How to Talk So Trump Will Listen: A GOP Guide for Pelosi

A few Republicans have managed—really—to work successfully with the president. Here’s what the new speaker could learn from them.

But there’s no formula for successfully negotiating with this mercurial, ad hoc chief executive. Pelosi’s first attempt to do so, an agreement in September 2017 to protect the Dreamers from deportation in exchange for border security funding, fell apart not long after it was announced.

Still, there’s no reason to think Pelosi, or anyone in the nation’s capital, can’t find a way to a win with Trump. Here’s what we’ve learned about the art of making a deal with Trump from the few successful people in Washington who have figured out how to get what they want out of the president.

Convince Him He’ll Be Loved

Trump may want nothing more than to be well-liked and appreciated. The bipartisan criminal justice reform bill seems to have been sold to him as an opportunity to do just that. Versions of the First Step Act, a major reform that liberalizes federal prison and sentencing laws, had floundered in Congress for years. The policy already had support from across the political spectrum—but it needed a Republican president who could provide political cover to bring enough members of the GOP on board.

Trump wasn’t an obvious champion for sentencing reform. He ran a campaign promising “law and order” and selected the tough-on-crime Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Sessions’ Justice Department had issued reports critical of the bill. The president has suggested that convicted drug dealers deserved the death penalty. To get his support, the criminal-justice reformers would need to conduct a conversion.

The evangelist was White House adviser Jared Kushner, who, all accounts say, worked hard to persuade his father-in-law. Kushner met with everyone from members of the Congressional Black Caucus to Koch-funded interest groups to the news media to bolster an already large coalition. It helped that Kushner was able to deliver plenty of groups and individuals on the right.

“I think the broad popularity of the policy was the gateway,” says one of the bill’s advocates, who watched the process at the White House up close. “The president was also given a booklet of dozens of conservative organizations and individuals making supportive statements on the bill to show grassroots political support. And then it took some convincing that law enforcement was on board.”

The last piece proved crucial, because there’s perhaps no interest group Trump cherishes more than law enforcement. The marquee names—the

  • Fraternal Order of Police, the
  • International Association of Chiefs of Police, the
  • National District Attorneys Association—

were enough to get the president on board. With seemingly few people opposed (Tom Cotton, otherwise a devoted Trump ally, the most prominent) and even staunch critics in the media like Van Jones making the trek to kiss Trump’s ring at the White House, Kushner and his partners succeeded in selling Trump on the most important provision of the First Step Act: Mr. President, you will be loved for signing it.

It won’t be easy for Pelosi, but the Democratic speaker may be able to use similar tactics to goad Trump into supporting some bipartisan health-care initiatives. The administration has already begun proposing some form of federal intervention to lower prescription drug prices, while Democrats have long argued that Medicare should negotiate with Big Pharma on bringing down drug costs. Some kind of compromise bill could get the support of both Capitol Hill and the White House. Your older, Medicare-using base will love you for it, Pelosi might tell the president. That would get his attention.

Remind Him of His Campaign Promises

Earlier this month, Trump and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul were having one of their frequent conversations about the American military presence in both Syria and Afghanistan. Paul, a persistent, longtime critic of the continued deployment of troops in the Middle East, has found the strongest ally of his political career on the issue with Trump.

After their discussion, Paul sent the president some news articles supporting his view that the time was right to withdraw from Syria, says top Paul aide Doug Stafford, who says Trump sent back a note alerting him that he would “see some movement on this soon.” On December 19, Trump announced the forthcoming withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops fighting ISIS in Syria. The move was resisted by just about everyone around Trump, inside and outside the administration, including John Bolton, Jim Mattis and Lindsey Graham. All, except Paul.

I think people mistake it like Rand is trying to get him to do what Rand wants. But this is what Donald Trump ran on,” says Stafford. “Rand sees his role more as keeping the president where he wants to be and where he said he would be against some people who are inside of the White House and other senators who are trying to push him off of his beliefs and his position.”

Paul’s strategy was partially to ingratiate himself with the man he once, in the primary season, called an “orange-faced windbag.” Trump and Paul have played golf together, a favorite pastime for the president and a way other former antagonists have overcome bad blood.

