U.S. President Donald Trump insisted there was “zero chaos” in his crisis-buffeted White House and railed against enemies in the media, politics and the courts on Thursday, in a meandering first solo news conference.
The 70-year-old vented frustrations, insisted he is “not a bad person” and wondered out loud about a “nuclear holocaust,” in a remarkable one hour, 16 minute ask-me-anything appearance.
Standing in the East Room of the White House—beneath the painted gaze of George Washington and where Abraham Lincoln’s body once lay in repose—the 45th commander-in-chief jettisoned any semblance of presidential decorum. “I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess,” Trump said in a 23-minute opening monologue that bore little resemblance to presidential press conferences past.
Claiming his administration “is running like a fine-tuned machine” Trump accused the “dishonest” media of stirring-up crises that have sent his approval rating plummeting. “The tone is such hatred. I’m really not a bad person, by the way,” he said. “I do get good ratings, you have to admit that.”
A recent Pew poll showed only 39 percent of Americans believe Trump is doing a good job, a lower number than any modern administration at the end of its first month. In four tumultuous weeks, Trump has seen his national security adviser ousted, a cabinet nominee withdraw, a centerpiece immigration policy fail in the courts, and a tidal wave of damaging leaks. “There is zero chaos,” Trump insisted, as he aired a litany of grievances.
“We have made incredible progress. I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done … This is a fine-tuned machine,” he said.
Again and again Trump came back to his own portrayal in the media. “The press honestly is out of control,” he said, while vowing to hunt down the culprits of “criminal leaks” that have exposed questionable ties between key aides and the Russian government. “The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people,” he said, while variously telling reporters to “sit down” and be “quiet.”
“The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake,” he said.
Between questions about Russia, inaccurate statements and his wife, Trump pondered how future media coverage of such an event would look. “Tomorrow, they will say, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.’ I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it.”
Trump also defended his executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, which caused chaos at airports across the United States and has been suspended by a circuit court. “I will not back down from defending our country. I got elected on defense of our country. I keep my campaign promises, and our citizens will be very happy when they see the result,” he said. “That circuit is in chaos and that circuit is frankly in turmoil. But we are appealing that, and we are going further,” he said. In fact, the Justice Department announced it is dropping the appeal. “We’re issuing a new executive action next week that will comprehensively protect our country.”
Trump also signaled a new approach to how America talks about its defense and foreign policy. “I don’t have to tell you. I don’t want to be one of these guys that say, ‘Yes, here’s what we’re going to do.’ I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do in North Korea. I’m not going to tell you anything about what response I do.”
When asked about Russian military maneuvers and the passage of a spy boat off the coast of Connecticut, Trump was candid about his thinking. “The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water. Everyone in this country’s going to say ‘oh, it’s so great.’ That’s not great. That’s not great.”
“Look, it would be much easier for me to be tough on Russia, but then we’re not going to make a deal,” he said. “Don’t forget, we’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they,” he added. “Nuclear holocaust would be like no other.”