In what should have been an easy bit of positive PR for the White House as well U.S. Olympian and Paralympian athletes, President Donald Trump managed to slip in some self-congratulation and a few jaw-dropping insults.
The White House on Friday hosted the athletes who had competed in the February Winter Olympics and Paralympics Games in South Korea, many resplendent with medals.
First, President Trump implied that the presence of his is daughter, Ivanka, who had joined him on the North Portico to greet the the athletes, is what drew the crowds to watch them compete.
“And you had very big crowds. And I have to say, without certain backing, those crowds were not looking good,” said Trump. “They had a lot more people show up than they thought. And you think you know why, right?” he added, having earlier referred to Ivanka as being “more famous than him.”
But then, just as he seemed to recover by praising the strength and dedication of the athletes, the president delivered the following cringe-worthy sentiment: “And what happened with the Paralympics was so incredible and so inspiring to me. And I watched — it’s a little tough to watch too much, but I watched as much as I could.”
If the president was trying to say he was too busy to watch the Winter Olympics, he failed to get that across. What people heard — and responded to angrily on social media — was that the president found it hard to watch Paralympic athletes:
TRUMP (talking about Paralympians): It's a little tough to watch, but I watched as much as I could.
Imagine losing your legs then fighting your way to the top of a new sport only to be INSULTED by the President of the United States.pic.twitter.com/algPdZL4Sb
— Mikel Jollett (@Mikel_Jollett) April 27, 2018
Trump has a history of being insensitive toward people with disabilities, notably, New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski,who has arthrogryposis, and who Trump mocked while campaigning for the presidency.
As he tried to praise each athlete on Team USA for their accomplishments, President Trump could not help but veer back to congratulating himself on the progress made between North Korea and South Korea in a Friday summit, and actually prompted one member of the gold-medal curling team, Matt Hamilton, to thank Ivanka for showing up and cheering him on:
MR. HAMILTON: It helped that your daughter was here cheering us on.
THE PRESIDENT: It helped, right?
MR. HAMILTON: Yeah.
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead. Say that. Go ahead.
MR. HAMILTON: Thanks for helping cheering us on.
MS. TRUMP: Of course.
Some athletes had earlier declined to meet the president for a number of reasons, noted USA Today on Thursday:
Some, like [Lindsey] Vonn, [Adam] Rippon and [Gus] Kenworthy in particular, have made it clear they are skipping the U.S. Olympic Committee’s White House visit because they do not want to stand with the controversial Trump, who, among other things, bragged about sexually assaulting women in a video released during the 2016 presidential campaign, mocked a disabled person during the campaign and called some white supremacists “very fine people” after the deadly Charlottesville rally.
Some of the athletes took to Twitter to explain why they would be skipping the visit:
All US Olympians and Paralympians are invited to visit the White House and meet the President after the Games. Today is this year's visit and USOC spokesperson says he's never seen so many athletes turn down their invites. The resistance is real. https://t.co/6mKJGicWDS
— Gus Kenworthy (@guskenworthy) April 26, 2018
Olympians from the 2018 Games have been invited to go to the White House today. I will not be going. I will not stand with people who discriminate against those that they perceive as different. In lieu of going to DC, I have donated to a few of my favorite causes 🙆🏼♂️❤️ https://t.co/qDXqswTHdF
— Adam Rippon (@Adaripp) April 27, 2018
Other athletes, noted the USA Today story, “have just said they are going to be, um, busy.”