Donald Trump Archives - Page 5 of 249 - Florida Politics

Unions, others urging Disney Chair Bob Iger to quit Donald Trump

Walt Disney World employee unions, community members, faith leaders, immigrant organizations, students and others are planning a protest outside the gates of the theme park resort Tuesday afternoon seeking to urge Walt Disney Co. Chairman Bob Iger to step down from President Donald Trump‘s Strategic and Policy Forum.

he organizers, who include Disney’s UNITE HERE union Locals 737 and 362 and Organize Florida, will be announcing the presentation of a petition with more than 300,000 signatures calling for Iger to step away from the White House and renounce immigration policies announced by Trump, said Local 737 President Jeremy Cruz-Haicken.

The groups are part of a national campaign targeting the policy forum members.

“This is an initial step in asking, along with the community, for Iger to do the right thing for the values of cast members, the values of the community and the values of the company,” Cruz-Haicken said.

At a rally and press conference set for 4:30 p.m. at the Apopka-Vineland Road (State Road 535) and Hotel Plaza Boulevard, he’ll be joined by Rasha Mubarak, CAIR-Flordia; Angie McKinnon, UNITE HERE; Ahtziry Barrera, Fuerza Inmigrante; Anamaria Romero, Organize Florida, Orlando community members, faith leaders, and farmworkers, according to organizers.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz says Michael Flynn’s resignation ‘marks a beginning, not an end’

Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Tuesday that the revelations about former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn’s conversations with the Russians are only the beginning.

“Flynn’s resignation marks a beginning, not an end,” said the South Florida Democratic Representative in a statement on Tuesday.

Flynn resigned Monday night after it reports were confirmed over the weekend that he discussed lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Donald Trump had officially been inaugurated as president. For more than a month Flynn had denied that his conversation with Kislyak had involved anything other than some pleasantries, a statement that Vice President Mike Pence repeated several times.

Wasserman Schultz says that Flynn’s resignation was not only warranted, but overdue. But she says his exit raises more questions than it answers.

“It’s still unclear who and what was known in the White House about his diplomatic discussions with Russia before then-President Obama left office,” she says. “And if the Justice Department warned the White House last month that Flynn had misled them about his communications with a Russian diplomat, and therefore was vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow, why was he still on the job? This entire episode reaffirms the need for an independent, bipartisan investigation into the influence Russia has had on our elections, our national security and the current occupant of the White House. Flynn’s resignation marks a beginning, not an end.”

California Democrat Adam Schiff told his fellow House Democrats that more information regarding Flynn’s conversations with the Russians will surface in the coming days, POLITICO reports.

 

On MSNBC, David Jolly wonders how serious Donald Trump is taking the presidency

David Jolly is in New York this week, making the rounds at the cable news networks as one Republican not afraid to criticize Donald Trump.

On his latest appearance on MSNBC’s The Last Word (with guest host Joy Reid), the former (and possibly future?) congressman from Florida’s 13th District called Trump’s first month in office “his JV moment,” specifically referring to Stephen Miller’s performance on the Sunday morning shows.

Miller is the 31-year old senior adviser to Trump who is reported to be working alongside Steve Bannon in crafting the President’s messaging.

Among Miller’s most provocative comments was on CBS’ Face The Nation, when he said, “The media and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

“The first month of the Trump administration has been his JV (junior varsity) moment,” Jolly said on MSNBC. “Get the 31-year-old sweaty kid off the TV, and bring in the steady senior hand.”

Jolly compared the beginning of Trump’s presidency with that of George W. Bush’s, the last president elected without winning the popular vote. Jolly said that Bush 43 surrounding himself with senior Washington officials like Dick Cheney and Andy Card, who, he said, “whether you liked them or not, we’re a steady hand.”

“We will see turnover, and frankly, this 31-year old should not have been the voice of the president on Sunday morning TV when we’re in such a pivotal moment,” Jolly said.

Jolly also questioned how seriously Trump is taking his job as the most powerful man in the free world.

“I think this is the very quiet anxiety of most Republicans, including congressional Republicans, is how serious is the president taking this job?” he asked. “He is our president. President Donald Trump. Like him or loath him. But how seriously is he accepting this responsibility and the anxiety we have is based upon the decisions he made in the first 30 days, the people he is surrounding himself with?” Jolly asked.

Jolly appeared Monday on CNN’s New Day as well and is scheduled to make another appearance on MNSBC later this week.

