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Donald Trump: Working Hard, Or Hardly Working?

Trump Watching Television

Axios is reporting that Donald Trump’s workday has shrunk considerably in recent months:

President Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11am, and holding far fewer meetings, according to copies of his private schedule shown to Axios. This is largely to meet Trump’s demands for more “Executive Time,” which almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence, officials tell us.

The schedules shown to me are different than the sanitized ones released to the media and public.

The schedule says Trump has “Executive Time” in the Oval Office every day from 8am to 11am, but the reality is he spends that time in his residence, watching TV, making phone calls and tweeting. Trump comes down for his first meeting of the day, which is often an intelligence briefing, at 11am.

That’s far later than George W. Bush, who typically arrived in the Oval by 6:45am. Obama worked out first thing in the morning and usually got into the Oval between 9 and 10am, according to a former senior aide.

Trump’s days in the Oval Office are relatively short - from around 11am to 6pm, then he’s back to the residence. During that time he usually has a meeting or two, but spends a good deal of time making phone calls and watching cable news in the dining room adjoining the Oval.

As an example, Axios offers these examples from Trump’s schedule last week:

  • On Tuesday, Trump has his first meeting of the day with Chief of Staff John Kelly at 11am. He then has “Executive Time” for an hour followed by an hour lunch in the private dining room. Then it’s another 1 hour 15 minutes of “Executive Time” followed by a 45 minute meeting with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Then another 15 minutes of “Executive Time” before Trump takes his last meeting of the day — a 3:45pm meeting with the head of Presidential Personnel Johnny DeStefano — before ending his official day at 4:15pm.
  • Other days are fairly similar, unless the president is traveling, in which case the days run longer. On Wednesday this week, for example, the president meets at 11am for his intelligence briefing, then has “Executive Time” until a 2pm meeting with the Norwegian Prime Minister. His last official duty: a video recording with Hope Hicks at 4pm.
  • On Thursday, the president has an especially light schedule: “Policy Time” at 11am, then “Executive Time” at 12pm, then lunch for an hour, then more “Executive Time” from 1:30pm.

Reports like this, of course, mirror other reports that we’ve heard about Trump and how he spends his day, which has likely come from some of the same anonymous sources that Axios is relying on for it’s reporting here. Virtually from the day he entered office, it’s been reported that Trump spends an inordinate amount of time in both the mornings and the evenings watching cable news and, as his Twitter feed demonstrates quite aptly the extent to which he is effectively tweeting in real time in response to what he sees on Fox & Friends and the other cable news programs that make up his daily news diet. In the beginning of Trump’s Presidency, there was some speculation that these habits were due largely to the fact that Trump was alone in the White House residence at the end of the day given the fact that his wife and youngest son spent the first six months living in New York City so that Barron Trump could finish out the school year. Melania and Barron Trump moved to Washington D.C. in June, though, and if anything Trump’s seeming obsessions with cable news and Twitter have only increased since then. Moreover, as several reporters have noted, it is fairly easy to coordinate Trump’s Twitter feed with things he has clearly seen on TV. There have also been plenty of reports, most recently in Michael Wolff’s new book, that Trump never believed he would actually win the election and that being President has not been something he’s enjoyed very much..

As I noted in a post before Christmas, Trump is living in a real-life version of the movie Being There:

The idea that the President of the United States can be influenced primarily by what he sees on cable news broadcasts is both bizarre and somewhat scary. It’s as if we’re living in a real-life version of Being There, the 1979 Peter Sellers film in which Sellers played a simple-minded man whose knowledge about the world was derived entirely from what he saw on television. In the film, Sellers’s character is suddenly forced into the outside world after his benefactor dies and, though, series of seemingly absurd events, ends up becoming a top adviser to the President of the United States. As the movie ends, the Sellers character is being seriously considered as the successor to that President. Now, we are living in a world where that character, Chance or “Chauncey” as he is known later in the movie, has actually become President. Trump’s cable news viewing habit is well-known, of course, and it can be seen in his Twitter habit, where his posts quite often correlate with what has just been aired on one of the three major cable news networks. It is an utterly bizarre world, but apparently completely normal for the Trump Era.

