The Clemson Tigers, fresh off their Jan. 7 victory over Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game, arrived Monday for a White House visit with President Donald Trump. The team was served a variety of fast-food items, for which the White House said Trump paid out of his own pocket.
“I think we are going to serve McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King’s with some pizza. I really mean it,” Trump had said earlier in the day. “It will be interesting. I would think that’s their favorite food. So we’ll see what happens.”
The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey reported that White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump was “personally paying for the event to be catered with some of everyone’s favorite fast foods” because the partial government shutdown meant that some of the White House staffers who might have handled the catering for this type of event are on furlough.
“The president wanted to host a fun event to celebrate the College Football National Champion Clemson Tigers,” deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement to CNN, adding that Trump’s gesture came about because “the Democrats refuse to negotiate on border security.”
Describing the fare as “great American food,” per a pool report, Trump said: “If it’s American, I like it. It’s all American stuff.”
The pool report noted that the Clemson players arrived shortly before 6 p.m. as the White House band played a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” Some players “whooped,” per the report, when they saw the spread.
At the outset of his remarks to the team, its coaches, Clemson officials and politicians, including South Carolina’s Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, Trump said he had a “choice” of possibly having “no food” for the players “because of the shutdown.”
“Or do we give you some little quick salads that first lady will make, along with the second lady; they’ll make some salads,” the president continued. “And I said, ‘You guys aren’t into salads.’ … Or do I send out for about 1,000 hamburgers?”
The comments drew a laugh from the attendees as Trump listed the establishments — “all American companies” — whence the food came, including Burger King, Wendy’s and McDonald’s. “We have Big Macs, we have Quarter Pounders with cheese,” he said.
Burger King is owned by a Canadian company, Restaurant Brands International, while the other two chains are U.S. companies.
“We have everything that I like, that you like,” Trump continued, “and I know no matter what we did, there’s nothing you could have that’s better than that, right?”
Noting that the food was “piled up a mile high,” Trump then said he “just wanted to see what was left.” He chuckled as he was told, “Not much.”
The president moved on to praising the Tigers for their accomplishments, including becoming the first top-level college team to go 15-0 since 1897. Noting that Clemson had been to the White House for a similarly celebratory visit two years ago, Trump praised coach Dabo Swinney and university President James Clements as “very special people.”
“You know, there are other teams with a lot of talent, and they’re watching us tonight on television,” he said to laughs. “They’re watching us and they’re saying, ‘We’ll get ‘em next year.’”
Trump asked Swinney how many of his players were returning for the 2019 season, to which the coach replied with a smile, “Enough.” The president predicted, “We’ll have you back,” and mentioned that he had said as much, with accuracy, during Swinney’s previous visit.
Pointing out some of the administration officials in attendance, Trump noted that acting Attorney General and former Iowa tight end Matthew Whitaker “was a great player” who appeared in the Rose Bowl, and he said that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “would never be able to make your team.”
Trump mentioned Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, wide receiver Hunter Renfrow and cornerback A.J. Terrell, as well as defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who helped shut down Alabama’s powerful attack. He asserted that “the most important thing” about Swinney was that the coach “helped countless young Americans set high standards for themselves, reach for excellence and achieve their full, God-given potential.”
Trump had announced the visit Friday in a tweet, writing, “what a game, what a coach, what a team!” Photos posted to social media showed Swinney, Lawrence and other Tigers visiting the National Mall on Monday afternoon.
Nearing the end of his comments at the White House, Trump said, “To all of the amazing athletes here today, that wiped more food than any human being has ever seen before, including me — I’ve never seen so much — thank you for inspiring America.”