The 44-year-old Jolly has been increasing his media profile in recent weeks (complete with stylish glasses and a new beard) as he keeps his options open regarding 2018. Jolly lost by 3.8 percentage points against Charlie Crist, in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District last fall.

He engendered speculation that he was considering another run for the seat in 2018 when he hired former Crist staffer Vito Sheeley last monthThe circumstances behind Sheeley’s departure from working for Crist remain shrouded in mystery, part of was has led people to wonder about Crist’s somewhat rough beginning in his short time in Congress.

Ivanka Trump posts photo of herself behind Oval Office desk

Ivanka Trump is getting a strong reaction online after posting a photo of herself seated at the Oval Office desk while her father, President Donald Trump, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, stood on either side of her.

The first daughter posted the picture on Twitter , Instagram and Facebook with the message, “A great discussion with two world leaders about the importance of women having a seat at the table!”

While the picture earned Trump plenty of kudos from supporters of her father on social media, others said she hadn’t earned the right to sit behind the desk.

Ivanka Trump sat next to Trudeau during a roundtable meeting with female executives from the U.S. and Canada on Monday.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press.

ProPublica hit piece will deliver ‘inaccurate, untruthful’ attack on Orlando charter school

Searching for the best way to teach our nation’s children, many communities see charter schools as one of the most effective ways to help students otherwise struggling to make it in public education.

Nevertheless, the pursuit of alternative solutions does not sit well with some, particularly those in the media who view charter schools a disruption of the status quo.

With the election of President Donald Trump and his provocative nomination of Betsy DeVos — a longtime school-choice advocate — as U.S. Secretary of Education, charter schools nationwide are bracing for the inevitable onslaught of negative media, despite many charter schools having proven records of successful student outcomes in reading and math growth, among others.

One such target of journalistic bias is Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS), an Orlando charter school program servicing at-risk Orange County students who have, for a variety of reasons, fallen off‐track for graduation.

Most students who attend the ALS-run Sunshine High School have been referred by public school educators for academic intervention. Many students at Sunshine have previously dropped out of the public-school system, electing to re-enroll to salvage their academic careers.

Recently, Sunshine has found itself in the crosshairs of ProPublica, the New York-based investigative newsroom that seeks to produce deep-dive journalism in what they proclaim as the “public interest.”

As a startup, ProPublica received millions of dollars from the Sandler Foundation — created by Bay Area philanthropists and Democratic donors Herbert and Marion Sandler to fund progressive organizations. In 2010, ProPublica received a two-year grant from the Open Society Foundations, part of a network of international foundations primarily funded by billionaire George Soros, also as a method of supporting progressive causes.

This financial influence shows in ProPublica’s editorial slant.

Nevertheless, in the instance of Sunshine — which has been both transparent and forthcoming with ProPublica reporter Heather Vogell — such public interest may have fallen by the wayside, traded for a decidedly anti-charter agenda.

A Jan. 26 letter from ALS President Angela Whitford-Narine to various company stakeholders lays it out in no uncertain terms.

“Based on lines of questioning and statements to us and to Orange County District staff,” Whitford-Narine writes, “we are expecting her story to be an inaccurate and inappropriate reflection of our schools and of our relationship with Orange County Public Schools.”

During Vogell’s reporting, Whitford-Narine found — through feedback from various students — that the reporter seemed to lack a fundamental understanding of Sunshine’s student population, as well as its efforts to help students succeed both academically and socially.

A glance at the demographics of the student body shows that Vogell is indeed missing the mark. Even a cursory examination provides a clear insight into the challenges facing Sunshine, as well as similar charter schools throughout the country.

Many of Sunshine’s students come to the charter academically unsuccessful, with 96 percent reading below grade level and nearly 95 percent performing math below grade level (an average 5th grade level for both). The average GPA is a 1.4, versus the 2.0 required for public school graduation. Nearly half the student body are in stressful social situations, either parenting, pregnant or caring for other family members; 44 percent have jobs, 16 percent need special education accommodations, and 10 percent have English as a second language.

Recent correspondence from ALS to Vogel had school representatives expressing these increasing concerns over the methods and direction of the forthcoming ProPublica piece and the mischaracterization of its students.

Through discussions with students interviewed by Vogell since she began her investigation in August, an alarming pattern has emerged, one that is highlighted by a series of “inaccurate and blatantly untruthful accusations” including forced enrollment and a lack of accountability for the charter by the Orange County School District.

“I am particularly disturbed that Ms. Vogell has totally misrepresented what the students said to her,” she wrote, “that she failed to seek parental consent in speaking with and quoting minor students and refused to inquire about the success the students were having at our schools.”

In another wide-ranging letter, this one to Vogell herself — the last correspondence in several months of sporadic communication — Whitford-Narine refutes each issue in detail, pointing out the flaws in her reporting, which come either through neglect or willful ignorance. This letter to Vogell was accompanied by 80 pages of documentation addressing each issue.

“I am now concerned that your approach and tactics are designed to suggest that at‐risk students are being transferred to our schools against their will,” she writes, “that students are being referred by the school district to avoid accountability; that we are not a quality program; that our schools are losing too many students to Adult Education; and that our schools are not held accountable for their performance.”

First, despite Vogell’s implication, enrollment in Sunshine is entirely voluntary, requiring the signed consent of a parent or guardian for minor students, and the signature of a student over age 18.

Feedback from 10 students interviewed by Vogell shows several factual inaccuracies, including one where the reporter cites a student by which no record exists showing neither enrollment nor attendance.

Another student described Vogell “[approaching] him at a bus stop on his way home from school,” and like the conversations with others, “it became clear that she was not wanting to hear about anything positive.” This was despite the student saying he was “doing great” at Sunshine, as his reading levels and comprehension gained dramatically.

Yet another student praised the staff, who had guided him to improve one grade level in reading and two levels in math, giving him a renewed enthusiasm for graduation.

As to his encounter with Vogell: “I did not like talking to her. It was clear that she wanted to focus on a bad story. She texted me, and I did not call her back.”

“How are the teachers here,” she asked the same boy in a distinctly negative way. “Are they bad?”

It was apparent those questions were worded to elicit the desired response, not for learning the truth behind ALS, Sunshine and its mission.

Whitford-Narine’s letter also takes particular exception to Vogell’s assumption that ALS is accepting students from Orange County public schools as a way of influencing the District’s graduation rates and also providing limited availability to advanced courses and extracurricular activities.

“This is wrong,” she says.

Florida’s graduation rate formula does not allow Districts to remove students from graduation rate calculations, just because they have transferred to alternative charter schools. As such, there is no benefit to the School District beyond giving these students a different opportunity so not to lose them.

Vogell seeks to attack Sunshine’s number of students who withdraw to pursue a GED by continually ignoring the fact that Public schools have tried for decades to find ways to get these at-risk, older students into a program that they can stick to through graduation.

By the time these students reach schools like Sunshine, they are often more than two years over-age, have been held back multiple times, skipping from school to school. As many as 30 percent of these students are considered “mobile” — looking for the easiest and quickest path out of school — which is understandable since many of them are between ages 19 and 21, and still have not graduated.

Since schools like Sunshine are graduating these troubled schoolchildren — who arrive already so far behind — as well as showing significant math and reading growth, it strongly suggests they are truly the effective options that Districts seek, and are what Sunshine and similar programs are working hard to accomplish.

Whitford-Narine reports that for ALS schools in Orange County, 63 percent of their students in their reading remediation program improved last year by a minimum two full grade skill levels and 50 percent of them increased by more than three grade skill levels.

ALS students also show a 63 percent increase in rates of credit earning as compared to what these same students were achieving in their earlier high school environment.

And with a significant focus on addressing the student’s social service needs, the schools reported 66 percent of their students having taken advantage of individual and family support services offered right on their campuses.

Also, not only are ALS schools fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS‐ CASI), but Whitford-Narine points out that students are welcome to participate in traditional extracurricular activities — even allowing students an opportunity to attend their school’s prom.

As for the overall direction of the ProPublica piece, it misses the one simple premise behind ALS and Sunshine (as is with most charter schools): giving students who face academic failure the individual, expert and specialized attention they need, so they can actually succeed.

Quality education for students is, and always will be, the real agenda. The reality of ALS bears that out, despite whatever inaccurate narrative Vogell and ProPublica seek to promote.

Kathy Castor calls some of Donald Trump’s actions ‘beneath the dignity of the office’

It’s less than a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, but Congresswoman Kathy Castor is not impressed so far, describing some of his actions and demeanor “beneath the dignity of the office.”

“President Trump is simply unprecedented,” the Tampa Democrat said to reporters following a news conference held at the USF College of Nursing George & Marian Miller Center for Virtual Learning. “His actions and demeanor are really beneath the dignity of the office. And I worry about young people and kids seeing that as an example of their president and Commander in Chief. Hopefully he’ll rein that in.”

Castor joined her House Democratic colleagues at a retreat in Baltimore last week, where they attempted to find a common strategy to combat Trump and the GOP-majority Congress over the next two years. She said that she is well aware that the Democratic base is alive and engaged in politics in a way never before seen in her decade long in Washington.

“The grassroots are on fire,” she said. “People want to know – what’s coming up on the floor of the House this week. So that’s a little bit different, where we’re having to educate all of our neighbors and encourage them and teach them how to weigh in.”

Castor says that the nature of Trump’s attempted ban on refugees and his “playing footsie” with Russian leader Vladimir Putin are actions that “really undermine our national security.”

“So there are a lot of very serious issues, and you can’t blame our neighbors for being on edge, upset and wanting to be engaged,” she surmised.

For the second consecutive weekend, one of Castor’s GOP colleagues in the Tampa Bay Congressional delegation, Pasco/Pinellas Representative Gus Bilirakis heard from dozens of angry constituents regarding his intent to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Eight years ago, it was Castor who was singled out for her support of the ACA, specifically when facing a hostile crowd of Tea Party activists at a town hall on the ACA at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County.

“People are scared and that’s what you’re seeing at these town hall meetings for members of Congress,”she said, adding that “folks are reasonably frightened that there’s going to be this radical repeal plan, they’re just going to rip the rug out from under families. That’s the fight right now.”

The new civics course in schools: How to avoid fake news

Teachers from elementary school through college are telling students how to distinguish between factual and fictional news — and why they should care that there’s a difference.

As Facebook works with The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and other organizations to curb the spread of fake and misleading news on its influential network, teachers say classroom instruction can play a role in deflating the kind of “Pope endorses Trump” headlines that muddied the waters during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I think only education can solve this problem,” said Pat Winters Lauro, a professor at Kean University in New Jersey who began teaching a course on news literacy this semester.

Like others, Lauro has found discussions of fake news can lead to politically sensitive territory. Some critics believe fake stories targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton helped Donald Trump overcome a large deficit in public opinion polls, and President Trump himself has attached the label to various media outlets and unfavorable reports and polls in the first weeks of his presidency.

“It hasn’t been a difficult topic to teach in terms of material because there’s so much going on out there,” Lauro said, “but it’s difficult in terms of politics because we have such a divided country and the students are divided, too, on their beliefs. I’m afraid sometimes that they think I’m being political when really I’m just talking about journalistic standards for facts and verification, and they look at it like ‘Oh, you’re anti-this or -that.'”

Judging what to trust was easier when the sources were clearer — magazines, newspapers or something else, said Kean senior Mike Roche, who is taking Lauro’s class. Now “it all comes through the same medium of your cellphone or your computer, so it’s very easy to blur the lines and not have a clear distinction of what’s real and what’s fake,” he said.

A California lawmaker last month introduced a bill to require the state to add lessons on how to distinguish between real and fake news to the grade 7-12 curriculum.

High school government and politics teacher Lesley Battaglia added fake news to the usual election-season lessons on primaries and presidential debates, discussing credible sites and sources and running stories through fact-checking sites like Snopes. There were also lessons about anonymous sources and satire. (They got a kick out of China’s dissemination of a 2012 satirical story from The Onion naming Kim Jong Un as the sexiest man alive.)

“I’m making you guys do the hard stuff that not everybody always does. They see it in a tweet and that’s enough for them,” Battaglia told her students at Williamsville South High School in suburban Buffalo.

“It’s kind of crazy,” 17-year-old student Hannah Mercer said, “to think about how much it’s affecting people and swaying their opinions.”

Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy pioneered the idea of educating future news consumers, and not just journalists, a decade ago with the rise of online news. About four in 10 Americans often get news online, a 2016 Pew Research Center report found. Stony Brook last month partnered with the University of Hong Kong to launch a free online course.

“To me, it’s the new civics course,” said Tom Boll, after wrapping up his own course on real and fake news at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. With everyone now able to post and share, gone are the days of the network news and newspaper editors serving as the primary gatekeepers of information, Boll, an adjunct professor, said.

“The gates are wide open,” he said, “and it’s up to us to figure out what to believe.”

That’s not easy, said Raleigh, North Carolina-area teacher Bill Ferriter, who encourages students to first use common sense to question whether a story could be true, to look at web addresses and authors for hints, and to be skeptical of articles that seem aimed at riling them up.

He pointed to an authentic-looking site reporting that President Barack Obama signed an order in December banning the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. A “.co” at the end of an impostor news site web address should have been a red flag, he said.

“The biggest challenge that I have whenever I try to teach kids about questionable content on the web,” said Ferriter, who teaches sixth grade, “is convincing them that there is such a thing as questionable content on the web.”

Some of Battaglia’s students fear fake news will chip away at the trust of even credible news sources and give public figures license to dismiss as fake news anything unfavorable.

“When people start to distrust all news sources is when people in power are just allowed to do whatever they want, said Katie Peter, “and that’s very scary.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau to discuss women in workforce

President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will participate in a roundtable discussion about women in the workforce Monday, showing the rising policy influence of the first daughter who has stressed her commitment to issues like child care.

A White House official said the two countries would launch a new task force called the United States-Canada Council for the Advancement of Women Business Leaders-Female Entrepreneurs. The official said Trudeau’s office reached out to discuss working on a joint effort, noting that this was seen as an area of shared interest between both leaders.

Ivanka Trump, who has been a vocal advocate for policies benefiting working women, was involved in recruiting participants and setting the agenda for the meeting and will attend, the official said. Ivanka Trump stressed the importance of maternity leave and child care on the campaign trail, and has recently been meeting with business leaders to discuss those issues.

The White House official said that Trump’s economic agenda will include a “focus on ensuring women enter and stay in the work force and addressing barriers facing female entrepreneurs.” The official requested anonymity to provide details in advance of the meeting.

Advancing women has been a clear priority for Trudeau. In late 2015, he drew attention for naming a Cabinet that was 50 percent women, saying that he chose a group that “looks like Canada.” Trump did not promise to appoint a gender-balanced Cabinet and has named a smaller number of women and minorities to top jobs.

“Our team reached out and suggested as it is an important part of the prime minister’s agenda and of our economic growth plan,” a Canadian official said. “It seemed like a natural fit given their commitments in their platform as well.” The official requested anonymity to discuss the meeting in advance.

Trump has offered a childcare plan and has signaled an interest in working on those issues.

The business round table will be part of an itinerary that includes a bilateral meeting and a working lunch. The visit is crucial for Canada, which relies heavily on the United States for trade. Trump has said he wants to discuss his plan to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement, which involves the United States, Canada and Mexico. There are fears Canada could unintentionally be sideswiped as Trump negotiates with Mexico.

Female executives from the United States and Canada are expected for the round table, including General Electric Canada CEO Elyse Allan, TransAlta Corp. CEO Dawn Farrell, Linamar Corp. CEO Linda Hasenfratz, T&T Supermarket Inc. Tina Lee and Schnitzer Steel Industries CEO Tamara Lundgren.

Also expected are Julie Sweet, CEO-North America for Accenture, NRStor CEO Annette Verschuren, Monique Leroux, chair of the board of directors for Investissement Québec. Carol Stephenson, of the board of directors for General Motors Co. will attend in place of the GM CEO.

Additionally, the meeting will include Katie Telford, Trudeau’s chief of staff, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Dina Powell, assistant to the president and senior counselor for economic initiatives. Powell, Telford and Freeland were involved in setting up the council and recruiting the CEOS.

The council includes many of the meeting attendees, as well as Mary Barra, General Motors CEO, GE Vice Chair Beth Comstock and Catalyst CEO Deborah Gillis.

Topics at the event will likely include issues like providing maternity leave and childcare, how to recruit and retain women and how to better support women entrepreneurs.

Ivanka Trump does not have an official White House role. But her husband, Jared Kushner, is a senior adviser to the president and she stepped away from her executive positions at the Trump Organization and her lifestyle brand to move her family to Washington. She has been at several public White House events so far and has been privately sitting down with CEOs and thought leaders as she weighs how to pursue her policy interest.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Rick Scott inauguration party cost more than $600,000

Florida Gov. Rick Scott‘s big party in Washington D.C. to celebrate the inauguration of President Donald Trump cost at least $600,000, according to campaign finance records.

Scott and First Lady Ann Scott in January hosted the Florida Sunshine Ball at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium two days before Trump’s inauguration. Free tickets to the ball went to hundreds of people invited by the governor and first lady.

Records show that Scott’s political committee Let’s Get to Work paid a company more than $609,000 to rent the auditorium, hire caterers and stage the event featuring The Beach Boys.

