President Donald Trump spoke with world leaders and continued to use Twitter to slam a federal judge who halted his travel ban, but Sunday was largely a day of familiar South Florida routines for the new commander in chief.
For the second day in a row, Trump left his Mar-a-Lago estate in the morning to spend 4½ hours at his nearby Trump International Golf Club in unincorporated West Palm Beach. He and first lady Melania Trump returned to the club on Summit Boulevard in the evening and, after a performance by the Palm Beach Central High School marching band, watched the Super Bowl at a party Trump described as an annual tradition.
Trump wore a dark blue suit and bright red tie for the game while Melania Trump was more casually attired in white capri pants and a light blue V-neck sweater. After the band played one number on a neatly manicured lawn outside the clubhouse, Trump complimented them said: “Go ahead…do one more. Then we’ve got to go watch the game. Go ahead.”
While the band played Green Day’s “Holiday,” the president walked close to the band members, giving a thumbs up and clapping his hands.
“Did I ruin that song for you?” he asked one female trumpet player.
“Every year we do this,” Trump told the band. “I really appreciate it. Take care of yourselves. Go watch the game. Enjoy the game … Good luck everybody.”
Inside the clubhouse, Trump sat at a table near the middle of the room between his wife and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. The crowd, described by one attendee as Mar-a-Lago and Trump International Golf Club members and their guests, appeared to be a few hundred.
Trump left it to Vice President Mike Pence to defend Trump’s comment that the U.S. isn’t “so innocent” compared with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The remark was part of a Fox News interview Trump taped last week in Washington with Bill O’Reilly to air Sunday afternoon.
In a clip released Saturday night, Trump told O’Reilly he respects Putin and believes the U.S. and Russia can work together to fight Islamic terrorism.
“He’s a killer, though. Putin’s a killer,” O’Reilly said.
“There are a lot of killers,” Trump replied. “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country is so innocent?”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and other Republicans criticized what they called a suggestion of moral equivalence between the U.S. and Putin’s regime.
“When has a Democratic political activist been poisoned by the GOP, or vice versa? We are not the same as #Putin,” Rubio said on Twitter. When Rubio and Trump were rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Rubio accused Trump of being soft on Russia and Putin.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whose wife, Elaine Chao, is Trump’s Transportation secretary, called Putin a “thug” on CNN.
“The Russians annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine and messed around in our elections,” McConnell said. “No, I don’t think there’s any equivalency between the way the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does.”
Pence, appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said there was “no moral equivalency” in Trump’s remark.
“What you heard there was a determination to attempt to deal with the world as it is, to start afresh with Putin, and start afresh with Russia,” Pence said.
But Pence avoided directly answering interviewer John Dickerson’s repeated queries about whether America is “morally superior” to Russia.
Finally, Pence said, “I think it is without question, John … that American ideals are superior to countries all across the world.”
Trump’s official schedule was light on Sunday. After his trip to the golf course, he had phone conversations from Mar-a-Lago with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Trump has suggested revamping NATO and making other nations contribute more money to the alliance.
The White House said Trump and Stoltenberg discussed “the United States’ strong support for NATO. The leaders discussed how to encourage all NATO allies to meet their defense spending commitments.”
Trump also had a phone conversation with New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English on Sunday.
Trump, who tweeted for the 100th time as president on Sunday, continued to use Twitter to criticize Seattle-based U.S. District Judge James Robart’s Friday order of a nationwide hold on Trump’s executive order that halted all refugee admissions for 120 days and imposed a 90-day ban on visits from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.
Trump, who called Robart a “so-called judge” in a Saturday tweet, ripped the judge again in a Sunday tweet.
“Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” Trump tweeted.