First Lady Melania Trump, along with the President, welcomed Queen Rania and King Abdullah to the White House.
Jordan has long been a crucial ally of the US in the Middle East, and one of the most trusted. Like many constitutional monarchies in the Islamic world, the King of Jordan plays an important role in policymaking but is not an absolute ruler as is the King of Saudi Arabia. The King of Jordan’s authority is more comparable to the US President. Meeting with the King, therefore, is more than just ceremony, as a meeting with Queen Elizabeth might be.
Late this morning, First Lady Melania Trump, along with the President, welcomed Queen Rania and King Abdullah to the White House. I emphasize the Queen and First Lady because they have spent the most time together today. While President Trump would move on to his hectic duties as Head of State, First Lady Melania would devote most of her day to Queen Rania.
During this brief meeting in the Oval Office, however, President Trump would be the center of attention. At 12:04 EST, the press was allowed to take pictures and ask some questions. President Trump and King Abdullah were seated beside each other, with Melania and Rania behind them.
President Trump addressed the recent sarin gas attack in Syria:
“These are very troubled times in the Middle East. And we see what happened just recently, yesterday in Syria. Horrible. Horrible thing. Unspeakable. But I want to thank you both very much for being at the White House and we’re going to have some interesting discussions.”
The President also described the attack as a “terrible affront to humanity”. But when asked if he yet had a plan to respond to these attacks, Trump responded simply with “You’ll see.”
We do not yet know the source of this attack. Sarin gas is not difficult to acquire, and while the Assad regime is largely blamed by US leaders and western allies, Assad claims that the attack was carried out by one of the terrorist groups in Syria.
While there is no plan yet to address the sarin attacks, government business goes on, as did Melania and Rania’s day together.
First Lady and the Queen
Queen Rania has long been an advocate of education in the Middle East and has worked to improve the reputation of Muslims throughout the world, including in their attitudes towards women. Following the Oval Office meeting, First Lady Melania and Queen Rania had lunch together. As this was their first time meeting, lunch gave them time to get to know each other before attending to the main purpose of their day – the school visit.
As Queen Rania is a strong advocate of education, she and Melania visited the Excel Academy Public Charter School in DC, along with Sec. of Education Betsy Devos. Devos’s educational policies are revolutionary and controversial. Charter Schools are often her solution to struggling public schools, as they are more independent and can try new strategies that would not be allowed in more traditional public schools.
The school visit, beginning at 2 pm EST, focused on the 681 girls in attendance at this charter school which covers Kindergarten through 8th grade.
The three of them; Queen Rania, First Lady Melania, and Sec. Betsy Devos, were greeted by three students with flowers.
The students weren’t sure how to greet them, especially with royalty present, but decided on hugs. Queen Rania likely appreciated this, as she doesn’t typically wear crowns or gowns, and has a long history of focusing on people over pageantry.
The First Lady greeted each of the girls by asking their names and what grade they were in.
Once they were all seated at the round table, opening remarks and introductions were made by the CEO of Excel Academy, Deborah Lockhart. The Queen then asked Lockhart about the life skills and community engagement taught to the girls at the school. Queen Rania is known for her work in community empowerment. Lockhart explained that the school is focused on “the whole of the student” and their community involvement, including the 10% of the student body who are “special needs” students.
Arts and Sciences
The Queen, First Lady, and Sec. of Education moved on to an 8th-grade art class. This time the First Lady got more involved. She asked what kind of art they were working on, and then went around the room talking to the students individually about their artwork. Like many middle to high school classrooms, there were so many discussions loosely based on the work at hand, so the press pool found it difficult to get any specific quotes or conversations. But Melania Trump was clearly learning about the different paintings by these art students. As they proceeded to their next class visit at 2:33 pm, they couldn’t have spent more than 30 minutes, but probably less, as some of this time was spent at the initial round table which began at 2 pm.
After the art class, they moved on to a 5th-grade science class. The class was dissecting owl pellets, which are excrement of parts that an owl can’t digest. The teacher explained the lesson to the Queen, First Lady, and Sec. Devos. Both the Queen and First Lady made their rounds of the classroom discussing these projects with different students.
Following the visit, First Lady Melania Trump summed it all up:
“I was pleased to welcome and host Queen Rania Al-Abdullah to the White House today and was excited to participate in the listening session and tour of Excel Academy Public Charter School with the Queen and Secretary DeVos…Education is critical to our efforts to shine a light on the topic of gender equality and empowerment of women. Excel Academy is an exceptional example of a school preparing young women both academically and personally so that they may succeed in a global community. Hearing directly from teachers and the students who attend the school was an important step in the dialogue needed to further my agenda as First Lady of the United States.”
Read more: Trump’s Middle East Foreign Policy: A Solidifying Relationship, Or A Clash of Interests?