Updated 03/26/2019 05:43 PM EDT
Tue Mar 26 17:43:01 EDT 2019
In a private lunch with Senate Republicans on Tuesday, a rejuvenated Trump laid out an ambitious legislative agenda and put past intraparty conflicts behind him as he reveled in apparent vindication after special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into allegations that the president colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign.
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“I look at this as sort of a new election. A fresh start,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally. He said Trump put it this way: “I’ve got this behind me now. It’s a fresh start. So let’s see what we can do — starting with health care.”
The president urged his party to swiftly pass a new North American trade deal, said he would pursue an “excellent” pact with China and even called on the GOP to formulate a new health care plan as he seeks to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. He endorsed a probe by Graham into whether there was an anti-Trump effort in the Justice Department in 2016 and at one point handed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pages listing unconfirmed nominees and directed the caucus: “Please get these done.”
McConnell is expected to bring a rules change to the Senate floor pushing some confirmations as soon as next week.
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Trump specifically called out Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) for slowing ambassador nominees and remarked that Menendez, who survived a corruption trial, is “lucky” to be in the Senate, according to a person briefed on the meeting. Trump also complained that Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell’s policies are hindering gross domestic product growth from reaching 4 percent, the person said.
The meeting with Republicans, described by a dozen GOP senators, showcased Trump’s new outlook as he enters his reelection campaign in earnest. With much of the cloud of the special counsel probe removed, Trump dictated an aggressive blueprint for Senate Republicans that seems impossible to execute with Democrats in the House majority.
But for Trump anything seemed possible on Tuesday as he declared both inside and outside the lunch that Republicans are going to become the “party of health care.” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Trump is “reinvigorated” and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said the president feels “vindicated” after nearly two years of scrutiny by the special counsel.
“His perception: … That there was a concerted attempt to smear him and to cripple his presidency with something that was probably false,” Cassidy said.
Trump’s decision to jump headlong into another divisive health care effort — with Democrats in control of the House no less — shows that he isn’t shying away from conflicts, even those that could hurt vulnerable GOP lawmakers. In fact, Republicans had no real plans to pass or even necessarily plan for sweeping health care legislation as of 24 hours ago. And most in the party have been eager to put the disastrous effort to repeal Obamacare behind them.
Trump also picked on favorite targets. He complained about spending in Puerto Rico as Congress tries to forge a disaster aid deal for the island states affected by recent storms. He even showed Republicans a chart that laid out what he views as profligate spending as the island recovers from a recession and a hurricane.
“And he’s right on that. A lot of it has been misused and abused,” said Shelby, the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman. “It doesn’t have the best record of spending wisely.”
Trump also griped about a lack of investigations into the Justice Department and urged Graham to move forward. He said he wants Congress to act quickly on a new deal to replace NAFTA despite the steep hurdles posed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ambivalence.
The president told Republicans he wants to protect intellectual property produced by “nerds” in Silicon Valley from China, angling for a new pact with the country by driving a hard bargain, according to one attendee.
But what was most striking is that even after Republicans voted against his national emergency on the border and his administration’s presence in Syria, he viewed the caucus as a cohesive and loyal unit instrumental to his success.
There was no apparent pushback over Trump’s posthumous attack on Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) nor did Republicans express disdain for the Trump administration’s support on Monday for obliterating Obamacare. And the president didn’t single out GOP senators that have voted against him, either.
“He was grateful. He expressed gratitude for the last two years of support he’s gotten from the institution and the members in there. It was a real sincere expression of gratitude,” Cramer said.
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