.. in recent months, Paul has ramped up his public praise for Trump and joined the chorus of Republican criticism for the president’s treatment in the press. Trump has returned the favor with praiseworthy tweets. Paul had raised concerns about two of Trump’s high profile nominations in 2018, for their defenses of the government’s data surveillance apparatus. But he dropped his public skepticism of Brett Kavanaugh and, earlier in the year, did an about-face on his opposition to Mike Pompeo.

Stafford gives credit for Paul’s success to the senator’s constant prodding of the president to be true to himself and his base. “It’s not just Rand’s voice. People who voted for Donald Trump don’t want to still be there either,” Stafford says. “He ran on it, he was loud and clear on it, and he believes it.”

Like opposition to military interventionism in the Middle East, an increase in infrastructure spending is one of the few major Trump campaign pledges that aligns him more with Democrats than his fellow Republicans. Trump’s failure to embrace a major infrastructure bill in favor of the divisive travel ban at the outset of his presidency may have doomed his ability to work across the aisle on the issue. Yet Pelosi could get more than enough of her caucus to embrace some form of new infrastructure spending by reminding the president of his 2016 promise to invest more federal dollars in roads and bridges. If she persists in nudging Trump to fulfill his pledge, Pelosi could deliver a longtime Democratic wish list item.

Stay Outside the Room Where It Happens

Before he was the White House national security adviser being overruled by the president on Syria, John Bolton was arguably more influential with Trump as a private citizen—albeit one with the right platforms to reach him. A fixture on Fox News for the first year of the Trump presidency, Bolton used his cable perch and the host of outlets that would publish him to make an argument directly to Trump: Get out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump, who had run hard against what was officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, had been persuaded to recertify the deal in early 2017 until the new administration could get off the ground. His national security team, particularly Mattis and Rex Tillerson, were insisting Trump recertify at the next deadline, in July. Trump was resistant but acquiesced to the pleas of his team to allow them to finish crafting a new interagency strategy on Iran. On July 13, my colleague Stephen F. Hayes and I reported in The Weekly Standard that Trump would recertify the deal a second time.

But four days later, on the day of the deadline, an article by Bolton in the Hill made its way to Trump via Iran-deal opponent and White House aide Steve Bannon. The headline read: “Trump Must Withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal—Now.” In his op-ed, Bolton argued that Trump “should stop reviewing and start deciding” how to exit the deal. For several hours that day, according to reporting by Hayes and me, Trump reversed his decision to recertify the deal. The White House team scrambled to roll out a brand-new policy. In one meeting that day with his national security team, Trump called up Senator Tom Cotton and placed him on speakerphone as Cotton made the case against recertification.

In a final meeting in the late afternoon, Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster prevailed on Trump to follow through on the plan to recertify, at least once more. Trump eventually assented, but not before vowing it would be the last time he would do so. It was: Trump did not recertify in October 2017 and, in May 2018, pulled the United States out of the agreement. Bolton and Cotton, working from the outside, won.

This may be the most difficult tactic for Pelosi, who so far has been unable to demonstrate she has Trump’s trust or respect—something the outside voices have always been able to draw on. She’s not

  • one of Trump’s old business friends in New York,
  • a consistent defender in the conservative media,
  • or a former campaign or White House aide.

The best way for Pelosi to persuade Trump from the outside is to do perhaps the unthinkable for a liberal Democrat from San Francisco: Go on Fox News. A lot. Pelosi or her deputies won’t be the obvious choices for the booking producers at Fox & Friends and Hannity, but House Democrats would be wise to take every opportunity to speak directly to Trump on his favorite cable network. A few solid appearances on Fox News Sunday, for instance, would help Pelosi immensely.

Pelosi herself already seems to recognize the necessity of making a public case, most obviously on television, for compromise with Trump. “You know how I talk to him?” she told Draper. “I just say it in public. That’s what he hears: what people say in public.” A Democrat in Trump’s Washington could do worse.

James Comey’s memoir: Trump fixates on proving lewd dossier allegations false

According to Comey’s account in a new memoir, Trump “strongly denied the allegations, asking — rhetorically, I assumed — whether he seemed like a guy who needed the service of prostitutes. He then began discussing cases where women had accused him of sexual assault, a subject I had not raised. He mentioned a number of women, and seemed to have memorized their allegations.”

The January 2017 conversation at Trump Tower in Manhattan “teetered toward disaster” — until “I pulled the tool from my bag: ‘We are not investigating you, sir.’ That seemed to quiet him,” Comey writes.

Trump did not stay quiet for long. Comey describes Trump as having been obsessed with the prostitutes portion of the infamous dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, raising it at least four times with the FBI head.

.. Trump offered varying explanations to convince Comey it was not true. “I’m a germaphobe,” Trump told him in a follow-up call on Jan. 11, 2017, according to Comey’s account. “There’s no way I would let people pee on each other around me. No way.” Later, the president asked what could be done to “lift the cloud” because it was so painful for first lady Melania Trump.

.. In his memoir, Comey paints a devastating portrait of a president who built “a cocoon of alternative reality that he was busily wrapping around all of us.” Comey describes Trump as a congenital liar and unethical leader, devoid of human emotion and driven by personal ego.

.. Interacting with Trump, Comey writes, gave him “flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob.

  • The silent circle of assent.
  • The boss in complete control.
  • The loyalty oaths.
  • The us-versus-them worldview.
  • The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.”

.. The result, in Comey’s telling, is “the forest fire that is the Trump presidency.”

.. “You can’t be kicked out of the room so he can talk to me alone,” Comey told Sessions, according to the book. “You have to be between me and the president.”

.. “Sessions just cast his eyes down at the table, and they darted quickly back and forth, side to side. He said nothing. I read in his posture and face a message that he would not be able to help me.”

.. Comey delivers an indirect but unmistakable rebuke of the GOP’s congressional leaders as well: “It is also wrong to stand idly by, or worse, to stay silent when you know better, while a president brazenly seeks to undermine public confidence in law enforcement institutions that were established to keep our leaders in check.”

.. “I have one perspective on the behavior I saw, which while disturbing and violating basic norms of ethical leadership, may fall short of being illegal,” he writes.

.. “They lose the ability to distinguish between what’s true and what’s not,” Comey writes. “They surround themselves with other liars . . . Perks and access are given to those willing to lie and tolerate lies. This creates a culture, which becomes an entire way of life.”

.. Comey also writes that in a post-election briefing for senators, then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) confronted him about “what you did to Hillary Clinton.” Comey responded, “I did my best with the facts before me.” A teary-eyed Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) grabbed him by the hand afterward and said, “I know you. You were in an impossible position,” Comey writes.

.. Comey is critical of then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, saying she had a “tortured half-out, half-in approach” to the Clinton investigation and that he considered calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor.

.. “As he extended his hand,” Comey adds, “I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.”

.. Comey recalls being struck that neither Trump nor his advisers asked about the future Russian threat, nor how the United States might prepare to meet it. Rather, he writes, they focused on “how they could spin what we’d just told them.”

.. “I decided not to tell him that the activity alleged did not seem to require either an overnight stay or even being in proximity to the participants,” Comey writes. “In fact, though I didn’t know for sure, I imagined the presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow was large enough for a germaphobe to be at a safe distance from the activity.”

.. Comey writes that he believed Trump was trying “to establish a patronage relationship,” and that he said: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”

.. Trump broke the standoff by turning to other topics, Comey writes, speaking in torrents, “like an oral jigsaw puzzle,” about the size of his inauguration crowd, his free media coverage and the viciousness of the campaign. He talked about the Clinton email investigation as in three phases, as if it were a television series: “Comey One,” “Comey Two” and “Comey Three.” Trump also tried to convince Comey that he had not mocked disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski at a campaign rally, and then turned to the detailed allegations of sexual assault against him.

“There was no way he groped that lady sitting next to him on the airplane, he insisted,” Comey writes. “And the idea that he grabbed a porn star and offered her money to come to his room was preposterous.”

.. And then Trump brought up “the golden showers thing,” Comey writes. The president told him that “it bothered him if there was ‘even a one percent chance’ his wife, Melania, thought it was true.” Comey writes that Trump told him to consider having the FBI investigate the prostitutes allegation to “prove it was a lie.”

.. As the dinner concluded, Trump returned to the issue of loyalty.

“I need loyalty,” Trump tells Comey, according to the book.

“You will always get honesty from me,” Comey replies.

