Mar-a-Lago is President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach estate which he has deemed “The Winter White House.” Critics have raised concerns about security, fiscal irresponsibility, conflicts of interest and hypocrisy in regards to Trump’s visits to his estate.
A picture from Jan. 18, 2017, shows President Trump supposedly drafting his inauguration speech upon a legal notepad, in sharpie. The President captioned the picture on Twitter: “Writing my inaugural address at the Winter White House, Mar-a-Lago, three weeks ago. Looking forward to Friday. #Inauguration.” That tweet caused questions of authenticity as to whether or not the President was actually writing his own speech, and if the setting of the photograph was genuine. Yet this tweet did another thing, it officially deemed Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, “the Winter White House.”
The history of Winter White Houses dates long before the age of Twitter. Nixon was the first President who had his contemporaries refer to a winter presidential vacation home as a Winter White House. According to an article from Politico “Nixon bought [Former Senator George] Smathers house on the key and journalists soon dubbed it the first ‘Winter White House.” Since then, presidents have found solace away from frigid D.C. weather in warmer regions. President Obama had his own Winter White House in his birth state of Hawaii. The real estate agency the Obamas rented the home from uses this as a marketing ploy. Paradise Point Estates advertise the home on their website “In December and January 2008-2011, President Barack Obama and his family personally selected the Plantation Estate as their holiday vacation home, establishing Paradise Point as the Obama Winter White House.”
Presidential retreats also include summer vacation spots of personal preference. Obama, for instance, frequented Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. All former presidents have been invited to use “Camp David” in the Catoctin Mountain Park, Maryland. The Camp David Accords, a 1979 agreement between Egypt and Israel was decided at its namesake location. Obama hosted the G8 summit, a meeting of prominent world leaders, at Camp David. President Trump, however, spoke ill of the historic presidential camp. Speaking to two European newspapers he stated “Camp David is very rustic, it’s nice, you’d like it […] You know how long you’d like it? For about 30 minutes.’’
Trump has taken fondly to converting his Floridian estate into a presidential vacation home. Mar-a-Lago was initially owned by the Post (cereal) family. The construction of the Palm Beach luxury home was completed in 1927. The materials used in its creation included stone from Genoa, Italy and clay from Cuba. The original famous occupant of the home was Marjorie Merriweather Post. Mar-a-Lago was given to the U.S. government by Merriweather Post in 1973. According to USA Today, she envisioned that her home would eventually become a presidential retreat. Rick Rose, a Palm Beach historian stated: “She finally got what she wanted.”
In 1985, Trump bought the estate for five million dollars. He eventually turned Mar-a-Lago into a private club, as it still exists to this day. Yet nowadays, the estate has multiple purposes. It functions as a private estate, club, and makeshift White House. USA Today reports that President Trump has traveled multiple times to the estate since his inauguration, spending many of his weekends there.
The frequency of these visits has raised many concerns, specifically in the fields of security, costs, conflicts of interest, and hypocrisy. All of which are interconnected.
Presences of the Secret Service is now obvious to the Palm Beach community. The Washington Post reports “Secret Service agents on two small boats patrolled the Intracoastal behind Mar-a-Lago […] Trump’s first visit to his lavish Mar-a-Lago estate since winning the presidential election signaled a change in the way life in Palm Beach will be when the sprawling compound becomes the winter White House in two months.” Yet, the increased security does not seem to equate to privacy. While hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago the two worked together to coordinate a response to a North Korean missile test while in an open air dinner. An action which led The New York Times to declare the incident “a remarkable public display of presidential activity that is almost always conducted in highly secure settings.”
A member of the Mar-a-Lago resort, Richard DeAgazio posted photographs of the exchange between Abe and Trump. DeAgazio wrote on facebook “HOLY MOLY !!! [sic] It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity at dinner when the news came that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan.” The incident has been condemned by House democratic leadership. U.S. House Minority Leader and Californian Representative Nancy Pelosi tweeted “There’s no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater.”
DeAgazio posted photographs of himself with political figures such as Steve Bannon. These photographs show unprecedented access being awarded to those who pay the expensive Mar-a-Lago membership fees. At one point, DeAgazio claims to have met the man carrying “the nuclear football.” The “nuclear football” is a leather wrapped aluminum briefcase which contains materials necessary for the president to initiate the nuclear launch sequence. The Washington Post explains “Analysts familiar with nuclear policy said it was unusual for an aide to agree to be photographed with a civilian, although it was not clear he knew the image would be circulated on social media.”
The documents being discussed at the table were potentially classified, leading former acting CIA director Michael Morell to claim the ordeal was unprecedented. White house press secretary Sean Spicer denied claims of misconduct, stating that all confidential matters took place in a secure location. Yet this contradicts what The New York Times article regarding the matter reported, which is that, “Mr. Trump and White House aides who joined him and Mr. Abe for dinner on Saturday, including Stephen K. Bannon, did not relocate the discussion to a secure location […] Mr. Trump appears to enjoy presenting the spectacle of his presidency to those at his privately held club, where members pay $200,000 to join.”
Mar-a-Lago membership fees are the subject of another controversy, their cost has doubled since Trump was elected, according to CNBC “the timing [of the fee doubling] is likely to add to criticism that the Trump Organization is trying to benefit from the president’s election.”
Since Trump has not divested ownership of his company, which owns Mar-a-Lago, some of the financial successes his presidential presence has brought to the club fiscally benefit him. Trump’s club’s economic stimulus is also not solely coming out of the pockets of its members. The Washington Post reports that “Trump’s three Mar-a-Lago trips since the inauguration have probably cost the federal treasury about $10 million, based on figures used in an October government report analyzing White House travel, including money for Coast Guard units to patrol the exposed shoreline and other military, security and staffing expenses associated with moving the apparatus of the presidency.”
Any of those payments coming from the federal treasury dollars being spent on accommodations for staffing could be going back into Trump’s company. Similarly, at Trump Towers, according to the same article from The Washington Post, “The Defense Department and Secret Service […] have sought to rent space in Trump Tower, where leasing a floor can cost $1.5 million a year”
Compared to President Obama, who Donald Trump frequently criticized for utilizing taxpayer money in order to go on vacation, is spending far more rapidly. According to the government oversight group, Judicial Watch, Obama spent 97 million dollars on travel related expenses over eight years. In a little over a month, Trump has spent 10 million according to The Washington Post.
President Trump also critiqued Obama for his habit of playing golf. At a campaign rally in Virginia, Trump said, “I’m going to be working for you, I’m not going to have time to go play golf.” Trump played an 18 hole round of golf with professional golfer Rory McIlroy before his first month in office had concluded, according to White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders.
President Trump is not alone in his love of golf, usage of a “Winter White House,” nor having an expensive travel bill. As many presidential scholars will point out, wherever the president goes, the job follows. However, Trump’s rhetoric prior to taking office seems to have been misguided, misinterpreted, or a falsehood of his intentions while in office.
Editor’s note: Mar-a-Lago was made famous by Marjorie Merriweather Post of the Post family. Marjorie Merriweather Post promised sizable donations to Jim Rouse’s amphitheater project. These donations never came through. Yet, Rouse decided to name his musical amphitheater after her anyways. Merriweather Post Pavilion is a famous music venue in Columbia, Maryland. The venue inspired the band Animal Collective to title their critically acclaimed album after it. Avey Tare (David Portner), a member of Animal Collective, is St. Mary’s own Sydney Jupitz’s cousin.