WASHINGTON – Let me introduce you to J.B. Pritzker, the pragmatist.
Illinois Gov.-elect Pritzker, who vowed to resist President Donald Trump’s agenda during his campaign — and who linked Gov. Bruce Rauner to Trump, politically toxic in Illinois — met with Trump and other top administration officials at the White House on Thursday along with other new governors.
Pritzker was one of 13 governors — eight Republican, five Democrats — invited to the White House for a series of meetings, first with Cabinet members then capped by a roundtable with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Daughter Ivanka Trump was among the other White House staffers present.
“Mr. President, I’m J.B. Pritzker, the governor-elect of Illinois,” he said as introductions were being made around the long table. “And I founded 1871, which is the — well, named this year as the world’s best business incubator. And as I’ve been speaking with your daughter, I’ve also been a national advocate for early-childhood education.”
Afterward, I caught up with Pritzker as he was leaving the White House and one of my first questions to him as we stood on a chilly Pennsylvania Avenue is why after all his Trump bashing he bothered to make the day trip.
The answer is that Pritzker, switching from campaigning to governing, has the luxury and necessity now to be practical and see how he can use his perch to get more federal dollars to Illinois.
“It’s important for me to work with Democrats and Republicans here in Washington on behalf of the people of Illinois,” Pritzker told me.
“So you know I was glad to come here to express the needs and desires of our people and make sure that the president and vice president know that, you know, Illinois is an important place for them to pay attention to and help.”
Pritzker didn’t come to the White House on Thursday to talk about his differences with Trump. Rather, it was to find areas where they can work together, with infrastructure on the top of the list.
Trump is the president and Illinois needs a governor who works with the president, no matter what. Rauner was so scared of a Trump backlash, he basically stayed away from Washington.
A few days ago, the top Congressional Democrats – Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer — who share with Pritzker a low opinion of the president, his policies, his ethics and his habitual fabrications — came to the White House to do business with Trump. That’s because he is the president.
I asked Pritzker what he talked about with Trump once the pool reporters left the Cabinet Room.
“Well, I had an opportunity to express to both of them and to the president and the vice president how important it is that we pass an infrastructure bill for the states, and they agreed. And then I especially focused on the formula, which is very important to get an infrastructure bill that works for the states. We need to go back to an 80/20 formula,” Pritzker said, a reference to the state having to come up with a 20 percent match in order to collect the federal funds.
“…The other topic that we talked about and that I advocated for was help with the Asian Carp problem in the Great Lakes. As you can imagine, we have the governor of Michigan there, the governor of Wisconsin was there, the governor of Ohio was there. We’re all affected by this crisis.
“The president didn’t seem to know anything about it. But he was very interested in helping and said that he would speak with the Army Corps of Engineers and work with our states to make sure that we’re addressing the problem.”
As Pritzker figures out how to get stuff from the Trump administration while at the same time retaining his pledge to lead the resistance, I realized as I was talking to him he has something special going for him with Trump. The Trumps are likely enamored with him being part of one of the richest families in the world. The incoming billionaire governor’s sister is former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. Trump will see Pritzker as more of an equal.
I asked Pritzker about his personal interactions with Trump and his daughter, who he just met.
Said Pritzker, Ivanka Trump “seemed to know something about my family. The president seemed to know something about my family.”