CNN | 2018-8-20 | Español

Trump skips hot button topics at Capitol Hill meeting

Updated: 9:30 PM ET, Tue May 15, 2018

Washington (CNN) - President Donald Trump stopped by the Capitol on Tuesday to join Republican senators for their weekly policy lunch and, according to members who attended, he did not address the hot button issues -- such as comments his aide made about ailing John McCain or his call for helping a US-sanctioned Chinese technology company.

Instead, Trump covered a wide range of policy topics including North Korea, Iran, China and the plan for a US border wall -- as well as making a couple of jokes along the way.

As Trump finished his remarks and the brief question-and-answer portion of the closed-door Republican luncheon began, Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada who is up for re-election in November, spoke up about a key Trump policy.

He talked first about the US Embassy opening in Jerusalem. Heller attended that, but then he pivoted to a question about immigration. He asked, according to a source in the room and another source familiar, that Trump hold off on focusing on his border wall until after the midterm elections, but the President was noncommittal.

The border wall and Trump's desire to build it have been a cornerstone of his presidency, but the wall is complicated for senators and House members in swing districts. Pushing too hard for wall funding to be part of the next spending bill could be a problem when the government runs out of money at the end of the fiscal year. Democrats aren't expected to go along with border wall funding if Trump pushes for it, which could lead to a showdown and a potential government shutdown if it can't be resolved.

Heller's office declined to comment to CNN.

The President's much-anticipated lunch with Republican senators came as controversy swirls around the fact that an aide -- Kelly Sadler -- has still not apologized for disparaging comments she reportedly made about ailing Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain. Multiple GOP senators said the remark a White House aide made about McCain's opposition to CIA nominee Gina Haspel was largely immaterial because "he's dying anyway" was inappropriate.

On Monday, the President tweeted that he wanted to do something to help ZTE, a US-sanctioned Chinese technology company.

"We did not talk about ZTE specifically, we talked in general about trade and trying to negotiate a better relationship with China," said Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana.

Among his jokes, Trump said his wife Melania's poll numbers were better than his -- and joked that he told her not to run against him, according to a source at the lunch.

Trump told the senators his wife is doing well after her kidney surgery at Walter Reed.

"He said she's doing well. He was very complimentary of Walter Reed and said she's getting great treatment and said she'd be back with us soon," Kennedy told reporters.

The President also took a shot at Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, saying the South Carolinian has never seen a war he didn't want to get involved with, which prompted laughter in the room.

"Mostly we didn't interrupt the President. We let him talk. He talked for 45 minutes about quite an array of subjects," Kennedy said. "It was a very honest, unvarnished, here's-what-I'm-thinking speech."

Several senators told reporters Trump brought Mike Braun, the Republican nominee in the Indiana senate election as his guest in the lunch. According to several senators, Trump said he planned to be involved in campaigning ahead of the midterms.

"He was in a good mood," Kennedy said. "He was in a very good mood. He told some funny jokes. They were all funny, and clean."

Kennedy later said Trump's jokes were "funny as hell" and said he was trying to scribble down some of the jokes so he could steal them.


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