BRANCHBURG, N.J. — President Trump is considering scrapping or postponing a planned visit to Britain later this year amid a billowing backlash over comments he made after the recent terrorist attack in London, two administration officials said.
Over the past week, Mr. Trump has expressed increasing skepticism to aides about the trip after coming under intense criticism for a misleading charge he leveled against London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan. A day after terrorists killed eight people in the British capital, Mr. Trump went after Mr. Khan on Twitter, saying the mayor had played down the danger to citizens in the wake of the assault.
The White House briefly considered including the visit as part of a trip to Europe next month, but the idea was dropped because of scheduling issues. Then it was tentatively penciled in for the fall. National Security Council and State Department officials were working on the details but had not undertaken the usual “preadvance” trip to work out the specific logistics of joint appearances, said a person familiar with the situation.
Mr. Trump, who was visiting his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., over the weekend, has not definitively ruled out going, the officials said. They emphasized that it was possible that the president would eventually warm to the idea, and that keeping it off the schedule was the best way to prepare for any eventuality.
ADVERTISEMENTContinue reading the main story
But he has told his staff that he wants to avoid a marathon overseas trip like his nine-day trek to the Middle East and Europe, which he found exhausting and overly long.
One other factor leading to his reluctance, said one of the officials, is his preference for having foreign leaders visit him — not the other way around.
But optics and politics are major considerations, too. Mr. Trump is deeply unpopular in Britain, and any visit by him — let alone a state visit with all its pomp — would probably be met with wide-scale protests. Recent polls have found that more than half of the British public views Mr. Trump as a threat to global stability.
At the same time, his poll numbers at home are hitting historic lows. The president has avoided trips to his home in New York, in part because of the potential for disruptions, several people in his orbit have said.
Mr. Trump has discussed the potential difficulties of a trip to Britain with Prime Minister Theresa May, who had a stunning setback in parliamentary elections on Thursday, although the subject of a visit was not raised when they spoke on the phone last week, the officials said.
“The president has tremendous respect for Prime Minister May,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump. “That subject never came up on the call.”
Mrs. May’s office, responding to a report in The Guardian that Mr. Trump did not want to visit Britain until he had more public support, issued a statement on Sunday saying there had been “no change” to plans for a state visit.
“We aren’t going to comment on speculation about the contents of private phone conversations,” a spokeswoman for Mrs. May’s office said. “The queen extended an invitation to President Trump to visit the U.K., and there is no change to those plans.” Mrs. May extended the invitation to the president around the time of his inauguration.
A postponement of the visit has been seen as a possibility for some time. On Friday, a senior national security official, briefing reporters aboard Air Force One, announced that the president had added a stop in Poland to his early July trip to Hamburg, Germany, for the Group of 20 summit meeting. But the official made a point of not discussing the Britain visit, saying that only the Germany and Poland legs of the trip had been planned.
Officials in Mrs. May’s government have also avoided publicly discussing Mr. Trump’s possible visit. Some senior diplomats, including Peter Ricketts, who was the national security adviser under David Cameron, Mrs. May’s predecessor as prime minister in the Conservative government, have said it is too early for a formal state visit. Those are normally granted after several years in office, if at all. But Mr. Ricketts said he had no objection to a governmental visit.
During a joint news conference at the White House in January, Mrs. May said that Queen Elizabeth II had extended the invitation for a state visit, adding that the monarch was “delighted that the president has accepted that invitation.”
In the months since, Mr. Trump has remained a deeply polarizing figure in the United States and in Britain.
A few hours after the London attack on June 3, he resumed a long-running feud with Mr. Khan, the first Muslim mayor of a major Western European capital.
“At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.
Mr. Khan was in fact referring to the public’s reaction in seeing heavily armed security forces deployed in the city. He was not playing down the threat posed by Islamic terrorists.
A spokesman for the mayor said last weekend that Mr. Khan had “more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump’s ill-informed tweet that deliberately takes out of context his remarks urging Londoners not to be alarmed when they saw more police — including armed officers — on the streets.”