Following intense backlash, President Trump is no longer planning to host next year’s Group of Seven summit at his Florida golf resort, the Trump National Doral Miami, he announced on Saturday. The president’s brazen attempt to use a major international event to promote a family business with declining revenue — announced in the middle of an impeachment inquiry and a significant self-created diplomatic crisis in Syria — did not go over as well as Trump and his advisers apparently assumed, and even drew criticism from typical Trump allies on Fox News and in Congress.
“We will begin the search for another site, including the possibility of Camp David, immediately,” the president said late Saturday.
Trump had publicly promoted the idea of hosting the G7 at his Miami-area resort for months, and as luck would have it, event planners at the White House did some due diligence and determined that the president’s awesome boasts about the venue were accurate. “I was aware of the political, sort of, criticism that we’d come under for doing it at Doral,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney claimed on Thursday, “which is why I was so surprised when the advance team called back and said that this is the perfect physical location to do this.”
It also led to a perfect political firestorm, which forced Trump to give up his G7 fantasy in a matter of days.
In a three-tweet statement announcing the reversal, the president insisted the outrage was “based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility” — but he also took the chance to promote Doral one last time and claim that ditching the venue would be America’s big loss:
I thought I was doing something very good for our Country by using Trump National Doral, in Miami, for hosting the G-7 Leaders. It is big, grand, on hundreds of acres, next to MIAMI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, has tremendous ballrooms & meeting rooms, and each delegation would have its own 50 to 70 unit building. Would set up better than other alternatives. I announced that I would be willing to do it at NO PROFIT or, if legally permissible, at ZERO COST to the USA. But, as usual, the Hostile Media & their Democrat Partners went CRAZY!
(The claim that the Trump Corporation would not profit from hosting the event is not only false, it’s preposterous — the free advertising alone would have been a priceless opportunity for the Trump clan.)
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, acting Mulvaney suggested Trump was “honestly surprised at the level of pushback,” and only wanted to use the resort in the interest of being a good host and showman. “At the end of the day,” Mulvaney continued, “he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business and he saw an opportunity to take the biggest leaders around the world and he wanted to put on the absolute best show, the best visit that he possibly could.”
Host Chris Wallace didn’t seem impressed with the explanation, noting that President Trump isn’t in the hospitality business — he’s the president of the United States:
MULVANEY: Yes, but he’s — that’s his background. It’s like, I used to be in the real-estate business. I don’t know what you used to do before you were in the media.
WALLACE: Nothing. That’s all I’ve ever done.
MULVANEY: Yes. But he wanted to put on a show. He wanted to take care of folks. That’s the business — he’s in the hotel business or at least he was before he was the president.
WALLACE: Does he understand — forget the media — does he understand that it looked lousy?
MULVANEY: Well, I think he knows. He thinks people think it looks lousy.
And both of them felt compelled to walk right into the fire anyway. Mulvaney held Thursday’s press conference to announce the G7 venue, as he and other administration staff had to know how “lousy” the choice would seem politically. But Mulvaney managed to upstage the G7 news during the Q&A when he acknowledged that President Trump had sought a quid pro quo from the president of Ukraine in exchange for releasing U.S. aid to the country — a contradiction of the White House’s official position on a matter that is at the heart of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
He never would have been in that situation if Trump hadn’t needed two days of pushback to realize the folly of his G7 ploy. “It’s not lost on me that if we made the decision [to skip the Doral resort] on Thursday, we wouldn’t have had the press conference on Thursday regarding everything else, but that’s fine,” Mulvaney remarked during his Fox News Sunday Interview. (The decision was apparently so impulsive that the mayor of Doral, Florida, hadn’t even been informed before Mulvaney made the announcement.)
But while Trump may have lost this one battle to profit off the presidency, it’s far from the first time he’s tried to promote his family’s properties while in office. Indeed, Politico reported on Sunday that Trump advertised his clubs and resorts more than anyone had realized:
Trump constantly brags about his properties around the globe when he speaks with foreign leaders in person or by phone, even more than the public instances witnessed out in the open, according to three people familiar with Trump’s conversations with foreign officials. The remarks are permeating every membrane of his presidency so much that they’ve left aides and allies mastering verbal jiu-jitsu to defend his unprecedented approach to fusing personal business interests with his position in high office.
The interactions have led House Democrats — who have already launched an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump is illegally profiting off the presidency — and sometimes even his own staff to question whether his namesake businesses are influencing U.S. foreign policy.
Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of the watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, made a related point in response to Trump’s about-face to save face on Saturday:
Trump’s decision to award the G-7 Conference to his own property was outrageous, corrupt and a constitutional violation. It was stunningly corrupt even for a stunningly corrupt administration. His reversal of that decision is a bow to reality, but does not change how astonishing it was that a president ever thought this was appropriate, or that it was something he could get away with.
The President’s reversal shows that pressure works, that those fighting to hold the line for an ethical government can still sometimes dial down his corruption. The president deserves no plaudits for doing the right thing only after public outcry forced him not to do the wrong thing. This was one corrupt conflict of interest. He’s racked up well over 2,000 of them.
And there will be many more before he leaves office, only less egregious than the Doral fiasco. If Trump picks Camp David for the G7, the Trump International Hotel in Washington will be less than 70 miles away.