WASHINGTON, March 1 — During President Donald Trump’s meeting with dozens of leaders of historically black universities Monday, Kellyanne Conway, the White House counsellor, made herself at home in the Oval Office. She hopped onto a couch, sat back on her heels and tapped on her phone.
For those watching closely, this seemed like the latest flouting of protocol by an administration that has shown a willingness to ignore unwritten rules of White House life. When Trump invited Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, into the Oval Office in February, his daughter Ivanka was criticised for taking an impromptu seat at her father’s desk. And Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, has been targeted for dressing too casually.
But Conway’s willingness to sit casually on a couch seemed a step too far. To Pamela Eyring, president of the Protocol School of Washington, whose programs focus on etiquette, it just looked a lot like a “rookie protocol mistake.”
Eyring said the photos of Conway probably negated whatever message of unity Trump was trying to project.
On Twitter, people categorised the episode as an outrage, an opportunity for laughs or an overblown controversy.
“Liberals are losing their mind because Kellyanne Conway is kneeling on a couch and ‘not treating furniture with respect,'” wrote Jack Murphy, who posts extensively on Twitter about the president. He then shared nine photos of former President Barack Obama with his feet propped up on desks and chairs in the White House.
Others felt that Conway had shown disrespect while she was among dozens of black leaders.
Conway was observing a hastily arranged photo op where dozens of people were waved into the office by Omarosa Manigault, the director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, according to Stephen Crowley, a New York Times photographer who was in the room.
“It was just chaos as they were bringing in dozens of people,” Crowley said. “I didn’t even notice Kellyanne, it was just so chaotic.”
Crowley added that, in the moment, Conway’s movements suggested that she was making an effort to duck out of the way of pool photographers.
Yesterday evening, Conway addressed the photos during an interview with Lou Dobbs on the Fox Business Network. “I was asked to take a certain angle and was doing exactly that. I certainly meant no disrespect,” Conway said. “I didn’t mean to have my feet on the couch.”
Eyring, of the protocol school, suggested it would be a lesson learned.
“We call that scar tissue,” she said. — The New York Times