President Trump set off Friday for his first foreign trip as president, a nine-day, five-stop tour of the Middle East and Europe that comes amid turmoil at home.
A jovial-looking Trump waved and gave a thumbs-up to the press and staff on the South Lawn before taking off on Marine One en route to Joint Base Andrews for his overseas flight.
He was accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, chief of staff Reince Priebus and longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller.
Trump is the first president since Jimmy Carter not to take a foreign trip during his first 100 days in office. The president, who is known as a homebody, has reportedly been dreading the journey. He has not spent a night outside the White House or a Trump-owned property since his inauguration.
The ambitious schedule begins Saturday in Saudi Arabia, where he plans to meet with Gulf Arab allies and deliver a high-stakes speech on Islamic extremism.
He’ll also make a stop in Israel, where the thorny Middle East peace process looms, before traveling to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis, who has been critical of his policies. He’ll end his trip with summit meetings with NATO allies and leaders from the Group of Seven industrialized nations.
Trump said in a Friday tweet that he’s excited for the trip.
He tweeted Friday morning: “Getting ready for my big foreign trip. Will be strongly protecting American interests - that’s what I like to do!”
The president’s trip will be shadowed by the growing controversy at home over his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.
Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey last week set off a firestorm in Washington that resulted in the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the probe.
The situation has dashed hopes in the White House that the trip could have served as a reset for Trump’s chaos-filled presidency.
Meanwhile, Trump is hurriedly trying to find a replacement for Comey. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) emerged as the front-runner for the job in recent days. But the White House said an announcement wouldn’t be made before Trump’s departure.