Political News

Kanye West Upstages Trump With a 10-Minute Oval Office Rant

WASHINGTON -- After a week of extensive interviews, repetitive rally speeches and a torrent of tweets, President Donald Trump, a fan of a good media spectacle, temporarily ceded the glare of the spotlight on Thursday to someone even more comfortable with it: Kanye West.

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Katie Rogers
, New York Times

WASHINGTON — After a week of extensive interviews, repetitive rally speeches and a torrent of tweets, President Donald Trump, a fan of a good media spectacle, temporarily ceded the glare of the spotlight on Thursday to someone even more comfortable with it: Kanye West.

In a visit to the White House for what was ostensibly a working lunch to discuss workforce training programs, sentencing reforms and African-American employment, West wore a “Make America Great Again” hat — an accessory he said made him feel like Superman — and delivered a 10-minute soliloquy to Trump, the news media and anyone judging his decision to support the president.

“Trump is on his hero’s journey right now,” West said. “He might not have thought he’d have a crazy” person “like me,” he said, using an expletive to describe himself.

In the past, West has been an outspoken critic of politicians. In 2005, he lashed out at a sitting president on live TV over his efforts to assist Hurricane Katrina victims, saying, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

On Thursday, a storm was still battering the East Coast, but West was busy bonding with Trump over their shared delight in subverting (and offending) crowds. West has in recent days drawn a large amount of criticism for his decision to corner the cast members of “Saturday Night Live” and deliver a pro-Trump speech off camera.

Amid the backlash, West deleted his social media accounts, but found a friendly reception in the Oval Office.

“What I need ‘Saturday Night Live’ to improve on or the liberals to improve on,” West said, “is if he don’t look good, we don’t look good.”

As a wall of journalists and senior advisers looked on, the president, a consummate showman not accustomed to sharing the camera, seemed to marvel at West’s ability to command the room.

West, for his part, praised the president for stopping “the war” with North Korea (there was none), said Trump “solved one of the biggest problems” on “Day 1” (North Korea again), spoke of being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder (it was sleep deprivation), and said that Trump had given him a “Superman cape” to be a force for good.

“You are tasting a fine wine,” West said, praising himself. “It has complex notes to it.”

At one point, West pulled out his iPhone to show the president a few illustrations of a hydrogen-powered plane that he said could replace Air Force One.

“Look at this, Jared,” West said to the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, as he presented him with drawings of his idea, the iPlane 1.

“We’ll get rid of Air Force One,” the president replied. “Can we get rid of Air Force One?”

All the while, Trump sat with his hands clasped on the Resolute Desk, nodding along as the musician continued. When West touched on the plight of a 68-year-old prisoner he planned to discuss with the president, Trump seemed not to recognize the man’s name when it was mentioned.

“Really, the reason why they imprisoned him is because he started doing positive for the community, he started showing that he actually had power,” West said. “So, there’s theories that there’s infinite amounts of universe, and there’s alternate universe.”

After West’s speech ended, Trump was left momentarily and uncharacteristically speechless as advisers, including Kushner and Ivanka Trump, looked on. Ivanka Trump wore a wide smile, while Kushner pressed his hands into the handles of his chair.

“I tell you what,” Donald Trump said. “That was pretty impressive.”

West agreed.

“It was from the soul,” the musician said. “I just channeled it.” Seated near West was Jim Brown, the former Cleveland Browns running back. Brown, who has supported the president in the past, barely got a word in.

“I’m here to serve,” Brown said when the president asked him how he felt.

The visit was only the latest headline-stealing trip to Washington for the West family. The rapper is married to Kim Kardashian West, the reality star and cosmetics mogul, who visited the White House in May to advocate sentencing reform. Kardashian West’s visit helped spur the release of a 63-year-old woman who was sentenced in 1996 to life in prison on charges related to cocaine possession and money laundering. Kardashian West, who was a vocal supporter of the Clinton campaign and a critic of Trump’s, has since softened her tone.

West has long appeared to be fascinated with Trump, as well as the possibilities of a presidential platform: In 2015, he seemed to enjoy provoking the public into believing he was interested in a 2020 run.

And in December 2016, after he was hospitalized for a “psychiatric emergency,” West visited Trump, then the president-elect, at Trump Tower in Manhattan. Hope Hicks, Trump’s spokeswoman at the time, said West had requested the meeting.

In the Oval Office on Thursday, West — who has a new album coming out — again flirted with the idea of a presidential run, but “only after 2024.”

The president was clearly looking forward to having West visit the White House: Much of his lengthy “Fox & Friends” interview earlier in the morning was focused on his relationship with the rapper, linking their bizarre friendship to a rise in poll numbers.

“He’s a very different kind of a guy, and I say that in a positive way,” the president said. “Those in the music business say he’s a genius, and that’s OK with me.”

West was not the only musician at the White House on Thursday.

Before lunchtime, a group of musicians including Kid Rock, Mike Love of the Beach Boys and Jeff Baxter of the Doobie Brothers arrived just as the president signed the Music Modernization Act into law. The bill is an effort to update music copyright law for the digital age, aimed at correcting the flaws and loopholes that for years have led musicians to complain about unfair compensation from streaming services. It is also protecting companies like Spotify from lawsuits.

The legislation establishes a licensing collective, to be overseen by songwriters and publishers, and paid for by the digital services, with rights information maintained by the copyright owners. In exchange, the services will gain protections against lawsuits.

The bill also allows musicians to be paid for digital plays of recordings made before 1972, which are not covered by federal copyright.

But legislative efforts clearly played a distant second fiddle to the Hollywood-meets-Washington scene as West Wing figures mingled with celebrities. In his remarks to the president, Love, a founder of the Beach Boys, went on a tangent in praising the president for what he said were Trump’s discreet efforts to rehabilitate Whitney Houston, who struggled with drug addiction and died in a hotel bath tub in 2012.

“People can say what they want,” Love said, “but you’ve always been a big supporter of some of the best music that America has ever made.”

And when a reporter asked Kid Rock if he would support Trump firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the musician shot back, “Fire you.” Minutes later, he posed for a photo with Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, on the White House driveway.

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