Trump joked this week that because of the skeletal staff, Melania Trump might have had to make salads for members of the championship Clemson football team when they visited the White House on Monday. Instead, he shelled out for a mega fast food order of burgers, fries and pizza for the team.
Still, the slim staffing may be contributing to Trump’s oft-expressed sense of loneliness about life in the White House during the longest closure in history.
“I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security,” the president tweeted on Christmas Eve.
The shutdown also has thrown cold water on the White House social scene, turning the historic mansion into a museum with few visitors.
Selfies at receptions are out. Public tours of the famed Red, Blue and Green rooms are at a halt.
Until the Clemson players came through this week, Trump had not hosted a large group at the White House since he and the first lady said goodbye to guests at their final holiday reception before Christmas.
Staffing is one reason. But it’s also a matter of optics.
It simply would look bad for Trump to continue hosting social events while about one-fourth of the executive branch he presides over has been forced to halt operations.
Congressional leaders and various groups of legislators have come by the White House from time to time to negotiate with Trump, and even shared a few meals there.
But in the absence of the larger catering staff, it fell to the Navy-run “mess” in the basement of the West Wing to prepare steak for a small group of Republican House members who recently had lunch with Trump.
Since the shutdown began, Trump has put off travel to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, where he typically gets in daily rounds of golf and catches up with old friends. He’s scrapped his usual pattern of spending Christmas and New Year’s at the resort, where he spends many weekends during the winter and hosts an annual Super Bowl bash. The White House hasn’t said where he will be on game day Feb. 3.
A military plane with the call sign reserved for the first family when the president is not with them landed in Palm Beach on Thursday night but the White House did not comment on who was aboard.
The 132-room White House and its priceless contents require 24-hour maintenance and monitoring, so mechanical and operations engineers and electricians are part of the skeletal crew, said Gary Walters, a former White House chief usher, the person responsible for managing the residence staff.
The shutdown also has trimmed the first lady’s already lean East Wing staff in half. Just five of 11 aides are reporting to work, said Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokeswoman.
While social events have been put on hold, planning for future events continues, such as the annual ball with the nation’s governors set for Feb. 24, St. Patrick’s Day festivities in March and the annual Easter Egg Roll on April 22.
Those events could still be canceled or postponed depending on the length of the shutdown.
Trump has said the government could be closed for a “long time.”
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
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