Melania back in the public eye at husband's address

First Lady Melania Trump (at right) with Preston Sharp, 12, who was honoured for his efforts to decorate war veterans' graves at the State of the Union address in the Chamber of the US House of Representatives.
First Lady Melania Trump (at right) with Preston Sharp, 12, who was honoured for his efforts to decorate war veterans' graves at the State of the Union address in the Chamber of the US House of Representatives.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • US First Lady Melania Trump made a very visible return to the public stage by attending her husband's maiden State of the Union address, her first official appearance since accusations of infidelity surfaced about the President.

The enigmatic wife of Mr Donald Trump emerged publicly on Tuesday night for the first time since she fed the Washington rumour mill by cancelling her trip to Davos, Switzerland, leaving her husband to attend last week's World Economic Forum on his own.

Mrs Trump's no-show in Davos came on the heels of a bombshell report that alleged Mr Trump had a fling with porn star Stormy Daniels in 2006, just months after his wife gave birth to their son.

But for Mr Trump's big night in Congress, Mrs Trump arrived smiling and waving, to warm and extended applause - dressed in a crisp cream white Dior pantsuit that stood in contrast to the black donned by Democratic lawmakers in solidarity with the victims of sexual harassment. Minutes later, her husband took the floor and exchanged waves with his wife.

Breaking with tradition, the first couple arrived separately at the Capitol, because, according to the First Lady's spokesman Stephanie Grisham, she was accompanying guests. Among the Trumps' guests in the First Lady's box were a US Marine corporal who stepped on an explosive device and lost both legs while deployed in Iraq in 2007; first responders who helped save hurricane victims in Louisiana and Texas; parents of children killed by the gang MS-13; and a police officer who adopted a child whose parents were opioid addicts.

Also seated a few seats away from Mrs Trump was Mr Ji Seong Ho, a North Korean defector who escaped from the country in 2006.

The parents and two siblings of American Otto Warmbier, who died last year after being released from detention in North Korea, were also honoured at the event.

Afterwards, the First Lady was seen being escorted out of the gallery by a military officer, as Mr Trump spoke with lawmakers and administration officials on the House floor. It was not immediately clear whether the Trumps returned together to the White House.

As the 47-year-old wife of a 71-year-old man known for past lewd remarks about women, and whose two past divorces became public spectacles, Mrs Trump is dogged by speculation that they lead largely separate lives.

Speculation flared anew when The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan 12 that Mr Trump had paid Ms Daniels US$130,000 (S$170,000) one month before the November 2016 election to keep their alleged adulterous liaison quiet.

But hours before a scheduled appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to follow Mr Trump's address, Ms Daniels issued a signed statement that denied the alleged affair.

"I am not denying this affair because I was paid 'hush money' as has been reported in overseas-owned tabloids. I am denying it because it never happened," she said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2018, with the headline 'Melania back in the public eye at husband's address'. Print Edition | Subscribe