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story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump waves to members of the media as he walks across the South Lawn to board Marine One at the White House in Washington, Monday, May 14, 2018, for a short trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump met privately with Senate Republicans on Tuesday at a lunch during which wide-ranging conversation touched on the GOP tax cuts, the Iran nuclear deal and midterms but no discussion of high-profile trouble spots in the administration.

Senators did not ask about a White House aide's remark about ailing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. And they did not bring up special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian election interference.

Instead, Trump joked and dropped one-liners, poking fun at senators of both parties in the 45-minute talk. He told them that he so enjoyed West Virginia, where Republicans avoided a primary setback last week, that he might move there after his time in the White House. He took a couple of questions.

But the Senate's top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, told reporters afterward that the White House official who disparaged McCain "should apologize and should apologize publicly."

Trump's Capitol Hill lunch Tuesday with Senate Republicans comes as the White House and its GOP allies are trying to coalesce around a political message ahead of the midterm elections.

But much like when Trump was headed to the GOP Senate lunch to talk policy in October, the White House agenda was eclipsed by another story.

[PRESIDENT TRUMP: Timeline, appointments, executive orders + guide to actions in first year]

During a private meeting last week White House communications aide Kelly Sadler dismissed McCain's opposition to the CIA nominee by saying of him: "He's dying anyway." The 81-year-old McCain was diagnosed in July with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Sadler has apologized to the McCain family privately, but McCain's daughter has asked for a public apology. The White House, which has appeared more focused on the fact that the leak took place rather than its substance, has said it has dealt with the matter internally -- but has refused to say how.

Senators did not press the issue. "That's not what we do in these meetings," Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told reporters. "No one would have ever brought up something like that."

The situation was familiar. Last fall, Trump was feuding with Corker when he arrived for lunch having tweeted that the powerful chairman of the Foreign Relations panel couldn't get elected dog catcher. Corker has decided not to seek re-election.

Senators appear to have given up on questioning Trump about his rhetoric and are increasingly relying on the president to help protect the GOP's 51-49 majority in the Senate this fall.

Two senators spoke up at the meeting, including Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who pulled a card from his coat pocket outlining all of the GOP accomplishments and encouraged Trump to focus on them.

Another senator -- Dean Heller, who faces a tough re-election in Nevada -- told Trump how popular he was in Israel for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Heller described pro-Trump banners hanging from streetlights and wrapping buses during his visit for the embassy opening, and told the president, "if you had banners hanging from the light posts in America, the media would tear them down." Heller added, "He totally agreed."

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said the president told them that he was "very confident" about the midterms. Trump told them that he "loved West Virginia" so much that he might move there some day. "He said that," Kennedy said.

Democrats, watching their leads in some polling narrow ahead of the midterm elections, waged a pre-emptive strike on the lunch session, targeting a long list of Trump's unfilled campaign promises.

"Some folks confuse chaos for activity," said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "The truth is, the president's impulsive and erratic behavior has scuttled bipartisan legislation."

Information for this article was contributed by Jill Colvin, Andrew Taylor and Mary Clare Jalonick of The Associated Press.

A Section on 05/16/2018

Print Headline: At Trump lunch, it's all good

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