"No president has ever visited the homelands and holy sites of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths all on one trip," says National Security Adviser HR McMaster—and President Trump's critics say there are probably good reasons why. Trump departs Friday for an ambitious first foreign trip as president that will include Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican, a NATO meeting in Belgium, and the G7 summit in Sicily. A roundup of coverage:
- Trump's first stop on the nine-day trip will be Saudi Arabia, where he is expected to address the leaders of 50 Muslim countries, CNN reports. McMaster says Trump's goal is "to unite peoples of all faiths around a common vision of peace, progress, and prosperity," and his speech in Riyadh will focus on the need to "confront radical ideology" and allow a "peaceful vision of Islam" to dominate.
- Trump's second stop will be Israel, where his plans include visits to the Western Wall and the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Newsweek reports that the president had to call off a planned speech at the ancient hilltop site of Masada after Israel declined to allow a helicopter landing. A source tell the Jerusalem Post that Trump will not propose a peace plan at this point, though he may state his opposition to Israeli settlement expansion.
- The president's European stops will include meetings with Pope Francis and dozens of other leaders and heads of state, Time reports in a detailed look at his itinerary. Among them will be new French President Emmanuel Macron, who will meet Trump for a working lunch May 25.
- Sources tell the New York Times that Trump has complained to friends that he doesn't really want to go on the trip. His critics, fearing the possibility of monumental gaffes, would also like him to stay home. Stephen J. Hadley, George W. Bush's national security adviser, however, says such trips are tightly controlled and Trump will probably be at ease on the world stage. "Remember, Trump is a nothing if not a showman," Hadley says. “He’s been very public for decades and very conscious about how he comes across in the media."
- Heritage Foundation foreign policy expert James Carofano tells the Washington Post that the trip abroad will be an opportunity for Trump to have a fresh start after his troubles in DC. "The great thing about a trip, they control the environment, you control the interaction, you control the agenda and you control the press access," he says. "If you fumble on one of these trips, it’s nobody’s fault but your own."
- Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, disagrees. He tells the AP no other president has made a first foreign trip amid so much controversy. "He's already a president viewed skeptically by much of the world. And while the pictures from the trip may be great, the White House can't change the headlines that will follow him wherever he goes," he says.
- Melania Trump will be accompanying her husband on the trip, and her itinerary includes G7 and NATO spousal programs as well as speaking to American military families in Italy, Politico reports. "This will not just be an opportunity to support my husband as he works on important matters of national security and foreign relations, it will also be my honor to visit and speak with women and children from different countries," she said in a statement Thursday.
(Trump is rumored to be planning to appoint Callista Gingrich as the US ambassador to the Vatican