On Tuesday night, there was a conference honoring top donors of the Heritage Foundation, filling the main ballroom. On Wednesday, there was a National Day celebration for the Kingdom of Bahrain. And next week, there will be a Hanukkah Party hosted by Jewish leaders and the Embassy of Azerbaijan.
Although Barack Obama remains president until Jan. 20, the political winds in Washington have shifted, and they are blowing business into the expansive ballroom at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Donald Trump’s D.C. hotel.
Although Trump apparently sold his public stock positions over the summer, the president-elect remains the majority owner of the $212 million hotel as it does business with foreign diplomats and lobbying groups. Ethics experts say the arrangement constitutes a conflict of interest and may violate the Constitution when Trump becomes president.
Trump says his grown children will run his companies by then.
But for now, the D.C. business is good, something Trump told the New York Times last month, saying the hotel “will be probably a more valuable asset now than it was before, okay? The brand is certainly a hotter brand than it was before.”
After the election, the hotel’s general manager, Mickael Damelincourt, said the entire building was booked for the inauguration festivities. “We have no space. I wish my hotel was 10 times bigger for that weekend,” he said.
No numbers are available, but business beyond the Jan. 20 inaugural appears to be picking up as well.
The President’s Club event for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative D.C. think tank, featured a keynote speech from Vice President-elect Mike Pence and enough $1,000 donors to fill the hotel’s 13,200-square-foot “Presidential Ballroom.”
The Embassy of Bahrain held its National Day celebration there Wednesday afternoon to mark “the forty fifth national day of the Kingdom of Bahrain and the seventeenth anniversary of his majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s accession to the throne,” according to a copy of the invitation obtained by Politico.
Doing business with the Bahraini government drew sharp criticism from Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). He wrote Trump on Monday saying Bahrain “is widely recognized as an increasingly repressive monarchy that has repeatedly imprisoned and tortured peaceful critics” and asking him to reconsider his business dealings with the Bahraini and other foreign governments.
That letter follows others written by congressional Democrats to the General Services Administration, which owns the building where the hotel is located, to address potential conflicts of interest that could arise once Trump becomes president. The agency says it will work with the Trump Organization to address any potential issues.
Officials for the Trump Organization have repeatedly said the hotel will follow all applicable rules and regulations, and so far there are no signs of a change in course.
On Dec. 14, the Embassy of Azerbaijan — a nation where a five-star Trump-branded hotel sits unfinished — plans to host a Hanukkah at the D.C. hotel with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an advocacy group working to strengthen U.S.-Israeli relations, as reported earlier by the Jerusalem Post.
Malcolm Hoenlein, chief executive of the Jewish group, told the Associated Press that the event had nothing to do with gaining Trump’s favor.
“Until January 20, he’s a private citizen so I don’t think the conflict issue comes in,” Hoenlein said. He added, “Do you think the president-elect knows who rents rooms for two hours?”
Business at Trump’s hotel has drawn attention and probably some income from luxury competitors, according to the District’s top marketing and tourism official, Elliott Ferguson.
“I think they would be doing well anyway for the inauguration because of its location, right there on Pennsylvania Avenue,” said Ferguson, president and chief executive of Destination DC. “But I do think we’ve seen some of the other [hotels] in the city feeling the effects to some degree.”
Some recent clients of the hotel hold conservative positions that may align with Trump’s. One of the first groups to hold an event there after the election was the Young America’s Foundation, which aims to inspire youth to support individual freedom, strong national defense, free enterprise and “traditional values.”
The group held its annual banquet for about 300 students there Nov. 12, said Emily Jashinsky, the group’s spokeswoman. She said the plans were made about a year earlier, before the hotel was open. Among the foundation’s most important political issues is protecting free speech on campus, and she said she hoped the Trump administration would be supportive.
“We would love to see President-elect Trump facilitating free speech on college campuses A lot of our students’ speech is silenced on a daily basis. Anything the president-elect can to address that we would welcome,” she said.
Ethics experts have raised concerns that Trump could use the presidency to provide favors or assistance to clients or partners of his company, but Jashinsky said she had no expectation that holding an event at Trump’s hotel might curry any kind support from his administration.
“We hope that’s an issue he will tackle because he’s interested in it,” she said.
If staying in a Trump property has become a political statement, so, too, has deciding not to stay at one. The Cleveland Cavaliers became the fourth NBA team to dodge a stay at a Trump property when several members of the team, including LeBron James, opted out of a reservation at Trump Soho in New York this week. The team made other accommodations.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz