Trump in awe of the house he did not build

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump, who flew across the country on hundreds of nights during last year's election campaign to sleep in his own bed, has now spent several straight days in the unfamiliar surroundings of the White House - and discovered there is a lot he likes.

"These are the most beautiful phones I have ever used in my life," he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday evening. "The world's most secure system," he added, laughing. "The words just explode in the air."

What he meant was that no one was listening in and recording his words.

He sat at his desk - the one used by former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy, among others - at the end of his fourth full day in office.

His mornings, he said, are spent as they were in Trump Tower. He rises before 6am, watches television tuned to a cable channel in a small dining room in the West Wing, and looks through the morning newspapers: The New York Times, New York Post and now, The Washington Post.

But his meetings now begin at 9am, earlier than they used to, which significantly curtails his TV time. Still, Mr Trump, who does not read books, is able to end his evenings with plenty of television.

In between, he signs executive orders in the Oval Office and has meetings in the West Wing.

"They have a lot of board rooms," he said of the White House, an apparent reference to the Cabinet Room and the Roosevelt Room.

The White House is the only property that Mr Trump has slept in that is more famous than one of his own, and he seems in awe. Although he made his name building extravagant, gilded properties, the President has marvelled to aides at the splendour of the White House and the lengths he must walk to get something from a far-flung room.

Among modern US presidents, Mr Trump may be best situated to work where he lives. For decades, he has lived in a penthouse apartment on the 58th floor of Trump Tower and taken a lift down to the 26th floor, where he has a corner office with views of Central Park. Many presidents have complained of being cooped up inside the White House, but Mr Trump can go for days without breathing in fresh outside air.

His wife, Melania, returned to New York on Sunday with their 10-year-old son Barron, and so Mr Trump has the television set - and his old, unsecured Android phone - for company. That was the case after 9pm on Tuesday, when he appeared to be reacting on Twitter to the Bill O'Reilly show on Fox News, which was airing a feature on crime in Chicago.

At 9.25pm, he posted: "If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible 'carnage' going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!"

In the interview, Mr Trump demurred when asked about whether it is hard having his family away from him, and pointed to yesterday, when his wife and son, who is finishing the school year in New York, were expected to return.

"They will come down on weekends," said Mr Trump. "She will come down on Thursdays and stay."

He said he is enjoying himself so far, despite his visible displeasure with the coverage of his inauguration and the first performance of his press secretary Sean Spicer, who shouted at the media and made numerous false statements about Mr Trump's inaugural crowds in the White House briefing room last Saturday. Mr Spicer appeared to have redeemed himself in Monday's do-over.

Mr Trump's first breakfast at the White House took place last Saturday morning - a buffet in the residence spread with fresh fruit, pastries and other treats - where his adult children and their families joined him. The kitchen has been stocked with the same type of snacks that he had on his private plane, including Lay's potato chips and Doritos.

The President spent a part of Tuesday poring over artwork from the White House collection, settling on a portrait of Andrew Jackson - America's first populist president, who has been invoked by Trump aides as inspiration - to hang in the Oval Office.

"Now, I am working," he said in the interview, punctuating his focus by cataloguing the work of the day: An executive order restarting the Keystone XL pipeline and his plans for border-related actions.

Meanwhile, he is pondering his first break away from the White House, a potential trip to Mar-a- Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, possibly on the weekend of Feb 3. Until then, he is breaking in the residence, which his wife is still working on decorating.

"It is a beautiful residence; it is very elegant," he said, deploying one of his highest forms of praise.

"There is something very special when you know that Abraham Lincoln slept there," he said. "The Lincoln Bedroom, you know, was his office, and the suite where I am staying is actually where he slept."

He was referring to the White House master bedroom, which is now his own.

"Knowing all of that, it is different, than, you know, just pure elegance and room size," said the President. "There is a lot of history."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2017, with the headline 'Trump in awe of the house he did not build'. Print Edition | Subscribe