US & Canada

Melania Trump steps into 'starring role' in children's campaign

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Media captionMelania: 'Too often social media is used negatively'

Standing at a podium in the Rose Garden on Monday, First Lady Melania Trump announced a set of initiatives to promote the well-being of children. The "goal", she said, was "to educate children about the many issues they're facing today".

As first lady, she said, she'll focus on an array of projects that promote children's well-being: these range from programmes that assist babies exposed to opioids to efforts that help protect children on the internet. The initiatives, as she described them, were designed to lift up and empower children.

"Every child should know it is safe to make mistakes and there are supportive adults and friends nearby to catch them if they fall," the 48-year-old said.

In addition, she said, she'll continue to work on an anti-cyberbullying campaign, an issue she spoke about before the election.

She was - as usual - overshadowed by her husband. He sat in the front row in the Rose Garden.

After she finished her remarks, he stood at the podium and praised her "sincerity" and "grace". He also signed a "Be Best" proclamation declaring 7 May a day devoted to the first lady's pledge for the nation.

He said: "Today we pledge to be best - best for our families, best for our communities and best for our nation."

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Image caption US President Donald Trump, 71, gifted his wife the pen after signing the proclamation

A white, brown and blue logo - along with the motto: "Be Best" - was displayed on giant posters that were hung outside the Oval Office ("Is that grammatically correct?" asked one member of the audience).

As first lady, she's organised a White House conference on cyberbullying - and faced criticism for her decision to focus on the issue. Many said her own husband acted like a bully, lashing out on Twitter, and wondered whether she'd tried to curb his behaviour.

In the Rose Garden, though, she spoke with passion about her campaign to fight bullying and to promote the well-being of children.

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She was surrounded by a VIP team: aside from her husband, Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to the president; Jared Kushner, a senior adviser and the president's son-in-law; Mike Pence, the vice-president; and Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, were there.

Business leaders, social-media executives and children's advocates (along with a lot of children) were seated in the audience, too. People in the Rose Garden - and across the US - wanted to hear what she'd say.

"It's her roll-out," said Myra Gutin, a first lady historian at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, describing Mrs Trump's starring role at the news conference in the Rose Garden. She's spoken at conferences and appeared at ceremonial events but, as Ms Gutin points out, this was her debut as a main speaker at an event on the south lawn.

Peter Slevin, the author of a biography about Michelle Obama, agreed that it's an important moment for Mrs Trump.

"Every first lady comes in and has to create her own identity - her own purpose," he said, describing the event in the Rose Garden as the "first window" into Mrs Trump's efforts since her arrival in the White House.

Every first lady has a project they're known for. For Michelle Obama, it was girls' education and healthy lifestyles for children. For Laura Bush, it was early reading.

Mrs Trump's campaign to promote the well-being of children, said Ms Gutin, is a "good fit" for her.

"It capitalises on a naturalness she has with children," Ms Gutin added. "They seem to warm to her."

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Media captionHow Melania's cause compares to previous campaigns

Since her husband was elected president - and particularly in recent weeks - Mrs Trump has struggled to define her role in the White House.

She spoke about her new policy initiatives amidst rumours of a troubled marriage and possible divorce. Karen McDougal, a Playboy model, and a porn star named Stormy Daniels have both spoken about affairs they claim to have had with Mr Trump (he says their accounts are untrue).

A native of Slovenia, Mrs Trump spoke for several minutes in the Rose Garden and walked with catwalk-grace across the lawn. On Monday - and on other days, too - she's shown an independent spirit.

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