President Donald Trump’s repeated weekend jaunts away from Washington have caused nonstop headaches for his South Florida neighbors this winter.
But once his exclusive seaside retreat at Mar-a-Lago closes for the season, Trump is expected to shift his weekend plans north, to his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey – and bring with him all the chaos that comes with being a preferred presidential destination.
“We’re kind of apprehensive, I guess you could say,” said Nick Strakhov, a retired telecommunications professional and longtime resident who serves on the Bedminster land use board. “It’s nice to be recognized. But on the other hand, if it gets to be tedious, we might start to complain.”
Street closures and traffic jams were a big problem last fall across the region when the then-president elect traveled to Bedminster by motorcade from Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan for a weekend’s worth of interviews with potential Cabinet nominees.
White House and Secret Service officials did not respond to requests for comment about what mode of transportation Trump would use to get to New Jersey from Washington when he goes, but local officials said they’re expecting the president to travel either via a smaller 757 version of Air Force One into Morristown, New Jersey, or to fly into Newark and then use Marine One to get to his club.
No matter what mode of transportation he takes, local aviators are bracing for flight restrictions that will keep private planes out of nearby skies when Trump is in residence. “That’s bad for Somerset. Shuts us down when he’s there,” said Lorne Sheren, the senior aviation medical examiner at one of the three privately-owned public airports in the area.
Bedminster officials have also been struggling for months to explain to the public who will pay for all the extra overtime work when the president is in their small rural town.
Trump’s three-day trip to Bedminster last November as president-elect cost $3,683 in local police overtime, for example, and the town’s mayor, Steve Parker, estimated in a letter to New Jersey GOP Rep. Leonard Lance that seven 72-hour Trump visits could run the tab up to more than $300,000.
Lance’s office wrote the Obama Justice Department in December seeking grants or other funds to help pay for Trump’s visits to Bedminster as president-elect and beyond. He got a response last month from Acting Assistant Attorney General Samuel Ramer, who explained that $7 million was available under the latest continuing resolution to help state and local law enforcement “for extraordinary overtime costs directly and solely associated with protecting the president before his inauguration.”
But Lance’s office said it’s still unclear how DOJ will divvy up the funding, or if Bedminster will get any of it. The congressman met Tuesday in Somerville, New Jersey, to talk about Trump’s upcoming visits to Bedminster with the county prosecutor and the lead Secret Service agent for the entire state, but his office said it still doesn’t have solid details on the funding situation.
Asked for an update on the funding issue, a DOJ spokesman declined to comment. Officials at the White House, Trump Organization and Secret Service did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Locals are concerned. At a March town hall meeting, resident Jane Schumann told the all-Republican town board that she’d heard from friends in South Florida who were being told to expect higher tax bills to help pay for Trump’s frequent visits.
“West Palm Beach is a lot bigger than we are. Those people are a little more affluent than we are. Has there been any thought to that?” she asked.
Parker told her that he’s estimated the local costs for multiple Trump visits to Bedminster throughout the year and he’s hoping Washington will send a check to cover those expenses. “Those of us have no control over it other than to ask the questions and be a squeaky wheel,” Parker said at the town hall. He also noted the Trump Organization in the past had kicked in to pay for extra security costs related to events at the club, well before Trump’s political career launched.
In an interview, Parker said Bedminster is in uncharted waters, especially with the media frenzy accompanying presidential trips. But he also said the town is accustomed to dealing with prominent people.
“We’ve got lots of folks who’ve got a little bit of notoriety in town and it’s just regular business for Bedminster,” Parker said, citing former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and billionaire Steve Forbes, a former Republican presidential candidate.
Trump has long made the bucolic New Jersey country club his primary summertime getaway. A villa exclusively reserved for the president on the property secured approval from the town land use board last month for a 500-square-foot, two-story balcony and porch addition.
Ivanka Trump and her husband, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, were married at Bedminster, and the three-story, five-bedroom home they use there got approval for its own major expansion last year, ahead of the birth of their third child.
Just as at Mar-a-Lago, Trump relishes the camaraderie of spending time with people he’s long socialized and golfed with.
“So, this is my real group,” he said during a mid-November reception celebrating the New Jersey club’s longest-running members, according to leaked audio obtained by POLITICO from the event, held just 10 days after he’d won the White House.
“You are the special people,” Trump added, thanking the members and club staff for their early political support, naming many of them by their first names, and even talking at length about their golf games.
At one point, Trump even planned to be buried on the property, because, as one of his representatives explained in 2013 to local officials, he “appreciates the Bedminster ethic, and has stated that what exists here does not exist in other towns.”
This year’s visits to Bedminster will bring Trump a measure of personal redemption. The club will host the U.S. Women’s Open in mid-July, fulfilling a longtime goal of holding a major professional golf tournament at one of his courses.
The president’s golf club is the town’s second-highest paying taxpayer. And his club has repeatedly hosted the local government for its annual organization meetings. Democrats after the 2005 elections even rented out Trump National’s clubhouse to celebrate a rare election win onto the town board.
Bedminster is also about as close as Trump can get to Trump country in a blue state like New Jersey. While he lost Somerset County to Hillary Clinton by 14 points last November, he won the sparsely-populated rural town of Bedminster by 42 votes.
No doubt, Trump’s weekend travel out of Washington remains fertile ground for Democrats, especially given how often he criticized President Barack Obama for playing so much golf during his eight years in office. The Center for American Progress Action Fund has launched a website comparing the $25 million it estimates has been spent to date on Trump’s travels with budget priorities like the National Park Service and Medicaid. Florida Democrats are also collecting emails on a petition seeking reimbursements to the state for Trump’s seven Mar-a-Lago visits during his first 13 weeks as president.
Local Democrats say they’ll greet Trump whenever he comes to New Jersey with protests, even if it may be challenging to accomplish in front of his club due to security restrictions and logistics. The clubhouse and Trump’s villa are set back more than a mile from a high-speed, two-lane county road.
“We’ll do what we need,” said Paula Dolan, the chair of the Bedminster Democratic Committee, “to make our opinions known.”