By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS/NY Times
WASHINGTON — One by one, they praised President Trump, taking turns complimenting his integrity, his message, his strength, his policies. Their leader sat smiling, nodding his approval.
“The greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to the president who’s keeping his word to the American people,” Mike Pence said, starting things off.
“I am privileged to be here — deeply honored — and I want to thank you for your commitment to the American workers,” said Alexander Acosta, the secretary of labor.
Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary, had just returned from Mississippi and had a message to deliver. “They love you there,” he offered, grinning across the antique table at Mr. Trump.
Reince Priebus, the chief of staff whose job insecurity has been the subject of endless speculation, outdid them all, telling the president — and the assembled news cameras — “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing to serve your agenda.”
So it went on Monday in the Cabinet Room of the White House, as Mr. Trump transformed a routine meeting of senior members of his government into a mood-boosting, ego-stroking display of support for himself and his agenda. While the president never explicitly asked to be praised, Mr. Pence set the worshipful tone, and Mr. Trump made it clear he liked what he heard.
“Thank you, Mick,” he told Mick Mulvaney, his budget director. “Good job,” he told Scott Pruitt, his E.P.A. chief. “Very good, Daniel,” he said to Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence.
The commander in chief, who has been known for decades as a fan of flattery and who speaks of himself in superlatives, even indulged in a bit of self-congratulation. He declared himself one of the most productive presidents in American history — perhaps Franklin D. Roosevelt could come close, he conceded — and proclaimed that he had led a “record-setting pace” of accomplishment.
Never mind that Mr. Trump has yet to sign any major legislation, or that his White House has been buffeted by legal and ethical questions surrounding the investigation into his campaign’s possible links to Russia and his firing of the F.B.I. director who had been leading that inquiry.
The highly unusual spectacle before the cabinet meeting got down to business and the TV cameras were banished seemed designed to deflect attention from the president’s faltering agenda and the accusations leveled against him last week by the fired F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, which are threatening to further overshadow his agenda and haunt his presidency.
Days before, Mr. Comey had charged that Mr. Trump had lied about his firing and inappropriately sought to influence the Russia investigation. On Monday, the president said the country was “seeing amazing results” from his leadership.
“I will say that never has there been a president, with few exceptions — in the case of F.D.R. he had a major Depression to handle — who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done,” Mr. Trump said. “We’ve been about as active as you can possibly be, and at a just about record-setting pace.”
The tableau in the Cabinet Room drew instant derision from critics. And within hours, Democrats had pounced.