WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump watched election returns Tuesday with dozens of friends in the White House’s palatial East Room, including Republican megadonors Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam and Blackstone Group chief executive Steve Schwarzman.
There were cheers when Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, lost to Republican Mike Braun, and some excitement when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was declared victorious over Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke. But many watched somberly as Trump’s party lost House seats across the country, according to three people familiar with the scene.
The guests noshed on pizza, mini hotdogs, hamburgers and fries served from elegant dishware.
Other Trump friends in attendance included Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, investor Michael Milken, Continental Resources Inc. CEO Harold Hamm, and pastor Franklin Graham. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also participated.
Trump doesn’t plan to congratulate Nancy Pelosi, the likely next speaker of the House, his press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, pointing to divisions within the Democratic caucus.
“I’m not sure why you would call Nancy Pelosi considering a lot of members of her own party have said they wouldn’t support her,” Sanders told reporters at the White House after Democrats won a handful of Republican-held House seats. “If Democrats win tonight I think we need to wait and see who their speaker is.”
While Democrats, who are poised to take control of the House, put their party infighting on hold in order to focus on the campaign, Sanders’s remarks represent an attempt to exploit latent divisions within the opposition. Some newly elected House Democrats have said they would not support Pelosi, 78, the California Democrat who was speaker from 2007 to 2011, to retake the gavel next year.
But there is no potential challenger to Pelosi regarded as capable of amassing a significant number of votes within the House Democratic caucus.
Briefly discussing the House Democrats’ likely plan to extensively investigate the Trump administration, Sanders told Fox News that “they shouldn’t waste time investigating” and should instead negotiate with Trump on his legislative goals.
Meanwhile, some White House officials griped about a usual ally, Fox News, which was the first major news organization to declare that Democrats had won the chamber. The officials, who asked not to be identified criticizing the network, complained that it made the call without sufficient data and potentially suppressed Republican votes on the West Coast, where polls were still open.
After Fox’s call, Democrat Kendra Horn unseated Republican Steve Russell in an Oklahoma House seat that had been declared a “likely” GOP victory by the Cook Political Report.
The White House took a victory lap following the defeat of Donnelly, as Sanders declared that the president was having a good night despite losing House seats across the country.
“Right now we feel good, it’s been a good night for the president up until this point,” Sanders told reporters. Donnelly’s loss to Braun was “a huge moment” for Trump, she said.
“Candidates that have embraced the president, embraced his policies and that he’s gone in and campaigned for and worked hard for, we’re seeing that pay off tonight,” Sanders said.
“Maybe you get a ripple, but I certainly don’t think that there’s a blue wave,” Sanders told reporters, pointing to several early Republican wins.