President Donald Trump, partial to gold and marble elegance, never took a shine to rustic Camp David. So acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney pitched him on an unusual idea at the start of the House impeachment inquiry: Use the secluded mountainous presidential retreat to woo House Republicans.
Since then, Mulvaney and top White House officials have hosted weekend getaways for Republicans at the historic lodge, seeking to butter up Republicans before the big impeachment vote. The casual itinerary includes making s’mores over the campfire, going hiking, shooting clay pigeons and schmoozing with Trump officials, some of whom stay overnight with lawmakers.
“I’ve worked with a number of Republican presidents over various administrations ... and I’ve never, ever been invited to Camp David,” said Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo. “It was amazing to go for the short weekend. So historic.”
The Camp David excursions are one prong of a broad White House charm offensive, meant to hold House and Senate Republicans in line through a House impeachment vote and a trial in the Senate that appears all but inevitable.
The systematic courting may prove to be one pivotal factor if Republican lawmakers continue to ally behind Trump, who is almost certain to become the third U.S. president in history to become impeached by the House in the coming weeks. The idea, at least for the Camp David getaways, is to make Republicans feel as if they are part of Trump’s family — and make it more difficult for them to vote in favor of impeaching him.
The administration-wide effort to court Republicans was described by 20 lawmakers, administration officials, congressional aides and others familiar with the endeavor.
In all, Trump has met with or contacted personally 100 GOP members of the House since the impeachment inquiry was launched, and 50 of the 53 Senate Republicans have attended a White House lunch.
The wooing appears to be working, particularly the Camp David effort.
Multiple lawmakers who have visited the retreat — nearly 90 miles from Washington — have described the trips as “surreal” and “incredible,” according to a half -dozen lawmakers and aides familiar with the outings. When Mulvaney first pitched the idea of turning Camp David into a weekend retreat for lawmakers, Trump was surprised, officials said. The acting chief of staff has told GOP attendees that the president didn’t see the allure, asking: “Who would want to go there?”
But it’s clear plenty of House Republicans do. Lawmakers and their spouses are given a tour of the historic grounds once they arrive, attendees said. Many are in awe over the hot tub, golf course and, in particular, who had previously stayed there, as they flip through books containing names of foreign ministers, famous White House staffers and other dignitaries who have slept in the same beds, participants said.