Trump brings the boardroom to Washington

Trump brings the boardroom to Washington
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President Trump has brought the boardroom with him to the White House.

The president has taken to starting his day at the center of a rectangular wood table in the White House's Roosevelt Room — the closest thing to his Trump Tower boardroom — and sometimes in the State Dining Room or the Cabinet Room. There, he has been meeting with a rotating cast of business leaders, political figures and activists who are hoping to bend his ear. 

Since Inauguration Day, the meetings have become a mainstay of his schedule, with Trump holding more than 30 of them so far, with several per week.  

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Amid the growing pains for the White House, the meetings have created good optics, showing the hands-on approach to governing that Trump promised during the campaign.  

But they also serve another purpose: giving Trump the kind of human interaction he craves and had grown accustomed to in his business empire.

"He feels its effective for him," said Jeffrey Lord, a Trump supporter, who also worked for former president Ronald Reagan. "Every president has their style, and this is his. He's going to do what works for him."  

Lord said the boardroom-style meetings are "his version of the brown-bag lunch."

"He feels it's not only good for him but it's good for the people he's meeting with, because they have access to him,” he said.   

In his first couple of months, Trump has held meetings with an array of groups, including a “listening session” with the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a breakfast with airline industry officials and a conversation with county sheriffs. 

Earlier this week, the president once again opened the doors of the Roosevelt Room, this time to healthcare industry professionals to discuss the push in Congress to repeal and replace ObamaCare. 

Robin Armstrong, a doctor from Friendswood, Texas, who attended the healthcare session, said the meeting was a “very, very comfortable setting and a lot less regimented than I thought it would be.”  

“I think this goes with the president’s style,” Armstrong said.   

Armstrong, who specializes in internal medicine, said he had the opportunity to discuss how he had seen his patients' insurance premiums and deductibles go up under ObamaCare and how “that’s unsustainable.” 

He said Trump, Vice President Pence and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price listened to what he and the other participants said and promised to help.  

Other presidents, including former Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, also used the Roosevelt Room and other rooms with great frequency, often to generate attention for their legislative and policy agendas.

But one of the big differences between Trump and his predecessors is that he apparently feels so at home in that conference-room-style locale, he invites the press to stay in the room for much of it, their boom microphones looming over the table. Cable news networks often break from their coverage to carry his remarks live. 

In previous administrations, reporters and photographers would be quickly ushered out after a quick “photo-op,” and the conversation with the participants would continue behind closed doors.  

Katherine Jellison, a history professor at Ohio University, said Trump is seeking to portray himself as the dealmaker president. The tactic, she said, is in line with past presidents.

Dwight Eisenhower, for example, emphasized his military experience and delegated tasks the way he would with subordinate officers. Herbert Hoover, who brought a business background, also sought to approach matters with that mindset.  

Trump associates say he’ll continue the boardroom approach because it’s part of he was elected to do: make deals for the American people. 

“Many of these groups are craving access to decisionmakers,” Lord said. “So when the president of the United States has his office call and say ‘Can you come meet with the president?' Well, of course you're going to go.”

Still, Jellison said she doesn’t ultimately think Trump’s showmanship in the boardroom will sway those who haven’t supported him.  

“His fans will continue to be his fans,” Jellison said. “And his detractors will say, ‘You can’t lead the real world like it’s a real estate empire and a branding empire.’ ”