WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Following a tumultuous start to 2018, President Donald Trump and top Republicans began a two-day retreat in Maryland on Friday to lay out legislative priorities for the year and discuss strategy for pivotal November congressional elections.
Trump and party leaders, including House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, face a Jan. 19 deadline on passing legislation to prevent a government shutdown. They also were due to discuss broader issues to highlight ahead of midterm elections in which Republicans will battle to keep control of Congress.
“We have a lot of things to work on, a lot of things to accomplish,” Trump told reporters as he left for the talks being held at the Camp David presidential retreat.
The meeting comes on the heels of explosive comments by Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, contained in a new book that put the White House on the defensive.
Trump is seeking more legislative wins after cementing the first major victory of his presidency in December with a tax overhaul long sought by his party and its supporters.
The White House has said its next top priorities are a plan to invest in roads, bridges and other infrastructure, and an overhaul of welfare programs. Also on the agenda is immigration policy including addressing protections for hundreds of thousands of young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
While Trump and McConnell want to work on infrastructure first, Ryan is more interested in tackling so-called entitlement programs such as welfare. A White House official said the timing of legislation would be discussed, as well as the November election.
All 435 members of the House and a third of the 100 members of the Senate will be up for re-election. A Democratic takeover of one or both chambers could stifle Trump’s agenda.
The Camp David strategy session will provide an opportunity to switch subjects after the furore over the book, which went on sale on Friday, that describes an inept Trump White House.
Trump broke with Bannon on Wednesday after comments attributed to his former advisor about his son Donald Trump Jr. were revealed in author Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” Trump said Bannon had “lost his mind.”
“The White House doesn’t mind the optics after a few days of the president unloading on Bannon and making our views clear on the book. The president sits down and charts the course forward ... with the actual leaders of the Republican Party,” a White House official said.
The White House said healthcare, the fiscal 2019 budget, the opioid crisis and the effort to win Senate confirmation of Trump’s nominees for various government posts would be discussed at the retreat, which will also be attended by Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.
Cabinet members including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt will also attend, along with a handful of senior White House advisers.
The Republicans also are expected to talk about raising the budget caps for defence. Democrats have demanded any increase on defence spending be accompanied by higher caps for non-defence spending.
Talks with Democrats are expected to resume on Tuesday, when leaders from both parties are slated to meet with Trump at the White House to discuss immigration.
Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham