Illustration: Lauren Tamaki
Cecilia Vega is ABC news’ senior White House correspondent, whose coverage appears on Good Morning America, World News Tonight, Nightline, and 20/20. She’s traveled the world for assignments, and when she was offered the opportunity to move to Washington to cover the Trump presidency, she says she jumped at the chance. Vega has questioned the administration on issues like Russia and the FBI, has said Trump is “stoking fears,” and has been on the receiving end of sexist comments from the president. Vega is married to a California highway patrol officer and finds time for her personal life as well as practically living at the White House. Here’s how she gets it done.
On a typical day:
There is no routine — that’s the thing with this crazy world. The only thing that’s routine about every day is the insanity factor of just how wild it is. Typically for the White House, I’m up a little before 5 a.m. My alarm goes off, and it’s nonstop from the second I wake up. My husband will bring me coffee — God bless him — first thing in the morning as I’m scrolling through the headlines and texting the producers and checking Twitter, because we all sort of live and die by Twitter right now. Between 5 and 7, I’m getting ready to be on TV, tweaking my stories from the night before, checking in with sources, and again making sure Twitter hasn’t blown up the world. I live close to the White House, so I race over there and I’m on the air at 7. That’s kind of the cycle for the entire day.
You don’t really leave the White House in this administration because there’s just so much news every single day. You’re almost tethered to the camera really. We end up doing, “He fired someone,” “He tweeted something,” “He said something,” or “He held an impromptu press conference,” so it’s mach 10 speed all day long. And I’m there until 7 p.m. through World News. Then I race home, scarf a bite of food down with my husband, start working on the next morning’s story until 9 or 10. And God help us if the New York Times or the Washington Post breaks something because then you’re starting all over again at like 10 at night. That happens all the time. Otherwise, I squeeze in a couple of hours of sleep and get up and do it all over again. It’s a bizarre political hamster wheel that you feel like you’re not really getting off of. It hasn’t stopped since before Election Day.
I try to be in bed by 10, asleep by 11. I don’t get a lot of sleep during the week, that’s something I’m trying to work on. I really need to get more. I’ve gotta have my earplugs and eye mask, and then I hunker down and sleep. I can sleep anywhere like that — when my head hits the pillow, I am out. I don’t have trouble falling asleep because I’m so exhausted. I also have a really bad habit of looking at my phone in the middle of the night to see what emails I’ve missed. It’s a bad addiction. I wake up to check an email at like 3 a.m. and go back to bed for a little before 5.
This doesn’t happen often, but if the day is a little slower, I’ll try to sneak in a break around 11 a.m. or so and run home. We bought this Peloton bike. It’s kind of the only way I can get my exercise in right now, and it has changed my life. I can jump on whenever and take a class at home and they’re great. You actually feel like you’re in the studio working out. I love Jess King, one of the instructors, she’s so great. I also love Cody Riggsby. I didn’t know anything about these people but now I realize they are all these giant internet celebrities, and they’re all really fun to follow. And I have to say, they’re completely inspiring. They have great bodies, they are great coaches, so it really has become this interactive experience. I’m a little bit of a Peloton fangirl, I have to admit.
On eating with a busy schedule:
I’m a grab-and-go in this stage of life. I will boil a bunch of hard-boiled eggs for the week and take those to work. There’s no, like, leisurely breakfast unless I’m on a weekend, when my husband makes these amazing eggs. Coffee is a must; I can’t function in this world without it. So I’ll have a really strong double cappuccino first thing in the morning. And then I’ll often bring my lunch because I just don’t have the time to go and get it. My only rule is to bring something that doesn’t stink up the White House break room because I made that mistake early on. I was that girl — I’m going to admit this — who brought leftover fish once. And all of those White House reporters you see on TV were in the break room like, “Who brought fish!?” And I’m going, “Oh my God, I’m so embarrassed.” I didn’t own up to it. And now they’re going to read it: It was me, guys!
And I’m a big snacker. Everybody who works with me gets mad because I always have food around. I’m definitely not like your picture-perfect image of healthy living right now. I have a lot of chips, a lot of crackers. I get in trouble for this at the office, too, because I often have an avocado in my purse, and I slice it before I leave the house because you can’t bring a knife into the White House. But I sort of forget about [the avocado], so that gets messy sometimes. I’ll leave it on my desk and it sits there for a few days, or I’ll find it in my purse after a couple of days, that’s a bad habit. I carry an avocado everywhere.
