President Donald Trump would like to interrupt his vacation to deliver the following message: Don’t call this a vacation.
The president has decamped from Washington to his private golf club in central New Jersey. But he has repeatedly pushed back on the idea that this is a relaxing August getaway, posting on Twitter over the weekend: “this is not a vacation - meetings and calls!”
Trump’s aides are referring to the 17-day break as a “working vacation.” They say Trump is meeting with advisers and cabinet members to discuss policy. He is expected to go to New York City next week. On Tuesday, he’ll attend a meeting on the opioid crisis. On Monday, he had nothing on his public schedule. Aides declined to answer repeated questions about whether he is playing golf.
Early Tuesday, Trump touted his plans for the day on Twitter, saying “I will be holding a major briefing on the Opioid crisis, a major problem for our country.”
Still, the only sighting of Trump since he landed in New Jersey was a video that surfaced online Saturday of the president greeting wedding guests at his club. Dressed in a golf shirt and a red “Make America Great Again” hat, Trump exited a golf cart to chat with the guests.
So far, the main proof Trump is not off the clock is his steady flow of Twitter comments, particularly Monday, when rain likely kept him indoors. Throughout the day he pushed out messages touting his supporters, attacking Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal and highlighting a vote by the United Nations Security Council to slap more sanctions on North Korea.
“Working hard from New Jersey while White House goes through long planned renovation,” he said, referring to White House updates underway, including the replacement of a West Wing heating and cooling system.
Getting out of Washington in the dog days of summer is a well-established presidential tradition. President George W. Bush enjoyed his Texas ranch, while President Barack Obama frequented Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. President Ronald Reagan went out to Santa Barbara, California.
Of course, the president never really leaves the job, traveling with a mini-White House of advisers and aides and continuing briefings and conversations wherever he goes.
While there is precedent for Trump to get a change of scenery, the president may be chafing at calling it vacation because he frequently slammed his predecessor for leaving town and for playing golf. In August 2011, Trump tweeted: “@BarackObama played golf yesterday. Now he heads to a 10 day vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. Nice work ethic.”
“President Trump is hyper-sensitive about the word ‘vacation’ because he hammered President Obama for so long for taking it,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University. Brinkley added that presidents are “always having to work. Hence the phrase ‘working vacation.’”
So far, Trump has spent 13 of 28 weekends in office away from the White House, mostly at his properties in Palm Beach, Florida, or in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to an Associated Press count. The figures include a weekend during official travel overseas, and Father’s Day weekend at Camp David, the government-owned presidential retreat in Maryland.
Anita McBride, who served as Laura Bush’s chief of staff, agreed that the White House travels with the president. She said getting out of Washington has benefits, recalling President George W. Bush’s love of cycling and other activities at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
“That’s where he recharged his batteries,” she said. “Any of us who have worked in the White House really understands the need for getting away.”
The real world often intrudes on these summer presidential getaways.
In 1998, Clinton briefly came back to Washington from Martha’s Vineyard to deal with missile attacks in Sudan and Afghanistan. Reagan came home early from a California vacation in 1983 after Korean Airlines Flight 007 was shot down in by a Soviet fighter jet. In 2005, George W. Bush was criticized for not cutting off his vacation after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
Brinkley recalled a series of serious events that intruded on Obama’s summer breaks, including the beheading of journalist James Foley by Islamic State militants in 2014 and Syria’s chemical weapons use in 2013.
“Things happen when presidents are away,” said Brinkley. “Every August you have something horrific that’s going to happen.”