As Hurricanes Harvey and Irma approached Texas and Florida, President Trump spent his weekends either at Camp David or at the White House, participating in the coordination of preparations and helping guide the government’s response. Those were massive storms, drowning one of the largest cities in the country and threatening South Florida. But neither appears to have led to the sort of catastrophe or death toll that the nation saw after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Trump enjoyed the rewards of that limited impact, with a small uptick in his poll numbers and polling showing that most Americans think he handled the crisis well. So, for the first time in a month, he decided to spend last weekend at one of his private clubs, the one in Bedminster, N.J.
This was three days after Hurricane Maria obliterated Puerto Rico, and the effects of the storm were already obvious. But not, apparently, to Trump.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that Trump’s time at Bedminster contributed to the administration’s slow response to the disaster in Puerto Rico — a misfire that’s already been compared unfavorably to George W. Bush’s historic blunder in responding to Katrina.
From that report:
Trump jetted to New Jersey that Thursday night to spend a long weekend at his private golf club there, save for a quick trip to Alabama for a political rally. Neither Trump nor any of his senior White House aides said a word publicly about the unfolding crisis. … Administration officials would not say whether the president spoke with any other top officials involved in the storm response while in Bedminster, N.J.
Even though local officials had said publicly as early as Sept. 20, the day of the storm, that the island was “destroyed,” the sense of urgency didn’t begin to penetrate the White House until Monday, when images of the utter destruction and desperation — and criticism of the administration’s response — began to appear on television, one senior administration official said.
It was the president’s second weekend in a row at Bedminster, having traveled there mid-month to attend the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York (for which he stayed at Trump Tower). He spent three weekends in August at Bedminster for his vacation, then three weekends at the White House and Camp David where he focused on Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, and then two weekends (three, counting this weekend) back at Bedminster.
Those three weekends focused on the storms were the first time in his presidency that he spent three consecutive weekends solely at the White House or Camp David.
The administration appears to have been caught unprepared for Maria. There was ample warning that a major hurricane was bearing down on Puerto Rico, with a projected path that took it directly across the island’s most populated areas.
But the White House didn’t send additional resources in advance and was slow to get geared up afterward. Correlation is not causation, but Trump was present in Washington for the successful responses to Harvey and Irma and away at Bedminster during the response to Maria.
What was Trump doing on those days? The Post reported that he had at least one major staff meeting — focused on his immigration ban. The club is private, and the media isn’t given access to the president when he’s there, so it’s hard to say. We’ll note, though, that’s he has in the past often been known to play golf while spending the weekend at his golf clubs. (See chart at the bottom of this post. On average, Trump has visited one of his private properties one out of every three days he’s been in office and played golf once every five days.)
It’s worth noting that even Trump’s tweets were more restrained while he was at Camp David and the White House. Apparently respecting the gravity of the situation, he avoided the sort of petty social-media squabbles with which we are now all so familiar. Last weekend, though, they began again, with Trump kicking off his week-long feud with protesting NFL players after mentioning it at a rally in Alabama the preceding Friday. He mentioned Puerto Rico at that rally only in passing — two days after Maria made landfall.
On Saturday morning, Trump woke up and immediately took to Twitter to send a message to the mayor of San Juan. The message was not one meant to convey how the administration would leave no stone unturned in its efforts to aid the afflicted island, though. Instead, it was to take issue with the frustration the mayor had expressed to the media about the slow response.
Trump tweet, in other words, was turning the disaster into another social-media feud. He sent it shortly after he woke up at his private golf club in Bedminster.