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Trump ‘surprised’ at push-back to hosting G-7 at his Doral resort, chief of staff says

President Donald Trump changed his mind about hosting a summit of world leaders at his own resort in Doral after being “surprised at the level of push-back” to last week’s announcement, his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said Sunday.

Mulvaney, speaking during an interview Sunday morning with Fox’s Chris Wallace, said Trump “thinks people think it looks lousy” that he chose Trump National Doral Miami as the host site for next summer’s G-7 summit.

Mulvaney called Trump’s sudden change of course — announced by the president on Twitter Saturday evening — “the right decision.”

“He was honestly surprised at the level of push-back,” Mulvaney said. “He still considers himself to be in the hospitality business and he saw an opportunity to take the biggest leaders around the world and he wanted to put on the absolute best show, best visit he possibly could. He was very confident doing that at Doral.”

Trump’s tweets were a stunning reversal for a president who rarely backs down from a fight.

Mulvaney announced Thursday that the Trump administration had chosen the president’s own resort in Miami-Dade County to host the G-7. Mulvaney, who made the announcement during a hastily planned press briefing in Washington, told reporters that scouts had reviewed as many as a dozen locations and settled on Trump’s Doral hotel as the best site.

Mulvaney said Trump was the one who initially suggested his Doral resort as the host site.

The administration’s announcement on Thursday was received with broad bipartisan criticism — from Republicans as well as from Democratic members, who swiftly vowed to add the case to a sweeping federal lawsuit accusing the president of repeatedly violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The controversy added pressure to a president also fending off an impeachment investigation and criticism from his own party about his diplomacy in Syria and efforts to broker a cease fire with Turkey.

At 9:18 p.m. Saturday, Trump began a series of three tweets explaining that he would no longer consider his resort as a host site, blaming Democrats and the media. He announced he was taking his property off the table shortly before 10 p.m.

“I thought I was doing something very good for our Country by using Trump National Doral, in Miami, for hosting the G-7 Leaders,” Trump wrote. “I announced that I would be willing to do it at NO PROFIT or, if legally permissible, at ZERO COST to the USA.”

“But, as usual, the Hostile Media & their Democrat Partners went CRAZY!” he continued. “Therefore, 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. We will begin the search for another site, including the possibility of Camp David.”

Mulvaney told Fox that the explanations Trump offered were “real.” Trump’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, told McClatchy DC Sunday that he did not advise the president about the cancellation of the G-7 summit at Doral because it was out of his purview.

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

With the news, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Republican who spoke to Trump personally about the summit this summer, urged the White House to stick with plans to hold it in the Miami area.

In a text message with the Trump administration’s contact for local governments, Gimenez suggested bringing world leaders to the county-owned Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.

“I hope Miami will still be considered for G-7,” Gimenez wrote William Crozer, Trump’s deputy director of intergovernmental affairs. “It would be an honor. If there’s anything I can do, please let me know.”

Gimenez, a potential congressional candidate in 2020, said Trump called him ahead of Hurricane Dorian in late August, and that the conversation included the president telling him the G-7 might be coming to Doral.

In his text to Crozer, Gimenez included a link to Vizcaya, a historic estate that’s attracted global events in the past. Bill Clinton brought the 1994 Summit of the Americas to the Miami area, and Ronald Reagan used it as a stop when Pope John Paul II visited the United States in 1987.

“We hosted the conference of the Americas 20 years ago at Vizcaya,” Gimenez wrote in the text released by the mayor. “It is a spectacular venue and very good security-wise... Reagan also met Pope John Paul there.”

“We can make it happen,” Gimenez wrote. “You won’t find a more spectacular venue in all America.”

Meanwhile, other national and local leaders reacted to the sudden change in plans.

“The G-7 may no longer be at Trump National Doral, but that won’t stop foreign nations from dumping money into Donald Trump’s pockets by spending at his hotels,” Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted late Saturday. “And it won’t stop Trump from rewarding Mar-a-Lago members with ambassadorships.”

Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez, who was not notified of the Trump administration’s decision to choose Doral as a G-7 site prior to Mulvaney’s announcement, was also caught off-guard by Trump’s tweets.

“We certainly felt it would have been good not only for Doral but for Miami-Dade County,” Bermudez said in an interview Sunday. “If the administration decides to change course ... it’s their right.”

Bermudez said he had already begun conversations with the county about preparing for the event, which had been set for next June, though the date is now uncertain.

“It would have been a great opportunity for Doral and Miami-Dade County to have seven — forget about President Trump — six other world leaders with him at the same time. If there’s disappointment, it’s in the [lost] opportunity to showcase our city and county. But it’s their decision.”

The firestorm thrust the city of Doral’s largest hotel and third-largest private employer into the political spotlight. The golf resort has reported a sales decline in recent years, and industry reports show the Trump Doral lagging competitors as they compete for group business and Miami tourists.

U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, a Democrat, said the decision to host the G-7 Summit somewhere else was “the right thing to do, but his actions surrounding this controversy are a microcosm of his complete disregard for the Constitution.”

And South Florida Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz called the now-canceled Doral event “the most egregious act of self-dealing out in the open.”

“The president was clearly trying to line his own pockets,” Wasserman Schultz said Sunday on WPLG’s This Week in South Florida.

It’s now unclear where the U.S. will host the leaders of the world’s leading economies. If Camp David — the president’s retreat in Maryland — is deemed unsuitable, Mulvaney offered hints during Thursday’s press briefing at other possible locations for the posh event the French hosted this year in the resort town of Biarritz.

He said the Trump administration considered 12 locations and visited 10 sites in eight states, including California, Florida and North Carolina. In addition to Doral, two locations in Utah and one in Hawaii made the White House’s short list, Mulvaney told reporters.

The G-7 would have been a banner event for Miami, often seen as the Capital of the Americas. Heads of state from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom would have converged on the site for for their yearly meeting.

The nations rotate hosting duties, and Trump mentioned in August that he was interested in the United States inviting the nations to his golf resort. But Miami Herald records requests to the City of Doral, the office of Mayor Gimenez and local police found no evidence of communication from Washington about potentially hosting the summit.

After Doral officials made two calls to the Secret Service’s Miami office amid strong hints from Trump, the City of Doral assigned an extra $270,000 to the city’s police budget to cover security costs tied to the summit, said Bermudez, Doral’s mayor.

Bermudez said Sunday that he expects the city will keep the money in place for now, in case Trump changes his mind again.

“I think at some point, when it’s confirmed it’s definitely not coming here, that money goes back in the budget for other uses,” Bermudez told the Miami Herald. “But it will probably stay there until we’re definitely sure there will be no event here.”

Miami Herald staff writers Douglas Hanks and Bianca Padró Ocasio contributed to this report.

David Smiley is a Florida native (yes, they exist) and veteran of South Florida journalism. He’s covered schools, cops and crime, and various city halls, earning awards for stories about municipal pensions and Miami Beach’s police department. He became the Miami Herald’s political reporter in 2018 and covered the midterm elections and recount.
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