“If I win I may never see my property—I may never see these places again,” then-candidate Donald Trump said at an August 2016 campaign event. “But because I’m going to be working for you, I’m not going to have time to go golfing, believe me. Believe me."
The once-vocal critic of presidential golfing seemed to ignore his own campaign promise once he took office and has now golfed 144 times since taking office.
In his first year alone, Trump spent more time on the links than President George W. Bush did during his two terms in office, and almost three times as much as Barack Obama did during his first year.
In fact, Donald Trump visits his golf course in Northern Virginia so much that one canoeing group is suing his administration for placing allegedly illegal and frequent restrictions on the Potomac River—which borders the Trump-owned hotel.
The Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington on Thursday filed a lawsuit alleging the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security are “revoking the public’s legal right to access and enjoy a popular section of the Potomac River whenever President Trump visits Trump National.”
“We would like them to recognize the Potomac is a recreational river and we are allowed to use it recreationally,” Barbara Brown, Canoe Cruisers Association Chairman, told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “We have had to alter all of our plans because we never know when the president is going to be around.”
Filed at the U.S. District Court in Maryland, the complaint alleges a Coast Guard-established rule that prevents use of the Potomac along Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia is unlawful.
The “permanent security zone” rule announced last July restricts access along two miles of the river anytime the president or any other high-ranking official is at the club, which is often on weekends and holidays.
“The Coast Guard can both ensure that the President’s security needs are fully met and uphold the inherent rights of the public to access and recreate on the Potomac, the Nation’s River,” reads the suit.
The lawsuit additionally alleges the Coast Guard didn’t follow proper protocol when rolling out this new security-zone rule. “There’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things, and this lawsuit is about doing things the right way because that matters,” Anne Harkavy, executive director of Democracy Forward, a legal nonprofit that filed in conjunction with the canoers, said in a statement.
“The President can retreat to his private club and play golf, but the Administration can’t shirk its obligation to hear and respond to the public’s concerns about a permanent deprivation of legal access to part of the Potomac River,” Harkavy continued.
In the lawsuit, the canoe association of more than 250 members cites at least 32 times since last June that the river was made off-limits because the president decided to play golf.
“The Administration needs to listen to the hundreds of river users who opposed this rule, and establish with certainty a reasonable outcome that maintains access to this treasured natural resource while addressing the legitimate security considerations for the President,” Brown said in a statement.
In addition to naming U.S. Coast Guard commandant Karl L. Schultz as a defendant, the lawsuit alleges the Department of Homeland Security and Secretary Kirsten M. Nielsen are responsible for neglecting to address the “unlawful” rule.
When the new rule went into effect last summer, local canoers and kayakers immediately offered vocal critiques. After two weeks of public outcry and what Brown called a “big publicity problem,” the Coast Guard announced they would be open to reversing the rule.
“As long as they stay to the Maryland side of the Potomac River, they can pass clearly when the security zone is in effect,” Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zunkunft said at a congressional hearing.
During a one-month period last year after the rule went into effect, the Coast Guard opened a “comment period” which Brown described as an “open forum for paddlers.” More than 634 comments were filed in an effort to change the rule, Brown said, and DHS promised to address the issue.
But according to the new complaint, the feds ended up doing nothing.
“DHS was legally required to address these commends and revise the rule— and it promised that it would do so,” the suit states. “Nevertheless, the Rule has been in place for well more than a full year and DHS has taken no steps to revise the Rule or otherwise respond to comment in any way.”
Brown, who has been an active member of the association since 1959, said the lawsuit seeks to hold the Coast Guard and the DHS accountable.
“We are not trying to make trouble,” Brown said. “But there is no advanced notice we are being chased off the river and people are often told to leave. This is a conservation issue.”
Democracy Forward says unlike past administrations that have only temporarily established river restrictions, the Trump administration has gone far beyond that practice and caused a chilling effect for public river users.
“The rule has created uncertainty surrounding public use of a popular section of the river while the President is golfing, something he has spent nearly 25 percent of his days in office doing,” Democracy Forward said in a press release on Thursday.
Despite the decision to sue the Trump administration, Brown insisted the lawsuit and the Canoe Cruisers are not politically motivated.
“This is not a personal animosity against the Trump, or any, administration. We’re just trying to paddle our own canoes,” Brown said.