President Donald Trump has delivered a year-end video message after returning early from vacation, highlighting his administration’s work to rapidly develop a vaccine against COVID-19 and rebuild the economy.
As the end of his presidency neared, Mr Trump cut short his stay at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida and got back to the White House on Thursday (local time), a day ahead of schedule.
Upon his return, Mr Trump released a video message over Twitter to underscore his administration’s work on the vaccine, economic stimulus checks and America’s “grit, strength and tenacity” in the face of challenges.
He called the vaccine, which is rolling out nationwide, a “truly unprecedented medical miracle” and said it would be available to every American early this coming year. “We have to be remembered for what’s been done,” Mr Trump said in the nearly five-minute message.
The White House didn’t give a reason for Mr Trump’s early return, and the schedule change means he will miss the glitzy New Year’s Eve party held annually at his Palm Beach club.
But it comes as tensions escalate between the United States and Iran in the final weeks of his administration.
There is concern in Washington that Iran could order further military retaliation for the US killing last January 3 of top Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani.
Iran’s initial response, five days after that deadly US drone strike, was a ballistic missile attack on a military base in Iraq that caused brain concussion injuries to about 100 US troops.
Iranian-supported Shiite militia groups launched a rocket attack on the US Embassy compound in Baghdad on December 20. No one was killed, but Mr Trump said days later that Iran was on notice.
“Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over,” Mr Trump tweeted on December 23. He added, “We hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq.”
The White House announced the abrupt change in the president’s schedule late on Wednesday, hours after Senator Josh Hawley said he would raise objections next week when Congress meets to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.
It’s the latest futile attempt by Mr Trump and his allies to fight his election defeat and overturn the will of the voters, and scores of previous challenges have failed, including at the Supreme Court.
Former Attorney General William Barr and other administration officials have said they saw no evidence of mass voter fraud, as Mr Trump has claimed.
Mr Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, arrived at Mar-a-Lago after dark on December 23 and spent practically the entire vacation focused on subverting the election results.
That includes an effort to get Republican lawmakers to challenge the vote when Congress meets January 6 to affirm Mr Biden’s 306-232 win in the Electoral College.
A group of Republicans in the Democratic-controlled House already had said they will object on Mr Trump’s behalf. They needed at least one senator to join them to force votes in both chambers, and Hawley stepped up.
The GOP objections, however, will not prevent Mr Biden from being sworn in as President on January 20, and Senator Kamala Harris from becoming Vice-President.
During his vacation, Mr Trump also took near daily swipes on Twitter at Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp and other state elections officials over his loss to Mr Biden in that state.
While he has remained focused on the effort to stay in power, Mr Trump has stayed mum on major developments during the holiday break, including a Christmas Day bombing in Nashville, Tennessee.