white house

Trump touts Ukraine call during meeting with Republican senators

"He seems upbeat and positive,” Sen. Josh Hawley said of the president.

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump on Thursday continued courting the Republicans who will determine whether or not he is removed from office, telling a group of nine GOP senators that he was glad he had released the summary of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Over chicken lunch in the Roosevelt Room, the president repeatedly referenced the summary of his call as exculpatory and touted the opposition of two House Democrats to the House’s impeachment resolution on Thursday, according to attendees. House impeachment inquiry witnesses have asserted that Trump had used aid to Ukraine as a condition for investigating his political rival Joe Biden, but Trump still sees the White House readout of the July 25 call as his best defense.

“He said: 'Read the transcript.' He said a number of times he was really glad there was a transcript and that he was really glad he released it,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). “What the president said over and over: He was delighted there was a transcript, he was glad that there was one and he was glad that he released it.”

“The point that the president is making is: They put the transcript out and if you look and read the transcript there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). “There’s a transcript of the call and no one has said that if you read the transcript of the call, it’s a violation of the law.”

The president and senators did not discuss Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman's assertion that some of the transcript of the call was omitted from the summary released from the White House. Vindman, a National Security Council official overseeing Ukraine policy, listened in to the July 25 call and testified this week that he was so disturbed by it that he reported it to the NSC lawyer.

The president has been touting party unity and he found it on Thursday, as Reps. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) joined all House Republicans in rebuking the Democratic-led impeach inquiry.

“I don’t think it was lost on him,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Cornyn, Hawley and Scott joined GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, as well as Cindy Hyde-Smith and Roger Wicker, both of Mississippi, according to an administration official. Trump was joined by Vice President Mike Pence, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and legislative director Eric Ueland, Scott said.

Toomey and Cornyn have said the president should not have discussed Biden with Zelensky, but that the conversation between the two leaders is not impeachable. The president did not discuss the differing views of the GOP Conference either on Thursday or last week, when he hosted 10 senators in a gathering that included a couple of senators who have been mildly critical. Toomey declined to comment on the meeting besides that the chicken was "tasty."

“Jovial. He seems upbeat and positive,” Hawley said of Trump's mood.

The senators also discussed Syria, Iran and the recent raid against ISIS commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as well as the canine Conan who assisted in the military operation. Scott also buttonholed White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow to sign on to his bill to give Americans back the costs they’ve paid in tariffs.

The meeting is “part of a multi-front effort to engage Congress, including in the last two weeks bringing over 60 members of the House to sit with the president face-to-face, numerous phone calls, and about 30 members coming to Camp David to talk with senior administration officials on policy priorities,” said a senior administration official.

Marianne LeVine and Nancy Cook contributed to this report.