secretary Rickie Niceta, who oversees all events at the White House, remains on the job — though with a skeleton crew working the kitchen and service positions, there isn’t much in the way of events.
The real problem for the press, though, is that Melania Trump flew on Thursday and Pelosi didn’t. It is a ridiculous comparison. Melania’s trip required a fraction of the resources required for Speaker Pelosi’s trip overseas with a substantial Congressional delegation in tow. It is a requirement that the First Lady flies in military aircraft. President Trump also canceled the trip to Davos, Switzerland for Secretary Mnuchin and his delegation. Trump is staying in D.C. and trying to get the Democrat leadership to come to the table and work out a deal to get the government open again while also securing the southern border. Trump had already canceled his own plans to attend the conference in Devos to stay in Washington for negotiations. Melania Trump isn’t a part of the negotiations.
A piece in Fortune makes the distinction between a “tit-for-tat” between President Trump and Nancy Pelosi and optics of the Mnuchin trip to Davos. That’s a legitimate distinction but it also has nothing to do with Melania and Barron’s trip to Mar-a-Lago.
The CNN piece concludes with labeling Melania’s absence from the public spotlight for the last 20 days as proof that she has ghosted. This is what I have come to expect from cable news networks. Bennett notes that President Trump mentioned his wife during the fast food feast for the Clemson football team and during in his remarks recently in New Orleans.
Yet besides that mention, and another one from the President during remarks in New Orleans, the first lady has virtually ghosted.
I’ll end with this reminder – Melania Trump has a much smaller staff than recent First Ladies. Michelle Obama employed the largest staff to date. By using a smaller team, Mrs. Trump is saving taxpayer dollars while performing the tasks traditionally given to her office. With the shutdown, her staff is even smaller. Good for them for continuing to move forward, planning for upcoming events, and staying in the background while the West Wing works to end the shutdown.
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) January 13, 2019