Home / Politics / ‘He’s doing a victory lap’: Rejuvenated Trump pushes aggressive agenda post-Mueller

‘He’s doing a victory lap’: Rejuvenated Trump pushes aggressive agenda post-Mueller

During a private lunch with Senate Republicans, Donald Trump laid out an ambitious legislative agenda and reveled in the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Congress

The president appeared to move past intraparty squabbles at a private lunch with Republican senators.

03/26/2019 04:51 PM EDT

Updated 03/26/2019 05:43 PM EDT

Tue Mar 26 17:43:01 EDT 2019

President Donald Trump is acting like he just hit the lottery.

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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Trump looked like a president eager to run for reelection in 2020, and Senate Republicans — who face a tough map next year — were happy about it.

“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.

“He’s doing a victory lap, no doubt about it,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia. “But he earned it. He spent two years going through all this stuff with Mueller.”

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.

But at Trump’s direction, that all seemed to change on Tuesday.

“His real mission statement of the day was: take up a Republican health care package,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota.

Not everybody was that eager: “I want nothing to do with this,” said one Republican senator scarred from the failed attempt to repeal the health law in 2017.

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.

And Trump brought up the cost of stationing U.S. forces in Europe as part of NATO, but didn’t complain as much as he normally does, GOP senators said.

“Compared to the way [Trump] used to be about anything multi-national, I thought it was pretty good,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. “It wasn’t bad at all.”

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.

“Very good deal. Not a good deal. Not an OK deal it has to be a great deal,” Trump said, according to Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

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.

For once, Trump was somewhat magnanimous, at least by Trumpian standards. And rather than pick fights with Republicans who have slighted him, Trump thanked the GOP for the support.

“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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