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Trump Advocates For Public Service On MLK Day, But Spends It At Mar-A-Lago Resort

President Trump spent the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. Previous presidents have marked the holiday doing volunteer work.
Nicholas Kamm
AFP/Getty Images
President Trump spent the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. Previous presidents have marked the holiday doing volunteer work.

Updated at 1:40 a.m. ET Tuesday

Some members of the Trump administration started off the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. at a wreath-laying ceremony at the civil rights leader's memorial in Washington Monday. But the president's first stop was his own golf club.

Trump signed a federal holiday proclamation at the White House on Friday where he praised King for his leadership in the civil rights movement. And, in words that echoed every president before him since 1994, Trump encouraged "all Americans to observe this day with acts of civic work and community service in honor of Dr. King's extraordinary life."

Yet, it appears Trump ignored his own inspiring message. He spent most of the day at his own Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

Although he retweeted an official White House video in which he pays tribute to King, there was no indication he intended to participate in any public services before returning to Washington in the afternoon.

While Vice President Mike Pence's also remained under the radar on Monday, he and his wife Karen visited the MLK memorial on Sunday. They laid a wreath of their own at the statue of Dr. King.

The absence of volunteer plans by the president is especially glaring as he faces accusations of racism following reports that he made derogatory comments about Haiti and African nations.

He has since denied those reports and on Sunday told reporters, "I am the least racist person you will ever interview."

But his refusals have done little to stem criticism from leaders at King's former church in Atlanta. As Molly Samuel of member station WABE reports, the Rev. Raphael Warnock addressed the congregation gathered Monday morning at the Ebenezer Baptist Church saying, "I was still reeling in the reports just hours earlier about a volcanic eruption of hate speech spewing out of the mouth of the same man."

Warnock called on the president to repent. "A proclamation without an apology is hypocrisy," he said to widespread applause.

Several members of Congress took to Twitter to relay what they were doing in honor of King.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin joined City Year Chicago volunteers.

California Sen. Kamala Harris attended a Times Up event in Los Angeles, and served as the grand marshal of the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in South LA, one of the biggest in the nation.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker launched a new podcast called, "Lift Every Voice." His first guest was Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., praised King's life and work and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio sent out a series of tweets quoting the civil rights leader.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson toured King's birth home with his wife and spoke at a nearby historic firehouse.

It was Ronald Reagan who signedthe bill that made King's birthday a national holiday in 1983, and it was first observed in 1987. In 1994, under Bill Clinton, Congress designated the day as a Day of National Service. Since then presidents have undertaken various public service endeavors to mark King's birthday and the legacy he left behind.

George W. Bush volunteeredat Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., and Barack Obama helped out at a homeless shelter.

Dr. King, shot dead 50 years ago in April, would have turned 89 today.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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