The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why ‘executive time’ is a particularly bleak scoop about President Trump

President Trump sometimes seems to miss his "other life" before becoming commander-in-chief. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

For the past week, all of Washington has been chewing over Michael Wolff's new book about President Trump and trying to assess which damning conclusions are actually true. But one of the bleakest scoops about Trump popped up elsewhere on Sunday night.

Axios's Jonathan Swan reports that Trump has significantly curtailed his official schedule as president — to the point where his first meeting is often held at 11 a.m., and he spends almost the whole morning in his White House residence -- rather than the West Wing or the Oval Office -- watching TV, tweeting and making phone calls. That chunk of his day, generally between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., is dubbed “executive time," a phrase that is bound to become the butt of plenty of jokes. Trump then has other periods of “executive time” sprinkled in throughout his official work schedule, which is usually between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. (Nice work if you can get it. And a short commute, too!)

The idea that Trump spends plenty of time on nonofficial pursuits isn't completely groundbreaking. A simple perusal of Trump's Twitter feed shows how much time he spends prosecuting feuds and responding to things he has clearly seen on TV, and it has been reported that being president hasn't been a particularly joyful pursuit for Trump.

But the extent to which he is not engaged in the very serious matters of being president has never been so firmly quantified. As the New York Times's Maggie Haberman noted in response to Swan's piece, the White House has bristled at such questions and lashed out at the New York Times for suggesting Trump watched four to eight hours of TV in a given day.

Notably, Sarah Huckabee Sanders's response to Swan's story doesn't exactly read like an ironclad denial. Instead, she insists that Trump conducts at least some official business during his morning routine, which she concedes includes time in the residence.

“The time in the morning is a mix of residence time and Oval Office time but he always has calls with staff, Hill members, cabinet members and foreign leaders during this time,” Sanders told Swan. “The president is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen and puts in long hours and long days nearly every day of the week all year long. It has been noted by reporters many times that they wish he would slow down because they sometimes have trouble keeping up with him.”

It's 100 percent true that the Trump presidency can be exhausting, but it's mostly because of Trump's penchant for controversy, which he often stokes through his Twitter feed during off-hours. And Trump's Twitter habit only seems to have increased as a portion of his day in recent weeks.

Trump's TV habit: How a cable news diet leads to tweet after tweet (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

And the reason Swan's scoop paints such a bleak picture of Trump is because it suggests he's not particularly interested in the official duties of being president. Whatever you think about Trump's policies or his fitness for the job, the job requires one to be fully engaged, to be processing information (preferably from sources other than cable news), and to always be, for lack of a better word, on. The idea that Trump doesn't take his daily intelligence briefing until 11 a.m. is shocking just by itself. And whoever leaked his official schedules to Swan seems to be concerned that Trump just isn't up to the job right now.

It also is completely counter to Trump's brand and the promises he made on the campaign trail. Trump said he wouldn't really take time off as president. “I would rarely leave the White House, because there’s so much work to be done,” he told the Hill newspaper in June 2015. He added in January 2016: “Somebody says, 'Why don't you take a vacation before you become president?' I said because I like doing this.” (As with Sanders's statement, the White House insists Trump is working even when he's at Mar-a-Lago or at his property in New Jersey.)

The question increasingly is what “this” is. And judging by the Axios report, “this” is increasingly spending time outside the Oval Office, watching TV and tweeting. It suggests that, relative to past inhabitants of the Oval Office, we truly do have a part-time president.