What The Last Week Says About First Lady Melania Trump
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
A jacket - an olive-green army jacket with the words, I really don't care; do you emblazoned in faux white graffiti across the back. Well, this was the jacket that first lady Melania Trump chose for her trip to the U.S.-Mexico border yesterday where she was visiting a detention center holding immigrant children.
Now, we want to talk about the jacket and what message it might have been meant to convey, also about what this week might tell us about how the first lady approaches her job. And to do that, we have reached out to CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett. She covers first lady Melania Trump full-time, and she traveled to Texas with her yesterday.
Kate Bennett, welcome.
KATE BENNETT: Thanks for having me.
KELLY: So let me get the jacket out of the way. What was going on there? What was this all about?
BENNETT: You know, I'm very perplexed about it. I am not sure what the messaging was. This is a first lady who's very, very careful about what she wears and what messages she does send, from her clothes to her facial expressions to sort of how she looks and acts. She's very - we have to look for her non-verbal cues sometimes. So this was a puzzler. I will admit. I'm stumped.
KELLY: Yeah, this is a woman who knows that every fashion choice she makes is going to be scrutinized.
BENNETT: Absolutely. I mean, remember the white hat moment from a few weeks ago when the French president was in town. I mean, people analyzed that from looking like Beyonce to Olivia Pope to white suffragette signals. I mean, people read into her clothing. So certainly yesterday was something that we all paid attention to.
KELLY: All right, setting the mystery of the jacket aside, she has been credited this week with weighing in and trying to prevail on her husband to change this policy of separating families. Her spokesperson put out a statement which read in part, quote, "she believes we need to be a country that follows all laws but also a country that governs with heart." What was your read, Kate Bennett, on that statement?
BENNETT: This is classic Melania. I actually was the first to get that statement, and I puzzled on it for quite some time, as you say. You know, for the most part, the entire statement is aligning with her husband. She says in the middle part there, I hope both sides of the aisle can get together on this and pass immigration reform. She says at the end there, governing with heart. And at the beginning, she says, I hate to see these images. Her messaging can be in this gray area where it feels very compassionate and in a different tone obviously than the president. But at the same time, I didn't find at all that she was going up against him or saying anything different. She was just saying it in a different way.
KELLY: She is a very private first lady certainly by the standards of other modern first ladies. As someone who covers her full-time, do you feel like you know much more about how she approaches that role than we all did back in January 2017?
BENNETT: She is incredibly private, but she's always been that way. She lives a very different private life than her husband. She has said that before in interviews. He's got his life. I've got my life. Behind the scenes, she cares a lot about this role, but she is certainly not someone who's going to wear her emotions on her sleeve.
You know, it's been interesting to cover her because I've learned to pick up the other cues - like I said, the nonverbal ones or, you know, taking a separate motorcade to the State of the Union, as she did - reading into those subtle things that she does to sort of find out who the woman is behind the image we see.
KELLY: Fascinating. Kate Bennett, thanks so much.
BENNETT: Thank you.
KELLY: That is CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett. She covers the first lady. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.