The Trump White House is many a time a whirlwind of activity, with President Donald Trump often summoning reporters, seemingly on a whim, when he has something to share. But there was none of that on Wednesday, as the new administration quietly relished an early victory.
A day after Trump’s first address to Congress received glowing reviews from Republicans and left even Democrats grudgingly acknowledging that he appeared presidential, the White House largely went quiet. The apparent strategy was not just to savor a, so far, rare victory, but to use the speech to springboard from five weeks of chaos and self-inflicted wounds to a push on legislative priorities.
“We are here to start the process,” Trump said Wednesday while flanked by congressional GOP leaders at the White House. “It begins as of now and we’ll have tremendous success.”
Rather than board Air Force One and take the vision he laid out directly to a crowd of average Americans — which he will do on Thursday and Friday — the president spent the day after his address at the White House.
And the largest chunk of his public schedule was devoted to hammering home the message that Trump was busy working on his plan to turn the speech’s long list of agenda items into law.
The president and Vice President Mike Pence had a working lunch meeting with leading Republicans who will be key to his ambitions. On the guest list were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner, and Georgia Sen. David Perdue, a former businessman and an early Trump supporter.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters the lunch session was focused on “charting out the agenda and the timeline.” He said Trump’s other internal meetings with senior White House aides, along with the congressional leaders, “drive the goals” from the address.
“Just to be factual, at some point the people who set the … timetable to enact his agenda are Republicans,” Spicer said.
“I think he’s pretty well shown a desire to reach across the aisle,” he added, noting that he expects Trump will soon huddle with top Democrats to discuss the policy issues he laid out during the address.
Cornyn said the lunch meeting centered on the agenda before the August recess, including health care, taxes and the Supreme Court vacancy.
“I think he understands, as we do, the importance of getting things done to set the tone of his first term,” the Texas Republican said. “So we’re getting organized and getting prepared.”
Given the complicated nature of many of the new administration’s desired legislative outcomes, and given differences on how to address them among Republicans alone, Trump and his team face an uphill battle.
Ahead of the president’s Thursday trip to a naval shipyard in southeast Virginia and a Friday “listening session on school choice” at St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Florida, the White House was eager to remain mostly silent and allow the mostly positive reviews of his first prime-time address to carry the day.
For instance, Trump only fired off one morning tweet — “THANK YOU” — an apparent message of appreciation for pundits applauding his remarks. Spicer opted to hold a more informal “gaggle” at the White House — with the television cameras turned off. And the president kept his remarks short and forward-looking when reporters were briefly allowed into his meeting with the GOP leaders.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 1, 2017
White House aides were eager to paint the address as upbeat and one that called for “unity,” with “olive branches” for both parties. “There were a lot of areas in that speech last night that … transcended party lines,” Spicer said.
But beneath the surface of the White House’s celebrating, which has been rare during its first few weeks, was its familiar feistiness.
For instance, when asked about Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer saying earlier Wednesday that Trump’s call for a massive infrastructure package is an issue for possible bipartisan compromise, Spicer replied: “I’m glad to see he’s finally found one area he’s willing to work with the president on.”
Also in a frisky mood were Schumer and other top Democrats, who told ABC News that Trump’s address was “totally detached from reality.”
“He talks to the working folks of America, they were his main constituency, but the way he’s governed has been totally with the hard right special interests against the working people,” Schumer said, a few hours before Spicer told reporters he expects Trump will meet with rank-and-file Democratic members about his agenda soon.
On the floor, Schumer also responded testily to taunts from McConnell that Democrats need to get over the election and be ready to compromise with the GOP.
“I was listening to our Republican leader talking about compromise, not that he ever engaged in very much of it when he was leader last year, but compromise requires something to compromise over,” the New York Democrat said on the floor. “We have nothing from the administration — nothing on infrastructure, nothing on trade, nothing even on [the 2010 health care law]. … So you want to sit down and talk, let’s see what your plans are. Get your own act together before you point the fingers at Democrats.”
The new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, lambasted the president for spouting “broken promises” during the speech. “Republican politicians,” the former Labor secretary said, “across the country should be shaking in their boots at the thought of defending Trump’s disastrous presidency at the ballot box.”
Bridget Bowman and Jason Dick contributed to this report.