He may not talk about President Donald Trump or his federal policies very much, but Gov. Bruce Rauner said on Tuesday that his “biggest concern” about the president is his “rhetoric.”
“I’ve only spoken to the president once to congratulate him on his victory. I don’t have a particularly close personal relationship with him,” the governor said before the Sun-Times Editorial Board.
Still, he said his close ties to Vice President Mike Pence and Pence’s chief of staff —former Rauner campaign adviser Nick Ayers — mean he works closely with the administration.
“I work with them. It’s my my job to work with them. For example, we need to change our Medicaid system, and we have an 1115 waiver for Medicaid into the federal government. We need to get that approved. I need the White House’s help. I need the administration’s help,” Rauner said.
But Rauner — running in a Republican primary with an opponent he wasn’t expecting — noted there are “things” Trump does that he agrees with and others that he doesn’t.
“It is what it is. I’d say my biggest concern is the rhetoric. The rhetoric, the tone, the words. I’ve publicly said. I’ve stepped out on a number of occasions when the rhetoric I just thought was fundamentally unacceptable,” Rauner said. “My job is to work with the White House. I’ve worked with the Trump administration. I’ve worked with the Obama administration. It’s my job.”
Rauner’s rare comments about Trump came after Sun-Times Editor-in-Chief Chris Fusco asked the governor to respond to the words Donald Trump: “I’m going to throw out two words and I want your reaction.”
“Is this like a Rorschach test?” the governor joked.
“Donald Trump,” Fusco said.
“President of the United States,” Rauner said.
He was then asked to further explain whether Trump presented a challenge to his candidacy going forward. Rauner’s challenger, State Rep. Jeanne Ives, is a Trump supporter and is more socially conservative than the governor.
Ives’ campaign responded to Rauner’s statements about his relationship with Trump, saying he has “no relationship” with him “because Rauner has spent his three years in office as a big government Republican pursuing a radical Left social agenda.”
The governor was also asked if he had any thing he wanted to “do-over” from his first term. Rauner targeted two things: getting his message out and getting “groups of legislators” to see his way. The governor endured a rocky 2017 full of staff shakeups — with many on his communications team being fired or resigning in protest. A second set of communications staffers, some from the conservative think tank the Illinois Policy Institute, were ousted after just six weeks on the job.
“I would have spent far more time communicating directly to the people of Illinois and explaining what’s going on,” Rauner said. “It’s very hard to explain the dynamic and where the frustration has been. The average person goes, ‘Gosh, we just had budget fighting and can’t you guys get along.’ Not enough people understand what’s truly at stake.”
The governor said he would have spent far more time “from Day One” communicating directly with the people of Illinois about the issues and the “battles.” He said that would have meant “spending a lot more time with you in the media and spending a lot more time in direct and social media.”
He also said he would have spent “even more time trying to get groups of legislators together,” instead of focusing on one legislator at a time.
“The [Illinois House] speaker [Mike Madigan] can rule with an iron fist and fear. If we can get them as groups to stand up. People, the caucus, realizes that. Many of the Democratic members realize what I’m working for and actually would help, but they’re scared. And we need to get them united as groups of people,” Rauner said.
As for his budget address, which he’ll present on Wednesday, Feb. 14, Rauner said “you’ll see a balanced budget,” when asked if it will include any contingencies. His budget last year included a proposed “grand bargain” Senate deal that hadn’t been passed yet, and the selling of the James R. Thompson Center.
“You’ll see a balanced budget. … It’ll be balanced, and it will not only be balanced, but it’ll show a path to begin to work down the income tax hike,” Rauner said. “Over the next few years I’d like to begin to work that down each year at modest levels to get back to a more attractive rate, more compelling for business owners and for working families. Get it back down to maybe three percent. You’ll see that in the plan,” he said, which will also include spending cuts.”