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Trump wooing Pritzker: Calls him ‘friend’ at White House, taps him for panel

President Donald Trump speaks during the 2019 White House Business Session with the Nation's Governors in the State Dining Room at the White House on Feb. 25, 2019 in Washington, D.C. | Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is wooing Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who made his opposition to Trump a centerpiece of his campaign, calling for his impeachment back in May 2017.

Of the 36 governors meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday morning, the only one Trump singled out was Pritzker. He called him his “friend.”

I have two theories about why Pritzker is catching Trump’s attention:

•The root cause could be the pivotal role the Pritzker family played in Trump’s launch as a major New York real estate developer. More on that below.

•Trump is interested in Pritzker because he is a fellow billionaire.

At the end of a speech before governors at the White House on Monday, Trump said, “So I just want to thank all of the governors for being here. You’re very special people. I think we have 17 brand-new governors. Right? Brand new ones. Very smart ones, like my friend,” Trump said, nodding toward Pritzker.

“Congratulations. It’s a great — you’re going to have — you have such an easy state. That’s so easy. Great state of Illinois. What an easy state. I don’t know. Huh? Have you found it to be easier or tougher than you thought?”

Pritzker, thinking fast, said, “Well, you’re going to help us out.”

Replied Trump, “I’ll help you out. I help everybody out. I’m going to help you. Congratulations.”

Fact check: There were 22 new governors elected in 2019. There were not 17 new governors at the event.

Pritzker also got an appointment from Trump he told me he did not seek.

President Donald Trump is greeted by Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson as he arrives for the 2019 White House business session with governors in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 25, 2019. At the far right in the
President Donald Trump is greeted by Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson as he arrives for the 2019 White House business session with governors in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 25, 2019. At the far right in the rear is Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker. | Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday, Trump named Pritzker to the White House Council of Governors, a 10-member bipartisan panel dealing with homeland defense, the National Guard, disaster relief and related matters.

Pritzker has been in Washington since Friday, coming here for the National Governors Association winter meeting — and perfecting his balancing act when it comes to Trump.

After the Monday meeting, where the governor explored federal-state partnerships on trade, opportunity zones and other issues, I asked Pritzker in an interview what he made of Trump’s comments.

It’s a head-scratcher for him.

“There is nobody who more often who spoke out against Donald Trump during the last campaign than I did. Literally every speech that I gave, I spoke up and spoke out about, you know, his xenophobia, racism, homophobia and so on,” Pritzker said.

Though he is a “leader of the resistance,” Pritzker said, “my job is to be the best leader of our state that I can be and do everything I can to get federal dollars, and that means working with the legislators in Congress and that means working with the executive branch and particularly with the Cabinet secretaries.”

He huddled at the White House with Cabinet members, their aides and Ivanka Trump, who shares with Pritzker an interest in early-childhood education.

The Grand Hyatt lawsuit backstory

In the late 1970s, when the Illinois governor was a kid, Trump and the Pritzker family, who controlled the Hyatt Corp., were partners in developing the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Trump’s first major deal in Manhattan.

The midtown Hyatt made Trump a player.

No surprise, given what we now know of Trump’s m.o., he sued the Pritzkers in 1993. The legal battle was messy.

As Diana Henriques wrote in the New York Times in 1993, “A back-room feud between two giants of the American real estate world broke into the open yesterday when Donald J. Trump, the New York developer, filed a civil racketeering suit against Jay Pritzker, the Chicago financier, over the Pritzker family’s management of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City.”

The Pritzkers filed their own lawsuit a year later, alleging Trump violated their partnership agreement.

Henriques reported in 1995 that after “bitter litigation … the dispute had been settled.”

I asked Pritzker about this lawsuit in a Saturday interview.

“It’s what he does. You know he sues people. And you know, makes false allegations and tries to besmirch other people when he’s the one who tries to create some you know — look over here, look over here — you know, when it’s really Donald Trump.”

New game in town: Pritzker meets with Illinois delegation

Former GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner never once, as governor, met with the Illinois delegation. And they noticed.

On Monday night, at Pritzker’s request, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., hosted a dinner for Pritzker and delegation members in his Capitol office, signaling a new era in Springfield-Washington cooperation. The office of Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., the dean of the Illinois House Republicans, said he was co-hosting.

Pritzker on Janus

The anti-union Rauner was successful in bringing a landmark Illinois case to the Supreme Court, Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, with the justices siding 5-4 against government employee unions, making it harder for them to organize.

Pritzker told me he wants to, post-Janus, offer help to the unions.

Said Pritzker, “We’re still listening for the best ideas for approaching that. But I must say that the labor unions have done a pretty good job of convincing their members that what they do is extraordinarily important and that the dues that they pay are being used in an efficient and effective manner.”