From the looks of first lady Melania Trump’s unusually packed schedule, you’d never guess that a member of her immediate family is facing an impeachment inquiry.
Monday morning, she became the only first lady ever to visit the headquarters of the Drug Enforcement Administration, as part of its Red Ribbon Week promoting a drug-free America. Poised in a black sleeveless dress, Trump gave a five-minute speech about her Be Best campaign and equated the dangers of the vaping epidemic to the opioid crisis.
“We need to continue encouraging teenagers and young adults that have fallen into drug addiction to be brave enough to admit it, to talk about it, and to get help,” Trump said. “This also includes addiction associated with e-cigarettes and vaping. It is important to me that we all work to educate children and families about the dangers associated with this habit.”
As is typical at her events, she did not answer any questions from reporters.
Early Monday morning the White House had announced it would be withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria, clearing the way for a presumed Turkish offensive, leaving vulnerable Kurdish fighters who’d allied with the United States in the fight against the Islamic State.
“. . . If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done it before!) . . . ,” the president tweeted.
In response, some people circulated an April 2012 tweet from the president’s daughter Ivanka thanking the Turkish prime minister for his help in facilitating the massive two-pronged Trump Towers in Istanbul. Others circulated a 2015 radio interview in which Donald Trump admitted the towers might present “a little conflict of interest.”
By dawn, news was breaking that a judge had ruled President Trump was not immune to prosecution and had ordered him to turn over eight years of his tax returns to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for the continued investigation into payments of hush money for his alleged affair with adult-movie star and director Stormy Daniels. The president immediately appealed the ruling
This is not the first time in the past two weeks (yes, it’s been only two weeks) that the first lady has put herself in the spotlight while seeming to ignore any of the chaos surrounding her husband. (Or her family. Yesterday, The Washington Post broke the story that Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, had earned $82 million in 2017 while working as public servants on the administration.)
On Sept. 24, the day that news of the impeachment inquiry broke, Melania Trump had been with her husband as he addressed the U.N. General Assembly. That afternoon, her Instagram account posted a glamorous, sepia-toned photo slide show of her in a Gucci cream-colored wool coat. The night of the speech, she and her husband met with the president of Ukraine at a private assembly. That gathering appeared on none of their social accounts.
Then Thursday, when Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, was meeting with congressional investigators, and President Trump was calling for both Ukraine and China to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, Melania Trump was about as far away from Washington as she could get. She was floating down Wyoming’s Snake River in view of the Grand Tetons with a group of Boy Scouts to promote a pass to national parks for fourth-graders. Her staff told the pool following her — made up of only local reporters — that the merry rafters had spotted a bald eagle.
From her smiles in photos circulated of the two-day trip she seemed to be loving it.
While this may seem like counterprogramming or a wife who wants to distance herself from her husband’s affairs, Princeton historian Lauren M. Wright said these events may have subtle meaning. “First ladies are the very, very best strategic messengers in the White House because they’re apolitical,” she said. “They can hide behind this image of someone who is a do-gooding volunteer and a popular nonpartisan figure.”
In other words, this first lady’s enjoyment of the outdoors might distract both from the impeachment news and reports that her husband’s border wall construction is bulldozing through indigenous sacred sites and 150-year-old Saguaro cactuses in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument — an area designed to protect those very plants.
Back at the DEA headquarters, the first lady was continuing about her day unfazed.
Young Marines presented the colors. A choir from H-B Woodlawn High School in Arlington sang a choral rendition of the national anthem. Actor Dean Norris, who played a DEA special agent on “Breaking Bad,” emceed. Acting DEA administrator Uttam Dhillon told the heartbreaking story of special agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by drug traffickers in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1985. Members of his community began wearing red ribbons in his honor to symbolize their resolve in the fight against the drug trade.
The first lady did not wear a red ribbon. Staff from the East Wing said she had not received one before the event.
Still, she took the stage, her head moving to follow the teleprompter, the speech almost identical to the one she’d prepared. She sincerely told Camarena’s widow, Mika, “I am so sorry for your loss,” but never diverted her gaze from the teleprompters.
“Since its launch last year, I have used Be Best to shine a light on programs and people that show what it means to be best,” the first lady said.
What does that mean?
“Whether it’s showing a simple act of kindness, providing care where there is a need, or teaching something valuable, Be Best promotes the positive actions happening in our communities and around the globe and helps children understand what it means to lead healthy lives,” she said.
Unlike previous remarks that the first lady gave at the opening of the Kennedy Center’s expansion last month or a recent New York Stock Exchange event, there was a punch and specificity to her speech.
She detailed how she’d used the past 2½ years as first lady to travel to hospitals and rehab centers “where I have seen firsthand the horrible results of drug abuse.” She mentioned an event she’d done with students of Liberty University to address “the stigma of drug dependence.”
And then she made her fiery stance on vaping, the first time she’s spoken publicly on the issue — though she did mention it on social media.
By the end of those five minutes at the lectern, she hadn’t touched on impeachment or the myriad tweets and retweets her husband made in the previous 24 hours. But she had said more than she has, publicly, in months. It almost sounded like a stump speech.