Ceremony, political jibes mark President Trump's first day in London
LONDON — Mixing pageantry and political pugilism, President Donald Trump embarked on his long-delayed state visit to Britain on Monday, belligerently insulting London's mayor but being feted with smiles by the royals at a time of turmoil for both nations in the deep, if recently strained, alliance.
It was a whirlwind of pomp, circumstance and protest for Trump, who had lunch with Queen Elizabeth and tea with Prince Charles before a grand state dinner at Buckingham Palace. Eager to flatter Trump, the British lavished him with spectacle, beginning his visit with a deafening royal gun salute as the president and first lady Melania Trump walked to the palace where a waiting queen greeted them with a smile.
Those were the images sought by a White House eager to showcase Trump as a statesman while, back home, the race to succeed him — and talk of impeaching him — heated up. Yet Trump, forever a counter-puncher, immediately roiled diplomatic docility by tearing into London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
The agenda for Trump's weeklong European journey is mostly ceremonial:
Later this week come D-Day commemoration ceremonies on both sides of the English Channel and his first presidential visit to Ireland, which will include a stay at his coastal golf club. For most presidents, it would be a time to revel in the grandeur, building relations with heads of state and collecting photo-ops for campaign ads and presidential libraries.
But Trump has proven time and again he is not most presidents.
With the trip already at risk of being overshadowed by Britain's Brexit turmoil, Trump unleashed a Twitter tirade after a newspaper column in which London's mayor said he did not deserve red-carpet treatment and was "one of the most egregious examples of a growing global threat" to liberal democracy from the far right.
"@SadiqKhan, who by all accounts has done a terrible job as Mayor of London, has been foolishly 'nasty' to the visiting President of the United States, by far the most important ally of the United Kingdom," Trump wrote just before landing. "He is a stone cold loser who should focus on crime in London, not me."
The president added that Khan reminded him of the "terrible" leader of his hometown, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio though "only half his height." De Blasio, a Democrat, is a longshot candidate in the 2020 presidential race. Khan supporters have previously accused Trump of being racist against London's first Muslim mayor.
During the palace welcome ceremony, Trump and Prince Charles inspected the Guard of Honor formed by the Grenadier Guards wearing their traditional bearskin hats. Royal gun salutes were fired from nearby Green Park and from the Tower of London as part of the pageantry accompanying an official state visit, one of the highest honors Britain can bestow on a foreign leader.
But the U.S. president arrived at a precarious moment. There is a fresh round of impeachment fervor back home and uncertainty on this side of the Atlantic. British Prime Minister Theresa May has undergone months of political turmoil over Britain's planned exit from the European Union, and French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to use the 75th anniversary of the World War II battle that turned the tide on the Western Front to call for strengthening multinational ties the U.S. president has frayed.
A sense of deja vu quickly spread around London as Trump barreled into the visit.