California trip shows Trump doesn't always hate the media

Dinner had just been served on Air Force One Wednesday night to hungry reporters settling in for the four-hour flight from San Diego to Washington when President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe MORE popped into the press cabin with acting Customs and Border Protection Director Mark Morgan.

The president was in a sunny mood following two days in the Golden State, and it showed.

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Trump eyed the chocolate cake sitting on journalists' meal trays in a light-hearted moment. “They didn’t give me cake like that,” he quipped to a Washington Post reporter.

He described the “very successful” fundraisers he'd had over the prior two days. “They were big, but they could've had many more, if they had the physical room,” he boasted.

The president recounted his trip to the border hours earlier.

“I’m glad you got to see it,” he told the press, even asking for their impressions of the wall.

Trump marveled at how a photographer on the plane captured a $20 bill sticking out of his back pocket a day earlier and pulled out a wad of cash to explain to reporters how he likes to leave tips for hotel workers.

“Boy, that’s a good picture,” he said with a laugh. “Hey, I’d like a piece of that picture.”

Trump has an often acrimonious relationship with the media. He had criticized two of the reporters traveling with him by name on Twitter in recent weeks, and decried The New York Times as a “sad joke” while flying to New Mexico at the start of the week.

But he can’t resist interacting with the press, and he did so regularly during what had been billed as a series of private fundraisers closed to the media.

Trump chatted with reporters while en route to Mountain View, Calif. He answered questions under the wing of Air Force One in Los Angeles, accompanied by his new national security adviser, Robert O'Brien. The president talked for another 40 minutes in the shadow of a 30-foot tall section of border wall and capped the trip with a 20 minute Q&A on the flight back to Washington.

For Trump, the border wall served as the showcase moment of his three-day trip to the West Coast. He played tour guide to the press. He invited cameras to take a closer look at the steel bollards being used to construct the wall and explained the features that made it “virtually impenetrable.”

The wall was resistant to even the best mountain climbers, Trump said, and hot enough to “fry an egg” to ward off anyone who dared to try scaling it.

Trump was so eager to market the manifestation of his signature campaign promise that he at one point overshared the intricacies of its security features.

“They’re wired so that we will know if somebody is trying to break through. And you may want to discuss that a little bit, general,” Trump said, turning to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing that,” Semonite replied.

For Trump, this rare trip to California seemed to be a welcome respite from the domestic and global challenges that he faces in Washington, including some problems of his own making.

The president is dealing with calls from members of his own party to take military action against Iran in response to bombings in Saudi Arabia. He's also grappling with ongoing Democratic investigations that could lay the foundation for an eventual impeachment proceeding and coverage of a House Judiciary Committee hearing played during one of the president's Tuesday flights.

As Trump flew home, news broke that a whistleblower had filed a complaint alleging the president made a concerning “promise” to a foreign leader.

The two days in California could have presented yet another setback. The state is perhaps Trump's most prominent foil outside the Beltway, having sued the administration roughly 60 times to date and pursuing policies that run counter to the president's agenda.

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But Trump's two-day stay was clear of potential obstacles. That was the case literally on Tuesday night when Los Angeles's notorious traffic was removed for the motorcade to roll down the 405 freeway, along Sunset Boulevard and into Beverly Hills for a $5 million fundraiser.

Following that event, Trump campaign manager Brad ParscaleBradley (Brad) James ParscaleMORE and senior White House advisers Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today On The Money: White House, Dems edge closer to trade deal | GOP worries about Trump concessions | DOJ argues Congress can't sue Trump on emoluments | Former Fed chief Volcker dies White House, Democrats edge closer to deal on trade MORE and Stephen MillerStephen MillerSenate Democrats demand Trump fire Stephen Miller Marianne Williamson roasted for claim Trump pardoned Charles Manson Juan Williams: Stephen Miller must be fired MORE were among the president's allies who mingled in the lobby of a ritzy Los Angeles hotel.

When he wasn’t pulling in millions of dollars at swanky fundraisers, Trump took the fight to California.

On the flight to the state, Trump disparaged San Francisco and Los Angeles for having issues with high homeless populations, saying the residents of those cities are “fed up.”

While in Los Angeles, he announced he would revoke California's tailpipe emissions measure, setting up yet another legal battle with the state. Trump later insisted the timing was purely coincidental.

And shortly after taking off — in between asides about chocolate cake — Trump told reporters that the Environmental Protection Agency would be citing San Francisco with a notice of violation related to pollution stemming from its homelessness issues.

The boon to Trump's mood from the California trip may carry into the weekend. The president will host the Australian prime minister for a state visit on Friday, then join Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Houston's NRG Stadium for an event titled “Howdy, Modi,” that is expected to draw tens of thousands.

The president then heads to New York City for the United Nations General Assembly. He will be forced to grapple with growing crises in the Middle East, Venezuela and elsewhere. 

Trump last year was laughed at when he bragged to world leaders about his administration's accomplishments.

But, riding high off the jaunt out west, Trump predicted that his speech would be as boastful as ever.

“I’m going to say, ‘The United States is the greatest country in the world,’” Trump said aboard Air Force One on Wednesday night. “‘It’s never been stronger and it’s never been better, and they certainly have one of the great presidents in our history.’”