WASHINGTON — In a free-wheeling session that included an improbable cameo by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, President Donald Trump hosted the Cubs on Wednesday, an unheard of double play after former President Barack Obama honored the 2016 World Series champs at the White House in January.
Trump could not resist a dig when he welcomed 13 of 27 players on this road trip, plus manager Joe Maddon, about a dozen other coaches and staffers and three members of the Ricketts family: Tom, the chairman, and co-owners Todd and Pete, the GOP governor of Nebraska.
“This is a great team,” Trump said. Then, likely referring to the Jan. 16 celebration with Obama, he took this shot: “They were actually here, but they wanted to be here with Trump, right?”
Trump also teased the struggling players. Heading into the game Wednesday against the Nationals, the Cubs’ record was 39-38.
“Your team’s doing OK,” Trump said. “But you’re going to do great starting now, right?”
The Trump White House —which is having its battles with its press corps — on Tuesday said the event would be closed to the press. On Wednesday, there was an unexplained change, and reporters and photographers were allowed to cover a part of the visit.
The Cubs’ entourage first gathered around Trump in the Roosevelt Room and then moved to the Oval Office when Trump asked if anyone wanted to see it.
Trump did not mention any players by name and in his brief remarks didn’t have much of anything Cubs- or baseball-specific to say. He did josh a bit with Maddon.
The only athlete Trump brought up at any point was Cavaliers star LeBron James. Trump also didn’t reference the historic nature of the Cubs’ victory, which ended the World Series drought fans had suffered since 1908.
On the other hand, Trump didn’t take his usual shots at Chicago because of its ongoing failures to curb violent crime.
“Who is the best hitter, tell me,” Trump asked and then answered, “I think you have a lot of them.”
The GOP-allied Rickettses are among the nation’s biggest contributors to Republican candidates and causes. Trump highlighted how he tapped Todd Ricketts to be his deputy commerce secretary, only to have him withdraw his nomination in April, unable to unravel his complex finances.
Said Trump, “And after about 9,000 pages of filings, he said, ‘the heck with it.’ ”
Todd Ricketts got the Trump White House visit for the team in the pipeline when he was at a White House briefing earlier this month with a group of other top donors. The details were firmed up late in the game. The players — all informally dressed for Trump — left for their three-city road trip not knowing there was a White House visit on deck, so they did not pack the suits or blazers they all wore when they called on Obama.
In the Roosevelt Room, Trump started looking for the Cavs’ Gilbert, who happened to be with Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic advisor. The Cavaliers earlier this month lost in the NBA Finals to the Warriors.
Here’s the Trump riff: “Where’s Dan? Where’s Dan Gilbert? He was right outside, grab him. Where’s Dan? Dan Gilbert just came in. He’s the basketball — he’s looking for a good basketball player. Anyone play basketball? Let’s go over to — where’s Dan Gilbert? Come here, Dan. Come here, Dan. You want, eh, uh, come over here. You want a good baseball player to play basketball?”
Ribbing Gilbert, Trump said to the Cubs players, who were too polite to engage, “Ask him how he’s doing with LeBron.”
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