President Donald Trump met Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday in an exchange described by witnesses as “stiff.”
Trump was flanked by First Lady First Lady Melania and First Daughter Ivanka, who strictly stuck to the dress code. Just days after they ditched headscarves in Saudi Arabia, the women wore long-sleeved black dresses and veils for the Pope.
“Per Vatican protocol, women who have an audience with the pope are required to wear long sleeves, formal black clothing, and a veil to cover the head,” Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director, told CNN.
Onlookers described the meeting as “stiff” and the pope as “stone-faced” during the meeting. In the first minutes of the meeting, the pope did not say anything to Trump and did not smile.
Trump, who has canceled President Obama’s climate change initiatives and proposed drastic cuts to environmental protection programs, was welcomed to Rome Tuesday night with a pointed message illuminated on the dome of St. Peter’s Basillica: “Planet Earth First,” it read, according to CNN correspondent Jeff Zeleny, who tweeted a photo of the unusually placed riff on Trump’s “America First” slogan.
The mood lifted with a gift exchange between the president and Pope Francis. Trump presented the pope with a case of books from Martin Luther King.
“I think you will enjoy them,” the president told him.
The pope gave Trump three books on the topics of family, the joy of the gospel and “care of our common home, the environment,” as well as a medal by a Roman artist featuring an olive, a simple of peace, signed by the pope.
“We can use peace,” Trump said.
One of the pope’s attendants gave Melania a small object, which she asked Pope Francis to bless.
The also pope joked with the first lady, asking “What do you give him to eat — potica?” referring to a nut-filled cake from Melania’s home country of Slovenia.
Just before he left, Trump was heard telling Pope Francis, “Thank you. I won’t forget what you said.”