WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, trying to dig out from political holes of his own making, held forth for 71 minutes Monday during what was ostensibly a Cabinet meeting, but ended up being a familiar torrent of grievance, defensiveness and expansive statements about his view of his own powers.
However familiar Trump’s brash hyperbole has become, his statements to a room filled with Cabinet members, aides and reporters were still eye-catching: Trump asserted his selective regard for the Constitution to which he’d sworn an oath and casually dismissed a clause he appeared to violate in trying to award next year’s Group of 7 summit to his own Doral, Florida, golf resort.
“You people with this phony Emoluments Clause,” Trump said, rhetorically dispatching the portion of the Constitution that bars federal officials from taking emoluments, or forms of payment or profit, from any “king, prince or foreign state.”
On Thursday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney announced the decision to hold the G-7 summit at the Doral club. Late Saturday night, Trump reversed field in a tweet. On Monday, he dismissed the notion that he was profiting off his presidency and sought to portray the bipartisan backlash as one-sided.
“The Democrats went crazy,” Trump said, even though it was Republican concerns about defending his decision that led to its reversal.
“You don’t think I get enough promotion? I get more promotion than every human being that has ever lived. I don’t need promotion. It would have been the greatest G-7 ever.”
The president repeated his claim that he had lost billions of dollars by becoming president — an assertion for which neither the White House nor the Trump Organization has provided evidence — and asserted that holding the G-7 event at Doral would have saved the country money because it would have been “free.” In previous statements, as he said on several occasions that his resort was the best venue for the conference, he said that the Doral would host the G-7 “at cost.”
“I’m making a big difference for the country,” Trump said. “So whether I lost $2 billion, $5 billion, more or less, it doesn’t make any difference to me. I don’t care. If you’re rich, it doesn’t matter. I’m doing this for the country.”
The president, amid a Democratic impeachment probe he has been unable to constrain, has faced fierce bipartisan criticism in the last week over the Doral announcement and his order to withdraw 1,000 remaining U.S. troops from northern Syria.
Both moves generated criticism from the Republican lawmakers who could ultimately decide Trump’s fate should the House pass articles of impeachment, which would send the case to the GOP-controlled Senate.
On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence announced a five-day cease-fire agreement in Syria that would leave Turkey in control of a wide swath of Syrian territory, force U.S.-allied Kurdish militias to withdraw and require the U.S. to drop its newly imposed sanctions against Turkey.
Facing criticism from both Democrats and Republicans over the tenuous and seemingly one-sided cease-fire agreement, Trump expressed indifference to the fate of the Kurds, who lost thousands of fighters in battling Islamic State group militants on behalf of the U.S. over the past several years.
“We have a good relationship with the Kurds,” Trump said. “But we never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives. … Where is the agreement that we need to stay in the Middle East for the rest of civilization to protect the Kurds?”
Since the announcement of the cease-fire, both Turkish and Kurdish forces have alleged the other side has violated it. More than 200,000 people have been displaced in two weeks, outside observers have estimated.
Trump claimed that his actions, which critics said turned the standoff between Turkey and the Kurdish militias in Syria into a war, actually improved the situation.
“I think when it started for a few days, it was so nasty that when we went to Turkey, and we went to the Kurds, they agreed to do things that they never would have done before the shooting started,” Trump said.
“If they didn’t go through 2 1/2 days of hell, I don’t think they would have done it. I don’t think you could have made a deal,” he added. “But we’re close to making it. We’ll see what happens.”
Even as he took credit for fulfilling a campaign promise to bring troops home, the president reinforced his administration’s decision to keep some U.S. troops in eastern Syria to protect Kurdish-held oil fields. Trump repeatedly said he wanted to “keep the oil.”
“We’ll work something out with the Kurds so that they have some money, so that they have some cash flow. Maybe we’ll get one of our big oil companies to go in and do it properly.”
Trump also railed against the impeachment inquiry, directing his ire at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California; Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-California; and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-New York.
“It’s a very bad thing what they’re doing,” he said. “The president of the United States should be allowed to run the country, not have to focus on this kind of crap while, at the same time, doing a great job on Syria and Turkey and all of the other things that we’re doing.”
Trump, claiming House Democrats are pushing to impeach him because they believe they can’t beat him in the 2020 presidential election, again expressed a convenient — and misguided — interpretation of the Constitution, stating that the Founding Fathers, who created the impeachment mechanism, would be appalled by the current investigation.
“It’s so illegitimate. This cannot be the way our great founders meant this to be,” Trump said. “I think they want to impeach me because it’s the only way they’re going to win.”
Trump also compared himself to George Washington, saying the first president continued to run a business while serving as president and that he used two desks, one for business, one for the presidency. Like Washington, he said, he wasn’t taking a presidential salary.
“See whether or not all of the other of your favorites gave up their salary,” he added.