Trump working vacation draws scrutiny

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Trump is on day four of a 17-day getaway at his secluded New Jersey golf course that his team is billing as a “working vacation.”

Trump aides have told reporters to expect a constant hum of activity over the next two weeks, including meetings with lawmakers, Cabinet officials and senior aides on issues like healthcare and tax reform. 

Top aides and advisers are cycling in and out of the Trump National Golf Club, which is set on 600 acres surrounded by farmland in the town of Bedminster. On Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary will brief Trump on the nation’s opioid crisis.

Chief of staff John Kelly, who is staying on the property, has met multiple times with the president to discuss crises overseas.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Trump’s daughter and son-in-law who serve as senior advisers, have remained at the club all three days along with Kelly. Vice President Pence plans to visit for a day, according to a White House official.

Yet it’s difficult for the public to get a sense of what Trump’s days are really like.

Members of the media and some Trump aides are staying roughly 12 miles away at a Marriott located in an office park in suburban Bridgewater.

The press hasn’t been allowed onto the club grounds thus far, and the White House has been reluctant to describe modifications that have been made there to allow Trump conduct business, such as office space or meeting areas.

The White House has not released a daily schedule of Trump’s activities and, unlike past presidents, has refused to say whether he is playing golf. It’s unclear whether Trump will cross paths with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a top ally during the campaign who is now the most unpopular governor in the country, during his stay.

Deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters told The Hill there are Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs) set up at the club and the hotel for Trump and his team to receive classified intelligence briefings.

The only glimpses of Trump have come from videos and photos posted to Instagram and Twitter of him riding in a golf cart and glad-handing with club members and wedding guests, fueling mockery of his claim that his New Jersey jaunt is “not a vacation.”

The knocks on Trump has been heightened by his attacks on former President over his commitment to the job and his claim he wouldn’t take vacations as president.

“President ‘s vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars—-Unbelievable!” Trump tweeted in 2012 during the former president’s winter getaway in Hawaii.

“Congress should get back to Washington, but doesn’t want to interrupt his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard,” he tweeted during Obama’s summer vacation the year prior.

Despite that criticism, White House observers say Trump would be wise to use his time in the 8,200-person town an hour’s drive west of New York City as an opportunity to recharge his batteries after a tumultuous six months in the White House.

“All presidents needs to get vacations to get away from the grind like everyone else does,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a presidential historian at the University of Houston, adding he has little doubt Trump will spend time working.

The trip coincides with a major renovation project at the West Wing that has forced members of his team across the street to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

“The fact is there is no exclusive vacation for a president where they can sit on the beach like an entire day like we do,” Rottinghaus said. “The apparatus of government must continue, no matter where the president is. So when he is taking a working vacation, it means he is taking a working vacation.”

Trump began his day Monday like he would a typical workday at the White House: with an intelligence briefing, likely in the Bedminster SCIF. The president and his chief of staff also phoned Secretary of State to discuss a new round of sanctions against North Korea.

Deputy national security adviser Rick Waddell is on hand to provide updates for the president and his team, and staff secretary Rob Porter is there as well for meetings.

It’s also clear Trump won’t be forgoing Twitter during his trip. He went on an early morning against the news media, his Democratic opponents and the Russia probe, while defending his work ethic against allegations he spends too much time vacationing.

Rottinghaus said that criticism likely won’t go away unless the White House is able to show that Trump is working.

“People need to see it,” he said. “These images of the president are too powerful to counter with a list of things the president is doing that day.”

President George W. Bush allowed onto his Crawford, Texas, ranch both to show how he spent his down time as well as where he did his work.

While all presidents take respites from Washington, Trump has done it like none of his predecessors have before.

The former real estate magnate owns a number of properties and has put them to use for weekend getaways He traveled to his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., earlier this year before shifting north.

The Bedminster property is said to hold a significance for Trump; his daughter and Kushner were married here in 2009, and Trump might be buried there, drafting plans for a family cemetery plot in 2014.

Bedminister Mayor Steven Parker has said it could cost his town’s government and its 16-member police force $300,000 to support the president’s travel this summer.

“I think it’s going to be a big non-event here,” he told in May of the president’s visit. “It’s flattering that the president enjoys Bedminster like our residents do, but I don’t think it’s going to be terribly disruptive.”

The golf club has been the site of a handful of protests since Trump’s inauguration, including a caravan of demonstrators that has periodically along the two-lane country road outside the front gate. All was quiet when a reporter drove by this Saturday. Authorities have reportedly barred protesters from congregating alongside the road.

Trump could pay a visit to another one of his favorite properties during his time off: Trump Tower in New York City.

Walters said that the president plans to visit the Big Apple next week for meetings. She declined to detail the president’s schedule, including whether he will stop by the Fifth Avenue high-rise where he lived before entering the White House.

Trump has said before that he’s stayed away from his former home because it would disrupt New Yorkers’ lives.

“The reason I am staying in Bedminster, N.J., a beautiful community, is that staying in NYC is much more expensive and disruptive. Meetings!” he tweeted in May. 

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