Aaron Blake makes similar observations in the wake of this Axios report:

[T}he reason Swan’s scoop paints such a bleak picture of Trump is because it suggests he’s not particularly interested in the official duties of being president. Whatever you think about Trump’s policies or his fitness for the job, the job requires one to be fully engaged, to be processing information (preferably from sources other than cable news), and to always be, for lack of a better word, on. The idea that Trump doesn’t take his daily intelligence briefing until 11 a.m. is shocking just by itself. And whoever leaked his official schedules to Swan seems to be concerned that Trump just isn’t up to the job right now.

It also is completely counter to Trump’s brand and the promises he made on the campaign trail. Trump said he wouldn’t really take time off as president. “I would rarely leave the White House, because there’s so much work to be done,” he told the Hill newspaper in June 2015. He added in January 2016: “Somebody says, ‘Why don’t you take a vacation before you become president?’ I said because I like doing this.” (As in Sanders’s statement, the White House insists Trump is working even when he’s at Mar-a-Lago or at his property in New Jersey.)

The question increasingly is what “this” is. And judging by the Axios report, “this” is increasingly spending time outside the Oval Office and tweeting. It suggests that, relative to past inhabitants of the Oval Office, we have a part-time president.

Some might argue that the more time Trump spends away from the Oval Office the better for America, but for better or worse Americans elected him President and, as Harry Truman put it, the buck is supposed to stop with him. The fact that he seems to be spending so much of his time engaged in pursuits other than being President and paying attention to the details of policy, something that both of his most recent predecessors were known for doing even if one disagreed with the decisions they made. That’s clearly not true with this President. Instead, he appears to be the captive of whatever he’s seen on television most recently and whatever his staff tells him. This also means that, more so than with any recent President, day-to-day operations in the White House are in the hands of unelected staffers and Cabinet members. While many of these people, such as Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of State James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, are no doubt highly qualified to do their jobs, they weren’t elected and they aren’t the final authority under the Constitution. That’s the Presidents role and the fact that he is spending increasing amounts of his time watching television and tweeting rather than doing his job is not something that should be lightly dismissed.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Mark Ivey says:

    Watching television and tweeting all day, in bed by 18:30 with cheeseburgers, goes golfing all weekend. He’s a Republican retiree.

    ReplyReply

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 36 Thumb down 1

  2. Modulo Myself says:

    The real story is that every person around him is leaking like crazy to cover their own ass if and when the ship goes down, but they’re also pretending that not only is everything 100% fine, the actual problem is with people who think it’s not so great.

    Also, Kosinski wrote Being There in the early 70s. In the 80s, Reagan regularly mistook films he was involved in for reality. We’ve lived through decades of television and film being a mind of its own.

    What’s bizarre is that journalists think it is bizarre, or that we’re not all warped to some degree.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  3. Mister Bluster says:

    I’m a very stable genius!: REPUBLICAN President Pud

    Not to worry, everything he does is consensual…er…consequential!
    Damn he screwed up again!
    Can you believe it?

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  4. Hal_10000 says:

    I saw this coming when Trump was elected. This often happens to celebrity politicians. They get elected, thinking they can sweep in and change everything. And then they discover that their power is limited, that lots of people disagree with them, that many of the dumb things government does are done for reasons, even if those reasons are dumb. Changing government is hard work. I mean, everything is hard work. But government is hard work in a way that most people don’t like — gladhanding, deal-making, focusing on tiny policy details, groveling to silly congressmen from states you never heard of, and knowing that, no matter what you do, you’re going to be bashed in the press.

    Most celebrity politicians last about a year before they turn over everything to their staff and go on effectively extended vacation. Ventura did; Arnold did (to some extent). Now Trump is.

    It’s not ideal, as you note. But it’s probably the least bad of our options.

    I also wonder if and when Trump will simply resign, declaring that he’s accomplished all his goals. This has got to be his own personal self-made hell.

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  5. grumpy realist says:

    @Hal_10000: The problem is when Trump’s ego doesn’t think he’s getting applauded enough so he does something to get some plaudits from his gang of followers. Witness today’s decision about the El Salvadorians.

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  6. CSK says:

    I read Fire and Fury yesterday and this morning–I enjoyed it–and the principal accomplishment of the book is to validate, or at least add substantial weight to, the longtime claims that Trump has the attention span of a flea, can’t assimilate knowledge, and gets bored very quickly and easily during briefings. No desire to learn, and no capacity to do so.

