It’s become a tradition of sorts for President Donald Trump to be seated beside figures he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with during events.
And this has made for some interesting – and even downright awkward – moments that have been caught on camera.
Scrutiny around Shulkin
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was seated right next to Trump during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Thursday.
Shulkin is in the midst of scrutiny for his travel habits, while he says he has done nothing wrong. He’s also been locked in a turf war with Trump administration political appointees who he has said were working to subvert his authority and oust him.
The embattled VA secretary was not called out at the meeting Thursday by the President – some others haven’t been so lucky – and this week White House press secretary Sarah Sanders signaled support by saying Shulkin has done a “great job.” Last week Shulkin told CNN that White House chief of staff John Kelly had told him he has the President’s backing.
This was only the latest occasion where a high-profile political figure who is in some kind of hot water, if only with Trump, gets a seat beside the President.
White House staff makes the seating arrangements for events there, leaving place cards at each spot. Sanders didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story.
Flake vs. Trump
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona has long been a Trump critic. During a December meeting about passing the tax reform bill, Flake was seated right next to Trump.
During the meeting, Trump spoke about his support for Roy Moore in the Alabama US Senate race to replace Jeff Sessions, who was tapped to be US attorney general. Many Republicans refused to endorse Moore after allegations of sexual abuse against the Alabama judge. Moore has denied the allegations.
Sessions on shaky ground
Trump and Sessions have been on rough ground of late. Trump has repeatedly called out his attorney general, as recently as last week, when he chastised Sessions over an investigation into alleged surveillance abuses, calling his approach “disgraceful.” Sessions pushed back against Trump’s latest insult, prolonging an increasingly awkward public spat between the President and his top law enforcement official.
The longtime tension between the two seemed to be on display when they were seated next to each other in December for a graduation ceremony at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
Heller and health care
When health care was the hot topic last summer, Trump hosted the entire Republican Senate conference at the White House in July to discuss the bill that would repeal the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.
Trump discussed the legislation and the state of the debate on the issue, then started talking about the man sitting directly to his right: Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican. Heller was at the center of the health care storm all summer due to his flip-flopping support for the Republican bill, and CNN has rated him as one of the most vulnerable Republican senators vying for re-election in 2018.
“This was the one we were worried about. You weren’t there. But you’re gonna be. You’re gonna be. Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he? And I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think they’re gonna appreciate what you hopefully will do,” Trump said.
Talking guns with Feinstein
Sometimes the seating situation winds up better than you’d initially think.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein is an outspoken Trump critic hailing from deep blue California, a state known for standing against many of Trump’s policies.
After the shooting that killed 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school last month, Trump held a bipartisan meeting of lawmakers at the White House and was seated next to Feinstein – a leading longtime voice on gun control who pushed an assault weapons ban in 1994 and has long argued for its reinstatement after it lapsed in 2004.
It seemed like an uncomfortable seating assignment at first glance. Trump and Feinstein have never seen eye to eye on guns – until this meeting, it seems.
Trump refused to slam the door on Feinstein’s assault-style weapons ban, called for stronger background checks and said concealed carry reciprocity would never get through the Senate.
Trump’s remarks, especially on bringing an assault weapons ban into the mix, drew an uncontrolled giddy laugh from Feinstein.
CNN’s Juana Summers contributed to this report.