“That’s what I want, honest loyalty,” Trump said, reaching what Comey writes was “some sort of ‘deal’ in which we were both winners.”

.. The president, Comey recalls, “launched into one of his rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness monologues” — this time about a recent Super Bowl interview with then-Fox News Channel personality Bill O’Reilly in which Trump complimented Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.
.. “But he’s a killer,” O’Reilly told Trump.The president’s reply: “There are a ton of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?

Trump fumed to Comey about the media criticism he received.

I gave a good answer,” Trump said, according to Comey. “Really, it was a great answer. I gave a really great answer.

Trump sought validation: “You think it was a great answer, right?”

Comey replied, “We aren’t the kind of killers that Putin is.”

Trump apparently did not take the correction well. Comey writes that the president’s eyes changed and his jaw tightened, and Priebus escorted him out.

.. Comey describes soon receiving an “emotional call” from Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly.

“He said he was sick about my firing and that he intended to quit in protest,” Comey writes. “He said he didn’t want to work for dishonorable people who would treat someone like me in such a manner. I urged Kelly not to do that, arguing that the country needed principled people around this president. Especially this president.”

Kelly did not resign. Two and a half months later, he was named White House chief of staff.

President Trump’s Really Weak Week

In his speech, Trump encouraged police brutality and said he was “the big, big believer and admirer of the people in law enforcement, O.K.?” He said that he’s protecting the backs of law enforcement “100 percent.” Except for Sessions, Sally Yates, Preet Bharara and Robert Mueller.

As two people close to Trump told The Times’s Maggie Haberman when asked why he was tormenting Sessions instead of firing him: Because he can.

.. And in his paranoid, aggrieved isolation, he’s even thinking about nixing Steve Bannon, nemesis of the Mooch, and mulling firing the one who could get him fired, Mueller, and pardoning himself for possible charges.

.. Trump learned his technique of publicly criticizing and freely firing from George Steinbrenner, one of the ruthless, towering characters he modeled himself on when he started hanging out at Yankee Stadium in the ’70s.

.. Trump had always resented Priebus for advising him to get out of the race after the Billy Bush “Access Hollywood” tape story broke — known as Priebus’s “scarlet A.H.,” according to The Washington Post — and for not understanding that Trump is not a mere Republican; he’s the head of his own “beautiful,” us-against-them movement, “the likes of which the world has never seen.”

.. As The Post reports, Trump’s delighted demeaning of Priebus included this incident: “At one point, during a meeting in the Oval Office, a fly began buzzing overhead, distracting the president. As the fly continued to circle, Trump summoned his chief of staff and tasked him with killing the insect.”

.. After torturing Reince for months, Trump happily gave him the final humiliating shove. As the tweets hit the White House cellphones, Priebus’s colleagues Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino jumped out of the Suburban they were sharing with Priebus, leaving the jobless man in a driving rain on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, the weakest link tossed off the sled for the press wolves.

.. You’re a killer and a king or a loser, as Fred Trump liked to say. And anyone who doesn’t understand that Trump is more important than the G.O.P. or the institution of the presidency is, in his mind, a loser. Anyone who doesn’t get that the loyalty should be for him personally, rather than the country, is, to Trump, a loser.

.. With Priebus, The Post reported, the president obsessed on impotence. “The word was ‘weak’ – ‘weak,’ ‘weak,’ ‘weak,’ ‘Can’t get it done,’” an official told the paper.

.. But after all his bragging about being a great negotiator and closer, it is President Trump who can’t get it done. He couldn’t even close the deal on a pathetic, bare-bones health care bill, ineffectually bullying Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, and failing to win over John McCain, who gleefully had his revenge for Trump’s mockery of him as being a loser because he was captured in war.

.. Trump can’t get it done for his pal, Putin, either. In fact, the biggest legislative accomplishment before Congress leaves for August will have been passing new sanctions on Russia because lawmakers don’t trust their own president. Talk about weak.

.. Congressional Republicans are losing their fear of Trump, making ever more snarky comments about him. North Korea is shooting off missiles and the White House is flustered. The generals are resisting Trump’s tweet edicts. The mortified leader of the Boy Scouts had to apologize for the president’s suggestive and partisan speech.

And what could be weaker than that?