The White House has turned to fan mail from a nine-year-old boy to defend the presidency of Donald Trump.
Doubtless aware that her first briefing since new communications director Anthony Scaramucci announced the end of ban on TV cameras would receive a bump in the ratings, the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, spent five minutes or so finding innovative ways to praise Trump to a captive audience.
Once in a while, she said on Wednesday, she will read a sample letter from the White House mail bag from the “forgotten men, women, and children” the president is fighting for. First up was a handwritten herogram from a nine-year-old. Huckabee Sanders read aloud his full name, which sounded like “Dylan Harbin”, although when she later distributed a copy of the note by email, his surname had been blanked out.
“My name is Dylan … but everybody calls me Pickle,” reads the letter, written on lined notebook paper and dated 1 June. “I’m nine years old and you are my favorite president. I like you so much I had a birthday about you. My cake was the shape of your hat.”
The letter then posed some questions. “How old are you?” Huckabee Sanders said Trump was 71.
“How big is the White House?” Huckabee Sanders said it was 168ft long, 70ft tall on the south side and 60ft 4in tall on the north. It takes 300 gallons of white paint to cover the exterior of the residence. It has 132 rooms and is approximately 55,000 square feet.
Then, with a child’s unique ability to cut to the heart of the matter, Dylan asked: “How much money do you have?” Huckabee Sanders laughed and said: “Dylan, I’m not sure but I know it’s a lot.” It is a question that many of Trump’s opponents are asking after his refusal to release his tax returns.
Next the boy wrote: “I don’t know why people don’t like you.” Huckabee Sanders commented: “Me neither, Dylan.”
Dylan added: “You seem really nice. Can we be friends?” Huckabee Sanders said: “I’m happy to say I directly spoke to the president, Dylan, he would be more than happy to be your friend.”
The letter continued: “My pitcher [picture] is in here so if you see me you can say hi.” Huckabee Sanders added: “Dylan, I hope you’re watching because the president wanted me to personally tell you hello.”
The message ended: “Your friend, Dylan.” Huckabee Sanders concluded: “Dylan, thanks for writing to the president and if you’re ever in Washington DC I hope you’ll stop by and let us show you around the White House.”
Along with the letter, Huckabee Sanders had other PR stunts up her sleeve to turn the presence of cameras to her advantage, even as reporters were champing at the bit to ask about transgender individuals in the military and the future of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
She announced that president had donated his second-quarter salary, $100,000, to the department of education. (The first quarter salary was assigned to the national park service, although the White House did not respond to a request on Wednesday to confirm that the cheque had cleared.)
The education secretary, Betsy DeVos, stepped up to the podium and said: “I want to start by saying how grateful I am to the president for this generous gift.”
The money will go towards hosting a camp focused on science, technology, engineering and maths, De Vos added. Critics were quick to note that Trump had proposed a $9bn cut to the department.
Huckabee Sanders joked about Scaramucci and the use of makeup, then, becoming earnest, put forward “a little reminder of why we’re all here every day, which I imagine for most of us is because we love our country and want to make it better”.
She reflected that she is, to the best of her knowledge, the first mother to hold the job of White House press secretary. “That says less about me than it does about this president,” she said. “I’ll always do my absolute best to truthfully answer your questions and deliver the president’s message. But I also hope to send my daughter a message, and to every other kid in America: don’t listen to the critics, dream big and fulfill your potential, because in this country you still can.”
Later, outside the West Wing briefing room, there was the unusual sound of children’s laughter. Trump was about to address the American Legion Boys Nation and the American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation. It gave Huckabee Sanders the perfect excuse to cut the session short and depart, trailed by howls of protest.