Not president, not yet a senator: Romney is starting over
By LAURIE KELLMAN and STEVE PEOPLES
Friday, November 30
WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney is a man in-between.
He made it to Washington after all — but not as president of the United States, the office he sought twice and other men won. He’s not yet a senator from Utah, either, until he’s sworn in Jan. 3. Romney, lifelong executive in public and private life, doesn’t have a permanent office, a place to live or a solid sense of what it will be like to shift from being the top leader to just one of 100 ambitious personalities.
For now, Romney, 71, is acclimating to the rarified Senate, where he’s shuttling between his temporary basement office and meetings, little-noticed in the brimming corridors of power where seniority and tradition rule. Behind him is real-world fame as the former standard-bearer of the Republican Party, now commanded by President Donald Trump and his in-your-face style. Ahead of Romney is life as a junior senator in a role Senate leaders are just beginning to sketch out.
“It’s been a learning experience,” Romney said Tuesday as he hurried from a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a suite that overlooks the National Mall. “Hopefully, I have the capacity to take on different roles.”
Romney is from neither Massachusetts, where he was governor, nor Utah, where he lives and which he will represent in the new, 116th Congress. He’s from Michigan, where his father, George W. Romney, was governor in the 1960s. But Romney earned his status as Utah’s adopted son when in 1999 he took over the Salt Lake City Olympics and helped steer it through a bribery scandal to successful games three years later.
After being governor, the presidency was Romney’s goal. But in 2008, he lost the Republican nomination to Sen. John McCain, who then lost the big prize to Democrat Barack Obama. Four years later, it was Romney and then-Rep. Paul Ryan challenging Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Romney went down in defeat, derided by some in the GOP as too moderate and disconnected from the economic struggles of most Americans. Then Trump won the nation’s highest office over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
All along, Romney’s relationship with Trump has veered between bitter rivalry and potential — but unrealized — alliance. That’s raised hopes on Capitol Hill that Romney might serve as a truth-teller to a president who routinely replaces fact with fiction. Some are hoping that the mild-mannered Romney bucks his party on policy when he chooses.
“I think with John McCain passing, for example, Mitt believes that there’s a role for him in our party in being … a standard-bearer in our party,” said Ryan, now the retiring House speaker, told The Washington Post Thursday. Ryan and others said they’re looking for Romney to seek a seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to help build back relationships that Trump’s “America first” policy may have eroded.
Committee assignments — let alone Romney’s role — will in large part be determined by McConnell, other Senate veterans and tradition. As a junior senator, Romney will be seated toward the end of the committee rostrum. He’ll be among the last asked to speak, and he’ll have to wait awhile to make his maiden floor speech.
On the upside, Romney will get a bit of rank among freshmen for having been a governor.
“But not much,” chortled Sen. Roy Blunt, who’s known the Romneys for years. Blunt said he’s spoken with Romney several times about the transition from having been an executive to serving in an institution where work and collaboration — and yes, a degree of deference — matter most.
“Being a governor where you can say, ‘I’d like this to happen today,’ and in many instances it actually happens today, is a lot different than being a senator where things take time and things seldom work out exactly the way you want them to,” Blunt said. “You have to pivot and move forward. For Gov. Romney, coming to the Senate is one way to pivot and move forward and that’s an important trait to have, if you’re going to be an effective part of the Senate.”
“Everybody already knows him,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “I don’t think he has any sense of regret. I think he’s eager to jump right in.”
Those close to Romney point out that unlike most freshmen, Romney comes to Congress with years-long relationships with many members, including with McConnell. His niece is Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel. And as a presidential candidate, he helped raise huge sums of money for congressional colleagues over the last decade.
There are signs that Romney intends to keep up that role in Washington, where campaign cash-raising prowess can confer influence. On Tuesday night, his recently-formed Believe in America PAC and joint fundraising committee, Team Mitt, held its first fund raiser in Washington. Attendees were asked to contribute $5,000.
On the issues, Romney is eager to play a role in foreign policy, fiscal policy and, to a lesser degree, immigration, according to close advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal discussions.
While his relationship with Trump has improved dramatically, underlying tensions remain. In June, after Romney predicted Trump would win a second term, Trump said: “Mitt’s a straight shooter — whether people love him or don’t love him.”
Throughout his Senate campaign, Romney insisted that he would agree with Trump on some issues and not be shy about disagreeing on others.
Look for the Republican heavyweights to clash on foreign policy, perhaps above all.
Romney continues to believe that Russia remains America’s greatest geopolitical foe, a position he first outlined in 2012 that puts him in direct conflict with Trump, who has warmed to Russian President Vladimir Putin. And Romney was quick to condemn Trump’s muted response to Saudi Arabia’s brutal killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Senate Democrats report cordial welcome-to-Washington conversations with Romney, but they’re hesitant to predict that he’ll be a bridge between them and empowered Senate Republicans.
“I think he brings a lot to the table as a new senator with a national reputation, from a conservative state,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, who said he chatted with Romney at a recent dinner. “We’ll see what happens.”
Associated Press writer Stephen Braun contributed to this report. Peoples worked on this story from New York City.
