WASHINGTON -- The American Red Cross may have to contend with the elephant in the room - and protesters outside - when it holds its annual fundraiser this weekend at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
Demonstrators are planning to rally near the tony resort Saturday, drawing attention to the worldwide humanitarian relief group’s somewhat awkward choice of venue. The event comes as the Red Cross is offering aid to those affected by Trump’s moratorium on the U.S. refugee program.
It’s not clear whether the president will attend the charity ball, which benefits the American Red Cross. Mr. Trump plans to be at the Palm Beach, Florida, resort this weekend, though his aides won’t yet give details about his schedule. The Palm Beach Post has reported, however, that the Trumps plan to attend.
Red Cross spokeswoman Elizabeth Penniman said the group takes no position on the executive order and strives to remain politically neutral. Penniman declined to say whether the organization has mixed feelings about the location of the white tie gala.
Mr. Trump signed an executive order Friday that suspended the country’s refugee program for four months, stopped indefinitely the issuance of all visas to Syrians and halted for three months travel and immigration from a half-dozen other countries. The order caused confusion at airports, sparked protests and led to some U.S. residents being briefly detained.
Penniman said that at the request of local authorities, the Red Cross “will provide basic support to stranded travelers affected by the order, including providing food and water at ports of entry; blankets, toiletries and other aid; and health, mental health and spiritual care services.”
She said Red Cross has already responded to one such request.
Meanwhile, two local groups, South Florida Activism and Women’s March Florida, are expected to hold a march, originally planned for a route from Trump Towers in downtown West Palm Beach to Mar-a-Lago. But organizers told the Palm Beach Post that the march instead will go to an area in West Palm Beach across from the “Winter White House,” as some in the Trump administration have dubbed the Mar-a-Lago estate.
The scheduled march could turn out more than 2,200 people, according to organizers.
Mr. Trump’s policies, including the moratorium on refugees and planned elimination of former President Barack Obama’s health care law “will cause AVOIDABLE suffering around the world,” the Facebook page says.
Stephen Milo, a Miami resident who is organizing the protest, said, “The Red Cross does good things, but there’s some irony in having the fundraiser there, and I do want to shed light on that. Wait a minute - you’re talking about alleviating human suffering and you’re having this event here?”
Mr. Trump, who bought Mar-a-Lago in the 1980s retains a financial interest in the club, which recently doubled its membership fee to $200,000. Florida business records updated just after Trump’s inauguration list Donald Trump Jr. as its president and director.
Stuart Bernstein, a retired real estate developer who was the U.S. ambassador Denmark under President George W. Bush, said it will be a “great honor” if Trump attends the gala. Bernstein was the longtime chief of protocol for the ball.
“He is our president, and it will be great to have him,” said Bernstein, who says he didn’t support Trump’s run for president. He said he saw no issue with the refugee relief organization holding its fundraiser at Trump’s property.
Penniman said the event is planned well in advance, before it was clear its annual host would be considered a politically charged choice. She also pointed to the Red Cross’s history at Mar-a-Lago: It was the property’s original owner, Marjorie Merriweather Post, who first conceived the event some six decades ago.
The event is a hallmark of the Palm Beach social season and is almost always at Mar-a-Lago.
Penniman said the Red Cross has not yet signed a contract with a venue for next year’s event.
A permit for the Red Cross’s 2016 gala, obtained by The Associated Press, says 500 people were expected to attend. Red Cross estimated the event would raise $925,000 and cost about $400,000 to put on. The permit also noted a $20,000 in-kind donation.
In 2015, according to the same permit, the gala and another Palm Beach event together raised $1.75 million and cost $800,000.