    Of course he spends 75% of his day watching “the shows” and Tweeting.

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  7. CSK says:

    Let me add that Fire and Fury appears not to have been copy-edited; it’s full of typos and misspellings.

    Here’s the best typo: “Bannon was making his first official pubic appearance of the Trump presidency…”

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  8. gVOR08 says:

    I would question whether Tillerson, by experience or inclination, is well qualified as SoS.

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  9. Facebones says:

    @CSK: I don’t think that’s a typo.

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  10. teve tory says:

    But is he sticking it to the Libtarts?!?!

    That’s what his supporters in Fentanyl Springs, Arkansas care about.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  11. CSK says:

    @Facebones:

    Yes. I myself wondered if Wolff were obliquely commenting on what Anthony Scaramucci trenchantly described as Bannon’s propensity for auto-fellatio.

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  12. CSK says:

    Joe Scarborough claims that his source or sources within the WH have told him that Trump is suffering from early-stage dementia, and that the WaPo removed his references to this in two columns he wrote for them.

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  13. KM says:

    @CSK:

    Trump is suffering from early-stage dementia

    Oh he definitely is – it’s very clear to anyone who’s had any experience with it whatsoever. No one with an elderly parent could possible miss it, let alone a professional who’s job is to look for these things.

    His medical is going to be a landmine for whomever does it. They are going to be in the unenviable position of having to lie to the nation about the fitness of the CiC, risking their medical licence and ethical standing in the community, or telling the truth and being pilloried for it.

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  14. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Dementia-Donnie became President to improve his brand; he doesn’t need to take on all of the Presidential workload to accomplish that. He has minions.
    The jury is still out on improvement to the brand, but he’s making a ton of money by being in office.
    So shut up…..

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. CSK says:

    @KM:

    Indeed. If Trump undergoes a thorough physical examination, any sign of dementia will be apparent to the attending doctors. The diagnosis of dementia, as far as I know from my experience with an elderly relative, doesn’t require a full battery of psychiatric tests.

    Question: Can Trump simply cancel the exam and get that guy in NY to write him another letter claiming that Trump is the healthiest person ever to become president?

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  16. teve tory says:

    trump pretty much jettisoned his populism and governs like a standard republican. And I think congress realized that additionally, he’s so lazy and simple-minded that he’s easy to control.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  17. KM says:

    @CSK :

    Question: Can Trump simply cancel the exam and get that guy in NY to write him another letter claiming that Trump is the healthiest person ever to become president?

    No. While I don’t have the fine print on why (25 Amend issues??), the President’s official checkup has to be done by someone who’s approved of by a third party. He gets to pick his personal physician but Congress I believe has a say in the department as it is an appointment. They also tend to be military rather then civilian doctors.

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  18. Tony W says:

    Compare and contrast to the stories of Obama’s 7 almonds in the evenings while working late. The number of almonds reported was not precisely true, but the story succinctly fit Obama’s solid character and demeanor.

    The discipline differences are stark.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. CSK says:

    @KM:

    I just did some reading on this. Apparently the only information that can be released by the doctors is information the president wants released.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. al-Ameda says:

    Frankly, I’d prefer that he stick to cheeseburgers and Tweets in bed until noon, golf and Tweets until 4pm, followed by diet cokes, dinner, FoxNews and Tweets until 3am.- all of that rather than him really-actually-honestly working (which he’s never done in his life anyway).

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  21. Hal_10000 says:

    Finally figured out what this is remind me of: Howard Hughes. Trump is slowly retreating into the inner parts of the White House with his delusions. Only this HH has nuclear weapons.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  22. Slugger says:

    I have said this before, and I intend no antiTrump animus, but I think an upper age limit on high office holders should be added to the Constitution. I don’t think that a bunch of strulbrugs are what the founders of our country had in mind. I am 72. Guys my age should a wear a tuxedo and sit in the lounge drinking brandy while young people rush to the life-boats.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  23. Monala says:

    @Slugger: I agree. I think of (I think it was) Hal’s comment on another thread, about the fact that the Republicans might try to encourage Bernie Sanders to run as an independent in 2020, in order to split the anti-Trump vote. An upper age limit would prevent that.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. Mikey says:

    @CSK:

    I just did some reading on this. Apparently the only information that can be released by the doctors is information the president wants released.

