PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The White House has always impressed and fascinated me. I like hearing from people who visit it. Any trips to Washington, D.C., must include a walk up to the black iron gate for a peek. I like watching documentaries on its history. Just this past summer, I dropped in on the Truman Presidential Library to read up on the extensive renovations completed during his tenure.
Last week — for the first time — I finally saw it up close. I even briefly met the man who lives there.
We were part of a small group of radio shows invited by the White House to come to the Capitol and broadcast on location. Specifically, their interest in our show was the region of Pennsylvania we talk to and the members of Congress who represent them. The focus of the visit would be the president’s proposed tax reform.
Members of the president’s cabinet, his advisers, and his press secretary were all scheduled to appear to help push the tax reform agenda. We were told it was unlikely we’d see the president or vice president that day. To our surprise, plans changed.
Concluding a security sweep of the Indian Treaty Room where we were stationed, Secret Service allowed us to return to our places. Shortly after, the vice president entered the room. Cup of coffee in hand, always with a smile and direct eye contact, Mr. Pence warmly greeted everyone and gave each broadcaster a few minutes of his time.
Our show concluded at 9 a.m., and we were thrilled with the opportunities we’d had to talk to so many players in the White House. We stayed a bit longer with some other shows still broadcasting live on the off chance we might steal one more surprise interview.
It was a good decision. Kellyanne Conway, one the president’s closest advisers and the woman who helped orchestrate the successful 2016 campaign agreed to pre-tape an interview with us for the next day. Brian Kilmeade of “Fox and Friends” chatted with us about his show and an upcoming trip to Philadelphia to join my colleague Rich Zeoli for a “Speakers Series” event. We had a great day!
Because our show had ended, the “one that got away” happened to be the biggest fish of them all. The president of the United States keeps a tight schedule, and every move on his schedule is pre-planned until his head hits the pillow. As he entered the room, we knew speaking to him wasn’t likely, but we held our position just in case. Mr. Trump stopped by to talk with a neighboring broadcast just five feet from us.
I stood, taking pictures and watching, happy to be in such close proximity to the action. Concluding the interview, the president stood and his staff began to guide him to his next live interview seat. That’s when he stopped directly in front of me. Well aware this was my moment, I stuck out my hand and said, “Mr. President, it’s an honor to meet you, sir. Thank you for having us to the White House.”
He smiled, shook my hand, thanked us for being there, then pointed to my microphone. “Are we talking next,” he asked. Before I could say a word, his team barked, “This way, sir.” Trump stopped and asked again, “Aren’t we going to talk to them?” His team continued to guide him away and again he protested, “Why aren’t we talking to them?”
In retrospect, I probably should have been more aggressive. But I was more than a little awed by the scene and didn’t want to get crossways with the large men with earpieces by shouting or making sudden moves. So, I stayed quiet. Maybe there will be another opportunity. Or maybe there won’t. Nevertheless, I saw with my own eyes what I’d always heard and suspected about this president and his team.
I shared that brief story of the president’s interaction with me to make a specific point. He WANTS to talk. He knows who’s on the other end of our microphones. They’re educated, passionate, informed voters. Many, if not most of whom put him in office. Everyone we interviewed that morning understood it, too.
Too often, candidates and presidents of both parties have shied away from talk radio. They’re terrified of being challenged in a substantive way on critical issues. They can’t defend their campaign promises to do one thing, only to sign legislation that does another. Talk radio gives politicians heartburn, and a good many campaigns and officials avoid it like the plague.
But this White House is different. They have nothing to hide, and they’re interested in going around traditional media to get straight to you. Whether it’s Twitter or talk radio, Team Trump doesn’t need or allow mainstream media to frame their message. Nor do they care about winning their approval.
They know exactly who they’re talking to, why they’re there, and for whom they work. It’s you.