On being a Mexican-American journalist:
I will say this: I don’t think there has been a better time in my lifetime to be a journalist than right now. You feel like you’re in the Peace Corps. You’ve signed up and you’re in the trenches and you’re on the front lines and you’re just fighting the fight every single day and you’ve committed to this period of time to do this. I don’t know how long I’ll be in Washington, but it feels like this is my four-year stint — four years, eight years, however long it ends up being. You’re just committed to it. It’s exhausting. It’s emotional. You can feel beaten down easily.
But it’s also really rewarding. I realized it took me a while in doing this job to understand the power, like how empowering sitting in that front row of the briefing room can be. On a personal level as a Mexican-American woman, you don’t see that a lot in that room, and certainly it impacts how you ask questions, the stories that you push on, the narratives that you don’t want to let go of as a journalist. This is a very tough administration when it comes to the relationship between this president and the press corps, certainly. It’s not easy, I’m not going to lie, and it’s very ugly at times. But it’s still the most rewarding beat I’ve ever had.
On covering Trump versus past administrations:
Everything is different. The pace is entirely different. The days are different. The tone is different. The story lines are different. Literally everything from top to bottom is different. In terms of how we do our jobs covering [the president], covering his administration, and in terms of a personal level, its like drinking from a fire hose every day. It just doesn’t stop. The amount of news, the intensity of the news. You go from one story in the morning on Russia to something on Stormy Daniels to something on the midterms to “Oh, he tweeted,” and “Now we’re talking about immigration.” P.S.: Someone just got fired. “Oh, wait there was a fight in the oval office with John Kelly.” And now you’re going to bed and we’re back to Russia. You could have easily ten different story lines in one day. So you can’t really leave. You’re there all day because there’s just that much news.
On Trump telling her she seemed “surprised” to be called on and was “not thinking” in a press conference.
We were at a press conference with the president, and on national television, he told the world I was the reporter who’s “not thinking, you never do.” That was a doozy. It was a little baffling to me in the moment because I thought my portion of the exchange was very clear. I had a microphone. I [essentially] said, “I am sorry Mr. President, I am thinking. I’m not surprised you called on me; that’s my job.” It’s not fun to be in the eye of the storm, and I was for a number of days. The president has that ability to cast someone there pretty quickly. But my takeaway from all of that is, I’m just doing my job. I could get into it with the president, but that’s not my style. My job is to get answers, and if I get down and dirty with the president of the United States, I’m not getting the answers to the question I need to ask in order to tell my stories. It may happen again; that’s his style. And if it does, I would do the exact same thing I did. Be respectful, firm, I’m just doing my job, and here’s my question. And I’m going to keep asking it, and I’m not going to sit down. I’m going to keep asking my question.
On the White House work space:
The living conditions are unlike anywhere else I’ve ever worked. If you look at the podium in the press briefing room where you see Sarah Sanders, behind that is all of the [news] networks, where we have our little booths. Each network has some space, and the print press corps is there, and the photographers are all there. In these booths, literally, I could touch both walls with both hands. There are four of us. I’m in there with producers and a radio correspondent, and we all wedge in. And you can hear the other teams: NBC sits on one side of us. PBS sits on the other. NBC likes to break out in song sometimes, so we joke and will be laughing. Other times somebody’s had a bad day with a boss — we’ve all had it — where you’re slamming the phone down or fighting with somebody or going at it with a source … You can hear it all through the walls.
On traveling for work:
When it comes to travel, I’m a professional. I don’t know the number off the top of my head, but when I was covering the 2016 election I traveled more than 250,000 miles in a year. So I am a self-declared professional traveler. I’m the dork who clicked on a pop-up ad once for a suitcase, I think on Twitter or Instagram, and I got the Genius Pack. It has changed my life, this suitcase. It has all these little compartments where you can pack your underwear and all your cords, and it’s all labeled. And it’s so light, and it has this perfect thing for my suitcase. I actually keep it packed all the time so I’m ready to go. For years, I was that correspondent where they would call you, there was a disaster, you had to have your bag in the back of your car and you had to be living out of that suitcase for the next week. So I can pack with the best of them. I can get through a solid ten days with a carry-on and never have to wear the same outfit twice.
My relaxation happens on Saturday. That’s my one day where I try to shut down as much as possible. Maybe I’ll go on a really long bike ride with my husband. I like to cook, so I try and cook a bunch for the week, or I’ll have a dinner party with friends. But really at this stage it’s sort of boring. Sitting at home in my jammies is the best thing I could possibly do right now. If there is a day where I can just stay in my gross sweats and not take a shower, that’s a good day in my book. Throw in some wine, and done. Check. Good day.
This interview has been edited and condensed.