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President Donald Trump maintains he feels the strain of the ongoing government shutdown which has left some 800,000 federal workers without pay

By Linda Marx
January 24, 2019 05:01 PM
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Credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty

Approximately 800,000 federal employees are going without pay during a partial shutdown of the government that has no resolution in sight — an anxious, unending experience that’s left workers scrambling and in tears.

President Donald Trump, too, maintains he feels the strain of the shutdown. While he’s historically preferred to retreat for the holidays to his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida (dubbed his “special place” by a friend), he has foregone those vacations while the government is closed.

“I was here on Christmas evening, I was all by myself in the White House,” he said last month, later telling his followers on Twitter on New Year’s Eve: “While I’m at the White House working, you’re out there partying tonight. But I don’t blame you. Enjoy yourselves.”

In another characteristic tweet in late December, he wrote, “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security.”

The shutdown began on Dec. 22 over Trump’s signature campaign promise to build a wall along the Mexican border and is the longest such closure in American history.

Trump believes his proposed $5.7-billion wall would fix a “crisis,” resulting in lower crime rates and fewer drugs coming into the U.S. from Mexico.

In turn House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — the leading Democrat, carried to power by decisive wins in the midterm elections — has called the wall “immoral” and “ineffective” and says that the government shutdown is “holding Americans hostage.”

One way or another, once the shutdown is resolved, Trump will head back down to Mar-a-Lago, says Chris Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend.

Other sources say Trump has missed being able to so easily travel to one of his favorite places.

“It is outside of Washington, D.C., where he knows people, has friends and can easily connect with them,” Ruddy, the CEO of media company Newsmax, tells PEOPLE.

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The president’s close ties to Mar-a-Lago have drawn criticism from ethical watchdogs for the way it mixes his personal and political interests, and his visits there with world leaders have not been without controversy (such as an incident in 2017 where he and the prime minister of Japan discussed a national security issue).

“In a sense, it becomes a brand promotion opportunity,” presidential historian Matt Dallek told the Washington Post in 2017. “It’s like he’s touting his own private enterprise and using the vast reach of the presidency to promote a particular brand and enrich his family.”

Despite the optics, Mar-a-Lago’s enduring appeal is simple for Trump: Long reportedly uncomfortable in D.C., his Florida club feels like home.

“He is relaxed and focused when he is in Palm Beach and loves being there,” Ruddy says.

Though the president skipped his usual holiday plans at Mar-a-Lago since the shutdown began, wife Melania attended the annual New Year’s Eve party and returned for a low-key visit over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. Another source who is close to Trump says that he is almost always at the club over President’s Day Weekend in February, though it’s unlikely he’ll travel should the shutdown drag into next month.

Trump has largely kept to the same routine when visiting Mar-a-Lago, even while president: golfing at his private club in nearby West Palm Beach and meeting and dining with club members, regularly moving from table to table. Though invited to eat out at restaurants and private homes in the area, the president — notoriously picky, according to reports — prefers his own chef.

Melania also enjoys Mar-a-Lago but has become more withdrawn in her time as first lady, spending most of her time with her parents or Barron, her son with Trump. She also keeps her own suite at the club. She is seen together walking with her husband, though they often dine separately.

Ruddy contends that Trump “gets a great deal of work done” at his club.

“In fact,” Ruddy continues, “if I were a world leader, I would rather meet with him at Mar-a-Lago that most anywhere else.”