First lady returns to public eye after ‘little rough patch’

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 6: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump attend the 2018 Hurricane Briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency Headquarters (FEMA) on June 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Yuri Gripas - Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Melania Trump’s disappearing act is over.

The first lady showed herself in public Wednesday for the first time in nearly a month, seated alongside her husband, President Donald Trump, for a briefing on the federal government’s preparedness for the hurricane season that began June 1.

The routine meeting at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters took on outsized significance after the White House revealed that Mrs. Trump would accompany her husband. Prior to Wednesday, she had not been seen off the White House grounds since May 10.

The first sighting of the first lady came as she and the president strolled down the walkway from the Oval Office and climbed into “the Beast,” his idling limousine. She was wearing a belted trench coat and her customary high heels.

Minutes later, Mrs. Trump took her seat alongside the president at one end of a long conference table as the FEMA briefing began, appearing to be her usual self.

“She’s doing great. She went through a little rough patch, but she’s doing great,” Trump said at the top of the meeting, surrounded by his Cabinet as several governors and other officials participated by video conference. “And we’re very proud of her. She’s done a fantastic job as first lady.”

He added: “The people love you. The people of our country love you. So, thank you honey.”

The first lady smiled and nodded as her husband and others spoke during the portion of the briefing that was open to journalists. She and the president later spent a few minutes greeting FEMA employees. Mrs. Trump stepped with ease, smiled and was heard telling one worker “thank you very much.”

It was her first appearance away from the White House since she and the president traveled to Joint Base Andrews to welcome home three Americans who had been released from detention in North Korea.

Several days later, the first lady underwent a procedure to treat a kidney condition. She spent five days in the hospital before returning to the White House on May 19 to continue her recuperation. She held private meetings with her staff and worked on projects, though she skipped a few public events where her participation seemed likely, including a Medal of Honor presentation and a sports “field day” for professional athletes and kids on the South Lawn.

But speculation mounted as week after week passed without a public appearance, spawning wild theories about where she might be and what might have happened to her.

The first lady addressed the issue on Twitter last week, saying: “I see the media is working overtime speculating where I am & what I’m doing. Rest assured, I’m here at the @WhiteHouse w my family, feeling great, & working hard on behalf of children & the American people!”

Her husband was less charitable Wednesday.

“The Fake News Media has been so unfair, and vicious, to my wife and our great First Lady, Melania,” he wrote on Twitter. “During her recovery from surgery they reported everything from near death, to facelift, to left the W.H. (and me) for N.Y. or Virginia, to abuse. All Fake, she is doing really well!”

Trump also paired the text of the tweets with video of himself and the first lady on his Facebook page.

Fox News Channel, Trump’s favorite cable network, aired a segment this week in which the hosts of one of its shows criticized news reports about the first lady. Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s top advisers, echoed the criticism.

“I think it’s a shame that most of the coverage of the first lady in the last several weeks has been about conspiracy theories that have no basis in fact,” Conway told reporters at a breakfast meeting.

Earlier this week, the first lady participated in a White House event for military families. Journalists were not granted access out of respect for the families, meaning Mrs. Trump was seen only by those who attended.

But video posted on Twitter showed the first lady strolling into the East Room accompanied by the president. She later tweeted event photos that showed her sitting next to the president.

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