A year ago, President Donald Trump was spending a holiday weekend in the South Florida sun, making morning excursions to his golf course and passing warm evenings on the patio of his estate as the sound of a piano wafted in the breeze.
The President is again sequestered in a White House understaffed by a government shutdown and surrounded by patches of week-old snow. Attempts to cajole Democrats into supporting more than $5 billion in border wall funding have devolved into partisan squabbles with little bearing on the matter at hand. The friendliest envoy at the White House this week seemed to be an ex-North Korean spy chief, who arrived bearing another upbeat letter from Pyongyang.
That Trump has found a more affable pen pal in Kim Jong Un than in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks both to his determination in developing “chemistry” with global strongmen and the dire state of Washington’s political discourse. Even Trump’s allies in Congress have deemed the broken state of affairs “sophomoric” and “childish.”
Kim’s letter, delivered midday, was a more welcome piece of mail than Pelosi’s missive earlier in the week urging the President to delay his annual State of the Union address or deliver it in writing instead. In retaliation, the President told Pelosi he was denying her a military plane for a trip to Afghanistan so she could remain in the capital to negotiate. He said she could travel commercially instead.
Heading into the weekend, there were no meetings scheduled between the President and Pelosi, whose bitter back and forth resulted on Friday morning in the speaker’s office accusing the White House of endangering her life by leaking commercial flight itineraries to Afghanistan (a White House official denied it).
Trump did announce, via Twitter, that he plans to make a “a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown” in a speech at 3 p.m. Saturday from the White House. Press secretary Sarah Sanders wouldn’t give reporters any clues as to what the announcement might be when asked Friday evening.
With no public events on his schedule for Friday, the President made a few sputtering attempts to drive his message on Twitter, beginning by quoting a report from a conservative newspaper saying prayer rugs had been found near the southern border.
“People coming across the Southern Border from many countries, some of which would be a big surprise,” Trump mused, implying the discarded rugs belonged to undocumented Muslim immigrants. He did not explain why or how an immigrant who’d traveled from the Middle East to the US-Mexico frontier might abandon their prayer rug after such a journey.
Later, apparently responding to a BuzzFeed report that he’d directed his former fixer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, Trump made a cryptic allusion to wrongdoing by a member of Cohen’s family: “Watch father-in-law!” he wrote, without explanation.
By mid-morning, the President’s messages had become tighter, warning of “another big Caravan heading our day” before finally unleashing some standalone slogans.
“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” he wrote, followed a minute later by “AMERICA FIRST!”
Without any new offers that might reopen the government, and apparently only tag lines as incentive, it appeared the partial government shutdown that’s left 800,000 federal workers without pay would stretch more than a month.
It takes two …
Trump’s aides are eager to portray the President as tapping his toe, awaiting Democrats to return to the White House for talks.
“The President’s been here before Christmas, during Christmas, during New Year’s, waiting for Democrats to come and negotiate,” spokesman Hogan Gidley said in an appearance on Fox News.
“Nancy Pelosi needs to come back to the White House or send others here who are actually willing to converse,” counselor Kellyanne Conway repeated during a segment on Fox Business Network.
Still, no invitations have yet gone out. And many lawmakers have already left Washington to return to their home states for the weekend.
Trump has expressed confusion at why his attempts to pressure Democrats for border wall funding have yielded no progress and failed to change public opinion. He has repeatedly pointed out that he’s at the White House – presumably as opposed to his Florida estate – yet polls still show a majority of Americans blame him for the impasse.
The President was originally due to travel next week to Switzerland, where the global elite are convening for the Davos economic summit. But he canceled his trip last week. And on Thursday he announced no administration officials would travel to the Swiss Alps for the gathering, leaving the glittery forum without any official visitors from a deadlocked Washington.
Meanwhile, some of Trump’s advisers worry the mounting consequences for unpaid federal workers could further erode support for Trump’s cause. White House aides dread, for example, a meltdown at US airports that could spur further public anger at the deadlocked talks.
Inside the West Wing, discussions are still underway about the fate of the State of the Union address, originally scheduled for January 29 but now in question after Pelosi’s letter. The speech once was viewed as a potential turning point for the President’s argument for a border wall. One White House official said the administration had begun putting together a list of potential invited guests in the first lady’s box, including some “angel families” of people killed by undocumented immigrants.
Now, however, there is talk of alternative set-ups: a rally-style speech, perhaps, or a direct-to-camera address from the White House. Nothing has been decided, officials said, as the White House weighs its options.
Trump, meanwhile, will have all weekend to mull it over. Even as he grounded Pelosi and his Cabinet from using military planes to travel abroad, his wife Melania’s weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago went forward. She landed in West Palm Beach in the early evening, her Air Force C-32 touching down just as the sun was setting. The temperature: a balmy 70 degrees.