Political News

Donald Trump's Senate lunch is going to be super awkward

Posted July 19

All 52 Republican senators were invited to the White House this afternoon for a lunch with President Donald Trump. And it's already shaping up to be a pretty awkward affair.

First of all, the lunch comes less than 48 hours after these same Republican senators tanked Trump's push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Trump had zero warning of the Senate revolt; he was having dinner with a group of 7 Republican senators Monday night -- all of whom already supported the legislation -- when word broke that Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas opposed the bill, essentially killing it.

Then there are Trump's priming-the-pump tweets this morning, which are sure to go over like a lead balloon among the Republican senators.

"I will be having lunch at the White House today with Republican Senators concerning healthcare," Trump tweeted at 8:30 a.m. Eastern. "They MUST keep their promise to America!"

He followed that up with this tweet 16 minutes later: "The Republicans never discuss how good their healthcare bill is, & it will get even better at lunchtime.The Dems scream death as OCare dies!"

Lots to unpack there.

Trump's first tweet is an attempt to remind Republican senators of the fact that many of them campaigned relentlessly over the past eight years on the idea that if they got into power, they would repeal and replace Obamacare.

He's not wrong. But publicly calling out your own party -- particularly given the stories earlier this week that Trump was actively talking to potential primary opponents in Arizona against Sen. Jeff Flake -- is not the sort of thing that will warm relations with GOP senators. They take nothing more personally than what they perceive to be attacks on their chances of getting re-elected.

Then there is the second tweet, which is even more problematic for Trump.

The argument Trump is making is that Republicans are bad at messaging on the health care bill -- and that poor messaging is why they haven't been able to pass it or even vote on it. But, never fear! Trump will fix all of that at this lunch! It's all going to be better because Trump knows exactly what he's doing. Never fear, poor little senators!

This may come as news to you but most senators have a pretty high opinion of themselves. (Yes, it's true!) They don't like being told they aren't doing their jobs right -- especially by someone, in Trump, who has not exactly lit the political world on fire in his first six months in office. And the paternalistic "I'll fix everything for you" isn't going to go over all that well either.

Take it out of the context of politics. Imagine your boss, who hasn't been terribly involved in a project you are spending 24/7 on, suddenly swoops in right after a huge setback and says something like: "You guys need to come see me. You botched this. I'll fix it."

Bet that wouldn't go over very well, right?

What Trump's tweets prove -- or, really, re-prove -- is that he is still very much a work in progress when it comes to political persuasion. Politics is not the business world. You can't just tell the people who work under you what do -- or insult them -- and expect them to snap to attention.

Each of the 52 senators Trump invited to lunch today has their own distinct ideas of what the right thing to do is -- politically and from a policy perspective -- on health care. Saying, before the meeting even starts, that they are doing it all wrong and that he alone can fix it isn't going to work for this group.

That isn't a good approach to take when you are a president with approval ratings in the 60s. Trump's approval ratings are in the 30s. And you can be sure every single senator in that room is well aware of those numbers.

The takeaway: Trump's ham-handed handling of his relationships with Republicans in Congress continues with his two tweets this morning. Everyone may well be all smiles during the photo-op out of today's lunch. But, you can be sure there will be some serious frostiness behind closed doors.

And Trump -- stop me if you've heard this before -- is the reason for it. With each passing day, he offers more proof that he is his own worst enemy.

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