By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – They came to praise President Donald Trump, not focus on the controversies engulfing him.
One by one, Trump’s Cabinet members assembled around the table spoke effusively about the president as he sat beaming, soaking it all in at the first formal gathering of his most senior officials at the White House on Monday.
The lavishing of praise and adulation contrasted with the storm enveloping the president as he struggles with myriad crises, including an investigation into possible ties between his election campaign and Russian meddling in the race.
For him, the meeting was a welcome rendering of what he feels are major accomplishments ignored by his detractors, even though major legislative achievements have eluded him thus far.
There was no one more gushing than White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who is frequently the target of criticism from long-time Trump advisers and is often see as just one misstep away from being ousted, even though rumours of his departure have all proved to be premature.
“On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the honour and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people and we’re continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals,” Priebus said.
Trump used the meeting to try to show a sense of momentum for his agenda after weeks of being engulfed in controversy over his May 9 firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was heading the Russia investigation.
“We’ve been about as active as you can possibly be and at a just about record pace,” he said. “In just a very short time we are seeing amazing results. People are surprised. It’s kicking in very fast.”
But one of his greatest adversaries, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, put together a mock video of a meeting with his staff with aides praising Schumer.
“Michelle, how’d my hair look coming out of the gym this morning?” Schumer asks, turning to one staffer.
“You have great hair. Nobody has better hair than you,” Michelle said.
Priebus was not alone in using the opportunity to praise Trump.
“It is the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice president. The president is keeping his word to the American people,” said Vice President Mike Pence.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, noting the comments from other officials who said they had recently been abroad, noted wryly: “While we are bragging about international travel I just got back from Mississippi and they like you there.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who as governor of South Carolina had endorsed Trump opponent Marco Rubio last year, called it “a new day at the United Nations” with Trump in power.
“We now have a very strong voice. People know what the United States is for. They know what we are against. And they see us in a new way across the board. I think the international community knows we are back,” she said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Mary Milliken)