Seeking Reset, Trump Dines with Some of His Biggest Donors


BEDMINSTER, N.J. — President Trump dined on Thursday night at his Bedminster golf club with a handful of his most generous donors, as he tried to build support for his hobbled legislative agenda amid mounting criticism from within his own party, three people briefed on the dinner said.

The dinner was scheduled weeks ago as part of a donor-outreach initiative by the Trump administration as it prepares an overhaul of the tax code, according to several people involving in the planning.

But it came as the White House is struggling to move past the racially charged controversy that Mr. Trump fueled in the wake of the deadly white supremacist rally last weekend in Charlottesville, Va. Mr. Trump’s response to the rally — including his casting of blame on counterprotesters and his defense of Confederate monuments — has created a rift between Mr. Trump and previously friendly elements of the business community, making support from donors like those gathered Thursday all the more important.

It’s unclear to what extent the Charlottesville rally and its aftermath were discussed at the Thursday dinner.

The invited donors and their families have combined to donate millions of dollars to committees supporting Mr. Trump’s campaign and inauguration, and Mr. Trump’s team hopes they will contribute millions more to groups pushing his legislative agenda. They included the New York investor Robert Mercer, the Kentucky coal executive Joseph W. Craft and the Wisconsin roofing magnate Diane Hendricks, according to people familiar with the dinner.

Mr. Mercer’s presence was noteworthy, since the White House confirmed Friday that Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, had been ousted. Mr. Mercer has long funded the political and business activities of Mr. Bannon, who was brought onto Mr. Trump’s campaign at the recommendation of Mr. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah Mercer.

A source familiar with the dinner said that Mr. Bannon’s future was not a topic of conversation.

But the day before the dinner, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Mercer huddled for hours at Mr. Mercer’s Long Island estate to discuss possible ventures.

Other donors also were invited to Thursday’s dinner but did not attend, including Paul Singer, the New York hedge fund billionaire.

He declined the invitation weeks ago because he was going to be on vacation, according to one of the people familiar with the planning of the event.

Mr. Singer, who ardently opposed Mr. Trump during the Republican primary, seemed to warm to the new president after his election. He donated more than $1 million to the committees funding Mr. Trump’s transition and inauguration and visited Mr. Trump at least twice in the White House.

But Mr. Singer also is a major donor to Jewish causes, including the Republican Jewish Coalition, which criticized Mr. Trump this week over his response to the events in Charlottesville. In a statement, the coalition called on the president “to provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism.”

Mr. Singer’s representatives did not respond to a request for comment on whether he felt similarly about Mr. Trump’s response to the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, at which a counterprotester was killed after a car plunged into the crowd.

Representatives for Mr. Mercer, Mr. Craft and Ms. Hendricks did not respond to requests for comment.

The White House did not respond to questions about whether the Charlottesville rally and aftermath were discussed.

But people familiar with the dinner cast it as part of an ongoing series of donor-outreach events headlined by Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to cultivate and maintain support for the administration’s agenda from wealthy activists who have the capacity to fund conservative advocacy groups that seek to influence policy debates.

White House allies were disappointed with what they considered insufficient support from those groups for the failed Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The White House has worked assiduously to cultivate more support from advocacy groups and their donors ahead of a push to overhaul the tax code. Their support could be even more critical if businesses and trade groups, which might otherwise support tax reform, hold back out of concern of affiliating with Mr. Trump.



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