Pres­i­dent Trump’s sum­mer get­away: Don’t call it a va­ca­tion

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Jill Colvin and Jonathan Lemire

BED­MIN­STER » Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is spend­ing his sum­mer va­ca­tion at his golf club in New Jersey. Wait, don’t call it “va­ca­tion.”

Trump, who is loath to ad­mit to sleep­ing — let alone tak­ing time off — has spent his week away mix­ing down­time and golf rounds with meet­ings and din­ners, in­tent on pro­ject­ing the im­age that he’s been hard at work.

En­sconced at his pri­vate club, he’s sur­rounded by a clutch of un­of­fi­cial Bed­min­ster ad­vis­ers, who have un­usual lev­els of ac­cess to a pres­i­dent with the propen­sity for mix­ing busi­ness with leisure.

Not that it was his idea to leave Wash­ing­ton any­way, he con­tends.

“We’re ren­o­vat­ing the White House, a long-term project and they ap­proved it years ago. And I said, ‘Well, I guess this would be a good place to be in the mean­time,’” Trump told re­porters in­vited to the prop­erty to doc­u­ment a round­table dis­cus­sion on prison re­form ef­forts Thurs­day.

“I miss it. I would like to be there,” he said of the White House, “but this is a good way of do­ing it.”

No staffers had pub­licly men­tioned the need for any re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion work be­fore Trump’s de­par­ture, and the ex­pla­na­tion ef­fort un­der­scores the pres­i­dent’s con­cern about pub­lic per­cep­tions as he ap­proaches hav­ing spent 150 days of his pres­i­dency at his golf prop­er­ties.

Trump re­peat­edly blistered Barack Obama dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign for golf­ing, telling cheer­ing sup­port­ers that as pres­i­dent he’d be far too busy work­ing for them.

“I’m not gonna have time to go play golf,” he would shout.

Does he ac­tu­ally play golf at Bed­min­ster or at his bet­ter­known Mar-a-Lago es­tate in Florida? Yes, but it’s hard to say how much. The White House won’t say, and re­porters are barred from get­ting close enough to see.

All pres­i­dents take va­ca­tions. Obama and his fam­ily spent time on Martha’s Vine­yard and in Hawaii. But Trump seems more sen­si­tive about ad­mit­ting it.

“Had a very good phone call with @Em­manuelMacron, Pres­i­dent of France,” he tweeted Fri­day, de­scrib­ing it as just one of “many other calls and con­ver­sa­tions,” in­clud­ing a din­ner with Ap­ple’s Tim Cook.

He has been pho­tographed golf­ing by so­cial-me­dia-savvy mem­bers. But he’s spent most of this past week out of out­siders’ sight. He’s hosted sev­eral donor events, in­clud­ing a din­ner for “Pro­tect the House,” a fundrais­ing com­mit­tee led by Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy that raises money for Re­pub­li­can House can­di­dates.

On Tues­day evening, he wel­comed more than a dozen CEOs, their spouses and staffers for an an­i­mated din­ner that in­cluded frank dis­cus­sions of trade, im­mi­gra­tion and other is­sues.

White House aides have al­ways been leery of Trump’s vis­its to Bed­min­ster where, as at Mar-a-Lago, he can min­gle with mem­bers with­out staff “han­dlers” sur­round­ing him. Also, there are fewer staff to try to keep him up­beat and, with some luck, away from the television.

The New Jersey golf club is where a brood­ing Trump un­leashed sev­eral of his most in­flam­ma­tory at­tacks and where, in spring 2017, he made the fi­nal de­ci­sion to fire FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey, the move that trig­gered the spe­cial coun­sel’s probe into Rus­sian elec­tion med­dling. Dur­ing last sum­mer’s Bed­min­ster break, he de­buted his threat to un­leash “fire and fury” against North Korea and then made his first tepid re­sponse to the racial vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia.

This year, Trump’s tweets have in­cluded sci­en­tif­i­cally du­bi­ous the­o­ries about the rag­ing California wild­fires and an in­sult to NBA su­per­star LeBron James that to some read as a racial dog whis­tle. In an­other early morn­ing blast, he ac­knowl­edged that the 2016 Trump Tower meet­ing at the center of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion was in­deed ar­ranged “to get in­for­ma­tion on an op­po­nent.”

John Cat­si­ma­tidis, a bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man and ra­dio host who owns a New York City su­per­mar­ket chain and at­tended the CEO din­ner, de­scribed Trump as in a “great mood” as he pro­moted the econ­omy and fielded ques­tions, in­clud­ing sev­eral on im­mi­gra­tion. The pres­i­dent told those in Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump sits with first lady Me­la­nia Trump as he meets with busi­ness lead­ers, Tues­day at Trump Na­tional Golf Club in Bed­min­ster, N.J.

at­ten­dance that he was con­sid­er­ing sign­ing an ex­ec­u­tive or­der to make it eas­ier for top-per­form­ing for­eign stu­dents to stay in the U.S. as well as for com­pa­nies to hire the for­eign work­ers they need.

“What­ever’s needed in Amer­ica, whether it’s truck driv­ers or pro­gram­mers, what­ever’s needed for Amer­i­can com­pa­nies,” Cat­si­ma­tidis said Trump told him.

That’s the kind of off-the-cuff prom­ise-mak­ing that White House aides are on high alert for.

The golf club re­mains open and ac­tive when Trump is on the scene, giv­ing the pres­i­dent a chance to mix with mem­bers and, as he de­lights in do­ing, drop­ping in on wed­dings and par­ties. It’s where his daugh­ter Ivanka mar­ried Jared Kush­ner, and where Trump, pre-pres­i­dency, had planned to be buried.

But the ca­sual at­mos­phere also al­lows mem­bers to but­ton­hole the pres­i­dent to push him on pet is­sues.

While the Mar-a-Lago crowd has a rep­u­ta­tion among White House staffers for be­ing dom­i­nated by ag­ing so­cialites with few real-world con­cerns, Bed­min­ster reg­u­lars tend to be lower-key mem­bers of the tris­tate-area elite whom Trump likes and re­spects and to whom he may be more

amend­able to lis­ten­ing.

The at­mos­phere is also much more ca­sual than Mar-a-Lago, where high-so­ci­ety Palm Beach mem­bers re­serve ta­bles and dress to the nines hop­ing to see or be seen. There, Trump is con­stantly ap­proached for photos or to broach odd ideas about world peace or pet is­sues.

In Bed­min­ster, the mem­bers are more re­served, but when they do come up to Trump with ideas, they are usu­ally more se­ri­ous and Trump is more likely to di­rect staff to fol­low up, White House aides say.

Mem­bers and White House aides say Trump ap­pears to be more com­fort­able at Bed­min­ster, which, ac­cord­ing to one mem­ber who en­joys re­cip­ro­cal priv­i­leges, has a “to­tally dif­fer­ent” vibe.

Trump does meet with staff and has been speak­ing by phone with Pence, his sec­re­tary of state, his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser and con­gres­sional lead­ers.

But he’s rarely seen in a suit jacket and tie and has proved to be more unchecked at the prop­erty, which is dot­ted with trees, ponds and green lawns.

“It’s beau­ti­ful,” Cat­si­ma­tidis said the day af­ter his first visit. “The beauty was far be­yond what I imag­ined.”

CAROLYN KASTER — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The club­house of Trump Na­tional Golf Club is seen from the me­dia van, Thurs­day Bed­min­ster, N.J., be­fore Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump meets with state lead­ers about prison re­form.

CAROLYN KASTER — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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