PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump kicked off his holiday break Friday by signing the tax bill into law before heading to Florida to stay at his Mar-a-Lago Club through New Year's Day — an opportunity to escape Washington and spend time with friends and family before embarking on the second year of his presidency.
Trump exited Air Force One early Friday afternoon in a cheerful mood — waving, fist-pumping, giving a thumbs-up and mingling for about 20 minutes with supporters who greeted him with pro-Trump signs on the tarmac at Palm Beach International Airport.
Trump's arrival here comes at a high point in his presidency. He scored his first major legislative victory this week with passage of the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package, which came at the end of a tumultuous year marked by a chaotic West Wing operation and continuing investigations into Russia's meddling in the 2016 elections.
"It's going to be a tremendous thing for the American people," Trump said of the tax bill in the Oval Office Friday morning. "It's going to be fantastic for the economy."
Polls have shown the bill is unpopular, but Trump and congressional Republicans argue that Americans will view it more favorably once they start to see savings in their paychecks.
Mar-a-Lago has often been a refuge for Trump — his aides have dubbed it the “Winter White House” — and this will be his 10th trip to the club during his presidency.
His stay here is expected to mostly be filled with rest and relaxation. But armed with his Twitter feed, Trump rarely stays quiet even when away from Washington. The White House declined to discuss the president’s plans and whether he will conduct official business or hold any meetings during his stay.
Trump usually attends the Christmas Eve service at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea, a short drive from Mar-a-Lago. It’s the church where he and first lady Melania Trump were married in 2005 and where his youngest son, Barron, was christened.
Trump also usually attends the annual black-tie New Year’s Eve party at the club, which reportedly has been hiking ticket prices for the event.
The first lady and Barron arrived here earlier in the week, according to the Palm Beach Daily News. Donald Trump Jr. also arrived in West Palm Beach earlier this week, giving a speech at a young conservatives conference. Eric Trump and his wife, Lara, were also seen at the club this week, according to news reports. It is unclear whether the president’s adult children plan to stay here through the holidays.
Last year, as president-elect, Trump hosted a Christmas dinner at Mar-a-Lago with family, including his two sisters, and guests, said Shannon Donnelly, the society editor for the Palm Beach Daily News. Trump used to walk the room to mingle with guests, she said, but now he asks his aides to bring select guests by his table, out of security concerns. Trump likes to play an early golf game on Christmas Day, according to Donnelly.
“He’s pretty much just like any businessman on vacation at his summer home, except his business is the United States of America,” Donnelly said.
Much like past presidents, Trump is expected to use the holiday vacation as a respite from politics and Washington, and a chance to decompress from the pressures of the Oval Office.
President Barack Obama often visited Hawaii, where he was raised, to relax on the beach with his family and play golf. Ronald Reagan escaped to ride horses at his Rancho del Cielo just outside Santa Barbara, Calif. President George H.W. Bush vacationed at his family’s compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. George W. Bush and Lyndon B. Johnson retreated to their respective ranches in Texas over the holidays.
But unlike those of his predecessors, Trump’s vacation draws attention — and controversy — to his family business, which still bears his name.
“In a sense, it becomes a brand promotion opportunity,” said Matt Dallek, presidential historian at George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. “It’s like he’s touting his own private enterprise and using the vast reach of the presidency to promote a particular brand and enrich his family.”
Trump’s “Winter White House” is a members-only club built in the 1920s and purchased by Trump in 1985. Mar-a-Lago, which translates to “sea to lake” in Spanish, is a 17-acre estate located between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth.
Trump delegated the running of his businesses to his two oldest sons when he became president. But he still owns the business, and critics have said his constant presence at his properties, such as Mar-a-Lago and his golf clubs, ultimately promotes his brand and poses a conflict of interest.
Although many of his previous visits to his club as president were unceremonious weekend getaways, some led to controversy — most notably, turning the dining terrace into an impromptu situation room when he was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February. Members and guests observed a national security meeting unfold over dinner, as Trump and Abe received news of a North Korean missile test and prepared for a joint news conference.
Throughout Trump's first year in office, the social scene at his private club shifted to take on a more political tone. The Washington Post found that Mar-a-Lago has lost much of its traditional base of charities holding fundraising events at the club, and now hosts more political fundraisers and events by pro-Trump groups and allies.
Just days before Trump's arrival at the club, for instance, Trump campaign economic adviser Stephen Moore held a speech at Mar-a-Lago touting the tax overhaul plan to the 200 members of the World Affairs Council, according to Palm Beach Daily News.
Mar-a-Lago is filled with friendly faces for Trump, and many in the wealthy crowd of members and guests will probably benefit from the just-enacted tax cuts.
“It’s more of a Republican town, so I’m sure in Palm Beach, most people probably like that idea” of the tax bill, said Jeff Greene, a billionaire real estate investor and Mar-a-Lago member. As a Democrat, Greene said he doesn’t agree with all of the provisions in the bill.
“In every way, I’m a huge beneficiary in the near term,” Greene said. “In the long term, my view is we have to figure out a way to take care of everybody in the country. This is why I’m a Democrat and he’s a Republican.”
But Greene has no plans to bring up politics at the club.
“I’m going to say, ‘Congratulations,’ like you would to any president,” Greene said. “Nobody is going to Mar-a-Lago because they love politics. They join to be near the beach and have lunch and play tennis.”