After years of being ignored or just endured, lawmakers may finally have just the kind of guy they want in the White House.
Donald Trump wants to schmooze with lawmakers. He realizes his legacy depends on them. And he doesn’t plan to bother them with the details, just the big picture.
“I can’t imagine a better relationship,” said Rep. Tom Rice, a South Carolina Republican. “You’ve got a level of trust between the Congress and the administration that hadn’t been seen, in my opinion, in a long, long, time. If we can’t build on that, then shame on us.”
President Donald Trump will meet with Senate and House Republicans Thursday afternoon at the Joint Republican Issues Conference at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel. Vice President Mike Pence will speak at a lunch the same day.
But here’s the inevitable problem: Trump, a one-time-Democrat, disagrees philosophically with Republicans on a variety of issues and makes contradictory statements about others.
Trump left Republicans scratching their heads when he said he wanted to provide “insurance for everybody” when replacing the Affordable Care Act. He left them disappointed with his views on immigration and NATO. And he left them fuming when he withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which had been backed by many in his party.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for example, called Trump’s decision on the trade agreement “a serious mistake.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump’s top legislative priorities are: curbing illegal immigration, changes to the tax code and easing regulations.
Still, Trump is not expecting legislation to be written at the White House, according to three people familiar with his plans but not authorized to speak publicly about them. Even when he fills all the vacancies at the White House, his staff still will rely on already written Republican legislation that never advanced while Barack Obama was president, according to people in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
During his presidential campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump called up lawmakers, including Reps. Tom Price of Georgia, Ryan Zinke of Montana, Jeff Miller of Florida and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, and used their policy proposals in his speeches, according to a Capitol Hill aide. He nominated two of those lawmakers – Pirce and Zinke – to be in his Cabinet.
Trump has dispatched Vice President Mike Pence, a former Indiana congressman who served in the House leadership and was known for getting things done, as his unofficial emissary to Capitol Hill. Pence told Republican senators he would attend their weekly lunches as often as he can, which started with Tuesday. “It’s an amazing bridge to the administration,” said Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
He’s going to push and as he pushes us it’s going to be way quicker than if there was another personality in the White House.
Chris Collins, R-N.Y.
Pence held a weekly call with select Republicans members of Congress during the two-month transition after the election and kept in regular contact with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and committee chairmen. Transition staff held a daily call with Capitol Hill staff. Ryan is also close to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.
Members of Congress say they now know exactly whom to call at the White House when they want to get a message to the president: a handful of Capitol Hill staffers hired by Trump. They include Rick Dearborn, longtime chief of staff to Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican poised to become attorney general; Marc Short, who worked for Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida as well as Pence in the House, and Rob Porter, chief of staff to Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who met Trump Monday, said they spoke about how Democrats were able work closely with President George W. Bush on “many issues,” including an energy bill.
Democrats complained about how they rarely heard from President Barack Obama, who was never one to lobby – or even socialize – much with lawmakers. Instead, he tried to pressure Congress by rallying the public at campaign-style events across the nation.
Trump, a businessman and former reality TV star, solicits advice before providing the vision or ideas for the country, his congressional fans say.
I think he is going to be very hands on...and you can look for him to pick up the phone and talk about this
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said he met Monday with Trump administration officials about legislative priorities. “I don’t remember that happening when President Obama came in with a Democrat Congress,” he said. “The outreach so far has been nothing short of spectacular.”
Trump appeared to enjoy mingling with lawmakers of both parties at the traditional inaugural lunch Friday at the Capitol Hill. He invited Senate and House leaders to the White House for a reception Monday and met again with Senate leaders Tuesday. He and Paul met separately this week to talk about healthcare, regulations, taxes and border security, aides say. Trump and Pence will address House and Senate Republicans Thursday in Philadelphia.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who had already spent time with Trump last week, said he was looking forward to talking with him at the retreat about regulations, taxes and energy. “It’s always good to get together and hear what’s on their mind,” he said.
You’ve got a level of trust between the Congress and the administration that hadn’t been seen, in my opinion, in a long, long, time.
Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C.
Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who serves as Trump’s liaison to Capitol Hill, said the impatient deal maker president is not thrilled with one aspect of how Congress works: it’s slow pace.
“He’s going to push and as he pushes us it’s going to be way quicker than if there was another personality in the White House,” he said.
Lesley Clark and Curtis Tate contributed.