THE MEMO: For Trump, an early test of leadership

President TrumpDonald TrumpPoll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Biden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe Has Trump beaten the system? MORE is putting the weight of the presidency behind the push to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Trump has held several meetings with lawmakers at the White House, hoping to win them over with a personal touch that his predecessor, President Obama, was sometimes said to lack.  

Trump even had dinner last week with his old enemy from the 2016 GOP presidential primary, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia next week Here's evidence the Senate confirmation process is broken MORE of Texas.


Aides to the president say that the importance of interpersonal, deal-making skills should not be underestimated when it comes to making legislative progress. 

“I’ve seen it up close: Nobody reads people quite like Donald Trump,” said Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the present. She added that Trump’s push for a new healthcare law would benefit from his “considerable skill set honed over decades.” 

Conway, without naming Obama, said that “other presidents” had been criticized for an overly aloof attitude that she characterized as “too cool to rule.” 

Other Trump allies contend that the president himself is keenly aware of how he can use the trappings of power to win people over.

Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax Media and a longtime friend of Trump, recalled a recent Oval Office meeting with the president. 

“He said, ‘You know, Obama was here for eight years and he rarely invited people into the Oval Office for meetings’ — that’s a direct quote,” Ruddy recalled. “He said it is unbelievable. And he said that [Obama] never invited people up to the residence for social meetings. He said he is going to use it all the time.”


Ruddy, like others in the Trump orbit, say that the president is eager to reach out to Democrats as well as Republicans. On Wednesday, he met with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to discuss rising prescription drug prices. 

But Democrats are almost certain to remain immune from Trump’s charms when it comes to rescinding Obama’s signature domestic achievement. In this weekend’s weekly address from the Democrats, Rep Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosRockford mayor decides against 2022 run for Bustos's House seat Advocacy groups urge Pelosi, Schumer to keep Pentagon funding out of infrastructure bills Nearly 70 House lawmakers ask leadership to reimburse National Guard for Jan. 6 response MORE (Ill.) asserted, “Just like Trump University, their bill is a scam designed to rip off folks like you.” 

Trump’s efforts, instead, seem to be largely focused on conservative skeptics of the healthcare and insurance plan, known as the American Health Care Act. Some Republicans have been wary of the system of tax credits that is central to the legislation proposed by House GOP leadership. Others have suggested that the proposal leaves too much of ObamaCare in place.

The dinner with Cruz, a key conservative who has in the past sought to influence his colleagues in the House, seemed part of this broad strategy. Trump had famously labeled Cruz “Lyin’ Ted” during the primary campaign and called him “a totally unstable individual.” For his part, Cruz called Trump “totally amoral” and “a pathological liar.”

That all seemed to be forgotten last week. Cruz, his wife Heidi and their two daughters attended the dinner with the president and first lady Melania Trump. Cruz tweeted a picture of his children standing beside the president, who was seated at his Oval Office desk. In the tweet, the Texas senator described Trump and the first lady as “warm and gracious.” 

Asked about the contrast between last year’s rhetoric and the meeting, Conway said, “This is not a political campaign; this is the country at stake.” 

The stakes are high for Trump personally, too. If the push to replace ObamaCare were to founder, it would be a major defeat. 

On Friday, he met with the chairmen of key House committees, joking that Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) might have “never heard” Obama’s famous pledge that people could keep their doctor if they wanted to do so after ObamaCare passed.

But Trump is not limiting his efforts to one-on-one politicking. He is also taking to the road for rallies at which he will make his case. He will speak at an auditorium in Nashville on Wednesday evening.

Trump aides have also telegraphed his willingness to be flexible in order to try to meet conservative concerns. The Trump team has taken to repeating on a daily basis that the House GOP plan is only one part of a “three-pronged” approach on healthcare.  

The second prong would involve an effort by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to “use his authority to reduce regulations that are driving up costs of care,” as Trump put it in his weekly address. The third would be a push for broader legislation that would permit the purchase of health insurance across state lines and other reforms.

The implicit message is that conservatives who don’t see everything they want in the House proposal can have their concerns met by later actions. There have also been reports that Trump is willing to support conservative demands for ending ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion at an earlier date than what is now in the legislation. 


Meanwhile, Vice President Pence is also playing a significant role in the overall push. Pence, along with Price, met with conservative leaders at the White House on Friday. In the preceding days, the vice president held listening sessions, spoke on the issue in Louisville, Ky., and conducted a host of media interviews with outlets ranging from Fox News to a west Michigan radio station’s morning news.

A senior aide to the vice president said that his relationships on Capitol Hill — Pence was a six-term congressman from Indiana — were important, as was the outreach he has done to lawmakers since the election.

“The vice president has often said his office door is always open or that members can pick up the phone when they have concerns, or ideas, and reach out to him,” the aide said. “You are now seeing a lot of lawmakers reaching out to him."

Still, a lot is riding on Trump’s own skills — and he knows it.

“He is very much in sell mode,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters last week. 

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump's presidency.