At the White House, most of those in contact with President Donald Trump are tested for the coronavirus and wear masks. When he visits Capitol Hill, as he did Tuesday? Apparently self-proclaimed “disease vectors” were not close enough to prompt tests, and not everyone wore masks.
And while a number of Senate Republicans have claimed to be concerned about last week’s removal of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, multiple GOP senators said no one brought it up during the president’s lunchtime discussion, which they said was generally upbeat.
Republican senators, socially distanced and generally sitting three-to-a-table in a cavernous hearing room in the Hart Senate Office Building, said afterward the session had regular features of a Trump campaign speech, including touting positive polling.
“There was a little bit of talk of poll numbers,” Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn told reporters, saying the president was “pretty proud” of the results of the surveys he was sharing.
Both Cornyn and Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said Trump was eager to return to the campaign trail and hold rallies, which have been halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cornyn was asked if the president was frustrated about not being on the trail.
“Of course he is,” he said. “That’s why he comes over and talks to us.”
When the president emerged to speak to reporters assembled to hear from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and the GOP leadership team, Trump went through some favorite talking points, including brushing off concerns about Russian interference in U.S. elections and claiming Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who described the president on Monday as “morbidly obese,” is mentally ill.
“The Russian thing was a made-up, fabricated story. Just like they went to Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. I don’t know her at all, and they said, you’re a Russian agent. I don’t know her, but I know she’s not a Russian agent. Then they went to Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party” Trump said. “I know she’s not a Russian agent.
“These people are sick. Pelosi is a sick woman. She’s got a lot of problems, a lot of mental problems,” he said.
That was the direction Trump went in response to a question about the pending reauthorization and overhaul of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act programs, which the House is scheduled to consider next week.
“I didn’t get involved. I purposely said to Mitch, you go do what you want, and we’ll take a look,” Trump said. “But nobody’s been abused by FISA like the president of the United States, because of what the Democrats did and the dirty cops.”
The president’s position on the legislation is unclear.
As for the scene inside the Hart hearing room and those poll numbers, attendees said Trump focused on what he views as an enthusiasm gap between his core supporters and those of his 2020 general election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“We’ve got nominations that he wants to get done,” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said. “He talked about polling numbers, that he’s doing really well.”
“He pretty regularly reminds us that we’re not as tough as [the Democrats] are, that they play more for keeps, that they stick together better,” Cramer said.
There was also plenty of discussion on Trump’s optimistic view of the pandemic response and the roadmap for an economic recovery in 2020.
“I use the expression ‘transition to greatness.’ We’re going to have a really good third quarter,” Trump said.
It is too early to know whether there will be a spike in coronavirus cases as states reopen, but the president and his aides again did not demonstrate best practices when it comes to wearing masks in public spaces.
Senior White House aides like Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and senior adviser Jared Kushner entered the Senate office building without wearing masks, and senators themselves said they were not given rapid tests prior to the Tuesday conference lunch, despite concerns about lawmakers forming a “virus spreading machine.”
Congressional leaders have resisted using rapid tests on Capitol Hill, despite lawmakers traveling back-and-forth to their home states and the Senate proceeding with a regular legislative schedule filled with floor votes on nominations.
Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.