WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump had his public schedule clear through mid-afternoon Thursday — right up until his predecessor Barack Obama was about to take the dais at civil rights leader John Lewis’ funeral 600 miles to the southwest — when suddenly, reporters and cameras were called into the Oval Office.
As Obama remembered the Georgia congressman who died last week, Trump spoke to the family of murder victim Vanessa Guillen, promising he would take action.
The White House denied there was any attempt to “counter-program” Obama’s widely anticipated remarks by creating a competing news event. “This meeting has been scheduled for weeks,” spokesman Judd Deere said. “That’s a disgusting question, by the way.”
One White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Guillen’s family asked for the press to be invited in. It’s believed that a colleague killed Guillen, a Fort Hood, Texas, soldier, and later committed suicide.
Trump’s move, in any event, adds to a long pattern for a man who rose to prominence in the Republican Party based on his willingness to push a racist conspiracy theory that the first Black president was not born in the United States and was therefore elected illegitimately.
From the day he took office, Trump has also shown irritation at comparisons to his predecessor. In a speech in front of a wall memorialising CIA officers killed in the line of duty, Trump lied that his inaugural crowd had been larger than Obama’s. He has repeatedly, and falsely, claimed that the economy under his watch had been stronger than Obama’s. He has accused Obama of “spying” on his campaign — without explaining why he willingly used documents stolen by Russian intelligence in the final month of his 2016 campaign, even though he had been told they were stolen by Russian intelligence.
Obama was among a long list of dignitaries at Lewis’ funeral, including former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The hero of the 1960s civil rights protests died July 17 of pancreatic cancer.
Trump not only skipped the funeral in Atlanta but chose not to travel the 2 miles to the Capitol to pay his respects during the two days that Lewis’ body was lying in state.