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Mar-a-Lago membership fee to $200K

Opponents claim president is selling access to his administration at the "Winter Whitehouse." PLUS: Trump's likely ambassador to New Zealand named.

Sun, 19 Feb 2017

Donald Trump has drawn fire after a report he doubled the membership fee for his Mar-a-Lago club to $200,000 after being elected President.

Opposition Democrats say he is selling access to his presidency.

The New York Times says several memberships to the 500-member private club in Florida are for sale.

The Times notes a number of business leaders affected by Mr Trump's policy agenda belong to the club. White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks told the Times the president "has not and will not discuss policy with club members."

President Trump and his entourage are spending their third working weekend in a row at Mar-a-Lago at an estimated cost to the taxpayer of $US3 million a weekend.

Last weekend, he was criticised in some quarters after coordinating his response to a North Korean missile test from the club's dining patio. Fellow diners watched as a security briefing took place, with at least one relaying the action to his Facebook account.

President Trump's businesses are being run by his sons Donald Jr and Eric while he is in office.

Ambassador to NZ
Former Republican Senator and Trump campaign fundraiser Scott Brown is being lined up for a position with the administration — probably ambassador to New Zealand according to a Boston Globe report.

"It is unclear what Brown’s specific link to New Zealand might be," the Globe writes.

The paper notes that in a 2015 interview with GQ about his passion for cycling, Mr Brown said, “I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand or Scotland or Wales and just ride 100 miles, hit a pub, drink, eat, sleep, do some exploring, and then get up, ride another 100 miles, do that for a couple weeks.”

Mr Brown shot to national prominence in 2010 when he won a special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat left open by Edward Kennedy's death. 

But two years later he lost the seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

In 2014, the occasional Fox News commentator tried to get back into the Senate via an open New Hampshire seat but lost.

Mr Brown (57) worked as a male model and served in the National Guard before entering state politics in the 1990s.

Pruitt confirmed as EPA head
The Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency on Saturday NZT.

Two Democrats crossed the floor to support Mr Trump's nominee in the 52-46 vote – Joe Manchin from coal-rich West Virginia, and Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota, who shares Mr Pruitt's support for a controversial oil pipeline.

A climate-change sceptic, Mr Pruitt sued the EPA 13 times while Oklahoma Attorney-General over what he saw as overly burdensome clean water regulations. He describes himself on his LinkedIn page as “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

Trump spars with reporter over majority
The president, who lost the popular vote 48.0% to 45.9% on November 8 but gained an edge in the Electoral College (state-by-state) vote to win the White House, had the following exchange with a reporter from NBC, which he has included in his list of "fake news outlets." It came during an unscheduled 76-minute press conference, devoted mostly to Mr Trump's low opinion of the media's performance.

President Trump: I'm here following through on what I pledged to do. That's all I'm doing. I put it out before the American people. I got 306 Electoral College votes. Because people came out and voted like they'd never seen before. I guess it's the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Regan.

NBC reporter: You said today that you had the biggest Electoral College margin since Ronald Regan with 306 electoral votes. The fact that President Obama got 365 [in 2008] ...

Trump: While I'm talking about a Republican. 

Reporter: ... and then President Obama got 332 [in 2012] and George H W Bush 426 when he won as president, so why should Americans trust you ...

Trump: Well no I was given that information. I don't know, I was just given that. We had a very, very big margin.

Reporter: Why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they receive as fake when you're providing information that is fake?

Trump: Well I don't know. I was given that information. Actually, I've seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?

Reporter: You're the president.

Trump: Good answer.

Trump's second pick for NSA turns him down
President Trump's latest pick for national security adviser, retired vice-admiral and Lockheed Martin executive, Robert Harward, has turned down the role.

The White House said Mr Harward declined for personal reasons. Some US reports said the Lockheed man had wanted to bring his own team with him but was told that was not an option.

Mr Harward was offered the job after Michael Flynn was fired by President Trump on Tuesday NZT for misleading Vice-President Mike Pence over his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the US.

The White House official said Mr Harward cited family and financial reasons for opting not to take the job. Mr Harward is a senior executive at Lockheed Martin.

New Labor Secretary nominee
President Trump is also lining up a new nominee for labour secretary after his initial candidate, fast food executive Andrew Puzder withdrew amid opposition from a number of Republicans in the Senate. Mr Puzder faced criticism for not paying taxes on work carried out by an undocumented maid, and was undermined by a video that was circulating of his wife's appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, during which she made allegations of domestic abuse that she later recanted.

President Trump's replacement nominee is Florida International University College of Law dean Alexander Acosta.

If confirmed by the Senate, Professor Acosta will become the first Hispanic member of the Trump cabinet.

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Mar-a-Lago membership fee to $200K