BEDMINSTER, N.J. — With winter over and Palm Beach’s tanned snowbirds departing for the season, President Trump decamped for a long weekend here at another of his favorite properties: a secluded golf club in New Jersey’s fox-hunt and horse country.
In his young presidency, Trump has already spent seven weekends at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, which his staff — and some taxpayer-paid employees at the State Department — have dubbed the “Winter White House.”
In a shift in travel habits, Trump is now expected to head for getaways to this 8,200-person township about 45 miles west of New York City where his daughter, Ivanka, got married and which some here are already calling “Camp David North.”
On a dreary, rainy Friday not at all conducive to playing golf, Trump stayed out of the public eye. Even plans to release a photo of him signing a bill to keep the government open through September didn’t materialize.
But the low-key day — which a staffer said included “meetings and calls” — didn’t quell the brewing controversy over the cost of the president’s weekend travel habits.
The Democratic National Committee was among those to ding Trump on Friday for the added expenses of travel and Secret Service protection, claiming that “while Trump wastes taxpayer dollars to promote his brand, millions of Americans sit in fear of losing their coverage from his disastrous health-care bill.”
That was a reference to Thursday’s House passage, after multiple fits and starts, of a Trump-backed bill. Trump celebrated with GOP lawmakers in the Rose Garden and then headed to a dinner gala in New York with the Australian prime minister before traveling to Trump National Golf Club here with his entourage, which included the first lady, Melania Trump.
“Rather than causing a big disruption in N.Y.C., I will be working out of my home in Bedminster, N.J. this weekend,” President Trump wrote on Twitter on Friday morning, adding: “Also saves country money!”
Asked by a reporter back in Washington if it wouldn’t save more money to work out of the White House, principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump was “trying to save the taxpayers money the best way he can.”
“The bottom line is the president’s the president, no matter where he goes, and he doesn’t get to control the level of cost and security that may come along with that,” she said.
As with the Palm Beach trips, the cost of local security associated with Trump’s visits have become an issue. Bedminster Township calculated that an anticipated seven visits this season by Trump would cost about $300,000 — the equivalent of 3.5 percent of its entire budget, according to Mayor Steven Parker (R). He said that he has been assured there is money for reimbursement in the spending bill Trump signed Friday, which also includes more than $60 million for reimbursing localities in Florida and New York.
On the whole, Trump’s travel here could prove less disruptive than in more densely populated South Florida.
“We’re very rural, we’ve got not a lot of people per square mile, at least where the golf club is,” Parker said.
Only a few “well-behaved” protesters greeted Trump upon his arrival Thursday night, Parker said, explaining that part of that has to do with geography: Trump’s golf club sits off a two-lane road without a shoulder and it, like many of the township’s sprawling farms and estates, can’t be seen by motorists.
“It’s not really conducive for protests,” Parker said.
Trump’s club sits on the former estate of failed automaker John DeLorean. Trump bought it out of bankruptcy in 2002 and developed the property and neighboring parcels.
The Trump family has summered at the club for years. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — now both senior White House aides — were married there in 2009.
Trump once said he would like to be buried there, and the Trump Organization has obtained local approvals for a large graveyard selling plots to the public, as well as a small family plot.
Trump “is somebody that we’re very familiar with, and by and large, people have a positive view of the golf course and the family,” Parker said, adding that the golf course is the second-largest taxpayer in the township.
The club abuts Interstate 78, where passing cars can see the course’s large American flag. The club has two golf courses, tennis courts, a pool and a clubhouse. Trump and several members of his family own houses on the property.
In recent weeks, The Washington Post spoke to people who had inquired about membership in the club. They were quoted initiation fees between $75,000 and $100,000, in addition to $22,100 in annual dues, according to written correspondence between the club and prospective members.
That’s less than the entrance fee at Mar-a-Lago, which recently doubled to $200,000, according to media reports. But it still makes Bedminster one of the most expensive clubs in Trump’s chain of branded resorts.
One club with a higher initiation fee, according to interviews with those who have inquired recently, is Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. At that club, which is near Mar-a-Lago, officials have quoted a price of $150,000, according to correspondence with a prospective member.
The roughly 425 members of the Bedminster club seem to be drawn largely from the New Jersey suburbs of New York City, including a number of people from the financial-services sector.
Media reports have indicated that the brother of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) — Todd, a financial executive — is a member. A recent club brochure listed former New York Jets football player Nick Mangold as one. In 2010, the New York Post reported that Mark Sanchez — another former Jet — was actually living in a home on the property.
While this weekend is Trump’s first time at the club since becoming president, he visited during the transition and held interviews there for several positions in his administration. On an audiotape of Trump interacting with members obtained by The Post, he can be heard soliciting their opinions for some positions.
“It’s a very important period of time,” Trump told the group.
The township of Bedminster has traditionally voted Republican. However, in last year’s election against Hillary Clinton, it was closer than usual: He prevailed 2,258 to 2,250 — a margin of just eight votes.
Fahrenthold reported from Washington. Amy Brittain and Drew Harwell in Washington contributed to this report.