Last July, King took his 11-year-old granddaughter to the White House to watch Trump sign a health-care bill for the first responders to the September 11 terrorist attacks. After the ceremony, Trump scribbled his spiky signature on the speech he had just delivered; gave it to the girl; “put on this angry, stern look; and said, If I find this on eBay tonight, I’m coming after you,” King recalled.
“He’s down-to-earth, easygoing, friendly,” King told me of his interactions with the president. “He can be pretty profane about this guy or that. I have to remind myself that I’m with the president of the United States, but I feel like I’m back on the street corner in Queens.” When he’s in Trump’s company, he added, it’s like being with “a stand-up comic and raconteur.”
I asked King whether his affection for Trump played a role in his no vote on impeachment. “I voted against Bill Clinton’s impeachment and it’s not hard [for me] to vote against Trump’s. To me, impeachment is the last possible weapon that should be used.” Still, he said of Trump’s overtures: “It does have an impact.”
Courting Congress is a part of the job that some presidents relish—others, not so much. Clinton was a natural schmoozer. King recalled watching the Super Bowl in the White House one year at the former president’s invitation. President George W. Bush tried a similar approach, with uneven success. In his few first weeks in office, Bush invited Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts to the White House for a screening of the movie Thirteen Days, which depicts how former President John F. Kennedy, the senator’s older brother, defused the Cuban missile crisis. At the time, Bush needed Kennedy’s cooperation in passing his signature education initiative, No Child Left Behind. It’s unclear whether the bonding session made a difference, but he got it: Kennedy helped engineer the bill’s passage.
Obama had little appetite for glad-handing. As he seemed to see it, especially at the start of his presidency, mere reason—the facts and merits of an issue—was the path toward bipartisan compromise. In 2013, when Obama spoke at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, he told the crowd that people often asked him why he didn’t spend more time doting on Congress. Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell, they’d ask. “Really?” Obama said, as the audience laughed. “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”
Fundamentally, Trump’s relationships with Congress are transactional. He works at them continually: One Republican lawmaker, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, told me they turned down requests from Trump to join him at events simply because they had already spent so much time with him and had other things to do.
Since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the impeachment proceedings in late September, Trump has dialed up the charm. Two potential jurors were part of his all-Republican entourage when he attended Game 5 of the World Series on October 27: Senators David Perdue of Georgia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. (Over repeated rounds of golf and meetings since taking office, Trump has defanged Graham, who once called him a “nut job.” Now Graham is one of the president’s closest allies. He got a private briefing on the Iran strike while golfing with Trump in Florida earlier this week—a courtesy that doesn’t seem to have been extended to other congressional leaders.) When Trump showed up for an Ultimate Fighting Championship match at Madison Square Garden on November 2, he was accompanied by Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, who along with Scalise was pivotal in locking down the unanimous GOP vote opposing impeachment. The next week, when Trump went to watch the football game between the University of Alabama and Louisiana State University, his guests in the luxury box included another potential juror in the impeachment trial, Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama.