President Donald Trump told aides he was eager to take questions Friday and hold a news conference to tout his accomplishments before leaving for Mar-a-Lago, but some advisers argued against it.
The aides were eager to avoid him being besieged with questions about the investigation into Russian election meddling and other matters that could overshadow the tax bill he had signed into law, two White House officials told CNN.
The President’s schedule remained in flux over the last day, amid questions about whether he would stage a public bill-signing ceremony of the tax legislation or hold a news conference. Many previous presidents have held year-end news conferences before leaving for Christmas vacations.
For two straight days, Thursday and Friday, White House aides were told to prepare for a news conference of some kind.
Both plans were scrapped.
Friday morning, aides finally said the President would sign the tax and government funding bills in private. When the pool protested, saying the pictures from a White House photographer wouldn’t be used, news reporters and photographers were hastily escorted into the Oval Office for the signing.
The President’s mood was bright and he seemed eager to answer a few questions. Aides appeared on higher alert than normal, with Chief of Staff John Kelly and other aides attempting to kick reporters out and get the President on Marine One to Mar-a-Lago.
Trump answered several questions, including whether he had learned anything from the legislative process related to the tax overhaul, whether he would travel to sell the tax package and whether he wished he had started his congressional agenda with infrastructure.
“We’re going to get infrastructure,” Trump told reporters. “Infrastructure is the easiest of them all. We’re very well on our way. We have essentially repealed Obamacare. You know, the individual mandate was a very big factor in this bill, frankly. A lot of people don’t talk about it because the tax cut is so important.”
As reporters kept pressing Trump, aides moved closer and closer to the Resolute Desk, gently prodding reporters and photographers to leave the Oval Office. With the President still talking, chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and other officials stood in front of the desk, all but blocking Trump’s view.
Finally, White House chief of staff John Kelly also joined in and asked the press to leave, saying: “Helicopter is running out of gas,” referring to Marine One that was waiting to take the President to Air Force One.