WASHINGTON – Donald Trump held his first lengthy press conference as U.S. president and it was the stuff of political legend.
There were jaw-dropping moments. Nuggets of news. Flat-out falsehoods. Swings at the media. Feelings of personal grievance. Blasts at his former campaign rival. And one gasp-inducing reference to the political upside of war.
Thirteen key moments:
— How potentially starting a war would be great for approval ratings: “The greatest thing I could do is shoot that (Russian) ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water. Everyone in this country’s going to say, ‘Oh, it’s so great.’ That’s not great. That’s not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia.” Asked later what he actually will do with that ship: “I’m not going to tell you. But hopefully, I won’t have to do anything.”
— Makes up easily disproven facts: ‘(Mine) was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.” In fact, the winners of 1988, 1992, 1996, 2008, and 2012 won more electoral college votes than him. When asked later about the falsehood, Trump said: “I don’t know, I was given that information.” He also said the country was in a mess when he took over, with insecurity in the Middle East and jobs being lost at home. With respect to jobs, the country had notched a record 75 consecutive months of employment growth when he took office.
— New travel ban coming. Trump said he’s about to roll out a new version of his controversial executive order on travel, after the first version was carved up in court: “We’re going to put in a new executive order next week some time. But we had a bad (court) decision.”
— Long-awaited replacement plan for Barack Obama health reform coming too: “We’re doing Obamacare. We’re in final stages. We should be submitting the initial plan in March, early March.”
—Blasts the media. “Tomorrow, they will say, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.’ I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you — you know, you’re dishonest people. But I’m not ranting and raving. I love this.”
— The Justin Trudeau meeting. He says it went well. Trump also saluted the creation of a group to foster female business leaders and entrepreneurs, involving Canada and his daughter: “It’s very important to me, very important to my daughter Ivanka.”
— He’s a good person and wants the media to say so: “I just see many, many untruthful things. And I’ll tell you what else I see. I see tone. You know the word ‘tone’? The tone is such hatred. I’m really not a bad person.”
— He’s great for TV ratings. Trump mentioned this several times. He even suggested a way TV could get better ratings — more positive stories about him: “I do get good ratings, you have to admit that,” he told a CNN questioner. He added, “Your ratings aren’t as good as some of the other people (here).” At another point, he said: “I know how good everybody’s ratings are right now but I think that actually — I think that’d actually be better (if you were less critical).”
— He mentioned Hillary Clinton by name about 10 times, including when he ridiculed her failed effort to improve relations with Russia: “Hillary Clinton did a reset, remember? With the stupid plastic button that made us all look like a bunch of jerks? ‘Here, (she said to her Russian counterpart), take a look.’ He looked at her like, ‘What the hell is she doing with that cheap plastic button?'”
— A tale of two Acostas. Trump called the news conference ostensibly to announce his new pick for labour secretary, Alexander Acosta. He wound up spending more time sparring with CNN’s Jim Acosta. Trump joked that he’d done a background check to make sure they were unrelated: “I said, ‘Wait a minute, is there any relation there?’… I checked it — they said, ‘No, sir.’ I said, ‘Do me a favour, go back and check the family tree.'”
—He’s asked the Justice Department to investigate leaks from his administration, including the ones that ended Michael Flynn’s brief cabinet stint: ”Those are criminal leaks.”
—Made an important statement about Russia. Amid reports that his campaign’s dealings with Russian authorities were being investigated, Trump was asked whether he was aware of any contacts. He replied: “I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does…. Nobody that I know of.”
—Says his administration is off to a great start: ”This is a fine-tuned machine.”