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Melania Trump Speaks Out, But What Exactly Is She Saying?


First lady Melania Trump has kept a relatively low profile during her time in the White House so far. But earlier this month, she spoke about a campaign against cyberbullying. She also announced plans to go to Africa. So we thought we would take this moment to learn more about the Slovenian-born Melania Trump.

And we turned to White House historian Kate Andersen Brower. She's author of the book "First Women: The Grace And Power Of America's First Ladies." And she spoke to our co-host Noel King.

NOEL KING, BYLINE: I want to talk about Melania Trump's public campaign as a first lady. She chose cyberbullying as her focus despite the fact that her husband, President Trump, regularly bullies people on Twitter. Do you think the first lady made a deliberate move in her choice?

KATE ANDERSEN BROWER: I do. I think that she is really telegraphing to her husband that he needs to tone it down. I know that she has asked him to stop tweeting or at least to be less confrontational in his tweets. It is something she cares deeply about. And I think we see a trend with her of again and again doing things that you can see as undermining her husband.

KING: You've got a couple of examples that you cite. Tell me about some of the things you've been thinking about.

BROWER: Well, I mean, the State of the Union, when she wore the white pantsuit, which is an example to me that was striking. You know, Hillary Clinton famously wore pantsuits. White pantsuits are examples of suffragists historically. And you saw her recently just this month with LeBron James - when the president came out and attacked him on Twitter, she came out and said she would be happy to go visit the school that he's starting up in Akron, Ohio.

KING: I remember Mrs. Trump getting on a plane with a jacket that said, I don't care; do you? And the way that many people read that was that Melania Trump, even though she's on her way to the border, is sort of thumbing her nose at people who are critical of her husband's policy. Who do you think that message was addressed to?

BROWER: Obviously a $40 jacket from Zara is something that was not in her typical wardrobe.

KING: Yep.

BROWER: So it was on purpose.

KING: Yeah.

BROWER: I think it was a message to the media. I mean, the president said it in a tweet that this is what she's going to do. She doesn't care who criticizes her on either side. I think that trip was such an important moment for her. And it really was a shame that it was overshadowed by her decision to wear that jacket.

KING: What makes Melania Trump different from previous first ladies?

BROWER: Well, I think the landscape has changed so much now that we know everything. In the Kennedy White House, reporters had this kind of gentleman's agreement with the president that they would not go out and report on what was an open secret, that he was cheating on Jackie. Now everything is out there. Stormy Daniels is really humiliating for Melania as it would be for anyone.

And I think that that might be one reason why we're seeing her kind of really go out on her own and carve out her own path in a way that no other first lady has done. I mean, not moving to the White House right away is a great example. Michelle Obama and Laura Bush would've probably loved to have not moved into the White House.

KING: Yeah.

BROWER: And so in the same way that President Trump is unprecedented in so many ways, Melania Trump is an unprecedented first lady.

KING: Have any of the former first ladies reached out to Melania Trump and said, call me if you need anything?

BROWER: Yes. Laura Bush actually went to the White House for tea with Melania after the president moved in. And there is this sisterhood among the former first ladies. And I go back and look at, you know, friendships between Lady Bird Johnson and Rosalynn Carter and Betty Ford, but also more recently between Michelle Obama and Laura Bush.

KING: I want to ask you a question that's come up in my own friend group. And it has to do with the idea that Melania Trump is trolling her husband by announcing the trip to Africa, by the clothing that she chooses to wear, by picking cyberbullying as her signature issue. Do you think it's possible that we're reading too much into this?

BROWER: I can't imagine that all of this is by accident. I think everything she does is carefully thought out. I mean, look at how she dresses and look at the care she takes in terms of the events that she does. They're few and far between. But she sees her role as separate from her husband's. No, I don't think it's by accident.

KING: Kate Andersen Brower - she's a historian of the White House and author of "First Women: The Grace And Power Of America's First Ladies." Kate, thanks so much.

BROWER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.