Yes, Donald Trump set up senators for a photo op on North Korea

Full Senate summoned for rare briefing at WH
Full Senate summoned for rare briefing at WH

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Full Senate summoned for rare briefing at WH 02:35

Story highlights

  • Ostensibly the reason for the trip was a classified briefing on the growing threat posed by North Korea
  • But the reviews coming out of the briefing from senators suggested that it wasn't deeply revelatory

Washington (CNN)It was quite the spectacle.

Nearly every member of the world's greatest deliberative body piling onto buses to take the mile-long ride to the White House on Wednesday afternoon was the definition of a made-for-TV moment. And every network carried it -- from the motorcade up Pennsylvania Avenue to the buses parked at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Sen.: North Korea briefing 'complete optics'
Sen.: North Korea briefing 'complete optics'

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    Sen.: North Korea briefing 'complete optics'

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Sen.: North Korea briefing 'complete optics' 01:07
Ostensibly the reason for the trip was a classified briefing on the growing threat posed by North Korea and its quest for nuclear weapons. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led the briefing. (The quartet later briefed House members -- on Capitol Hill.)
And there's no question that the situation with North Korea not only appears to be growing more urgent but has also turned into a front-of-the-mind issue for this President and his top advisers.
But the reviews coming out of the briefing from senators suggested that it wasn't deeply revelatory.
"It was an OK briefing," said Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, in something short of a ringing endorsement.
Democrats were even less complimentary.
"We learned nothing you couldn't read in the newspaper," Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley told CNN's Erin Burnett Wednesday night. "It felt more like a dog-and-pony show to me than anything else," Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "I guess it has something to do with this 100 days in office."
Remember this: Donald Trump's experiences over the last decade and a half are in the world of reality TV. That's a place where how things look matters. A lot. Where power dynamics are on display for all to see. Where faking it until you make it is the law of the land.
Sen.: N. Korea briefing a 'dog and pony show'
Sen.: N. Korea briefing a 'dog and pony show'

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Sen.: N. Korea briefing a 'dog and pony show' 02:43
And, even before he became a reality TV star with "The Apprentice," Trump was intensely focused on appearances. His creation of the character "John Barron," a non-existent PR guy who touted Trump's love life and popularity to the media, is only one example of Trump's intense interest in manipulating how he is perceived by the public.
With his 100 day-mark in office rapidly approaching on Saturday and with lots of criticism that he simply hasn't accomplished much bouncing around Washington, what better way to reassert your dominance -- or at least centrality to the political conversation -- by making senators board buses to come to you to talk?
The fact that the White House was cagey on whether Trump would even be at the meeting -- and that he only stopped by for 14 minutes of the hour-long briefing -- further reinforces the message that Trump is the main actor in this drama while the senators are minor players. That he is a very busy guy who can't spend a whole lot of time with the US Senate -- even though they did come to the White House to hear from him and his advisers.
Trump, of course, is far from the only president (or politician) to stage a photo op. It happens all the time. But rarely do you see US senators used as the scenery the way they were on Wednesday.