WASHINGTON - Responding to stinging criticism, President Donald Trump on Saturday abruptly reversed his plan to hold the next Group of Seven world leaders' meeting at his Doral, Florida, golf resort next year.
Trump announced a rare backtrack Saturday night after facing accusations that he was using the presidency to enrich himself by hosting the international summit at a private resort owned by his family.
"Based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility, we will no longer consider Trump National Doral, Miami, as the Host Site for the G-7 in 2020," Trump tweeted. He said his administration "will begin the search for another site, including the possibility of Camp David, immediately."
The striking reversal raises further doubts about the position of the president's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulavney, who held a press conference Thursday announcing the choice of Doral for the summit. He insisted his staff had concluded it was "far and away the best physical facility." Mulvaney said the White House reached that determination after visiting 10 sites across the country.
In the same press conference, Mulvaney acknowledged a quid pro quo was at work when Trump held up U.S. aid to Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine's investigation of Democrats and the 2016 elections. Mulvaney later claimed his comments had been misconstrued, but not before drawing the ire of the president and frustration from other senior aides.
Trump had been the first administration official to publicly float the selection of his property to host the summit when in August he mentioned it was on the short-list and praised its facilities and proximity to Miami's international airport. His comments, more than a month before the official announcement, drew instant criticism from good governance groups and Democrats, who said it raised concerns that Trump was using the White House to boost his personal finances
The vociferous criticism did not die down, even as Trump insisted he would host the summit at cost, though he refused to disclose financial details. The annual heads-of-state gathering would at minimum have provided good-will value to his property.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Trump's reversal Saturday "is a bow to reality, but does not change how astonishing it was that a president ever thought this was appropriate, or that it was something he could get away with."
An hour before Trump's announcement, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned the selection of Doral for the summit. "Hosting the G7 at Trump's hotel? A president should never be able to use the office for personal gain," the former vice president said.
On Thursday, Mulvaney had discounted Camp David, the government-owned presidential retreat, as the site for the summit, claiming, "I understand the folks who participated in it hated it and thought it was a miserable place to have the G-7." He added that it was too small and remote for the international summit.
Mulvaney said then that unspecified sites in Hawaii and Utah had also been on the short list. It was unclear if they were still under consideration.