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Washington’s new power standoff – Trump, Pelosi
By LISA MASCARO, JONATHAN LEMIRE and CATHERINE LUCEY
Friday, November 30
WASHINGTON (AP) — They haven’t spoken in days, not since President Donald Trump called to congratulate Nancy Pelosi on Democrats’ election night win.
But they don’t really need to. Trump and Pelosi go way back, from the time she first showed up at Trump Tower fundraising for the Democrats long before he would become president or she the House speaker. Two big-name heirs to big-city honchos — Trump and Pelosi each had fathers who were political power players in their home towns — they’ve rubbed elbows on the Manhattan social scene for years.
And despite daily barbs in Washington, he’s always “Mr. President” to her, and she’s one prominent politician he has not labeled with a derisive nickname.
Not quite friends, nor enemies, theirs is perhaps the most important relationship in Washington. If anything is to come of the new era of divided government, with a Republican president and Democratic control of the House, it will happen in the deal-making space between two of the country’s most polarizing politicians.
The day after their election night phone call, Trump and Pelosi did speak again, indirectly, across Pennsylvania Avenue.
“I really respected what Nancy said last night about bipartisanship and getting together and uniting,” Trump said in a press conference at the White House. “That’s what we should be doing.”
Pressed after his unusual public lobbying for Pelosi to become House speaker, Trump insisted he was sincere.
“A lot of people thought I was being sarcastic or I was kidding. I wasn’t. I think she deserves it,” he said. “I also believe that Nancy Pelosi and I could work together and get a lot of things done.”
Pelosi sent word back a few minutes later from her own press conference at the Capitol, which she delayed for nearly an hour as the president conducted his.
“Last night, I had a conversation with President Trump about how we could work together,” Pelosi said, noting that “building infrastructure” was one of the items they discussed.
“He talked about it during his campaign and really didn’t come through with it in his first two years in office,” she nudged. “I hope that we can do that because we want to create jobs from sea to shining sea.”
Despite all the campaign trail trash talk, both Trump and Pelosi have incentive to make some deals.
The president could use a domestic policy win heading into his own re-election in 2020, alongside his regular railing against illegal immigration, the “witch hunt” of the Russia investigation or other issues that emerge from his tweets.
Democrats, too, need to show Americans they can do more than resist the Trump White House. It’s no surprise that two of the top Democratic priorities in the new Congress, infrastructure investment and lowering health care costs, dovetail with promises Trump made to voters, but has not yet fulfilled.
“I do think there’s opportunities to pass legislation,” said former White House legislative director Marc Short.
Trump has long viewed Pelosi as both a foil and a possible partner, and she sees in him the one who can sign legislation into law.
The president has told confidants that he respects Pelosi’s deal-making prowess and her ability to hang on to power in the face of a series of challenges from the left wing of the party, according to four White House officials and Republicans close to the White House. The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations and requested anonymity.
He told one ally this month that he respected Pelosi “as a fighter” and that he viewed her as someone with whom he could negotiate.
“The president respects her,” said Short.
Short described the interaction between Pelosi and Trump during a 2017 meeting with other congressional leaders at the White House to prevent a government shutdown. “They were throwing pros and cons back at each other,” he said.
“The question I can’t answer is to what extent will Democrats give Pelosi political bandwidth” to strike deals, Short said. He pointed to potential areas of agreement like infrastructure, drug prices and prison reform.
But part of Trump’s push for Pelosi to return to power was more nakedly political. Pelosi has long been a popular Republican target, spurring countless fundraising efforts and attack ads. And Trump has told advisers that, if needed, he would make her the face of the opposition in Democratic party until the 2020 presidential field sorts itself out.
Pelosi’s name draws some of the biggest jeers at his rallies and he believes that “she could be Hillary” in terms of a Clinton-like figure to rally Republicans against, according to one of the advisers familiar with the president’s private conversations.
At the same time, Trump has not publicly branded Pelosi with a mocking nickname. She’s no “Cryin’” Chuck Schumer, as he calls the top Senate Democrat, or “Little” Adam Schiff at the Intelligence Committee or “Low IQ” Rep. Maxine Waters of California, who will chair the Financial Services Committee.
On whether Trump likes Pelosi as ally or adversary, Short said, “I don’t think those are mutually exclusive.”
Pelosi, perhaps more than her Republican counterparts — outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — became an early observer, and adapter, to the Trump style of governing.
When Trump and Democrats were trying to broker an immigration deal in September 2017, she suggested he could tweet his assurances to the young Dreamers. And he did.
Around the same time when Trump and congressional leaders convened at the White House to avoid a federal government shutdown, Republicans and Trump’s own Cabinet team pressed for their preferred solution. But Pelosi kept asking a simple question: How many Republican votes could they bring to the table? When it was clear they could not bring enough for passage, Trump intervened and agreed with Democrats “Chuck and Nancy,” as he came to call them.
Votes, Pelosi explained later, were the “currency of the realm.” Trump, as a businessman, she said, got it.
Pelosi is poised to become House speaker again if she wins her election in January. Asked this week how Trump might react to having a woman in power, Pelosi recalled the first time she held the office, when George W. Bush was president, in 2007.
Bush would call her “No. 3,” she said, a reference to the speaker’s spot in the presidential succession line, after the president and the vice president.
“He treated me and the office I hold with great respect,” she said. “I would expect nothing less than that from this President of the United States.”
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