Trump cites 'Obamagate' in urging GOP to get 'tough' on Democrats

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus Former CBS News president: Most major cable news outlets 'unrelentingly liberal' in 'fear and loathing' of Trump An old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 MORE on Tuesday urged Senate Republicans to get “tough” with Democrats heading into election season and referenced what he alleges was an effort by Democrats to sabotage his 2016 campaign and presidency. 

Trump, speaking during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill, touted his poll numbers and the outlook for Senate GOP candidates in battleground states. He also called on Republican lawmakers to stay unified in the weeks and months ahead.

“He pretty regularly reminds us that we’re not as tough as [Democrats] are. That they play more for keeps, that they stick together better,” said Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTrump tries to soothe anxious GOP senators Trump cites 'Obamagate' in urging GOP to get 'tough' on Democrats Obama tweets 'vote' after Trump promotes 'Obamagate' MORE (R-N.D.), who attended the meeting.

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“He just said, ‘Be tough. Be tough,’” Cramer said. “I take it that he’s referring, politically speaking, as we go down the stretch, don’t expect them to do you any favors.”

“He’s ready to hit the trail, that’s obvious. You can tell he’d like to get out there to start helping,” Cramer added.

Other Republicans at the meeting said Trump reminded senators of what he has started to refer to as “Obamagate.”

“He talked about the investigations into Russian involvement in the 2016 election and his concerns that you have heard before, which many of us share, about using the institutions like the FBI and the DOJ and others to undermine an incoming president,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynBottom line Five questions about the next COVID-19 relief package Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting MORE (R-Texas), referring to the Department of Justice.

“He expressed his belief that there wasn’t going to be a whole lot of bipartisan cooperation. It was going to be a pitched battle leading up to the November election and he was encouraging all of us to get in the fight and not get pushed around,” he added.

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Cornyn noted that Trump didn’t need to urge Senate Republicans to investigate alleged efforts by former Obama administration officials to scrutinize possible collusion with Russia because Senate Judiciary Committee Graham (R-S.C.) already plans to do so.

Graham on Monday announced the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote June 4 on subpoena authority covering conversations, documents and witness testimony pertaining to Obama-era officials such as former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyFBI director Wray orders internal review of Flynn case Grenell says intelligence community working to declassify Flynn-Kislyak transcripts FBI director stuck in the middle with 'Obamagate' MORE, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeGraham to release report on his probe into Russia investigation before election Trump cites 'Obamagate' in urging GOP to get 'tough' on Democrats Graham announces vote on subpoenas for Comey, Obama-era intel officials MORE, former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperSenate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump's spy chief Trump cites 'Obamagate' in urging GOP to get 'tough' on Democrats 'Obamagate' backfires: Documents show Biden, Obama acted properly MORE and former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanSusan Rice calls for Flynn-Kislyak transcripts to be released Trump cites 'Obamagate' in urging GOP to get 'tough' on Democrats Graham announces vote on subpoenas for Comey, Obama-era intel officials MORE.

“Sen. Hawley and I and the rest of the Judiciary Committee are going to be doing that. We have a lot of questions and they need to come up with some better answers,” Cornyn said of the former Obama officials.

Trump did not give Republican senators a timeline for when he wants the investigations of the Obama administration completed, though Graham says he is aiming to wrap it up before the Nov. 3 election.

Senate Republicans have grown increasingly nervous about holding onto their majority on Election Day as the coronavirus pandemic has rocked the U.S. economy, sending the national unemployment rate soaring to 14.7 percent last month. 

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Trump’s handling of the crisis has come under sharp attack from Democrats, who argue he lacks a national plan and is well behind where he should be in making sure there are enough tests available to safely reopen state and local economies.

The president spent much of Tuesday’s meeting characterizing his administration’s handling of the pandemic as a success, pointing to positive signs on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine and a ramp-up in availability of testing kits. 

But the polls tell a different story, with some flashing warning signs for Trump. 

A Washington Post-Ipsos poll published last week showed that only 43 percent of respondents approve of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, while a survey of 22,000 voters across the country by Harvard, Northeastern and Rutgers universities last month found that the governors of all 50 states have higher approval ratings than Trump when it comes to responding to the coronavirus crisis.

Trump, however, shared polling with Republicans that painted a rosier picture.

“The numbers he shared were certainly good. I don’t know if they were an internal poll or some public poll, he didn’t cite the source. He was mainly talking about the enthusiasm numbers, which not surprisingly are very high for him and very low for Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks Biden set to make risky economic argument against Trump Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel MORE. That’s not irrelevant,” said Cramer.

Trump also pointed to positive polling for Republicans in Senate battlegrounds and singled out Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel Memorial Day weekend deals latest economic blow to travel industry MORE (R-Mont.), who faces a tough challenge from Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues Bullock outraises Daines in Montana Senate race MORE (D).

“He made a general reference to swing states and battleground states that were also very good,” Cramer added. 

Cornyn confirmed that Trump highlighted the enthusiasm edge he enjoys over Biden among core supporters. 

“Big enthusiasm gap,” he said, summarizing Trump’s pep talk. “He is actually pretty proud of where his numbers were.”