By Michelle Ye Hee Lee,
PALM BEACH, Fla. — On Christmas Eve, President Trump observed a mix of presidential and personal traditions — including making calls to the troops, playing a round of golf at a Trump property and tweeting during down times.
The day began with a familiar morning routine — a series of tweets from the president. This time, he bashed the deputy FBI director, “Fake News” and “Fake Polls.”
Shortly afterward, however, Trump appeared in a cheerful mood as he greeted troops located in Kuwait, Qatar and Guantanamo Bay. In a videoconference message from his members-only club, Mar-a-Lago, he thanked service members from each of the five branches of the military and their “always underappreciated military families, the greatest people on earth.”
Trump praised the readiness of sailors aboard the USS Sampson and the Coast Guard’s hurricane response in 2017, particularly in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico.
“What a job you’ve done,” he said. “The Coast Guard saved thousands and thousands of lives, almost it’s unbelievable when I look at the charts, I saw the number of lives you saved.”
He also made sure to include a healthy dose of the Christmas greeting that he vowed as a candidate to “bring back.”
“I just want to wish everybody a very, very merry Christmas, we say Merry Christmas, again, very, very proudly,” Trump said. “Very, very merry Christmas.”
After a question-and-answer session with service members that was closed to the media, Trump departed for a round of golf at a different Trump property, the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.
The president returned to Mar-a-Lago in the midafternoon and touted on Twitter the tax overhaul bill he signed into law Friday shortly before leaving Washington for the holidays. He took a swipe against “Fake News,” then headed off to participate in NORAD’s Track Santa program from the living room of his private club.
The president and first lady Melania Trump took a total of 15 calls from children eager for updates on Santa’s global journey. Speaking with callers aged 5 to 12, and whose home states spanned from California to Georgia, the couple assured the children that Santa was en route. The children were patched through randomly and were not aware they would speak with the Trumps when they called to inquire about Santa’s progress.
“What would you like more than anything?” Trump asked Casper, 5, from Arlington, Va. Reporters could not hear the callers on the other line.
“Building blocks, that’s what I’ve always liked, too,” Trump answered. “I predict Santa will bring you building blocks, so many you won’t be able to use them all.”
The first lady spoke quietly, asking children if they had written up their wish lists for Santa.
“How are you? Merry Christmas. Are you tracking Santa? Do you know where he is right now?” she asked, and told them Santa would arrive shortly after they fall asleep.
After a family dinner at Mar-a-Lago that included turkey, beef tenderloin and local vegetables and seafood, the Trumps left the estate for their traditional 10:30 p.m. service at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea.
The church has been an important place to the Trumps: It’s where the president and first lady were married in 2005 and where Trump’s youngest son, Barron, was christened.
Just before leaving for church, Trump took credit on Twitter for restoring the Christmas greeting.
“People are proud to be saying Merry Christmas again,” he posted on Twitter. “I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!”
About 100 people greeted the motorcade on the short drive to the church. Most bystanders waved, cheered and recorded the encounter on their cellphones. A few held signs of protest, including one that read “Impeach,” with a drawing of a peach.
“Merry Christmas, everyone,” Trump said to the media as he and the first lady were escorted into the service by the Rev. James R. Harlan, the rector of the church.
As the first couple took their seats in the pews, a message posted on the president’s Twitter feed: “MERRY CHRISTMAS!!”