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Trump's trip to the Hill was all about campaign, not coronavirus

At a lunch with Republican senators, Trump focused on poll numbers, Joe Biden and telling senators they need to toughen up or they’ll lose in November
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a meeting with his cabinet at the White House on May 19, 2020.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

President Trump went to Capitol Hill Tuesday with the campaign on his mind, not coronavirus.

In a nearly hour long lunch with Republican senators, the president focused on poll numbers, Joe Biden, and telling senators they need to toughen up or they’ll lose in November, according to multiple senators leaving the lunch.

“He just said be tough, don’t get rolled over by them,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said.

“He was encouraging all of us to get in the fight and not get pushed around,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

The president’s latest campaign strategy involves pushing investigations into the Obama administration’s treatment of Michael Flynn, which Trump refers to as “Obamagate.” It’s an attempt to undermine the foundations of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and possible collusion with the Trump team.

It comes as the president is less than six months away from facing Biden in the general election — and with the Senate now in play, there is a very real possibility that Democrats could control all the elected levers of power in Washington for the first time since Republicans won back the House in 2010.

“I think the president thinks that on certain issues we act like a bunch of weenies, and I agree with him,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said.

Pressed to explain on which issues the president believed senators were “weenies,” Kennedy said: “On getting serious about finding out what happened with respect to Flynn and Carter Page. … You guys know what I’m talking about.”

Kennedy was referring to Flynn, Trump's former national security who the Justice Department wants to drop harges of lying to the FBI of which he was convicted of, and Page, a Trump campaign adviser who the FBI conducted surveillance on in its investigation of whether the campaign was colluding with Russia.

A senior administration official put it this way: “Trump’s message to Republicans was that they will be successful if they stick together and are tough” — while a Republican Capitol Hill aide familiar with the remarks said the message “was 'We’re doing a great job on Corona and Pelosi is mean.’”

Trump's focus on questioning Democrats' campaign tactics comes as the country is still in the throes of the coronavirus crisis. While the president touched briefly on testing and vaccines, there was no mention of state and local aid that desperate states are waiting for, according to multiple sources.

There were brief discussions of future aid bills but it wasn’t the focus of the conversations, senators said.