NEW YORK – The chaotic swarm of press, security, aides, and more that traditionally trails a president-elect has settled in midtown Manhattan. This time, with more protesters than usual, and amid one of the busiest areas of real estate in the country.
Walking down 5th Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets, hurried New Yorkers curse at the tourists who have stopped in the middle of the cramped pathway to take photos of Trump Tower, where President-elect Donald Trump has holed himself up since winning a stunning election-night victory.
“They’re moving slower than EVER!” one angry resident, who said he works nearby, yells at no one in particular.
A few protesters hold signs and are largely ignored by the police, who shout at the passersby to keep moving and stay outside of the barricades that have been erected to create a makeshift press pen on Fifth Avenue.
Crossing to the east side of the street, police have set up a check point and search people’s bags before they can walk in front of Trump Tower.
“Where are you going?” they ask.
Most people say they’re just going to Starbucks. There’s only one that they’d be going to — the one inside Trump Tower — and there are several others on Fifth Avenue, so the officers know they’re not just looking for coffee. Maybe they just want to get a look inside. The officers they don’t seem to mind.
“Man, why does everyone have to go to that Starbucks?” one officer jokes.
Heavily armed officers seem fairly at ease as they stand at the entrance of Trump Tower. Some take selfies with excited tourists who ask if they can go inside.
“We only guard the outside — go on in,” one says.
Once inside, visitors are greeted by another security checkpoint where their bags are scanned before they can move on to the main event — the lobby elevators.
Unlike past presidents-elect, Trump hasn’t set up a protective press pool that accompanies him on outings and receives regular readouts of his meetings. So reporters are relegated to a spot behind a red velvet rope in the Trump Tower lobby. They stake out the entrance and the elevators as members of Trump’s team come and go, hoping that one of them will comment on his transition team’s shakeups and controversial Cabinet appointments.
“I’ve been here for about 12 hours a day, every day since he was elected,” one Fox News reporter told Business Insider. “Sometimes you get lucky and you see someone relevant — like, ‘Oh hey, that’s [South Carolina Gov.] Nikki Haley.’ Or, ‘Oh look, there’s Sean Spicer or Kellyanne Conway.'”
Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, received a rockstar reception when she reentered the tower on Thursday afternoon.
“Oh my god, there’s Kellyanne Conway!” one woman, wearing a Trump-Pence 2016 T-shirt, shouted at her husband before jumping out of the wheelchair she’d been sitting in. She wanted to get a closer look.
“Oh, she’s so tiny,” she said, holding out her phone. “Quick, take a picture!”
The couple, who took a bus from Redding, Pennsylvania, to New York City on Wednesday, said they booked their tickets to Washington for Trump’s inauguration almost as soon as he announced his candidacy last year.
“We just knew he was going to win,” said the woman, who didn’t want to give her or her husband’s names. “We’re coming back here tomorrow and hopefully we’ll see him.”
Conway, meanwhile, took photos with everyone who approached her, asking their names and promising to remember.
“What did you say your name was, again?” she asked one woman. “Oh, I’ll definitely remember that.”
A reporter in the press pen said Conway had become “much more relaxed” over the past eight days.
“She used to just come down in the elevator and scurry out of here in a hurry,” the reporter said. “Now she stops and takes questions, takes photos.”
At one point, a young tourist approached a reporter and asked, “Are you all here because you’re waiting for Trump?”
The reported nodded, looking exhausted.
“Do you know if he’s coming down soon?” she asked.
He shook his head. No one knows.
The only time Trump had emerged from Trump Tower since winning the election was on Tuesday night, when he effectively snuck out to eat dinner at 21 Club with his family a few blocks away. On Friday, he did so again — this time, a planned excursion to a golf club in New Jersey.
“Do we always bat 1.000? Not necessarily. Last night probably was an example where there could have been a little bit better communication,” Trump’s communications director, Jason Miller, told reporters on Wednesday about the Tuesday night sneak out.
“But I would also say — would also stand up for the president-elect and say that, for some in the media, unless they’re actually sitting at the table, seeing if he’s getting the chicken or the fish, that they will never be happy,” he added. “And there always needs to be some kind of balance for respecting some degree of privacy.”
On Thursday, most reporters were waiting for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to enter Trump Tower for his much-hyped meeting with the president-elect. A little after 5 p.m., reporters were told Abe had come in another entrance, avoiding the lobby and the press altogether.
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