At a White House Tradition, Politics Color Everything but the Easter Eggs

WASHINGTON — At the White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, President Trump ditched his escort — the Easter bunny — to take up a decidedly unfestive agenda: He fielded questions about impeachment and unruly advisers before briefing a child about the construction of a wall at the southwestern border.

As hundreds of children hunted for eggs, Mr. Trump wandered over to take questions from journalists. He addressed the “terrible” terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, the possibility of impeachment proceedings — “not even a little bit” worried, he said — and the lengthy investigation carried out by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, which contained accounts of advisers who repeatedly declined to carry out his wishes, including a request to fire Mr. Mueller.

“Nobody disobeys my orders,” said the president, dressed in a pastel pink and purple tie for the occasion, concluding his first public remarks to the news media since the report was released on Thursday. Nearby, children bunted eggs around the South Lawn. The portrait of tonal dissonance was complete.

Politics have become a hallmark of even the most staid White House holiday traditions under Mr. Trump.

On Thanksgiving, Mr. Trump used a phone call with troops stationed overseas as a platform to attack immigrants and promote his administration’s successes. On Christmas, during a government shutdown, Mr. Trump’s holiday message was bitter: “It’s a disgrace what’s happening,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. And last winter, as the White House mulled canceling an annual reception for the news media, Bill Shine, who led White House communications at the time, joked that Mr. Mueller was on the invitation list instead.

Months later, administration officials, who often operate with an at-war mentality, have become even more adept at multitasking. In an interview on Monday from the South Lawn with “Fox and Friends,” one of the president’s preferred programs, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, claimed that a reporter had called for her decapitation. (That reporter, April Ryan, was merely calling for her firing.)

“I have had reporters say a lot of things about me,” Ms. Sanders said. “They said I should deserve a lifetime of harassment, but certainly never had somebody say that I should be decapitated.”

As Ms. Sanders continued to rail against what she referred to as the “liberal media,” a military band played “Jingle Bells” and families behind her posed with commemorative Easter eggs.

Of course, most attendees — estimated at 30,000 by the White House — were focused on the holiday at hand.

The responsibility for planning the event, which dates back 141 years, fell on the first lady, Melania Trump, and she stayed on topic. She approached her corner of the reading nook to a round of applause and joked with the crowd of children before she settled in to recite “The Wonderful Things You Will Be,” which she hailed as a “fantastic book.”

During her own time in the reading nook, Ms. Sanders beckoned children to come closer as she read a book about an Easter egg, which she said she hoped was on topic.

Nearby on the South Lawn, Mr. Trump careened from Easter to politics. At one point, he stopped to sign one child’s T-shirt and autographed the arm of another young attendee. As he was helping children color in cards for American troops, a child celebrating the holiday paused to ask him about progress on a wall he has promised to build along the southwestern border.

“Oh, it’s happening,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s being built now.”

This month, the president threatened to immediately seal the border with Mexico and then backed away from that promise. He accepted the resignation of Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, and signaled that he was prepared to enact even fiercer immigration policies.

On Monday, the president seemed to marvel at the young attendee’s interest in an area that has remained top-of-mind among his most fervent supporters, and seemed to welcome the validation.

“Here’s a young guy who said, ‘Keep building that wall.’ Can you believe that?” Mr. Trump asked reporters gathered on the South Lawn. “He’s going to be a conservative someday!”

When he retired to the White House, Mr. Trump began issuing tweets. One was focused on his Easter appearance. Another was about Mr. Mueller.

“Isn’t it amazing that the people who were closest to me, by far, and knew the Campaign better than anyone, were never even called to testify before Mueller,” Mr. Trump wrote. “The reason is that the 18 Angry Democrats knew they would all say ‘NO COLLUSION’ and only very good things!”

Several of Mr. Trump’s closest associates were among those who gave testimony to the special counsel, including Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager; Hope Hicks, the campaign’s former spokeswoman; and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser.

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