U.S. President Donald Trump implored Senate Republicans to “be tough” on Democrats heading into the fall election, touting his own poll numbers against rival Joe Biden during a free-wheeling private lunch on Capitol Hill.
With top White House advisers in tow, Trump attended what was perhaps one of the largest social gatherings still happening in locked-down Washington as officials consider next steps in the coronavirus response.
“We had a great meeting — all of the Republican senators were there,” Trump told reporters.
The private luncheon at the nearly closed U.S. Capitol complex was billed as an opportunity for Trump to thank senators for their work in fighting the virus outbreak and shoring up the economy, officials said.
But as senators from the 53-seat GOP majority convened behind closed doors, the discussion swiftly turned to politics and Trump’s “enthusiasm” for the campaign against Biden, the presumed Democratic nominee, senators said.
“He admonished all of us to be tough, fight back,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters afterward.
Democrats are eager to flip control of the Senate from Republicans as voters assess Trump’s handling of the pandemic crisis. Cornyn said the president explained to the senators, “It’s going to be a pitched battle.”
The president’s visits are often free-flowing conversations and Republicans said various topics were discussed.
But the hour-long session did not change the GOP position to hold off, until June, on a new round of virus aid for states and struggling Americans.
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“We need to assess what we’ve already done, take a look at what worked and what didn’t,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., afterward. “We’ll discuss the way forward in the next couple of weeks.”
The U.S. Capitol building remains largely closed with the House away due to health risks, but the Senate is in session and the GOP majority still hashes out policy behind closed doors over lunch on Tuesdays.