WASHINGTON – In some ways, it's a typical end-of-the-presidency White House: Moving boxes along the walls, a rising number of empty offices, hushed
WASHINGTON – In some ways, it’s a typical end-of-the-presidency White House: Moving boxes along the walls, a rising number of empty offices, hushed hallways, people packing up.
Of course, Donald Trump’s White House is anything but typical.
Trump and his aides are moving out of the White House under clouds of impeachment and insurrection, struggling to reach the finish line of a volatile term that will face scrutiny for years from investigators, political candidates and presidential historians.
Some aides have already left a dwindling White House staff, citing Trump’s behavior and the attack on the U.S. Capitol; some who stayed said they thought about resigning but decided to hang on and wrap up their responsibilities.
Exhausted and somewhat dejected, aides said they are trying to keep their heads down and work on deadline projects, including the transition to next week’s arrival of the Joe Biden administration.
“People around here feel like there’s honor in completing the job,” one official said on condition of anonymity.
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Trump has never been more isolated, aides said, and he attacks Republicans he believes abandoned him. That expanding list includes congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, as well as the 10 House Republicans who voted Wednesday to impeach him for allegedly inciting an insurrection last week at the U.S. Capitol.
The riot left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.
Seeking to project some sense of normalcy, aides announced that Huntsville, Alabama, would be the location for the headquarters of the new U.S. Space Command. Trump signed an order adding to a ban on American investment into Chinese military-related companies.
The president hosted a ceremony Thursday to award the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal to recipients that included singers Toby Keith and Ricky Skaggs. The event was closed to the public but open to staffers.
Trump’s single term expires at noon Wednesday. Advisers urged him to give public remarks defending his presidency, said aides speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
It’s not known how Trump will handle his public duties in the final days, or whether he’ll give a traditional farewell address as predecessors have.
There is a sense of resignation and frustration hanging over the entire enterprise, aides said, and concern that Trump and his staff will long be haunted by last week’s violence at the Capitol.
Part of Trump’s isolation is an increasingly empty West Wing.
Phased departures are normal after an election, but many aides sped up their exits because of Trump’s behavior since Biden’s victory, punctuated by the invasion of the Capitol by overheated supporters on the ill-fated date of Jan. 6.
Publicly announcing her resignation, White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said she once worked in the halls of Congress, and “I was deeply disturbed by what I saw today. … Our nation needs a peaceful transfer of power.”
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The thick-carpeted halls of the West Wing are quieter than in previous lame duck administrations. Fewer people walk from office to office, meeting to meeting; those who are spotted often carry black or orange packing crates or push carts headed for moving vans on the White House driveway.
Trump shuttles between the residence upstairs at the main White House and the Oval Office. When he is in the latter, a Marine stands guard at the door to the West Wing.
Some aides said he is angry that Republicans didn’t defend him as strongly as he believes they should have. He watched the House debate on impeachment, complaining to allies about it.
Trump believes he won the election over Biden, despite all the evidence to the contrary, advisers said. He is in a brewing billing dispute with his most prominent lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Political adviser Jason Miller said Trump is upbeat and has no plans to back down: “There’s a fighting spirit that’s still there.”
Though office televisions are tuned to news about impeachment and the pending trial in the Senate, aides said they try to ignore it and focus on meetings and presidential statements.
“That’s just noise,” an aide said.
Beyond the fortified gates of the White House, political opponents see Trump’s finishing touches as something else: efforts to hamstring the incoming Biden administration. Some cited the administration’s plan to freeze some foreign aid payments that have been approved by Congress.
“Every prior attempt by this administration to cut foreign aid has been overwhelmingly rejected by members of Congress, including many in the president’s own party,” said Tom Hart, North America executive director at the ONE Campaign, an anti-poverty organization. “Congress must ensure this proposal meets a similar fate.”
In one sense, administration officials said, their burden is easier: Since Twitter took down Trump’s account, they have not had to explain any online outburst by the president.
They defended his exhortations to supporters before the mob broke into the Capitol, seeking to intimidate lawmakers into reversing Biden’s victory and award the presidency to Trump.
Aides said Trump shared some – but not sole – responsibility for what happened Jan. 6. They said Trump asked supporters to march to the Capitol, not invade it. Violent protesters do not represent the majority of Trump supporters who will remain loyal for years, they said.
Amid the tension, aides encouraged Trump to make a brief video after the House impeachment vote. Trump did not mention the charges against him, instead distancing himself from the mob violence at the Capitol and urging Americans to look ahead.
“We must focus on advancing the interests of the whole nation,” Trump said.