WASHINGTON ― Even as health experts were warning against large gatherings, President Donald Trump hosted a fundraising dinner for 900 and a birthday party in honor of his son’s girlfriend for 200 at his private Florida resort.
As mayors and governors began ordering nonessential businesses to shut down, Trump’s hotels and golf courses continued to solicit customers.
And as all Americans are advised to stay at least 6 feet away from one another, Trump appears ready to hit the golf course, forcing his staff to again work in close proximity to one another.
It would be the latest example of Trump’s do-what-my-experts-say-not-as-I-do response to the deadly coronavirus pandemic, which to this day has the president conducting daily press briefings on a crowded podium and casually touching co-participants as they pass.
“He has consistently failed to lead by example in this crisis and is continuing to do so,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, who worked on the 2014 Ebola response under then-President Barack Obama. “And that sends a bigger signal to his followers than anything he reads off a TelePrompTer.”
When Trump will resume playing golf is unclear. He has not played a round since March 8, during his last weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach, Florida, resort. But the Secret Service recently signed an expedited contract to rent 30 golf carts in Sterling, Virginia, where Trump owns a golf course.
Under the contract terms, taxpayers will spend $45,000 over the next six months. A Secret Service spokesman said the agency does not comment on activities pertaining to people it protects.
Traveling via presidential motorcade to Northern Virginia would force dozens of agents and other White House employees to work close to one another ― just as hundreds of them had to in support of Trump’s visit to Norfolk, Virginia, last weekend for a photo opportunity at the departure of a Navy hospital ship on its way to New York City. Secret Service agents; members of the White House advance team; staff from the White House medical unit, communications agency and military office; and more had to travel and work within 6 feet of each other, against guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to support the day trip where Trump gave a 15-minute speech and then waved goodbye as tugboats pulled the 900-foot U.S.N.S. Comfort from her berth.
“Those people are all working in close proximity to one another,” said a former White House advance team member on condition of anonymity. “It’s a big operation.”
Trump’s last golf weekend in Florida coincided with two large functions that he hosted at Mar-a-Lago, his for-profit club. A 900-person campaign fundraising dinner on Friday, March 6, was followed the next night by a 200-guest birthday party for Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of his eldest son and an adviser to his reelection campaign. Those events took place even though public health experts were already advising against large gatherings and urging elderly people to avoid contact with others entirely.
“Whether it’s a matter of national security, economic prosperity or public health, President Trump has consistently placed his own personal interests ahead of the national interest,” said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and a National Security Council spokesman under Obama.
Neither the Trump campaign, which organized the fundraising dinner, nor the Trump Organization, which handled the birthday party, responded to HuffPost queries.
The Trump Organization, the profits of which flow entirely to a trust benefiting only Trump, appeared to continue collecting fees for buildings it manages and keeping its golf courses and hotels open to the extent possible under local closure orders.
According to a report by Spectrum News NY1, residents of a luxury apartment building in Manhattan were asked for April’s monthly fees early because of the coronavirus and warned that late payments would be subject to penalties.
And while many Trump resorts ― such as Doral near the Miami airport ― were ultimately forced to close, the golf club in Sterling for which the Secret Service rented the carts remains open. On Thursday morning, it posted a photo of a tee along the Potomac River with the message: “The perfect social distancing view and sport at @trumpgolfdc!”
While many public parks in Virginia have closed following Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive orders, private courses are not required to shut down, so long as groups do not gather in numbers exceeding 10 and clubhouses and restaurants on site are not open.
“He’s a hindrance to the effort,” said Juliette Kayyem, who helped handle the responses to the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak and the British Petroleum oil spill in Obama’s Department of Homeland Security and now lectures on emergency management at Harvard College. “To be successful, we should stop hoping he changes and start figuring out fail-safe systems to protect ourselves and minimize harm.”
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