In an event reminiscent of middle school field trips, President Donald Trump’s administration loaded almost the entire membership of United States Senate into huge buses and brought them the White House grounds for a rare classified briefing on North Korea.
Seeing as the meeting came at a time when tensions between Pyongyang and Washington are running high, many wondered if the administration held it to discuss some new policy or sanctions — perhaps even a military strike on the hermit kingdom.
What did they learn instead: Nothing.
Much like everything else that this administration has done so far, the unprecedented all-hands meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building was reportedly a disorganized mess that left many senators wondering why they traveled all the way to the White House and assembled into an auditorium that barely fit them in the first place.
“It was an OK briefing,” said Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chair of the Foreign Relations committee, after returning to the Capitol Hill.
Several of his peers also shared the sentiment.
When I asked Chairman Corker if the North Korea briefing trip to the White House was worthwhile, he told me "I'm not sure"— Niels Lesniewski (@nielslesniewski) April 26, 2017
GOP senator on N. Korea briefing: Briefing lacked "even straight answers on what the policy is regarding N. Korea and its testing of ICBMs"— Ed O'Keefe (@edatpost) April 26, 2017
"There was very little, if anything new," @SenBlumenthal tells me about N Korea meeting.— Ed O'Keefe (@edatpost) April 26, 2017
Blumenthal: "I remain mystified about why the entire Senate had to be taken over to the White House rather than conducting it here." (2/2)— Ed O'Keefe (@edatpost) April 26, 2017
Trump also made a brief appearance just to hand over the meeting to administration officials.
Dem senator says Trump briefly showed at NoKo briefing, did his "ridiculous adjective" bit.— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) April 26, 2017
"about 80 sets of invisible eyes rolling"
Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who appeared on CNN's “Erin Burnett OutFront” shortly after the briefing, said they did not learn anything about potential actions the U.S. could take in response to another nuclear test.
Sen. Jeff Merkley on the North Korea meeting at the WH: “We learned nothing you couldn’t read in the newspaper” https://t.co/JZD5Zw4xOx— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 26, 2017
“We learned nothing you couldn't read in the newspaper,” the senator asserted.
Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz thought the bus ride was fun.
“It's kind of like a school bus in junior high,” he commented.
Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth was also unimpressed by the briefing.
“I seriously felt like I could have gotten all that information by reading a newspaper. I did not see any new information coming out of that briefing at all. It felt more like a dog and pony show to me than anything else,” she told Anderson Cooper. “I guess they successfully accomplished putting 100 people on three buses and tying up traffic in Washington, D.C. to get us over there for a briefing.”
Sen. John McCain, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had something similar to say.
“I didn't hear anything new because I have been heavily briefed before,” he said. “It's a very serious situation, just as I had (thought) before I went there.”
So, the question is, why hold the briefing at all?
As Merkley and several other senators suggested, the gathering was all for “optics.”
The Trump administration wanted the Senate to thinks it is serious about the North Korean threat and that it is doing at least something to address the issue.
Unfortunately for the president, his half-hearted attempt did not pan out as well as he probably hoped.
On board the bus to the 100 days photo op/North Korea briefing. pic.twitter.com/v3Mg7yqrdX— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) April 26, 2017
After the meeting, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats released a joint statement to summarize the whole thing.
“The president’s approach aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our Allies and regional partners,” it read. “We are engaging responsible members of the international community to increase pressure on the D.P.R.K. in order to convince the regime to de-escalate and return to the path of dialogue. We will maintain our close coordination and cooperation with our Allies, especially the Republic of Korea and Japan, as we work together to preserve stability and prosperity in the region.”
Ironically, the statement does not represent any policy shift at all. In fact, the bit about “tightening economic sanctions” reminds of Obama administration attitude toward North Korea.