Election ahead, Trump’s advisers try to get him to hold back
WASHINGTON (AP) — Please, Mr. President, just wait.
Donald Trump’s advisers have been sounding that nervous refrain in the lead-up to the midterm elections, hoping the president will hold off on a series of actions he’s been itching to take, but that could hinder Republicans on Nov. 6.
Trump has made clear he would shut down the government if necessary to win money for his long-sought wall on the Mexican border. He’s talked about getting rid of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or Attorney General Jeff Sessions. For months, there’s been speculation he’ll make a move against special counsel Robert Mueller.
But with 35 days to go before midterm elections that look increasingly challenging for Republicans, Trump allies are trying to hold back the president’s impulses just a little bit longer, hoping to contain his ire until Election Day.
For now, Trump has mostly heeded the message.
He signed a budget bill last week that will head off a government shutdown at least through Dec. 7, acquiescing to requests from GOP leadership and political counselors to put off a showdown over his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump has made clear that Sessions’ job is safe — at least until polls close. And while a high-stakes meeting between Trump and Rosenstein looms after an explosive New York Times report, Trump has suggested he’s inclined to keep the deputy attorney general for now.
Trump signaled last week that he was likely to hold off on any action related to Rosenstein, saying he would “much prefer keeping” him. That was after Rosenstein denied press reports that he had discussed possibly secretly recording the president and using the Constitution’s 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
Some around Trump believe that the reports provide a defensible basis for the president to part with Rosenstein even during the final sprint to Election Day. But in recent days the cautious view that Trump should hold off for at least a month has appeared to take hold with the president.
Trump acknowledges there are political implications to the timing of his actions.
He said Monday he’d love to push for more money for the border wall before the election — “but I don’t want to do that for a different reason: because I have some very fine people that are running in close races, and it may affect them and it may not.”
“I happen to think it would be good for them,” he added.
While Trump’s reality television flair helped propel him to the White House in 2016, aides and advisers have warned Trump that he needs to lay off the drama — at least temporarily.
Even so, Trump can’t resist generating his share of controversy. He drew criticism recently when he rejected the official death count in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria.
He also has a pre-election to-do list that includes getting embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh installed on the high court before voters head to the polls.
Trump has been urged to be increasingly mindful of the political consequences if Republicans can’t retain their majorities in the House and Senate. Aides have warned of the specter of endless oversight investigations — even impeachment — if Democrats take control of Congress.
The effort to contain the president’s impulses comes as the White House has shifted into what aides have described as “political mode” ahead of the elections. The swing is natural for most White Houses leading up to elections, but aides suggested it is more pronounced in the Trump West Wing, where the policy staff has thinned out in recent months.
After initially showing little interest in deploying his political capital to help other Republicans, Trump has grown more focused on the fall campaigns, aides say, and views the election as a referendum on his presidency and aggressively hitting the trail for Republicans.
He said Monday that his supporters would vote for him — but “Congress is on the ticket.” He added: “I try and tell my people, ‘That’s the same thing as me, in a sense.’”
His efforts come as the administration is increasingly anxious about losing the House after a wave of retirements, redistricting and a sustained burst of Democratic enthusiasm.
Advisers worry that Trump’s actions may damage or potentially derail struggling Republicans, particularly those in swing districts populated by independent and moderate GOP voters who have turned away from Trump. Other drama they’d prefer to avoid until November is any move against Sessions or Mueller.
Trump has railed against his attorney general for months, never forgiving him for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Despite Trump’s repeated verbal lashings, Sessions has indicated he has no plans to exit the role. While Republicans have worried about Trump taking action, some have indicated recently that he may make a change after the elections.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, a South Carolina Republican and Trump confidant, recently told NBC that Trump and Sessions had a “dysfunctional relationship.”
“We need a better one. Is there somebody who’s highly qualified that has the confidence of the president who’ll also understand their job is to protect Mueller? Yes, I think we can find that person after the election, if that’s what the president wants,” Graham said.
The White House is trying to slow-walk Trump’s response to Mueller’s ongoing Russia probe.
In recent months, Trump’s anger at the probe has grown, with the president believing that the special counsel was biased, overstepping his authority and potentially threatening Trump’s immediate family, particularly his eldest son. Trump has complained repeatedly about curtailing the investigation only to be persuaded by a number of his closest advisers, including attorney Rudy Giuliani, not to take the step.
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