White House excludes CNN from Trump session, with no protest

The chamber of the House of Representatives is seen at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, as it is prepared for President Donald Trump to give his State of the Union address Tuesday night. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – The White House excluded CNN on Tuesday from its annual off-the-record briefing with television news personalities prior to the State of the Union address with no public protest from the network or any other journalists who attended.

No news organization boycotted the event to show support for CNN, in contrast to the British journalists who walked out of a Monday meeting with an aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to back competitors who were being kept from the session.

The lunch on State of the Union day is a tradition that predates President Donald Trump. CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper attended in 2019. Blitzer has been to some two decades' worth of such meetings. CNN confirmed that none of its journalists were invited this year, but it declined comment on the action. The network has been Trump's most frequent target in his complaints about journalists.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham declined to comment about the lunch.

Although journalists who accept the invitation agree not to report on what is said there, details of the meeting inevitably slip out. In 2017, it was reported that CBS' Scott Pelley asked Trump about whether his attacks on journalists could put some in danger. A year later, Trump reportedly upbraided NBC's Lester Holt over an interview he was unhappy with.

On Tuesday, Fox News Channel's Bret Baier was interviewed on the air shortly after the lunch — with the White House in the background — giving two details that Trump allowed to be on the record: that his State of the Union address would be “extraordinarily low key,” and a prediction that New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would challenge Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a primary.

Asked by colleague Dana Perino whether impeachment would be talked about during the speech, Baier said, “I think it's going to be a slight mention but not a big mention.”

Journalists who have attended the lunches generally consider them a chance to convey things that are uppermost on a president's mind, while it's an opportunity for the White House to hammer home talking points.