The chanting and cheering could be heard Saturday from the White House lawn.
And, if one craned their neck over a shrub or two, the protest signs, in pink and yellow and white, could be seen barely a block away from the West Wing driveway — bobbing along with a slow-moving mass of human bodies, encircling 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as close as they could get. But inside the “bubble,” as reporters refer to secure perimeter around the president of the United States, the massive women’s march on Washington might as well have been in another Zip code.
Neither President Trump nor his staff gave any indication they had seen anything.
Instead, the president and his aides went about their first full day by getting to know their new workplace and the responsibilities that come with it. Staff members began slowly staking claims to offices. Technicians helped activate phones and computers. Press secretary Sean Spicer huddled with staff behind closed doors that less than two days before had belonged to his predecessor, Josh Earnest.
Trump’s aides did not appear to venture out for a look at the marchers beyond the gates. The president, meanwhile, busied himself with a mix of tradition — a post-inaugural morning prayer service at Washington National Cathedral — and with business. Trump traveled by motorcade to Langley, Va., to meet with CIA leaders and deliver remarks to 400 employees, hoping to ease tensions over Trump’s dismissal of the agency’s intelligence reports on Russian hacking.
Trump also spoke by phone with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, Spicer later told reporters, and agreed to meet. Aides put the finishing touches on Trump’s first bilateral summit with British Prime Minister Theresa May at the White House on Friday. He also plans to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Jan. 31, Spicer told reporters.
But Trump and his press team offered no public reaction to the dramatic outpouring of emotion, most of it in protest of the new administration, from the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Washington’s streets and many more across the country.
“A fantastic day and evening in Washington D.C.,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning, referring to his inauguration and the balls that followed on the previous day. “Thank you to @FoxNews and so many other news outlets for the GREAT reviews of the speech!”
The first days of any administration are a mix of trying to get up to speed and to hit the ground running in what must be a surreal new environment — thrust into the epicenter of political power but confined at an artificial remove from the public that you represent.
Rarely, however, has an opening day produced this kind of jarring juxtaposition.
“Family bowling session at The White House,” Donald Trump Jr., who does not have an official role in the administration, tweeted in the morning. He added a video of his wife, Vanessa, knocking down eight out of 10 pins in the White House bowling alley.
The video footage appeared to have been shot Friday. But the lighthearted tweet of the Trump family getting comfortable in their new digs was posted as tens of thousands of women in pink pussyhats streamed past the White House toward the Mall for the largest demonstration in Washington in years.
Inside the White House grounds, the driveway outside the West Wing was quiet. There was no sign of the Marine sentry who stands at the entrance when the president is working in the Oval Office. Unlike the previous day, when Trump aides Stephen K. Bannon and Kellyanne Conway toured the press corps workroom, there were no surprise visits from senior officials. A junior aide sat behind a desk just off the press briefing room, giving out White House email domain addresses for communications staff to reporters.
Yet beyond the gates, the protest was in full swing, demonstrators moving slowly north on 17th Street NW, then turning east on H Street, before doubling back down 15th — encircling the complex. They could get no closer; Lafayette Square park, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, remained closed to the public as workers dismantled the massive viewing stand for the inaugural parade.
A handful of workers, on their lunch break, watched the protesters stream by as Secret Service members made sure the crowds did not attempt to breach the barriers. The protesters held signs reading, “Keep your small hands off!” and “You messed with the wrong pussy,” aimed at Trump’s lewd comments about women that were revealed during the campaign.
The new president left the White House complex twice in his motorcade, passing directly by the protesters, some of whom held up their middle fingers toward the caravan.
As the day wore on, and reports of the larger-than-expected crowds dominated the news, expectations grew in the White House press briefing room over how the media-obsessed Trump team would react.
The White House issued a bulletin announcing that Spicer would make a statement at 4:30 p.m. Reporters gathered — though many of the 49 seats remained empty on a Saturday afternoon.
The appointed time came and went. An hour later, reporters were still waiting. Finally, Spicer emerged. But if reporters expected a reaction to the news of the day, they didn’t get it. Instead, the White House spokesman opened by attacking the media for “deliberately false reporting” over a mistaken report the day before that Trump had removed a bust of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office. He moved it to a different part of the room.
Spicer also upbraided reporters for their coverage of Trump’s inauguration, claiming, as Trump did during his CIA visit, that the media deliberately underestimated the size of the crowd. He accused the media of pursuing “false narratives” about the new president.
When he was done, Spicer gave a summary of Trump’s day, then turned and left. He did not respond to shouted questions about the marchers still massed on the streets of the nation’s capital.