Cabinet members trump each other to praise chief

US President Donald Trump meeting members of his Cabinet in the White House Cabinet Room on Monday. Most of them sung praises of the commander-in-chief. Mr Trump himself indulged in a big of self-congratulation, declaring himself one of the most prod
US President Donald Trump meeting members of his Cabinet in the White House Cabinet Room on Monday. Most of them sung praises of the commander-in-chief. Mr Trump himself indulged in a big of self-congratulation, declaring himself one of the most productive presidents in US history.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON • One by one, they praised United States President Donald Trump, taking turns complimenting his integrity, his message, his strength and his policies. And their leader sat smiling, nodding his approval.

This highly unusual spectacle in the White House Cabinet Room on Monday seemed designed to deflect attention from the President's faltering agenda and in keeping with an intense effort by the White House to boost Mr Trump's mood and change the subject from fired Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) chief James Comey's damaging testimony last week.

"The greatest privilege of my life is to serve as Vice-President to the President who's keeping his word to the American people," Mr Mike Pence said, starting things off.

Secretary of Labour Alexander Acosta said: "I am privileged to be here - deeply honoured - and I want to thank you for your commitment to American workers."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Mr Trump: "It was a great honour travelling with you around the country for the last year, and an even greater honour to be here serving on your Cabinet."

A few Cabinet members diverged from the apparent script. Mr Jim Mattis, the Secretary of Defence, refrained from personally praising the President, instead aiming his comments at troops fighting and dying for their country.

"Mr President, it's an honour to represent the men and women of the Department of Defence, and we are grateful for the sacrifices our people are making in order to strengthen our military so our diplomats always negotiate from a position of strength," Mr Mattis said as Mr Trump sat, stern-faced.

PRAISE FROM PENCE

The greatest privilege of my life is to serve as Vice-President to the President who's keeping his word to the American people.

VICE-PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE

PRIEBUS' GRATITUDE

We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing to serve your agenda.

MR REINCE PRIEBUS, chief of staff.

But Mr Reince Priebus, the chief of staff whose job insecurity has been the subject of endless speculation, outdid them all: "We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing to serve your agenda."

So it went as Mr Trump transformed a routine Cabinet meeting into a mood-boosting, ego- stroking display of support for himself and his agenda. And he made it clear he liked what he heard.

"Thank you, Mick," he told Budget director Mick Mulvaney. "Good job," he told Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt. Director of national intelligence Dan Coats got a "Very good, Daniel."

The commander-in-chief, who speaks of himself in superlatives, even indulged in a bit of self-congratulation. He declared himself one of the most productive presidents in US history - perhaps Franklin Roosevelt could come close, he conceded - and proclaimed a "record-setting pace" of accomplishment.

Mr Trump has yet to sign any major legislation and his White House has been buffeted by legal and ethical questions surrounding the investigation into his campaign's possible links to Russia and his firing of the FBI director who had been leading that inquiry. Days before, Mr Comey had charged that Mr Trump had lied about his firing and inappropriately sought to influence the Russia investigation.

Mr Trump said the country was "seeing amazing results" from his leadership.

The tableau drew instant derision: "GREAT meeting today with the best staff in the history of the world!!" tweeted Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer, a minority leader.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'Cabinet members trump each other to praise chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe