He also firmed up his holiday plans, his team placing a travel hold on his schedule between December 21—the deadline to fund much of the government—and January 6, when he will likely be at his Mar-a-Lago resort, according to a source familiar with the matter.
This isn’t to say, though, that the president hasn’t been getting things done this week, according to Rudy Giuliani. “As mayor, some of my busiest days had an open or relatively open calendar,” Trump’s lawyer told me.
Indeed, for any other president confronting Trump’s potential legal and political woes, this spike in unstructured time might seem strange. But for this president, it’s an opportunity to dangle new carrots in front of the public, and to watch reporters flock to them in real time.
This week thus showcased not only how the White House’s problems show no signs of ebbing, but also how, in spite of them all, Trump can still convince people to look elsewhere.
Much of Trump’s executive time, according to sources close to the president, is spent scanning headlines and “obsessing,” in the words of one former senior White House official, over the stock market. Trump views both as key metrics of his presidency, and enjoys his ability to influence them within moments of hitting “Send Tweet” from the residency. Rather than try to put out existing fires, the sources said, Trump prefers to spark new ones that play to his penchant for showmanship and intrigue.
As news outlets dropped one troubling story after another this week, Trump did just that. In one of the more surreal moments of his presidency, he sporadically invited reporters into the Oval Office on Tuesday to look on as he and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi brawled over how to keep the government funded.
At the same event, he indulged reporters’ questions about who he would pick to replace John Kelly as his chief of staff. It was perhaps exactly the question he’d hoped for: Earlier that morning, during a stretch of executive time, he’d tweeted that “over ten are vying for and wanting the White House Chief of Staff position”—sending journalists scrambling to report the most up-to-date list possible.
Trump would adopt an Apprentice-like posture about the position for the rest of the week. In a meeting with Republican governors-elect on Thursday, he told reporters that the search for the next chief of staff was “down to five finalists.” He raved about the candidates, calling them “really good ones” and “terrific people.”
The diversion appeared to work. Twitter was abuzz on Wednesday when The Wall Street Journal scooped that the president had asked Congressman Mark Meadows to stay in the House rather than troop to the West Wing. On Wednesday, a reporter citing “two sources” tweeted that Newt Gingrich topped the list, prompting a flurry of opinion pieces as recently as today about whether Gingrich would be a good pick. (This, despite Gingrich’s apparent disinterest: I texted him Wednesday and asked whether he wanted the job, to which he promptly responded, “No.”)