    That’s the case with pretty much anyone. HIPAA applies to the President too.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. JKB says:

    I don’t understand. Trump is just trying to keep informed. Obama told us repeatedly over years that he never knew anything that was going on in his administration until he learned about it at the same time we did, from the news reports.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 11

  26. Mister Bluster says:

    Trump is just trying to keep informed.

    No he’s not. He’s just getting his daily blow job from Fox News.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. grumpy realist says:

    @JKB: Are you really as clueless as that statement seems to indicate?

    It falls into the class of Marie Antoinette’s “but why don’t they eat cake?”

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  28. michael reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Yes, he is.

    ReplyReply

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  29. al-Ameda says:

    @JKB:

    I don’t understand. Trump is just trying to keep informed.

    We have no evidence that that has ever happened.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  30. CSK says:

    @JKB:

    Trump wants to keep informed only about what’s being said about him. That’s why he starts the day with an ego massage from Fox and Friends.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. SenyorDave says:

    @CSK: When Gretchen Carlson was on Fox and Friends, Jon Stewart referred to her as the smart lady meat in a doofus sandwich. I once watched a few minutes of Fox and Friends when I was a the gym. I think I lost about five IQ points permanently. Maybe this is what happened to Trump

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  32. SKI says:

    @Mikey:

    That’s the case with pretty much anyone. HIPAA applies to the President too.

    Actually…. it probably doesn’t cover much of the care he gets as POTUS.

    HIPAA binds Covered Entities (“CEs”) who are defined as providers that bill electronically (also insurance companies and clearinghouses but that isn’t relevant here).

    POTUS gets most of their basic medical care from the White House Medical team – who don’t bill electronically.

    None of which is to say that any info will leak out but it isn’t technically HIPAA.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Mikey says:

    @SKI: Yeah, I think you’re right. WH medical staff don’t bill at all–they’re assigned to the White House Medical Unit, and are basically “just there” when they’re needed. The President’s physician is a military officer.

    ReplyReply

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  34. grumpy realist says:

    Maybe we SHOULD change the rules enough to mandate a full annual health check-up on all Senators, Congresscritters, and POTUS/VPOTUS, with the results made public. I get the feeling that with the “miracles” of modern medicine, we’re going to have a bunch of increasingly senile Baby Boomers running the show.

    And yeah, let’s have an upper age limit for this stuff as well. If we don’t let people be pilots on commercial airliners after a certain age in spite of all the automation, I see no reason why we should allow them to be politicians at high levels.

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  35. Mister Bluster says:

    @grumpy realist:..And yeah, let’s have an upper age limit for this stuff as well.

    How about 91.

    Robert Butler (b. January 23, 1927) will be 91 when he retires from more than 50 years of public service as Mayor of Marion, Illinois on January 31, 2018.

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  36. grumpy realist says:

    @Mister Bluster: I think running a town with 17,000 people is a little different than being president of the United States, no?

    It’s sort of like taking the keys away from an elderly parent. If the only place he drives is out on a deserted rural road and he only drives between home and somewhere one mile away you’re probably not very worried. If he drives 50 miles a day in dense traffic in locations with a lot of pedestrians the risk is entirely different.

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  37. grumpy realist says:

    P.S. Also please note I DID say “high-level politician.” I wasn’t thinking about rural mayors of small towns that much.

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  38. Mister Bluster says:

    @grumpy realist:..I DID say “high-level politician.”

    Why do you want to restrict electors political freedom to vote for the candidate of their choice based on an arbitrary age limit?
    Will this just apply to elected office holders?
    How about requiring that high-level office holders like Supreme Court Justices retire at 85.
    Wouldn’t it be great if Justice Ginsburg was forced to retire this March!
    That would mean Pumpkinhead would get to nominate Roy Moore to replace her.
    No doubt in my mind that the lame ass Republicans in Congress would confirm him.

    (I’ve known of several drivers traveling deserted rural roads to be killed by deer jumping through the car’s windshields and kicking them to death. Running those byways has it’s own dangers.)

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