By ZEKE MILLER and JILL COLVIN Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Responding to stinging criticism, President Donald Trump has abruptly reversed his plan to hold the next year’s Group of Seven world leaders’ meeting at his Doral golf resort in Florida.
“I think he knows,” his acting chief of staff said Sunday, “people think it looks lousy.”
Trump announced a rare backtrack Saturday night after facing accusations that he was using the presidency to enrich himself by hosting the international summit at the private resort owned by his family.
“Based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility, we will no longer consider Trump National Doral, Miami, as the Host Site for the G-7 in 2020,” Trump tweeted. He said his administration “will begin the search for another site, including the possibility of Camp David, immediately.”
The striking reversal raises further doubts about the position of the president’s top aide, Mick Mulvaney, who held a news conference Thursday announcing the choice of Doral for the summit. He insisted his staff had concluded it was “far and away the best physical facility.” Mulvaney said the White House reached that determination after visiting 10 sites across the country.
Mulvaney on Sunday claimed that Trump was “honestly surprised at the level of pushback” after the Doral announcement. “At the end of the day he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business,” Mulvaney told “Fox News Sunday.”
“He wanted to put on the absolute best show, the best visit that he possibly could and he was very confident in doing that at Doral,” the acting chief of staff said.
Days after being the face of the selection, Mulvaney again held a national stage, but this time said: “”I think it’s the right decision to change.”
At the same news conference Thursday, Mulvaney acknowledged a quid pro quo was at work when Trump held up U.S. aid to Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine’s investigation of Democrats and the 2016 elections. Mulvaney later claimed his comments had been misconstrued, but not before drawing the ire of the president and frustration from other senior aides.
Trump had been the first administration official to publicly float the selection of his property to host the summit when in August he mentioned it was on the short-list and praised its facilities and proximity to Miami’s international airport. His comments, more than a month before the official announcement, drew instant criticism from good governance groups and Democrats, who said it raised concerns that Trump was using the White House to boost his personal finances
The vociferous criticism only intensified with Thursday’s official announcement, drawing wide condemnation from Democrats and even some Republicans. Trump insisted he would host the summit at cost, though he refused to disclose financial details. The annual heads-of-state gathering would at minimum have provided goodwill value to his property.
The Trump Organization did not respond to an emailed request Friday seeking details on how it would calculate its charges to the federal government, such as whether it would include the full cost of upgrades to buildings that could benefit the resort for years to come.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Trump’s reversal Saturday “is a bow to reality, but does not change how astonishing it was that a president ever thought this was appropriate, or that it was something he could get away with.”
An hour before Trump’s announcement, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned the selection of Doral for the summit. “Hosting the G7 at Trump’s hotel? A president should never be able to use the office for personal gain,” the former vice president said.
On Thursday, Mulvaney had discounted Camp David, the government-owned presidential retreat, as the site for the summit, claiming, “I understand the folks who participated in it hated it and thought it was a miserable place to have the G-7.” He added that it was too small and remote for the international summit.
Mulvaney listed more than half-dozen states visited in the screening process, including Tennessee, North Carolina, Hawaii and Utah. But convention, economic development and tourism officials in several of those states said they were unaware of any visits, and some didn’t even know their state was in the running.
The governor’s office in Hawaii said a “general search” had been done, but didn’t think any specific site had been considered. In Utah, where Mulvaney said two places had made a final list of four sites, the governor’s office said it was not aware any venue there was under serious consideration.
“Could we have put on an excellent G-7 at Doral, absolutely,” Mulvaney said on Fox. “Will we end up putting on an excellent G-7 someplace else? Yes we will.”