Hallie in the House: I asked the president why he suggested cutting Special Olympics funding

President Donald Trump was clearly in the mood to talk, pacing up and down the row of reporters crammed in front of the White House South Lawn on Thursday night.

Turns out, he wanted to talk about the story I’ve been reporting on a lot this week for NBC’s “Today” show and “Nightly News”; the administration’s proposal to slash funding for the Special Olympics.

I asked why he would suggest cutting funding for the popular program — a move that has sparked bipartisan backlash as athletes and advocates share their stories. That’s when the president told us there would be no cuts after all.

“The Special Olympics will be funded, I just told my people,” Trump said to a group of reporters gathered on the South Lawn.

The about-face comes after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended the administration’s proposed across-the-board cuts to educational programs for 2020, which included eliminating the nearly $18 million the Special Olympics received this year. The organization works with 5 million athletes in 174 countries to give people with intellectual and physical disabilities the chance to compete.

When I talked to the Special Olympics’ vice president, minutes after the president’s announcement, he had one word: “Wow.”

“I’m completely stunned, actually,” Shawn Ferguson told me. “We’ll have to find out exactly what this means, but I think it’s pretty amazing.”

And while the Special Olympics federal funding was never in any real danger — given that lawmakers who ultimately make those budget decisions said they wouldn’t make the cut — Ferguson pointed out it’s significant symbolically that the administration is sending this message.

As for DeVos? Not long after the president undercut her very public defense of the president’s budget, she released a statement: “I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye-to-eye on this issue,” she said. And suggesting she’s been opposed to these proposed cuts since the start, she added, “This is funding I have fought for behind-the-scenes over the last several years.”

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