President Donald Trump welcomed conservative media to a reception on Monday night, turning the evening into an impromptu on-the-record briefing, according to multiple people in attendance.
Around 50 attendees from the likes of Breitbart, the Washington Free Beacon, Daily Caller, Christian Broadcast Network, Catholic-focused The Eternal Word Television Network, as well conservative radio hosts like Laura Ingraham, Larry O’Connor and John Fredericks mingled with senior administration officials and the president over light snacks, fruit and candy in the White House’s Roosevelt room.
Nearly the entire communications staff were in attendance in addition to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Stephen Bannon, senior adviser Jared Kushner, National Security Council spokesperson Michael Anton and Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland. After about 30 minutes, the president came in and, standing in the corner of the room, began to take questions from the assembled press, later turning the event on the record.
Trump took a variety of questions on infrastructure, the border wall, Syria, China and taxes, according to the attendees, several of whom tweeted out the answers.
It’s not the first time Trump has mingled with reporters — ahead of his address to the joint session of Congress, Trump held a dinner for regional television anchors and then a lunch with national television anchors. But it is the first time Trump has specifically convened a group of conservative media. White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who at one point stood next to the president calling on reporters in full briefing style, told POLITICO on Sunday that the point of the reception was “to appreciate the folks who have really covered the president fairly and covered a lot of issues ignored by mainstream media.”
One attendee in the room said that while he appreciated the president taking questions, it was clear that some of the questioners weren’t necessarily there to make news.
“Probably half the reporters were asking questions you’d ask in the briefing, half were asking questions they knew the president wanted to answer,” said the attendee, speaking on background. “It was beneficial to get to hear the president’s thoughts on a wide range of issues, but I also think it’s beneficial to have some of the heavy hitter [reporters] in the room.”
“Was a good vibe. Trump’s jokes well received. He came off very well honestly. Very casual. Had good answers,” another attendee said in an email.
Asked about the event, Spicer said “It was a great evening.”