After dodging two events with President Donald Trump in Washington D.C. — seen as opportunities to spotlight the state’s priorities — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday said he’d meet with the president “anytime.”
The events the Republican governor opted to skip included a governors’ dinner on Sunday night in which 46 governors attended, and a Monday morning working session at The White House to discuss health care issues — where Trump once again singled out Chicago.
“I have many things going on here in Illinois,” Rauner said Monday at Mount Sinai Hospital after announcing an overhaul of the state’s Medicaid managed care system. The governor was asked by reporters whether it would have been beneficial to have discussed the state’s health care system with Trump and the other governors. Rauner has said he’s against a complete repeal of Obamacare without a plan in place, and he’s written letters to the Trump administration alongside other governors to express his concerns.
But Rauner has barely uttered Trump’s name in public — which could potentially be used as a snippet in campaign ads. It’s a no-win situation. Tying Rauner to Trump could bolster the state’s Democratic party. And any public critique Rauner may make of the Republican president could cost him votes in Downstate and central Illinois, where Trump picked up plenty of votes. Any image of the governor alongside Trump could also be used against him in campaign literature expected to inundate Illinois households later this year.
Instead, Rauner has been excruciatingly careful in comments about the controversial Republican president. Rauner arrived in D.C. on Friday for the Republican Governors Association’s annual conference but flew back home on Sunday morning.
On Monday — as governors met with Trump at the White House — Rauner was asked several times why he hasn’t met personally with Trump. The two have only shared a private phone conversation shortly after the election.
Rauner said he spent his weekend speaking with governors and members of the Trump administration about Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act — saying he pushed for “moving slowly and thoughtfully” and fixing the “broken” insurance market on the exchange. He said he also spoke to the Trump administration about coordinating to help deal with Chicago’s gun violence problem.
The governor said he met with members of Trump’s administration — “the folks that are developing the policy” — about a federal policy dealing with violent crime across the country. He declined to discuss specifics of that potential policy change.
“It’s different from, you know, media discussion. A policy that we’re actually going to implement. We’re in conversations,” he said.
Asked again why he hasn’t met personally with Trump, Rauner repeated that he’d met with the Trump administration. He wouldn’t detail whom he met with over the weekend: “I’m not going to talk about that.”
When pushed about whether he wants to meet with the president, Rauner budged: “I’ll meet with the president anytime.”
Trump has been highlighting Chicago’s gun violence epidemic since last year when President Barack Obama was still in office. In his Republican National Convention speech last July, Trump talked about the shooting victims “in the President’s hometown of Chicago.” Chicago crime was mentioned heavily during the campaign.
While President-elect, in a Jan. 2 post on Twitter, Trump said Chicago should ask for “federal help,” even though Mayor Rahm Emanuel already did so in a meeting he had with Trump in New York on Dec. 7. And on Inauguration Day, Trump’s whitehouse.gov website mentioned Chicago shootings on its site.
Trump issued his “send in the feds” challenge on Jan. 24. Rauner has said he doesn’t support the National Guard coming into help Chicago’s gun problem.
During Monday’s meeting with governors at the White House, Trump once again brought up Chicago violence: “What’s going on in Chicago?”