WASHINGTON — Last week, he tore up his prepared remarks in West Virginia. Now, with a decision on Syria looming and Special Counsel Bob Mueller circling, President Donald Trump is, at least publicly, sticking to a script.
After spending the morning tweeting about a variety of subjects, Trump was back on the teleprompter Thursday as he spoke about tax cuts — the topic Republicans want to make sure he doesn't forget.
"We're going to discuss our massive tax cuts that are growing paychecks all over our country," Trump said in the White House Rose Garden, where he was joined by more than 100 workers and executives from companies that have benefited as magnolia petals floated by in the spring breeze.
"They're creating jobs and expanding the American dream just like we said would happen," he said.
The largely on-topic and upbeat performance stood in sharp contrast to the tumult rocking the White House behind the scenes. Aides and allies have described a fuming Trump as the angriest they've ever seen him during his presidency in the wake of the FBI raid on his longtime lawyer, fixer and confidant, Michael Cohen.
Trump has lashed out publicly against Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the men leading the investigation into his administration, and has used Twitter to threaten military strikes in Syria and to taunt the Russians.
The drip-drip of revelations in recent weeks about the Mueller inquiry and questions about a payment to a porn star who alleges she had an affair with Trump have repeatedly overshadowed efforts by the White House to focus on the tax overhaul with midterm elections later this year.
Republicans are hoping their only major legislative achievement — sweeping tax cuts Trump signed into law last year — will help convince voters to keep them in power in November.
"The tax cut is the critical Trump policy victory," said Stephen Moore, a former Trump campaign adviser and visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation. He said Republicans want to make the election a referendum on that victory to stave off a "blue wave" in November.
Asked on CNN whether Trump's constant tweeting about the Russia investigation and other matters were making the election climate more trying for Republicans, Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, said Wednesday, "it is what it is."
But, he said, "what people are going to decide this November is who do they want to be in charge? Do they want a Republican majority that's going to, you know, keep their taxes low and keep the economy going well? Or a Democrat majority that says they want to get rid of the tax cuts that might take the economy off kilter?"
The surprise announcement Wednesday from House Speaker Paul Ryan that he'll be leaving Congress at the end of the year has only served to heighten concerns on Capitol Hill that Democrats could gain control of the House this fall, imperiling the president's agenda and prompting renewed talk of impeachment.
In the Rose Garden, Trump invited workers and company owners to praise the tax breaks, and took credit for the effort.
"For years they haven't been able to do it, they were unable to do it," he said, drawing a contrast with Democrats.
"They want to increase your taxes and spend money on things that you don't even want to know about," he said.
The freewheeling Trump, who has criticized boring speeches and recently tossed away the pages of one in West Virginia, mainly gazed from one teleprompter to another during his Rose Garden address.
But he also chit-chatted a bit while introducing his guests — a trucker from Nebraska, plumbers from Las Vegas, sign company officials from Arizona and Brittany Saxton, a Bellefontaine, Ohio, pizza store owner.
"Brittany, where's the pizza?" Trump asked Saxton. She said she'd been able to use the tax cuts to open a second location and provide health benefits to some managers and thanked Trump at the podium.
Introducing Richard Kerzetski and John Azchet of Universal Plumbing in Las Vegas, Trump quipped, "Did you do any work in any of my buildings out in Las Vegas?"
They said they have not, but Kerzetski said the company is using the tax cut to give bonuses of $500 and $1,000 to all of their employees.
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