When President Donald Trump descended from Air Force One at Miami International Airport on Monday, Miami-Dade's Republican mayor said he wanted to be there. But the White House wouldn't give him an invitation.
Despite upending Miami-Dade's immigration policy to mollify Trump in the early days of his presidency, Mayor Carlos Gimenez suggested through a spokeswoman he was snubbed by the White House during a rare visit to Miami by the president. The only municipal official there to greet Trump on the tarmac of the county airport that Gimenez oversees was the Republican mayor of Hialeah, Carlos Hernández, according to a pool report.
"The mayor is a bit befuddled by the whole thing," said Gimenez spokeswoman Myriam Marquez. "They had a certain set of people they wanted there. And we honored their request."
A White House spokeswoman confirmed Gimenez wasn't invited to be part of an airport welcoming party that included U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from West Miami; Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, another Miami Republican; and the president of the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Julio Fuentes.
The apparent snub may be evidence of a lasting grudge between Trump and Gimenez, who tried to distance himself from his fellow Republican at a time when the 2016 presidential campaign overlapped with the mayor's own reelection bid.
During a televised debate with challenger Raquel Regalado in October of that year, Gimenez called on Trump to drop out of the race because of Trump's lewd comments about women captured by an Access Hollywood recording.
In a phone conversation weeks after the election about the death of Fidel Castro, the president-elect shared his displeasure at Gimenez for not endorsing him, according to Gimenez's account. Gimenez said Trump bragged about winning Florida. Gimenez countered by pointing out the Republican nominee hadn't carried Miami-Dade, which reelected the mayor by a wide margin.
Friction between Trump and Gimenez may seem remarkable, given the political hits the mayor took in supporting Trump's crackdown on local detentions of immigration offenders. He remains the only big-metro mayor to reverse a local "sanctuary" policy, after Gimenez's Jan. 26, 2017, order to local jails to start holding inmates an extra 48 hours if they were being sought for deportation. Trump praised Gimenez on Twitter for being "Strong!," setting off a firestorm over Miami's tradition as a community largely led by immigrants.
"It was the most challenging issue I faced," said Michael Hernandez, who served as Gimenez's communications director from 2014 until early 2018. "This was a global event. For every one compliment that he received, there were about five negative comments."
Though Trump threatened sanctuary jurisdictions with the loss of federal funds, Washington has not yet cut off aid to big cities like Chicago that continue to defy Trump.
Miami-Dade also hasn't seen a windfall from the White House in transit subsidies or policing aid, despite being a showcase for the Trump administration's idea of how a local government should support immigration enforcement. Gimenez was the only elected official in Miami-Dade to attend a Miami speech last August by Jeff Sessions, Trump's attorney general, promising a crackdown on sanctuary cities.
White House spokeswoman Helen Ferré on Monday confirmed Gimenez was not invited to the MIA tarmac, but said the advance team did ask the mayor to attend the president's main event, a roundtable discussion with business executives in Hialeah.
"We were advised that the Mayor was unable to attend the event in Hialeah, which was unfortunate," Ferré said. " We look forward to another opportunity whereby Mayor Gimenez can join the President to discuss issues of importance to the citizens of Miami-Dade County."
Marquez confirmed Gimenez skipped the Hialeah event after being denied a spot on the tarmac. Gimenez, in office since 2011, had greeted then-President Barack Obama when Air Force One flew to Miami, including a 2015 visit that saw the mayor embracing the commander-in-chief on the runway.
"The mayor has always greeted the president, as well as other dignitaries," Marquez said. "His assistant worked with the [Trump] White House folks. There seemed to be some confusion. The bottom line is they didn't have him on the program. So he moved on."