Let’s Get to Work regularly receives donations from some of the state’s main corporate interests. In the last few weeks Duke Energy donated $100,000 as did private prison provider The Geo Group.Republish

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Donald Trump’s Florida estate stirs protests, spurs ethics debate

President Donald Trump‘s South Florida estate is no longer just the place where he goes to escape.

He has described the sprawling Mar-a-Lago property as the Winter White House and has spent two weekends there so far this month. But it’s also become a magnet for anti-Trump protesters and the subject of an ethics debate over his invitation to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to join him this weekend — with Trump pledging to pay for the accommodations.

Demonstrators plan to assemble Sunday near the estate to protest Trump’s decision on the Dakota Access oil pipeline. The North Dakota project, opposed by a Native American tribe fearful of water contamination from potential oil leaks, had stalled in Democrat Barack Obama‘s administration. Trump’s executive order cleared the way for the developer to start building the final stretch of pipeline.

During Trump’s other weekend in Florida, several thousand people marched near the property to protest his temporary ban on travel to the United states by refugees as well as citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries. A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court’s decision that temporarily blocks the ban’s enforcement.

Trump’s election is also putting charitable organizations, such as the American Red Cross, in an awkward position for choosing Mar-a-Lago for events booked months in advance. The Red Cross held its annual fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, as it has done for many years, on Feb. 4, about a week after Trump enacted the travel ban. Trump and his wife, Melania, attended.

“What an honor, what a great honor it is. And let’s go to Florida,” Trump told Abe on Friday at a White House news conference shortly before they boarded Air Force One for the trip.

The two world leaders and their wives headed straight to Mar-a-Lago, where they enjoyed a late dinner at the crowded patio restaurant. Joining them under a white-and-yellow striped canopy were Robert Kraft, the owner of the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots, and several interpreters. Paying members and their guests took in the scene and mingled with Trump and Abe into the night.

On Saturday, Trump and Abe went to Trump’s golf course in nearby Jupiter and were expected to hold more talks over meals at Trump’s various Florida properties.

World leaders typically exchange gifts, and Trump and Abe did so when Abe rushed to New York City in November to become the first foreign leader to meet with Trump after the election. Abe gave Trump a pricey, gold-colored Honma golf driver; Trump reciprocated with a golf shirt and other golf accessories.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Abe’s free-of-charge stay at Mar-a-Lago is Trump’s gift to Abe this time around. But the gesture wasn’t sitting well with government watchdog groups.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said Trump and Abe don’t need to meet at Trump’s commercial property, where the membership fee recently was doubled to $200,000.

“Hosting a foreign leader at the president’s business resort creates impossible sets of conflicts,” Weissman said. “If the president hadn’t offered to pay, the U.S. government would be paying Donald Trump’s business for the purpose of hosting the Japanese leader.” Typically, the U.S. government would pick up the costs associated with such a visit.

Weissman said Camp David, the U.S. government-owned retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, which presidents use for personal getaways as well as to conduct the people’s business, would do fine.

“Why should you go to a resort in Florida?” Weissman asked. “Fine, you want to go to a resort in Florida? Don’t go to one Trump’s family owns.”

But Trump has shown that he isn’t too concerned about possible conflicts of interest involving him and his family. This past week, Trump used his official government Twitter account to criticize Nordstrom after the retailer said it had dropped a line of clothing and accessories sold by his daughter Ivanka.

Trump offered a possible explanation for inviting Abe to Mar-a-Lago, saying a “great friendship” had developed from their New York meeting.

The president is expected to continue bringing world leaders to the estate, helping to fulfill the vision of the property’s former owner, Marjorie Merriweather Post. The late cereal heiress willed Mar-a-Lago to the U.S. government after her death in 1973, intending for it to become a retreat for U.S. presidents and visiting dignitaries.

Trump bought Mar-a-Lago in the 1980s and retains a financial interest in the club.

Presidents through the years often escaped the majesty and protocol of the White House by choosing less formal settings for bilateral talks.

“It’s difficult, in effect, to get away inside the White House with the press corps in the same building,” said Bruce Buchanan, politics professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “In fact, it’s very desirable for presidents to have multiple venues within which to build and create relationships with other world leaders.”

President George W. Bush took advantage of his dusty ranch in Crawford, Texas, and regularly invited foreign counterparts there for talks.

Obama opted for Sunnylands, an estate in the California desert formerly owned by Walter and Leonore Annenberg. The late philanthropists built Sunnylands and long hoped the property they used as a winter home would become the “Camp David of the West.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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