President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump headed back to Washington Thursday morning in a departure that was earlier than anticipated as some Republicans plan to delay certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election win when Congress meets next week.
The Trumps took off in Air Force One from Palm Beach International Airport and are expected back in the capital later Thursday afternoon.
Trump left Palm Beach before his annual New Year’s Eve party, even though guests had already gathered at his south Florida club and were told Trump would be in attendance, according to three people familiar with the matter. The President typically relishes appearing on the red carpet in front of the press and his friends, but is skipping the event altogether this year in what will be an unusual move.
Over the course of his stay in Florida, Trump had been single-mindedly focused on the election results and the upcoming certification process in Congress, set for January 6. After losing dozens of court cases and having his appeal rejected by the Supreme Court, Trump has viewed the January 6 event as his best opportunity to overturn the election he lost.
He had been in an irritated mood during most of the trip and fumed about everything from the election outcome to Melania Trump’s renovations to his private quarters, according to multiple people who spoke with him.
At one point, Trump also said he was concerned Iran could retaliate in the coming days for the US drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, one year ago. A person speculated that could be a contributing factor in his early departure. Trump was at Mar-a-Lago when he ordered the Soleimani strike on January 3, 2020.
Before leaving for Palm Beach, he learned of Vice President Mike Pence’s role in the certification proceedings on Capitol Hill, which is mostly ceremonial. As he was flying to Florida for his vacation, Trump retweeted a call from one of his supporters for Pence to refuse to ratify the Electoral College count on January 6.
While in Florida, Trump had repeatedly raised the January 6 date with members of Congress and other associates, according to people familiar with the conversations. He lobbied senators on whether they would go along with House conservatives in objecting to the results.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, became the first senator to say Wednesday that he would object, which will delay – but not change – the results for the Election College count.
Trump has also tweeted to his supporters that he’ll see them in Washington on that date, a reference to large protests that are planned in the capital.
In Florida, Trump had been surrounded by people who mostly back his futile election efforts, including his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and his son Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle. Even as he publicly fights the results, one question he’s repeatedly polled people about is whether he should attend Biden’s inauguration.
Trump has told people recently that Pence isn’t doing enough to fight for him as his presidency ends, and has recently taken an interest in Pence’s traditional role during the certification. As president of the Senate, Pence presides over the proceedings.
Sources say Trump, before his vacation, brought the matter up to the vice president and has been “confused” as to why Pence can’t overturn the results of the election on January 6. Pence and White House aides have tried to explain to him that his role is more of a formality and he cannot unilaterally reject the Electoral College votes.
Pence had once planned to depart on foreign travel shortly after the January 6 certification. But plans for a trip to the Middle East and Europe have now been put on hold, people familiar with the matter said.
Pence spent the Christmas holiday on vacation in Vail, Colorado.