President Donald Trump looked out into a crowd of many unfamiliar faces in a basement room on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, as he delivered a vigorous sales pitch to lawmakers on the Republican health care bill.
New to Washington and still learning the ins and outs of Capitol Hill, the President noticed a familiar face in the audience: fellow New Yorker, Rep. Peter King.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Trump began to let out a stream of consciousness about how King was a “conservative” from a “conservative district,” and mused that at some point in the past, the congressman likely would have been a “no” vote on the GOP health care legislation.
“He says, ‘And there’s Pete King out there,’” King, a veteran congressman from Queens, recounted to CNN Tuesday afternoon. “It had nothing to do with anything,”
Some moments later, Trump turned to King again. This time, the President’s comments “could have been implied as a threat,” King said with an amused smile.
“‘If you’re with me you’re with me, if you’re not, you’re not. I don’t mean anybody by that. It’s just how we talk in New York. Now, Peter understands that,’” King described Trump as saying. “’You’re going to be with me, right?’ I just looked at him.”
(As of Tuesday afternoon, King is still undecided on how he’ll vote on Thursday, though he said he’s starting to lean “yes.”)
King was particularly tickled when Trump blurted out: “Now, we grew up near each other.”
With a shrug and raised eyebrows, King told CNN: “So close yet so far. About 15 minutes away – Jamaica Estates and Sunnyside. Two different worlds.”
If King was taken aback to find himself the focus of Trump’s attention Tuesday morning, it’s a familiar tactic for the President.
Trump is known to single out an individual in front of large crowds – and these days, plenty of GOP lawmakers are learning what it’s like to be unexpectedly called on by the President of the United States.
With the Republican health care bill badly in need of every supporter it can get, Trump has been increasingly eager to court skeptics one-on-one. In recent days, the White House has been inviting members of the House Freedom Caucus in small groups to try to win them over and will continue to do so on Wednesday, according to a source.
And though Trump became famous during the election for his willingness to publicly mock and criticize, his tactic of drawing attention to one person isn’t always adversarial. In fact, it’s often used to charm.
Chris Ruddy, Trump’s longtime friend and editor in chief of Newsmax, said he has consistently seen Trump use the strategy over the years.
“He likes to make people feel like a million bucks – whether they’re worth a million bucks or not,” Ruddy said. “You meet him and he speaks of people in glowing terms and it’s rather endearing. He likes to connect with people and it works.”
In front of a packed crowd at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky, Monday night, Trump spoke about the Sen. Rand Paul – one of the most vocal critics of the GOP health care bill. Paul has dubbed the legislation “Obamacare Lite.”
“I happen to like, a lot, Sen. Rand Paul. I do, I like him. He is a good guy,” Trump said. “And I look forward to working with him so we can get this bill passed in some form.”
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows was another lawmaker that Trump called on by name at Tuesday morning’s meeting. Meadows has been stubbornly opposed to the health care bill, and insists that there are enough “no” votes in his group to sink the bill.
Multiple members described the exchange between the Trump and Meadows in front of the House GOP conference as friendly, while Meadows himself chalked it up to a good dose of teasing.