As NBC’s Chuck Todd and others have noticed, President Trump is almost never seen laughing. Trump has a range of expressions suggestive of mirth — a self-satisfied smile, a knowing smirk, a sardonic grin — but laughter isn’t among them.
But as his own aides can attest, he does have a sense of humor. When he was asked Thursday about Russian President Vladimir Putin purging over half of the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and seizing two diplomatic compounds, Trump responded with a light-hearted joke about one of the most serious diplomatic confrontations between the two superpowers since the Cold War.
“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he is vacationing. “There’s no real reason for them to go back. So I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’ll save a lot of money.”
Flanked by two stone-faced officials, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Vice President Mike Pence, Trump made his remarks with a near-smile, suggesting enough self-awareness to foresee the uproar yet another compliment of Putin would bring.
In case there was any doubt, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders explained to the New York Times: “He was being sarcastic.”
It was the same explanation Sanders gave last month after Trump’s remarks to law enforcement officials, in which he warned them against being “too nice” to suspected criminals, a comment widely interpreted as endorsing extrajudicial corporal punishment.
“I believe he was making a joke at the time,” Sanders said at a press briefing. As she left the room, a reporter tried to ask if the president found police brutality funny. Sanders ignored him.
Of course, a president who enjoys joking about firing Cabinet members…