What it’s like to cover President Donald Trump at his golf club
By Robert Costa
But that’s par for the course these days for reporters who cover President Donald Trump, who’s spending much of the month at his Bedminster, N.J., property.
Palmeri was in the room at Trump National Golf Club on August 8, just steps away from the commander-in-chief, when he declared that Pyongyang could face “fire and fury” if the North Korean regime continues to threaten the United States.
I spoke with Palmeri, who is also a CNN political analyst, about what it’s like to be a pool reporter — a reporter who chronicles the president’s every move and shares reports with the rest of the press corps — when global news unfolds.
ROBERT COSTA: You've joked on Twitter that you're the Bedminster bureau chief. What’s it like reporting from there?
TARA PALMERI: My parents live in the town right next to Bedminster. Right now, I’m 10 minutes away at my parents' house holding down the Politico bureau.
The president certainly made some big news from the heartland of Jersey about the ‘fire and fury’ that he may be unleashing on North Korea. That was a lot. Since I was pool duty, I got to see that firsthand. Since then, the story has turned to questions about whether those remarks were impromptu or planned. I’ve been working on that. The location is not actually that important when it comes to that part of the story, but it is where the actions and the aides are, so you want to be there. Still, it’s not as stressful as being the Washington bureau chief, I’m sure of that.
COSTA: What was it like to actually be in the room when he made that sudden announcement while sitting at a table in the club, right before a meeting about opioid addiction?
PALMERI: I think all of us, the reporters who were there, were all shocked by how strong the language was. We all decided before we got into the room, knowing that we'll probably only get one or two questions, that the first question should be about North Korea.
I believe it was the Associated Press reporter who got the first question. I think every reporter was in this "wow" moment while transcribing. And then of course we were quickly ushered out, so there was no way to really follow up on it. It just seemed like the administration was escalating this North Korea situation. It was not what we all expected going in. I was in the pool with your colleague, Jenna Johnson, from the Washington Post.
We ran back and tried to start transcribing on our laptops, just the North Korea statement even though the entire event was supposed to be about opioids. There's stress, you're in a van, you're listening to a transcript. You know what that's like. You know you have to get that out quickly because that's the news. The broadcast networks were streaming live, so we had to really make sure it was out there.
COSTA: Where in the club were you? For most people, it’s a mystery how that process works.
PALMERI: It’s interesting how you get there. You pass by a bar with tons of pictures — framed covers of Trump on various magazines. There's a picture of Trump on the cover of an apartment magazine saying he has some of the world's best apartments. There are TIME magazine covers and Forbes, and pictures of him with Regis Philbin. There's one of Babe Ruth with someone but it's not him. I thought it might've been his father.
You're walking by this Trump history, at least the way that he sees the history of his life, and then you're in this little tiny alleyway. It's a hallway, and you go to a side room, which essentially is a private dining room for a party that has been refashioned. It sort of looks like it could be a library because there are some books on both sides. It could even have been a smoking room at one point, but it’s been reformatted.
COSTA: Was anyone else around?
PALMERI: The club was packed. Every single parking lot was taken with tons of beautiful cars like Audis and Range Rovers and license plates from basically every state in the country, which was interesting as well. It seems that maybe people are coming just because they know the president is there.
COSTA: Does the president mingle with club goers?
PALMERI: It seemed like on the weekend that he was mingling, but for the exposure that we had with him, he seemed to be wanting to portray that he was in the clubhouse working. We didn't see him mingling, but I think you saw some of the pictures on social media from over the weekend where he was shaking hands and he was in his golf cart. It looked like he was having a great time.
COSTA: Did you spot General John F. Kelly, the president’s new chief at staff, while you were at Bedminster?
PALMERI: He was there at the meeting. I did not see him moving around besides being in that meeting. I'm sure it's a bit surreal to be on the second week of such an important job. As a military man, to see Trump heightening the rhetoric that resulted in a response from North Korea saying, ‘We can reach Guam, and we could bomb you at this point,’ I'm sure he understands the intensity of these words and what can happen from them.
I've heard from aides that they really respect him, they know that he has a lot of authority at this point, and they think that they have to walk the straight and narrow. They have to show up to meetings on time. They have to actually attend meetings, whereas a lot of them used to skip when Reince Priebus was chief of staff. They know that the idea that they're factionalized is not good, is not something that Kelly wants out there, and that they need to stop bickering about policy issues and having proxy wars in the press. There is a sense that they need to be living up to the standard that Kelly wants, a no no-nonsense standard.
COSTA: One final thing: New Jersey. You have some roots there and the president seems to be making it the center of the world, at least for a few weeks.
PALMERI: It’s great. As a Jersey girl, it's cool to see the president wanting to spend time in our state, and for it being recognized for the fact that it is quite beautiful. Bedminister isn't Secaucus or Giants Stadium. There are rolling hills and farms and people actually enjoy spending time here. It’s good for our state. I was annoyed by that Boston Globe story where they pooh-poohed New Jersey and the idea that a president would want to spend time there. They sounded like a bunch of snobs. I'm happy that people are getting to see it. But most journalists aren't really getting to see Jersey because they're staying at a Marriott in Bridgewater across from a mall, which I guess is still very iconic Jersey.