President Trump’s nine-day foreign trip is giving relief to a Republican Party and White House plagued by controversies back home.
The visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel have let Trump bask in adulation from his hosts and produce iconic images, from an elaborate welcome in Riyadh to a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
In Washington, Republican lawmakers also could get a bit of a reprieve, though they are unlikely to completely avoid the questions swirling around the new administration.
The president has stayed off Twitter — aside from posting boilerplate messages about his trip — and has not held a press conference, meaning fewer questions about the escalating investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election now led by a special counsel.
For the first 72 hours of his trip, at least, there has been less talk about that probe, which is reportedly looking into at least one senior member of the White House staff. The president’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey has not come up in public.
Instead, Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put their chummy relationship on public display Monday in Jerusalem, with the Israeli leader declaring, “For the first time in my lifetime, I see a real hope for change” because of the “reassertion of American leadership in the Middle East.”
The largest Hebrew-language newspapers welcomed Trump with blaring English headlines that read, “Welcome, Mr. President.”
One exception from the positive public relations display came Monday, when Trump decided to answer a question about the strain in the U.S.-Israel security relationship over reports that he leaked highly classified information to Moscow during a meeting with two Russian officials.
Trump said he never mentioned the word “Israel” in the meeting, calling attention to the controversial revelation and creating an awkward moment for Netanyahu, who was visibly uncomfortable during the president’s comments.
Even as the Russia scandal was relegated to the background, it was clearly on the minds of many in Israel. One local telecommunications company ran a television commercial spoofing Trump, centered on a fictional Russian hack of the White House computer network.
After leaving Israel, the president will have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, where their disagreements over refugees and climate change could come up.
He’ll also have to thread a needle at a summit meeting in Brussels with leaders of NATO, whom he criticized during his campaign for not paying their fair share for defense.
Some aides say the whirlwind trip has already taken a toll on the 70-year-old president, who prefers the confines of home.
“He’s just an exhausted guy,” one White House official, who declined to be named, told reporters Sunday when asked to explain why Trump mixed up words in his otherwise well-received speech on extremism in Riyadh.
Before departing the White House last Friday, Trump had not spent a single night outside of the executive mansion or one of his properties.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday pushed back on that characterization.
“He’s doing better than I am,” he told reporters aboard Air Force One. “And he’s got a few years on me.”
The Israelis staged a less lavish welcome for Trump than the one he received in Saudi Arabia, when his arrival was welcomed with a flyover of military jets that left trails of red, white and blue.
Trump still basked in the praise from Netanyahu and Israeli leaders, as well as the historical surroundings. He said he was “deeply moved” by his visit to the Western Wall — the first by a sitting U.S. president — and referred to the prime minister by his affectionate nickname, Bibi.
Yet Trump recognized the difficulty of brokering a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, something that has vexed multiple U.S. presidents but that he recently said is “not as difficult as people have thought.”
“I’ve heard it’s one of the toughest deals of all, but I have a feeling that we’re going to get there eventually, I hope,” the president said.
GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak said the trip was a welcome reprieve from Washington for the White House.
“If they were hoping to turn the page completely, that was probably an unrealistic goal,” he said. “But if they wanted foreign policy achievements and a chance to develop relationships with key partners who are going to be crucial in accomplishing their goals, I think they should feel pretty good about it.”