- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2018

First lady Melania Trump rolled out an agenda Monday that focused on enhancing the well-being of children, soldiering on in her duties against one of the Washington press corps’ most hostile receptions for a first lady and rabid news coverage of the president’s alleged infidelity with adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

At a Rose Garden ceremony, Mrs. Trump said her platform as first lady would aim to help children on three fronts: improving self-esteem, preventing cyberbullying and fighting the opioid addiction epidemic.

“Let us teach our children the difference between right and wrong and teach them to be best in their individual paths in life,” she said, standing between two “Be Best” banners.

She described her agenda as a holistic approach to improving the social, emotional and physical health of the next generation.

It was a broader mission than those tackled by other recent first ladies, such as Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity and Laura Bush’s promotion of literacy.

“Together, I believe we should strive to provide children with the tools they need to cultivate their social and emotional health,” Mrs. Trump said.

President Trump looked on from the audience.

The formal launch of her office’s program, coming 16 months after Mr. Trump took office, coincided with a rush of news reports about the president’s alleged sexual encounter with Ms. Daniels more than a decade ago.

Reporting about Ms. Daniels, whose real name in Stephanie Clifford, has been all but nonstop for months, especially on cable TV news. But the story got new life last week with Mr. Trump’s new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, revealing that Mr. Trump reimbursed his former lawyer for a $130,000 payment to keep Ms. Daniels quiet just days before the 2016 presidential election.

Ms. Daniels spurred a new round of media attention over the weekend with an appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” She played herself opposite Alec Baldwin as Mr. Trump.

“I know you don’t believe in climate change, but a storm’s a comin’, baby,” she told the mock president in the skit.

Since early on, Mrs. Trump has been treated as an oddity by the Washington press corps. She was either ignored or cast as in hiding or increasingly estranged from her husband.

The only first lady treated more harshly by the Washington press corp likely was Hillary Clinton, who clashed with reporters and refused to adopt the traditional role of first lady.

The animosity and dismissiveness aimed at Mrs. Trump has mostly been collateral damage in the war on Mr. Trump.

“I think she has had a rough time because of the mud slung at her husband, justly or unjustly. You are bound to get splattered by it if you are in the same room,” said Boston University journalism professor Elizabeth Mehren, an expert on first ladies.

Still, the professor was less than impressed with Mrs. Trump’s agenda. She said the first lady took too long to decide what to do and what she came up with was “all over the map.”

Reporters have attempted to divine Mrs. Trump’s relationship with Mr. Trump from whether they hold hands at events and whether she walks with him across the South Lawn to Marine One when they travel.

The “Be Best” rollout gave the first lady an opportunity to shine on the White House stage, but also a chance for the president to join her in a public appearance and beat back speculation about disharmony in the East Wing.

He joined her at the podium to sign a proclamation making May 7th “Be Best Day.” They clasped hands and exchanged kisses on their cheeks.

The president called her speech “truly beautiful and heartfelt.”

“Melania, your care and compassion for our nation’s children — and I have to say this, and I say it to you all the time — inspires us all,” Mr. Trump said. “Today, we pledge to be best: best for our families, best for our communities, and best for our nation.”

As Mrs. Trump prepared to launch her agenda, a Washington Post report that morning claimed she spends little time with Mr. Trump and even frequently spends the night at her parents’ house in the District suburbs to avoid him.

Minutes before the Rose Garden event, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed the report, calling it “tabloid gossip.”

“Just when you think The Washington Post can’t get things any more wrong, they do,” she said. “The first lady lives here at the White House. We see her regularly.”

The news media’s antagonism for Mr. Trump has rubbed off on his wife, although even the most anti-Trump news outlets commended Mrs. Trump’s flare in putting on the administration’s first state dinner last month that hosted French President Emmanuel Macron.

“If President Trump were a Democrat, Mrs. Trump would be front-page news and probably gracing the cover of magazines and newspapers coast-to-cost due to her beauty, fashion, demeanor and general ability to handle herself in the public eye,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist in Washington.

Mrs. Trump has been conspicuously absent from the covers of major U.S. fashion magazines.

Mr. O’Connell referred to Mrs. Trump, a former model who is arguably the most glamorous first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy, as a “secret weapon” in the Trump White House.

“Despite the lack of news coverage she receives, her popularity continues to rise,” he said.

Indeed, Mrs. Trump’s popularity has surged in recent weeks, including among women and Democrats, according to a CNN poll.

A poll conducted for CNN by SSRS found that 57 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Mrs. Trump, up from 47 percent in January.

That’s the highest approval rating for Mrs. Trump in a CNN poll and higher than any favorably rating scored by Mr. Trump going back to 1999.

Just over a quarter of Americans — 27 percent — had an unfavorable view of the first lady.

• Dave Boyer contributed to this article.

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