Trump has dinner guests at least four nights a week
His workaholic tendencies have him hosting a rotating supper club
Less than a week before President Donald Trump’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he settled down to dinner to discuss the upcoming visit – and America’s approach to Mideast peace – with his guests for the evening: billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
Working dinners have become standard fare for Trump. Long after the President’s official day has ended, his workaholic tendencies have him hosting a rotating supper club at the most coveted address in Washington.
At least four nights a week, he welcomes a steady stream of Cabinet members, staffers and members of Congress to the residence to brush up on national security issues and foreign affairs over steak, fish and salads, according to Trump aides.
Since moving to the White House, Trump has dined alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis, among others. Some evenings, he’ll break bread with top staffers, including senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, chief strategist Steve Bannon or chief of staff Reince Priebus.
The high-intensity working dinners are just one semblance of structure Trump’s team has aimed to build around him as the reality television star settles into his new role as the leader of the free world.
The President’s operating style
The barrage of meet-and-greets suits Trump’s operating style, aides said. He’s not a delve-into-a-briefing-book kind of commander in chief. Instead, he learns by peppering people with questions and prefers to pluck opinions from a rotating cast.
But the dinners also ensure the President is engaged well into the evening, allotting less time for some of Trump’s less productive pursuits – gobbling up cable news and engaging in Twitter wars.
In the wake of the travel ban debacle, Trump and his aides have acknowledged they need to move at a more deliberate pace to ensure the President’s agenda is executed as seamlessly as possible. Trump himself declared to staffers that things needed to go better.
But while the pace of executive actions and legislation may have slowed, Trump is still operating on overdrive.
“You’ve never seen so much paper on a President’s desk, and it’s because we’re negotiating lots of deals for our country, which will be tremendous,” Trump boasted during a recent meeting with the chief executive officer of Intel.
Aides and advisers insist the President is content – and keeping busy.
“President Trump is brilliant, with the strength and stamina to match,” said Hope Hicks, Trump’s director of strategic communications, when asked about how he’s adjusting to the pace of the White House.
Others close to him aren’t so sure. They say he feels cooped up in the White House and stymied by the slow confirmation process for many of his Cabinet members. He’s still grappling to find a routine that suits his fast-paced preference for doing business.
Family unit missing in White House
Trump has been getting situated in Washington without his wife, first lady Melania Trump, or his 10-year-old son, Barron, by his side. They’re expected to move to White House at the end of the school year.
Trump’s two adult sons, trusted sounding boards for the President, are engrossed in the day-to-day operations of the family business in Manhattan, leaving Trump in the White House without the familial structure he once relied on.
One Trump ally said his family adds a layer of normalcy to his daily life, an element largely missing in the White House.
“I don’t think it’s great that he doesn’t have Melania and Barron there,” this person said. “I think he got really tired of Trump Tower where he couldn’t move, and now he’s basically got another version of it. But at least she was there.”
Whatever void exists is filled with as much official business as possible – foreign leader calls, congressional meetings at the White House and huddles with his legislative team.
And then, there are the roundtables.
Trump has held court with airline executives, county sheriffs, small business leaders, Harley Davidson executives, union leaders, cyber security experts, pharmaceutical executives, veterans affairs officials and officers in the Green Beret’s Qualifications Course.
“He is first and foremost a ‘listener,’ ” said one senior administration official. “Roundtables give folks a chance to actually come in and speak their mind.”
That doesn’t always mean he and his guests are tackling the thorniest issues. Natalia Luis, co-owner of the Maryland-based M. Luis Construction Co., appeared with President Barack Obama at the White House during his administration and eagerly accepted an invitation to return for a listening session with Trump.
“I am a product of this country’s immigration system and how it can work. I’m also a product of the American dream,” Luis, an American citizen and Portuguese immigrant, said in an interview. “With that responsibility on my shoulders comes the responsibility to pay it forward, to give back, to show up, to be at the table.”
While the group spoke about small business regulation, Luis didn’t broach Trump’s history of provocative comments on immigration.
Avoiding those awkward issues appears to be a common theme for White House invitees. An airline executive insisted Trump’s travel ban never came up in their meeting.
Still, Luis was somewhat shocked – albeit pleasantly – to be visiting the White House so early in a Trump administration.
“When you’re in a presidency and it’s nine or 10 days in and you’re meeting with someone like me who is such a small dot in this journey we call life, it surprised me, it really did,” Luis said.
Shaping policy comes with challenges
The roundtables also highlight the campaign mindset that persists in an administration struggling to shape policy without a full Cabinet in place and stocked with aides with little White House experience.
“They’ve really still got too much campaign in them and not enough governing,” said a person close to Trump, noting that the lack of a full Cabinet compounds the problem. “I’m sure the Democrats are doing that to irritate him so he looks like he’s irritated. And they’re having some success I hate to say.”
Sources close to Trump say the administration is also missing someone to gut check the President and steer him from unnecessary confrontations. It’s a void New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had lunch with Trump Tuesday, filled at points throughout the presidential campaign before the relationship between the two men grew strained.
By now, everyone has become accustomed to the fact that Trump sleeps only few hours each night. Aides are often alerted that the President is awake by his early morning tweets, ricocheting across the Internet and, often, driving the agenda for the day. He’s on the phone with staffers beginning early in the morning, and doesn’t usually end his workday until 11 p.m. or midnight, one administration official said.
Aides have mapped out a rough schedule for him stretching to nearly mid-March, but what the President could truly use is a change of scenery, according to sources close to Trump.
Aides are looking at more opportunities to get him out of Washington, including a visit to South Carolina later this week.
Multiple sources close to the White House said the President would prefer to be on the road – and adding campaign-style rallies to the mix.
The trips to Mar-a-Lago provide a bit of an escape – particularly when they’re intertwined with work. This weekend he hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe there, mingled with the club’s members and even popped into a wedding reception in the Grand Ballroom to pose for a photo with the bridesmaids.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.