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.
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."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted a video of Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News analyst who has clashed with Trump, slamming the decision.
“The Constitution is clear: the President cannot accept gifts or payments from foreign governments,” Pelosi wrote in her tweet. “No one is above the law. #EmolumentsClause.”
A handful of Republican lawmakers also spoke out, including Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho. Some defended Trump: Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said Trump showed “tremendous integrity in his boldness and his transparency.”
Asked Sunday on MSNBC whether Trump made a good decision not to use Doral, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said it was extraordinary even to have that conversation.
“I’m so through in terms of even just trying to react to what is insanity,” Booker said. “And I feel like sometimes I wake up in a bizarro world and hearing the questions that actually are being put to me. This president should not profit off the presidency. It’s just insane.”
Chris Christie, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, said on ABC’s “This Week” that Trump and his team had committed an “unforced error.” Rahm Emanuel, former Democratic mayor of Chicago, questioned the decision-making behind the move.
“There is no process,” said Emanuel, who served as chief of staff to President Barack Obama. “There’s nobody to tell him no. And I don’t care how much he loves his properties. You cannot do what he just did.”
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 said then that unspecified sites in Hawaii and Utah had also been on the short list. It was unclear if they were still under consideration.
"Could we have put on an excellent G7 at Doral, absolutely," Mulvaney said on Fox. "Will we end up putting on an excellent G7 someplace else? Yes we will."
Material from the Associated Press and Bloomberg news service was used in this story.
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