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INSIDE TRUMP’S MEETING WITH SENATE REPUBLICANS: President brings up trade deals the GOP keeps fretting about


WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump joined Senate Republicans for their weekly policy lunch on Tuesday, where he discussed a litany of issues he wants lawmakers to focus on in the coming months, as well as his own plans for the next several weeks.

And amid the questions and topics raised by senators, Trump made a point of bringing up a “reaffirmation” of his broad focus on trade deals.

It was a rare appearance by Trump, as the lunches are typically just senators. Slightly more frequent than Trump attending the lunches is Vice President Mike Pence. The lunch lasted about an hour, where the entire Republican conference was able to get actual face-time with Trump.

“It’s always entertaining when he comes over to the Capitol,” said Sen. David Perdue of Georgia.

Inside the meeting

According to those in the room, Trump engaged in a handful of questions with some of the Republican senators, discussing 2018 strategy and how he would engage with candidates on the campaign trail in order to preserve the slim GOP majority.

“He’s gonna go out and campaign and he’s gonna send the message that in order for him to be successful, he’s gotta have a Republican Congress as well,” said Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota. “And part of that message is also sending it beginning now with the fact that we really have been doing things. I mean none of us are satisfied with everything going on — we wanna do more.”

Trump also discussed recent developments in regard to denuclearization talks with North Korea, as well as last week’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

“I think his focus was on the most serious issues in the world today,” Rounds added. “And I think he makes it very clear that he believes resolving the issues surrounding North Korea and around Iran are some of the areas he has to be focused on right now.”

Trump also reignited the push for some kind of border security legislation, after several failed to pass the Senate in February.

Later in the lunch, Trump veered away from the discussions at hand and brought up recent trade negotiations. Amid tariffs on steel and aluminum that have already begun sparking price increases on products for American consumers, as well as a dispute over Chinese smartphone makers, Trump called for smarter and swifter trade deals that will need to get done.

“It wasn’t so much an ask as far as I could see — as much as a reaffirmation that he really does have a focus on trade,” Rounds said. “He understands that the economy’s gonna rely on fair trade.”

But Trump’s urge to address trade concerns was his own doing, raising the issue unprompted.

“The president brought this up — no senators raised the issue,” said Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson. “We’ve gotta get through these negotiations and cut as good a deal for the American people as possible.”

What Trump didn’t address

Trump did not address multiple elephants in the room, nor did senators raise such issues to him during the rare opportunity afforded to them.

When reports surfaced last week that White House communications staffer Kelly Sadler mocked Republican Sen. John McCain’s brain cancer condition in a private meeting, criticisms arose of the disrespectful culture in the West Wing.

Trump has used the incident to complain about internal leaks making their way into the media. And while several senators are longtime friends and colleagues of McCain, none raised the issue to Trump during the hourlong, closed-door lunch meeting.

Another big-picture agenda item that was not discussed was the proposal by several senators to require the upper chamber to work nights, weekends, and potentially during the preplanned five-week recess at the end of summer.

But Trump has previously voiced support for a heavier work schedule in the Senate, writing on Twitter on Saturday evening, “The Senate should get funding done before the August break, or NOT GO HOME.”

“Wall and Border Security should be included,” Trump added. “Also waiting for approval of almost 300 nominations, worst in history. Democrats are doing everything possible to obstruct, all they know how to do. STAY!”

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