Gaudy Mar-a-Lago club sees rise in fees and international drama since Trump’s election
President Donald Trump has had four weekends as the leader of the United States and he just enjoyed his third consecutive weekend at Mar-a-Lago, the Trump Organization’s estate and National Historic Landmark in Palm Beach, Fla.
The 126-room, 110,000-square-foot Spanish-titled castle currently being used by President Trump as the “Winter White House” is a familiar environment for the fledgling president to retreat to on the weekends. The Trump family maintains their own quarters separate from the actual estate, which is home to the Mar-a-Lago club.
The club, which costs $2,000 a night for a room and $14,000 in annual dues (plus tax), bumped its initiation fee from $100,000 up to $200,000 on Jan. 1. The fee had been $100,000 since 2012, when it was cut from $200,000 following a decline in memberships after the Bernie Madoff scandal.
The decision to raise the fee, however, has added to the criticism of Trump that he is attempting to profit off of being president. Norm Eisen, a former chief ethics adviser to the Obama administration, said that the price increase is a “not very subtle exploitation of the fact that the club’s figurehead is now president of the U.S.”
“This type of naked profiteering off of a government office is what I would expect from King Louis XVI or his modern kleptocratic equivalents, not an American president,” he said.
Those that do choose to make the enormous payment, however, could have front row seats to an amazing spectacle: the President of the United States dealing with an international crisis.
Diners in the restaurant at Mar-a-Lago recently bore witness to President Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and their advisers coordinating a response to a North Korean missile test. The scene — typically handled in highly secure settings — was conducted in full-view of other patrons, some of whom posted photos of the incident to Facebook.
“HOLY MOLY !!! 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,” wrote Richard DeAgazio, a recent initiate to the club, on Facebook. He described how the two leaders “conferred and then went into another room for hastily arranged press conference. Wow…..the center of the action!!!”
Reports that this national security incident occured in plain view of the public drew swift condemnation from Democratic Party leadership.
“There’s no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Democratic leader in the House, wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who have both called for Trump’s club to release a list of its members, denounced the president for handling an issue as sensitive as a North Korean missile launch in front of the general public.
“This is America’s foreign policy, not this week’s episode of ‘Saturday Night Live,’” the senators said in a statement. “We urge our Republican colleagues to start taking this administration’s rash and unprofessional conduct seriously before there are consequences we all regret.”
Some Republican senators were equally concerned by the president’s behavior. Sen.Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said, “Usually that’s not a place where you do that kind of thing.” Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) struggled to articulate his thoughts on the subject. “Can’t make it up,” he said.
Sean Spicer, the president’s press secretary, told reporters at the White House that President Trump and Prime Minister Abe had not reviewed classified material in view of other patrons. Spicer said President Trump and his aides were reviewing “news conference logistics” about the North Korean missile test.
Talks regarding highly sensitive international incidents, especially those involving adversaries like North Korea, are always conducted in locations that have high-tech security measures in place to prevent eavesdropping, such as the White House Situation Room.
When presidents are away from the White House, they have typically held important talks in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, a location that can be made temporarily impervious to eavesdropping.
Due to President Trump’s decision to not use a SCIF during this international crisis, concerns about his perceived desire to impress the high-paying guests at his resort will likely continue to grow.