Trump to hold campaign rally of 4-week-old administration in Florida on Feb 18

US President Donald Trump participating in a press conference in the East Room in of the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb 16, 2017.
US President Donald Trump participating in a press conference in the East Room in of the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb 16, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - In an extraordinarily swift return to politicking after a tumultuous first month in office, the White House said President Donald Trump will hold the first campaign rally of his four-week-old administration on Saturday (Feb 18).

The rally, to be held in an airplane hangar in Melbourne, Florida, is an indication that Mr Trump, who has sometimes felt isolated in the White House, is eager to get outside of Washington and relive the rapturous reception that greeted him during the presidential campaign.

Mr Trump exulted in large crowds assembled at cavernous venues throughout his 2016 bid, and spent the first days of his presidency quibbling over how many Americans attended his inauguration.

On Wednesday, during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Mr Trump answered a question about whether his administration was flirting with xenophobia and racism in part by noting the support he received in the election.

"I just want to say that we are very honoured by the victory that we had - 306 Electoral College votes," he said. "There's tremendous enthusiasm out there."

Not long after, in a posting on Twitter, Mr Trump invited his nearly 25 million followers to attend the Saturday evening event, which will take place just up the coast from his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach where he plans to spend the weekend. It will be his third weekend in a row on Florida's Gold Coast.

"We are going to put America back to work," a message accompanying the posting said. "We are going to put people before government."

The White House would not provide any additional information about the rally. Officials referred questions to a member of Mr Trump's political organisation, who also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"It's being run by the campaign," Mr Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said on Wednesday, without elaborating. He would not say why the president would be holding a campaign rally so soon after taking office.

The rally will be only the second public appearance by Mr Trump outside of Washington since he took office. On Friday, he is scheduled to visit a Boeing plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, for the unveiling of the aerospace manufacturer's new Dreamliner aircraft.

Mr Trump filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission for his 2020 re-election campaign on Jan 20, the day he was sworn in. That allowed him to continue to accept contributions - including proceeds from the sales of his popular red "Make America Great Again" hats - without running afoul of the law.

He ended the 2016 campaign flush with funds, in part because of substantial sales of the hats. At the end of 2016, he had US$7,611,702.92 (S$10,818,600) cash on hand and no debt.

Mr Larry M. Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Centre, a non-partisan group, said he was not aware of any president having held a campaign rally this early in his tenure.

"Usually, they are too busy trying to get their administration in place," Mr Noble said. "More importantly, normally the president wants to delay candidate status so that he can travel as president making speeches, announcing new policies and actions, promoting his agenda and attacking his opponents in Congress without having to use campaign funds."

Mr Barack Obama did not file his statement of candidacy for re-election until April 2011, more than two years after he took office, while Mr George W. Bush waited until May of 2003 and Mr Bill Clinton until April of 1995.

Mr Trump may be moving now, Mr Noble said, to ensure he can address a friendly crowd devoid of protesters.

"My guess is that he intends to control who is invited to the rally and press access by calling the rally a candidate event and paying for it out of campaign funds," Mr Noble said. "If it was an official White House event, he would have less control over it."

Mr Trump is likely to travel to the event on Air Force One and will have a sizable contingent of Secret Service and staff aides with him, as presidents always do when they travel.

Campaign finance laws dictate that the cost of such a flight be shared between the campaign organising the rally and the White House.

It is not abnormal for a sitting president to hold a political rally in the months before an election, and Mr Trump has said he plans to campaign actively for Republicans who support him and against Democrats who seek to stymie his agenda.

But his return to the campaign trail on Saturday is unusually early. Even the mid-term congressional elections for members of Congress are still 21 months away.