WASHINGTON — Is it worse to disappoint your rich, dues-paying club members who have shelled out $1,000 a ticket to mingle with you at your Palm Beach resort’s New Year’s Eve party?
Or to attend and have photographs taken of your Secret Service detail protecting you amid the Champagne and caviar while they worry about their next paycheck?
Such are the horns of the dilemma President Donald Trump faces in the coming days because of the partial government shutdown he forced in an attempt to get billions of American taxpayer dollars to build his border wall — a border wall that he originally promised Mexico would pay for.
“For any normal president, travel to Mar-a-Lago would be completely out of the question,” said Norm Eisen, who was a White House ethics lawyer under President Barack Obama and is now chairman of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “But then, any normal president would not be operating a for-profit resort to benefit himself, selling memberships at that resort to those with special interests before his White House and then squeezing extra money out of those people for a New Year’s Eve party.”
Whether Trump winds up going to Florida is not known and perhaps — given his track record — not knowable until the party is underway. First lady Melania Trump flew to Palm Beach via Air Force jet Thursday, and his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both White House advisers, were spotted there earlier in the week.
Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, told Fox News on Friday morning that the president would remain in Washington. “He’s canceled his plans for Christmas. Now he’s canceled his plans for New Year’s,” Mulvaney said.
At the same time, though, Mulvaney and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the shutdown is continuing into its second week only because House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would endanger her expected return to the speakership if she cut a deal with Trump before that election on Jan. 3.
“For any normal president, travel to Mar-a-Lago would be completely out of the question. But then, any normal president would not be operating a for-profit resort to benefit himself, selling memberships at that resort to those with special interests before his White House and then squeezing extra money out of those people for a New Year’s Eve party.”
“Nancy Pelosi is only looking to protect her speakership, and not protect our borders,” Sanders told CBS News.
That coordinated messaging could be laying the groundwork for Trump’s eventual travel to Mar-a-Lago in time to attend his party, with the rationale that he can just as effectively wait for Pelosi to become speaker in Florida as he can in Washington.
“We shouldn’t be amazed by anything,” said Eisen, whose group is suing to get access to Mar-a-Lago’s visitor logs. “One thing we have learned from Trump is that he defies the conventional wisdom even when it’s completely self-destructive.”
Pelosi’s office, meanwhile, ridiculed the White House’s attempt to blame her. “Democrats are united against the president’s immoral, ineffective and expensive wall — the wall that he specifically promised that Mexico would pay for,” said Pelosi aide Drew Hammill. “Democrats have made it clear that, given that the president has changed his position so many times, we would not consider any offers from the White House that the president has not publicly endorsed. While we await the president’s public proposal, Democrats have made it clear that, under a House Democratic majority, we will vote swiftly to reopen government on Day One.”
The U.S. Secret Service is among the agencies whose funding ran out at midnight Dec. 21. About a quarter of the federal government is in that category, affecting some 800,000 employees in all — half of whom were furloughed, while the other half, deemed essential, must work anyway. Neither group will see another paycheck until Trump has signed legislation that resumes funding.
Those without enough savings on hand will be forced to borrow to pay the bills in the meantime. Trump’s Office of Personnel Management, in fact, issued some pointers to employees facing trouble, such as performing maintenance chores “in exchange for partial rent payments.”
Trump promised during his campaign that he would remove himself from his family business if he was elected, but reneged on that before he took office. He continues to personally profit from the hotels and golf courses he owns, including ones he frequents in Bedminster, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.
Mar-a-Lago, his bayfront resort in Palm Beach, doubled its initiation fee from $100,000 to $200,000 after his election. Annual dues will rise about $1,000 next year, to $16,000, according to a report in The Palm Beach Post.
Tickets to his members-and-guests-only New Year’s Eve party have also gotten much pricier. In 2016 they were $525 each for members and $575 for their guests. Those prices jumped to $600 and $750 last year, and $650 and $1,000 for Monday night’s party. And those amounts do not include a mandatory 20 percent gratuity and 7 percent sales tax.
The Secret Service has already spent $54,020 renting tents for use at the party, according to a report in Quartz. They are typically used as shelters where agents can screen guests before they enter the grounds.
At a similar party at the resort early in Trump’s presidency, a guest photographed and posted to social media the aide who accompanies Trump and carries codes for nuclear war plans as well as a dinner table meeting of Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the time North Korea had just test-fired a missile.
The White House later claimed that no classified information was discussed at the meeting.
Trump’s White House had indicated he would sign a short-term spending bill to keep the government open through Feb. 8. But he changed his mind after Fox News and talk radio hosts criticized him for caving on his campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In reality, Trump had claimed many hundreds of times that he would force Mexico to pay for such a wall, but he abandoned that part of the promise almost immediately upon taking office. He persuaded House leaders last week to insert $5.7 billion in unspecified border security money into the short-term spending extension that the Senate had already passed unanimously. But not even a majority of the Senate voted for the revised version of that bill, let alone the 60 it would need for passage.