Trump gives senators lesson on how to filibuster
President Donald Trump showed a roomful of long-winded senators how to wage a filibuster on Tuesday.
Trump showed up to the Senate for a rare confab with GOP senators and spoke for nearly an hour, essentially uninterrupted. He managed to sidestep all controversy — namely, his aide’s joke last week about John McCain’s vote not being needed on Gina Haspel‘s nomination as CIA director because he’s “dying anyway.”
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Instead, Trump’s visit to Capitol Hill was something of a campaign rally, for an audience of 50 VIPs.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said he wanted to bring up the White House aide’s disparaging comment about McCain but wasn’t given the opportunity.
“There was no time. There were two questions. He spoke for a long time. All of us had our hands up ready to ask questions but ran out of time,” Flake said.
Trump diverged from talking points circulated to White House aides earlier in the day, touting Republicans’ improved general election hopes rather than pressing senators to confirm his nominees. He did, however, put in a plug for his decisions to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and to re-engage with North Korea. He ridiculed former President Barack Obama for declaring climate change was the biggest threat to the United States. Instead, Trump insisted that the primary menace to the country is nuclear war and that‘s why he‘s so focused on Iran and North Korea, according to senators and aides.
The fireworks-free meeting marked another step in Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party, where his internal critics are increasingly shying away from direct confrontation with him. It’s not that Republicans don’t have issues with his trade policies, antagonism toward McCain or attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller. But to hear Republicans tell it, they couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
“The president really just gave a speech. It wasn’t a Q&A the way it often is when he comes,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. “It was really a presentation.”
That came as a surprise to White House advisers, who had equipped the president with a succinct list of talking points going into the meeting. They wanted him to push Republican lawmakers to rally behind Haspel, as well as on judicial nominations, according to a source familiar with planning for the session — who expected a contentious back-and-forth between Trump and the rest of the group.
But Haspel’s name went unmentioned during the president’s soliloquy.
Trump came equipped with jokes to disarm his critics. He thanked all the senators in the room for their well-wishes for first lady Melania Trump after her medical procedure this week, cracking that her poll numbers are so good that he’s told her not to challenge him in the 2020 election, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
Trump also bragged about how nice Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is to him, claiming that Manchin hugs him all the time, the source said. But Trump warned that he‘s so popular in West Virginia that Manchin will have a problem this fall.
“It was sort of a rapid-fire delivery. He was probably at his best,” said Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), often judged by his colleagues as one of the funniest senators.
Only two senators had an opportunity to question Trump, according to lawmakers who were there, and those weren’t even really questions. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Republicans need to talk more about the GOP‘s accomplishments, and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) heaped praise on Trump for his work on the economy.
“He really didn’t have an ask. It was really more of a thank you,” a GOP senator said of Heller, the most vulnerable Republican senator up for reelection this year.