President Donald Trump will spend much of the next two months outside of Washington, untethered from the strictures of daily White House life as he weighs a shakeup of his administration and faces new developments in the Russia investigation after Tuesday’s election.
Trump delights in decamping to his properties, especially Mar-a-Lago, his private Florida club, where he is expected to spend the upcoming holidays. The trips give him more time to bounce ideas off outside allies and friends without the regimentation of even his loose daily White House schedule, which he increasingly bristles against.
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But White House aides and outside advisers acknowledge privately that Trump is often more impulsive when he’s on the road and out of sight of senior staffers.
“He’s more free and liberated there. He’s able to do more things according to his style, on his own timetable — more like he did in the private sector,” a former White House official said. “He doesn’t have the same guardrails.”
Between now and January, Trump will spend little time at the White House, according to aides. In addition to traveling to Paris later this week and to Argentina at the end of the month for the G-20 summit, Trump is expected to pencil in lengthy holiday visits to Mar-a-Lago. His schedule is still being ironed out, and the exact dates of his Mar-a-Lago visits are unclear, aides said.
Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago and his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., have often become opportunities for the president to vent frustrations to his allies, and to get his friends’ opinions about key staffers, from chief of staff John Kelly to newly ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The president has also unleashed some of his most controversial tweets while at his Florida club, including his false allegation that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Mar-a-Lago members have reportedly helped orchestrate key policy decisions, such as how to run the Veterans Affairs Department. The president also announced an April 2017 missile strike on Syria from Mar-a-Lago.
Trump’s out-of-office jaunts come at a precarious moment for the White House. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is expected to again take center stage after going publicly quiet during the midterms, a development that is certain to infuriate the president. Trump already seemed to be returning his attention to Mueller on Wednesday, tweeting about him for the first time since mid-September.
Trump also on Wednesday finally ousted Sessions after grousing about him publicly and privately for months for recusing himself from the Mueller probe. Trump’s choice to serve as acting attorney general — Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker — is now overseeing the investigation. Whitaker wrote a CNN op-ed last year calling on the Justice Department to limit the scope of the probe, causing immediate concern on Capitol Hill that Trump was taking steps to rein in Mueller’s work — long seen as a red line the president could not cross.
Meanwhile, Trump is also poised to soon make crucial decisions that will shape his next two years in office, from staffing to his legislative agenda to his response to the Democratic takeover of the House.
Nervous aides have long been anticipating a post-midterms staff shake-up, both at the White House and at the Cabinet level. Some of the personnel changes will be voluntary: Several senior White House aides are eyeing the exits or making plans to move to Trump’s reelection campaign. But others will likely come at the president’s urging. Trump is weighing the future of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose ethics problems have annoyed many White House aides.
A White House official said it remained unclear what Trump would decide when it comes to personnel shifts, but added that there have been frequent conversations in the West Wing in recent weeks about who is coming and going.
Trump has also telegraphed his desire for a fight with the Democrats — who will soon control the House after Tuesday’s midterm elections — despite his stated willingness to cooperate on bipartisan legislation on issues like infrastructure and the economy. Allies said Trump is increasingly viewing his decisions in raw political terms with an eye toward his own reelection bid in 2020.
Indeed, even as he said during a lengthy news conference on Wednesday that it’s “time to put partisanship aside,” Trump openly weighed the political ramifications of the midterms power shift. Pondering the possible benefits of a war between the newly empowered House Democrats and the White House, Trump quipped, “I could see it being extremely good [for me] politically, because I think I’m better at that game than they are.”
White House aides and outside advisers long ago gave up on trying to control the president, who has now scheduled large blocks of so-called executive time for himself in which he watches cable news and makes phone calls — mimicking the conditions of his trips to Mar-a-Lago.
“He’s going to do what he’s going to do,” another former White House official said. “It’s almost not even worth fretting about something that you have no control over. You cannot micromanage Trump.”
As he neared the end of his second year as president, Trump has also become more confident in his gut instincts, aides and others close to him said, making him much more likely to ignore the advice or warnings or staffers — no matter where he is.
“It’s not as if staff are irrelevant, but especially now, staff just kind of follow the president’s lead,” the first former White House official said. “And I’d expect that to continue regardless of who leaves and who stays.”