In opening act, Trump's light side on display with lawmakers

AP News
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Posted: Jan 20, 2017 3:26 PM
In opening act, Trump's light side on display with lawmakers

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump turned on the charm with congressional leaders as they witnessed him nominating his Cabinet.

"Where's the health care bill?" Trump joked during his first official act as president.

Seated at a desk in an ornate room steps from the Senate floor, Trump the showman emerged, giving running commentary as he went. He joshed about his proposed repeal of President Barack Obama's health care law as he signed legislation granting a special waiver so James Mattis can become Pentagon chief despite having recently served as a general in the Marines. (The job is supposed to be held by a civilian for at least seven years.)

Trump also signed the nominations of Cabinet picks including former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., to head the CIA.

The president distributed pens to congressional leaders according to whether they liked his choices. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, received the pen with which Trump nominated Elaine Chao, McConnell's wife, to be secretary of transportation. But only after top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, Trump's initial choice to receive the pen, stepped aside. "The leader should have Elaine," Trump acknowledged.

When Pelosi laughingly objected to getting a pen used to nominate GOP Rep. Tom Price of Georgia to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., piped up, "I'll take it!"

The assembled leaders appeared to be enjoying themselves, repeatedly laughing and joining in the banter, especially Ryan, Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York, and Pelosi. McConnell, R-Ky., and Vice President Mike Pence stayed more serious.

After Trump gave Schumer his pen, Ryan came to the rescue: "Chuck, put a cap on it. You're going to get your shirt stained."

Trump ran a few minutes late, so beforehand, the leaders made small talk, with rivals Ryan and Pelosi discussing the National Football League playoffs and Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Schumer choosing baseball.

Then Trump's family — including his wife, Melania, his five children, and a handful of grandchildren — joined the group, along with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and others.

"Mike Pompeo. Great. They tell me he's going to be approved momentarily, but you never know with this place," Trump said.

Schumer retorted: "Depends how you define momentarily — soon." Pompeo is being held up by objections from Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, among others, but is on track to be confirmed next week.

"I want to go home," a grandchild squealed several times.

Trump's humor was good-natured, but with a little bite.

"Here's one I think Nancy would like," Trump kidded: "Scott Pruitt." Pruitt, the conservative attorney general of Oklahoma, is perhaps the pick most bitterly opposed by Democrats, as his controversial choice to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

"This is fun," Trump said, though he noticed, "We're running out of pens."