For Trump — who has responded to accusations that he profits from the presidency by claiming that he is instead losing billions — the explanation was met with a predictable mix of praise, skepticism and surprise.
“I’m sure the haters will enjoy making fun, but I’ve personally witnessed @realDonaldTrump tip basically everyone in existence while playing golf, eating meals etc.,” Doug Stafford, chief political strategist for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), tweeted Thursday. “It is a nice gesture that I’m quite positive is not often done by people in anywhere near his position.”
Former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman said her experience with Trump, dating back to 2003, was quite different.
“I have never seen Donald Trump tip,” said Manigault Newman, who had a falling out with the president after she was fired last year. “I can honestly tell you, I’ve never seen him tip.”
The episode on Air Force One stands out as a rare instance in which Trump revealed something new about his personal habits, telling reporters that he doesn’t carry a wallet or credit cards and instead keeps a loose wad of cash in his back pocket for tipping purposes. Presidents have long been scrutinized over how they treat the servers, waiters and maids they come across, as voters analyze the brief interactions between the country’s most powerful person and the low-wage workers they represent.
Whether presidents leave a tip — and how much they give — is often viewed as a tangible signal of how they view the country’s working class.
There’s some evidence that Trump’s willingness to occasionally hand out cash to his employees existed long before he became president.
Workers at Trump’s golf clubs — including many undocumented immigrants — have said Trump handed out tips from $20 to $200 to employees he encountered as a businessman. The housekeepers who cleaned Trump’s villa at his Bedminster golf course in New Jersey noted that he kept stacks of $20, $50 and $100 bills on his nightstand for that purpose.
In 2016, Trump’s former butler at his Mar-a-Lago resort told the New York Times that Trump would regularly take out a wad of cash from his pocket and give $100 bills to his groundskeepers.
“You’re a Hispanic and you’re in here trimming the trees and everything, and a guy walks up and hands you a hundred dollars,” said the butler, Anthony Senecal. “And they love him, not for that, they just love him.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who worked on Trump’s campaign, said Trump made sure to leave a tip behind at the hotels where he stayed in 2016.
“I remember when I was on the campaign he was always diligent about tipping housekeeping staff at hotels and it struck me how considerate that was,” Grisham said.
But evidence of the president’s miserliness also abounds.
Over the years, several contractors have sued him for not paying them, a business strategy Trump proudly touted in his 1987 book, “The Art of the Deal.”
“You have to be very rough and very tough with most contractors or they’ll take the shirt right off your back,” Trump wrote in the book.
Trump’s longtime personal driver, Noel Cintron, filed a lawsuit against Trump’s company last year alleging he was owed more than $200,000 in unpaid overtime wages. Cintron said he worked for Trump for more than 20 years and received a raise only twice. He alleged in the lawsuit that he worked more than 3,000 overtime hours for which he was not paid. The Trump Organization denied any wrongdoing, saying last year that Cintron was paid generously for his services.
Timothy O’Brien, a Trump biographer and executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion who is critical of the president, said Trump may have become more generous over time.
“Among hotel workers in Atlantic City, back when he was running things down there, he was considered a cheap tipper,” O’Brien said. “I’ve heard, anecdotally, that in his later years, at some of the hotels he operates in D.C. and New York, he’s become a more generous tipper.”
The president’s critics say that even if he leaves tips to help individual workers, his broader policy agenda is harmful to those trying to make ends meet. For example, Trump has opposed raising the federal minimum wage, and last year his Labor Department proposed a regulation to allow restaurant owners to pocket the tips of their workers.
Seeking to boost public awareness of Trump’s tipping practices, the Trump campaign blasted out a tweet Thursday highlighting news coverage of the president’s comments.
Former president Barack Obama’s tipping also garnered media interest. In 2013, Obama left a 52 percent tip while dining at an Upstate New York diner, according to the website TMZ, which obtained a copy of the receipt.
Trump seemed to be in a good mood Wednesday aboard Air Force One as he talked to reporters about his tipping. He was enamored by the photo that captured the $20 bills peeking out of his back pocket as the wind whipped up his suit jacket.
“I do! I do!” Trump said when asked if he regularly carries cash. He took a wad of bills out of his pocket showed it to reporters.
“Boy, that’s a good picture,” he said. “Hey, I’d like a piece of that picture.”
David A. Fahrenthold and Ashley Parker contributed to this report.