At the White House this week, I asked Donald Trump what he thought of American Jews – and he told me

'But American Jews are Americans, sir'

Andrew Feinberg
Washington DC
Thursday 22 August 2019 16:22
Trump says Democrat voters are 'disloyal to Israel'

Reporters like me who spend their days in Washington DC can always tell whether the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has mucked things up in a particularly spectacular way by taking a quick glance at the White House's driveway.

Over the 164 days that have passed since the White House Press Secretary stood behind the iconic lectern for a daily press briefing, the driveway immediately outside the West Wing has become one of the only places where reporters can reliably hope to put a question in the ear of the public servants responsible for carrying out the President's agenda.

This unfortunate fact has led the various television networks that are part of the White House press corps to establish what could plausibly be called a "briefing outpost" – a set of tripods with a music stand in place of a lectern, kept strategically between the West Wing and fixed camera positions where various administration officials will go to appear on television and defend the President's latest words or actions.

But on Thursday morning, those tripods stood empty, and a check with the TV network cameramen who are a constant presence in the James Brady Briefing Room revealed that not a single White House official had been booked for the networks' morning shows. Not on CNN, not on ABC, NBC, CBS, and not even on Fox News, home of the President's favorite morning show, Fox and Friends.

What could make President Trump's fiercest advocates go silent? What kept even an enthusiastic media gladiator like Kellyanne Conway – who last month defended his call for a quartet of Democratic Congresswomen to "go back" to the countries commonly associated with their ethnic backgrounds by asking this reporter about his own ethnicity – inside like a groundhog who'd seen her own shadow?

It's not like the President employed a rhetorical tool used by antisemites throughout history, right?

Oh, wait.

Before Donald Trump departed the White House for an event in Kentucky on Wednesday, he spoke to reporters, as he often does before boarding his helicopter on the South Lawn.

The day before, while speaking in the Oval Office with the president of Romania at his side, he said that American Jews who vote for Democrats show "either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty."

One of his frequent defenders, Republican Jewish Committee Chairman Matt Brooks, told the Jewish Insider that "of course the president was not trafficking in dual loyalty and antisemitism" with the remark.

But I wasn't going to take Brooks' word for it. So, when the opportunity presented itself, I shouted a question over the helicopter engine's roar: "To whom are they being disloyal, sir?"

Trump seized his chance to clarify his remarks, but not in the way one would expect from a man who once was so incensed by a Hasidic Jewish reporter's question about a rise in antisemitic attacks that he told him, in essence, to sit down and shut up.

"In my opinion, you vote for a Democrat, you're being very disloyal to Jewish people and you're being very disloyal to Israel," said Trump, adding for good measure that "only weak people would say anything other than that."

On a normal day, I’d expect that White House officials would eagerly take to the airwaves in defence of the self-described "least racist person ever to serve in office."

But President Trump's answer yesterday might have clarified that, too.

When I'd first asked him who American Jews were being "disloyal" to by voting for Democrats, he began his response by rattling off the various policy decisions he'd made to ostensibly benefit Israel (or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's electoral chances).

"But American Jews are Americans, sir," I interjected, only to have Trump cut me off.

"Excuse me. Wait a minute. Wait a minute," he said before repeating one of his most frequent boasts: "No president has done what I've done."

For once, it was a true statement.

Andrew Feinberg is the White House reporter for Breakfast Media

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