Thursday, January 26, 2017
#OyVeyDonaldTrump becomes schmoozer-in-chief
Donald Trump has emerged from his earliest days in the White House with a new title: schmoozer-in-chief.
Trump, a Washington outsider, is hoping to build the kinds of relationships that can lead to cooperation with Republicans and Democrats that would advance his agenda.
Lawmakers who felt shunned at worst or tolerated at best by former President Barack Obama are hopeful for the change.
“We're a couple days in but it's going to be way better than what we've had during the last eight years," Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said in an interview. “He's a builder and he wants to bring people together.”
Trump so far has appeared to relish joking around with lawmakers at informal and formal events, and he’ll take his effort on the road Thursday, when he will speak about his agenda in front of House and Senate Republicans’ joint retreat in Philadelphia.
But it's unclear how far the new president’s charm offensive will get him.
Trump's lack of impulse control and tendency to speak his mind has already gotten himself into hot water with the lawmakers he needs to woo.
That paradox was on full display on Monday afternoon, when Trump lavished congressional leaders who met with him at the White House with an assortment of fancy appetizers and drinks.
As the leaders munched on a mix of shrimp, crab, meatballs and other snacks in the State Dining Room, Trump repeated his baseless claim he lost the popular vote because millions of people illegally cast ballots for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The assertion prompted a mix of anger and pity from Democrats. “I felt sorry for him,” said House Minority Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was in the room.
It frustrated Republicans, who worry Trump’s continued focus on the election could hamper their efforts to get on the same page on policy areas like healthcare reform, trade and immigration.
Trump on Wednesday expressed annoyance the conversation was leaked, a common Washington occurrence, and downplayed the degree to which it consumed the reception.
“It was so misrepresented,” he told ABC News. “That was supposed to be a confidential meeting … the conversation lasted for about a minute.”
Trump is also not invited to Democrats' upcoming congressional retreat in Baltimore, breaking with past practice, a sign partisan tensions aren't going away.
Despite the rocky start, Trump does not plan to shut himself in.
He plans to extend White House invitations to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus, which include some of his most vocal opponents, spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday.
“I think that you're gonna to see a lot more of that, a listening president who's engaged,” said Spicer. “That's who he is. That's what he did during the transition. And I think that's he's gonna do going forward.”
At Monday’s event with congressional leaders, Trump, a teetotaler, even had alcoholic beverages on hand to loosen the mood.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) admitted that was pushing the envelope a little too far with the usually buttoned-down leaders. “We were all drinking Diet Cokes,” he said.
Trump has tapped Vice President Mike Pence, whose six terms in the House included a stint in leadership, as his point man on Capitol Hill.
Pence on Tuesday attended the Senate Republicans’ weekly conference lunch and said he would drop by regularly. The vice president is also accompanying Trump in Philadelphia.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who developed close ties with GOP leaders as party chairman; and deputy chief of staff for operations Rick Dearborn, a longtime chief of staff to Trump’s attorney general pick Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), are also said to be involved in congressional outreach.
While Trump is still getting to know many key players at the Capitol, he has been especially chummy with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has known the president for three decades.
He and Schumer spent a good chunk of time swapping stories and memories at the Monday meeting, including a 2008 fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
“I asked the president, how long have you and Chuck Schumer known each other. He said, ‘Chuck’s been coming around for 35 years or so.’ I think they know each other better than anybody else in the room,’” Cornyn said.
That Trump and Schumer come from the same place and share a history wasn’t lost on the top Senate Republican.
“I enjoyed the president and Sen. Schumer talking about all the people they knew in New York,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said afterward.
Schumer, who is facing tremendous pressure from the left not to compromise with Trump, has said he won’t be taken in by the charm offensive.
“The president tried to flatter me [like] I'm his good friend,” he told reporters this week. “Then, he started calling names. None of them affect me. The bottom line is values, our values, as Democrats and Americans will affect whether I work with him or oppose him, plain and simple."
Trump’s developed his taste for socializing during his decades as a New York real estate developer and reality TV star.
In his book "Trump and Me," writer Mark Singer marveled at how the businessman worked a room full of dignitaries at the 1997 grand opening of the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan.
“A backlap and a wink, a finger on the lapels, no more than a minute with anyone who wasn’t a police commissioner, a district attorney or a mayoral candidate,” he wrote.
But then the author noticed Trump stop and thank the parking attendants before leaving. “A quintessential Trumpian gesture that explains his popularity among people who barely dare to dream of living in one of his creations,” he wrote.
Obama was perceived to be more cerebral and aloof, preferring to spend time with first lady Michelle Obama, his two daughters and team of close advisers.
Trump, on the other hand, is living in the White House without his wife and young son, who are in New York while he finishes the school year.
Obama wooed lawmakers early on, hosting a cocktail reception at the White House on eight days after his inauguration to lobby them on his stimulus plan. Days later he invited Republicans and Democrats for a Super Bowl party.
But the schmoozing let up — he rarely had lawmakers fly with him on Air Force One or play golf with them — and Obama soon earned a distant reputation.
In a 2012 interview with CNN, Obama denied he avoided socializing with members out of spite.
“Sometimes Michelle and I not doing the circuit and going out to dinners with folks is perceived as us being cool,” he said.” It actually really has more to do with us being parents.”