The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A hastily called news conference caps a surreal day for Trump in South Florida

During a joint news conference on Saturday, Feb. 11, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned North Korea's missile launch and President Trump said the U.S. (Video: AP)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — It was, in many respects, a surreal day in South Florida. It started with President Trump high-fiving Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a Trump-branded golf course at a morning event that the media was kept from witnessing.

It ended with Trump summoning the same reporters to another Trump-owned property, where the president put on another display of friendship for Abe: a pledge at a late-night news conference to stand by Japan “100 percent” in the wake of North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch.

The hastily called news conference at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate was the third event during Abe’s visit Saturday to showcase a palm tree-lined Trump property.

The golf enjoyed by the two leaders (and golfing pro Ernie Els) took place at the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla. From there, Trump and Abe were whisked by motorcade to Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., where they had lunch (and by some accounts, got in some more golf).

North Korea fires ballistic missile, first since Trump elected in U.S.

In this cellphone video obtained by The Washington Post, President Trump is seen playing golf at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., on Saturday, Feb. 11 at a morning event that the media was kept from witnessing. (Video: Obtained by The Washington Post)

The pair then returned to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate in Palm Beach, where Abe and his wife spent the weekend with Trump and his wife, Melania.

A couple of hours later, the news media were led through the gates of Trump’s estate and allowed to witness the two couples standing at the main entrance of the property for what was billed as a photo spray. Reporters, who were asked not to shout questions, did so anyway.

Trump and Abe hit the fairways — largely out of public view — at a Trump golf club in Florida

Trump answered some of them, allowing that he and Abe were having a “very, very good” visit and that during the golf outing, “we got to know each other very, very well.”

But the president ignored several other questions, including whether he planned to watch “Saturday Night Live” and whether he had anything to say about reports of a ballistic missile launched by North Korea — the first such provocation during Trump’s presidency.

At that point, the press corps traveling with Trump was whisked back to the Marriott hotel that has served as its home base for the weekend. Trump aides called a “lid,” meaning there were no more planned Trump appearance or travels for the night.

About an hour later, after many of members of the media had decamped to the hotel bar or ventured out for their first real meal of the day, a Trump aide sent an “URGENT” message saying the press pool needed to reassemble immediately for unstated reasons. It turned out Trump did have something to say about North Korea.

Trump targeted Japan during the campaign. Now its prime minister is embracing the new president.

Reporters were then taken back to a heavily secured yet bustling Mar-a-Lago. Despite its designation by Trump as his “winter White House,” other events continue to be held on the property.

On Saturday, as Trump and Abe spoke about North Korea, a wedding reception was in full swing in a building less than 50 yards away connected by a walkway and canopy.

The news conference was staged in an ornate room, with chandeliers overhead. Shortly before Trump and Abe emerged, faint music could be heard — either from the wedding reception or elsewhere in the building where the two leaders would appear with the U.S. and Japanese flags behind them.

The joint appearance lasted barely two minutes.

Abe spoke in Japanese, and his words were translated by an aide to the side.

Among the points he made:

  • “North Korea’s most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable.”
  • “North Korea must fully comply with the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
  • “During the summit meeting that I had with President Trump, he assured me that the United States will always [be with] Japan 100 percent, and to demonstrate his determination as well as commitment, he is here with me at this joint press conference.”

Trump then took his turn at the lectern, offering this brief statement:

“I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.”

Trump made no mention of South Korea, another U.S. ally in the region, nor did he explicitly condemn North Korea's action.

The two men exited the room without taking questions.

As reporters were ushered out, another “lid” was called, ending a long day of Trump movements. All that was left was the latest episode of “Saturday Night Live,” in which actor Alec Baldwin continued to lampoon the new president.