WASHINGTON — Instead of following in the footsteps of his predecessors, President Donald Trump again forged his own path Saturday, opting to host a campaign-style rally in Pennsylvania instead of attending the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington.
Trump, who found his stride in front of large, cheering crowds across the country in states where his populist message resonates, took the stage Saturday night in Harrisburg alongside Vice President Mike Pence to mark his 100th day in the Oval Office.
“There is no place I’d rather be than right here in Pennsylvania to celebrate our 100-day milestone, to reflect on an incredible journey together,” Trump said.
In addition to speaking at the rally, Trump signed two executive orders in Harrisburg, one directing a review all US trade agreements and the second establishing the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy.
Among the crowd favorites at Trump rallies are the President’s attacks on the press, and this especially rang true at Saturday’s event because many members of the press are celebrating at the White House Correspondents’ dinner in what Trump calls the “swamp” of Washington — setting up a prime-time duel with what has become his No. 1 foe, 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,” Trump told the crowd. “They are gathered together for the White House Correspondents’ dinner — without the President. And I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington’s swamp, spending my evening with all of you and with a much, much larger crowd and much better people.”
This marks the first time in 36 years that a sitting president has not attended and spoken at the dinner. President Ronald Reagan missed the dinner while recovering in the hospital from an assassination attempt, but he still made remarks by phone. Richard Nixon was the last president to skip the dinner completely.
The last time Trump attended the dinner was in 2011, when he was a New York real estate mogul and reality TV star who had just jumped into politics by getting involved in the “birther” movement, calling for President Barack Obama to release his birth certificate. Trump ended up being the butt of the jokes that night from comedian Seth Meyers and Obama himself.
But no matter where he was, the spotlight was on Trump on Saturday since the day also marked a significant milestone in the career of a president. After serving as commander in chief for 100 days, his achievements, as well as shortfalls, were being closely scrutinized.
On paper, Trump lacks a major legislative achievement, has the lowest approval ratings of any new commander in chief since World War II, has seen several key immigration goals held up by the courts and has failed to deliver the health care overhaul he promised again and again on the campaign trail.
Trump’s sole big win has been the successful nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court — something a president hasn’t done in his first 100 days since James Garfield appointed a justice within that time frame 136 years ago.
Trump, a longtime critic of the number of Obama’s executive orders, issued more executive orders in his first 100 days than any other president aside from Harry Truman.
It’s also been 100 days plagued with controversy, from appointing his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner to key White House posts to dealing with allegations of possible ties between some of his campaign aides and Russia.
His campaign promises on such major items as repealing and replacing Obamacare and overhauling the tax code — things he rallied crowds with for months all over the country — have yet to be enacted. Even his promise to build a wall on the border with Mexico is caught up in a spending debate, with no support from Democrats and little to no progress being made.