WHITE HOUSE —
Golf and tweets. Golf and tweets. Repeat.
President Donald Trump has been largely out of sight the last two weeks of the year, ensconced at his Florida golf resort where he has played his favorite game almost daily, out of sight of the cameras (mostly).
But he's not out of mind.
With a regular but limited series of tweets, and an impromptu interview with The New York Times, Trump has kept himself the center of attention, affecting stock prices, triggering a defensive response in Beijing, and touting strong economic figures and a new poll suggesting his approval ratings are improving.
Speaking to a Times reporter at his West Palm Beach resort, Trump said he thought he would be treated fairly by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia's role in the last presidential election.
The newspaper reported Friday that Trump stated 16 times in the 30-minute interview that Mueller's probe had turned up no evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives trying to influence the outcome of the vote.
On China, hours after tweeting an accusation that Beijing is secretly shipping oil to North Korea, Trump hinted at the possibility of aggressive trade actions against the country.
"If they don't help us with North Korea, then I can do what I've always said I want to do," he told the Times.
Trump's tweet prompted an immediate denial from a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, who said his country would never allow Chinese citizens and enterprises to engage in activities that violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.
"China is already complaining this morning," said veteran Asia watcher Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington.
With Twitter, Kazianis said, Trump is conducting foreign policy from the comfort of his golf club.
"It's old-school strategic signaling. Except this is the 21st-century version and we do it on Twitter rather than putting bombers on paths or opening ICBM doors," Kazianis told VOA. "It makes news every single time Trump sends a tweet."
The power of a Trump tweet was on display Friday when Amazon stock plummeted in early trading after the president suggested that the U.S. Postal Service should charge the online retail giant more for package delivery.
Bloomberg reported that the Postal Service had posted a net loss of $2.1 billion in the third quarter of 2017, and had $15 billion in outstanding debt.
Trump's holiday Twitter feed also touted a new poll suggesting his approval rating was improving.
The Rasmussen Poll, which is seen as an outlier that regularly shows the president's numbers higher than others, showed him at 46 percent approval among Americans. That would be a significant jump from other polls that show an approval rating in the mid-30s, which is the lowest of any president since polling began.
On the golf course
But what has captivated the press corps following Trump in Florida is not so much what he's tweeting about, but the truth about what he's doing at his golf club.
Wondering how the president is occupying his time has become something of a diversion among bored reporters waiting while Trump is obviously playing golf, even as his staff refuse to confirm his activity.
CNN obtained what it said was "exclusive footage" of Trump on the course with a golf club in his hand, but later reported that its photographic enterprise had been stymied by a large white truck that blocked its vantage point across the street from the club.
Trump did invite reporters onto the golf course Friday to photograph him with Coast Guard members who protect the oceanfront around his Mar-a-Lago resort, which he has dubbed his winter White House, while he vacations there.
Trump's golfing habits have come under scrutiny in light of his complaints about former President Barack Obama playing the sport while serving as commander-in-chief.
According to Politifact's Trump Golf Tracker, Trump's round of golf on Friday was the 85th of his presidency. That compares with 26 for Obama during the same period.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Trump had visited one of his company's properties on nearly one-third of the days since he took office on Jan. 20, 2017.