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

President TrumpDonald TrumpProsecutors focus Trump Organization probe on company's financial officer: report WHO official says it's 'premature' to think pandemic will be over by end of year Romney released from hospital after fall over the weekend 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 CramerSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill On The Money: Manhattan DA obtains Trump tax returns | Biden nominee previews post-Trump trade agenda | Biden faces first setback as Tanden teeters OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms former Michigan governor Granholm as Energy secretary | GOP bill would codify Trump rule on financing for fossil fuels, guns | Kennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' 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 This week: Senate takes up coronavirus relief after minimum wage setback Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill 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 ComeyJohn Durham's endgame: Don't expect criminal charges Trump DOJ officials sought to block search of Giuliani records: report Tina Fey, Amy Poehler to host Golden Globes from separate coasts amid pandemic MORE, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeJohn Durham's endgame: Don't expect criminal charges Carter Page sues over surveillance related to Russia probe McCabe defends investigation of Trump before Senate committee: We had 'many reasons' MORE, former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperThe biggest example of media malfeasance in 2020 is... Meet Biden's pick to lead the US intelligence community The new marshmallow media in the Biden era MORE and former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanOnline and frighteningly real: 'A Taste of Armageddon' The biggest example of media malfeasance in 2020 is... Meet Biden's pick to lead the US intelligence community 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 BidenSenate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill Rural Americans are the future of the clean energy economy — policymakers must to catch up WHO official says it's 'premature' to think pandemic will be over by end of year 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 DainesIndigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Kennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help MORE (R-Mont.), who faces a tough challenge from Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockOvernight Health Care: CDC calls for schools to reopen with precautions | Cuomo faces rising scrutiny over COVID-19 nursing home deaths | Biden officials move to begin rescinding Medicaid work requirements Montana governor lifts state mask mandate Lobbying world 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.”