Melania Trump delivered rare remarks from the White House Rose Garden on Monday as she officially launched her initiatives as first lady

By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall and Tierney McAfee
May 07, 2018 04:08 PM
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Melania Trump launched Monday an “awareness campaign” around the challenges America’s children face, promising to dedicate the remainder of her term as first lady to helping kids combat online bullying and the opioid epidemic.

Flanked by two banners bearing her initiative’s slogan, “Be Best,” Mrs. Trump carefully delivered her speech in the iconic White House Rose Garden as her husband, President Donald Trump, looked on from the front row of folding chairs on the lawn.

“In my time as first lady of the United States, I will make every effort to be best at championing the many successful well-being programs in existence today and teach the tools and skills for emotional, social and physical well-being,” Mrs. Trump said.

It was her maiden appearance as headliner in the Rose Garden and came one day after a Washington Post story on the couple’s separate lives. That story, which touched on the Trumps keeping separate bedrooms and several instances of the first lady swatting away her husband’s attempt to hold hands, also cited a widespread rumor that Mrs. Trump doesn’t live at the White House, but regularly stays, instead, at a home near the suburban school of her and the president’s son, Barron, 12.

Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

Minutes before the first lady’s afternoon event, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders denied the rumor and scolded the Post for publishing it. “That is an outrageous and ridiculous claim. The first lady lives here at the White House. We see her regularly,” Sanders said in her regular press briefing.

“That’s something that belongs in tabloid gossip, not on the front pages of the Washington Post and I hope that they do better next time,” she said.

Outside in the Rose Garden, the president emerged from the Oval Office and took his seat minutes before the event began—but not before an attention-stealing tweet announcing that he would make big news himself with a Tuesday announcement on the Iran nuclear deal.

His wife’s debut opened with a pre-recorded video of footage from the various school and hospital visits Melania Trump has made in her first 16 months as first lady.

After Mrs. Trump was announced over the loudspeakers, she emerged from the far corner of the Rose Garden opposite her husband’s Oval Office and made a dramatically protracted entrance down the colonnade that joins the West Wing to the executive mansion.

In her speech, she kept up her drumbeat against bullying on social media, even though she has been criticized for hypocrisy given her husband’s name-calling on Twitter.

“I do believe that children should be both seen and heard,” Mrs. Trump said. “And it is our responsibility as adults to educate and remind them that when they are using their voices — either verbally or online — they must choose their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion.”

She acknowledged her husband at the top of a list of attendees that included Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, members of the administration and members of Congress. “I’m honored to have you all with me,” Mrs. Trump said, before calling on her husband to join her on the makeshift stage to sign a proclamation making Monday “National ‘Be Best’ Day.”

“Mr. President,” she said with a giggle.

He congratulated her on “truly, a beautiful and heartfelt speech.”

“That’s the way she feels — very strongly,” the president added. Before sitting at a small table to sign the document, he indicated to the audience with a grin that his wife would be getting a souvenir from her big day: “I think you all know who’s going to get the pen.”

Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

Mrs. Trump has long faced criticism over her pledge to combat the rise of cyberbullying, which she initially made in the final days before her husband won the election in November 2016.

Critics have called the first lady hypocritical for adopting the cause, given the president’s well-documented habit of humiliating and lashing out at his foes on Twitter, often using degrading and even racist nicknames.

“The idea that you are trying to blame cyber bullyinging on the president is ridiculous,” says Sanders, the White House press secretary told reporters on Monday.

But some critics—such as Philippe Reines, a one-time spokesman to Trump’s 2016 opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—also cite Mrs. Trump’s own foray into trolling when she, like her husband, questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the United States.

Mrs. Trump has also been faulted for what critics, including Hillary Clinton, saw as her failure to follow through on the issue in the more than a year since her husband took office.

The first lady didn’t take significant public action on the issue until recently, when she hosted a roundtable talk on cyberbullying at the White House in March.

Credit: Susan Walsh/AP/REX/Shutterstock

In her talks with executives from Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snap, Mrs. Trump addressed the criticism over her chosen cause, saying, “I am well aware that people are skeptical of me discussing the topic.”

“I have been criticized for my commitment to tackling this issue and I know that will continue, but it will not stop me from doing what I know is right,” she added. “I am here with one goal: helping children and our next generation.”

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Clinton in September questioned whether Trump was really “serious” about her commitment to the cause since she had yet to release a formal plan for her anti-cyberbullying efforts.

“I think there would be a lot of people who would be willing to help her, if she were serious about actually following through,” Clinton said at the time.