WASHINGTON — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards joined other governors for a black-tie dinner at the White House Sunday night and returned Monday for business meetings — just three months after Edwards was elected to a second term despite President Donald Trump's campaign efforts for his Republican rivals.
Edwards, a Democrat who took office in 2017, spent the weekend in Washington for the National Governors Association's winter meeting, where the nation's governors heard from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California.
But the meeting with Trump was the capstone to the event, with Trump praising work taking place in the states.
"You’re all doing really well. Every state is doing well," Trump said during an open portion of Monday's meeting before launching into a list of his priorities for the year, including infrastructure, Opportunity Zones and other issues highlighted in his State of the Union speech last week.
Heading back to Louisiana on Monday after the White House meeting, Edwards said in a statement that the trip was very productive with updates on several important issues, including the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s always an honor to join other governors and share best practices and get updates from the White House and other officials," Edwards said.
Trump held multiple rallies in Louisiana during the 2019 governor's race, including two in the final two weeks of the election. He labeled Edwards a “tax-and-spend liberal” and “socialist,” and questioned Edwards’ well-documented opposition to abortion and support for gun rights.
Edward’s runoff opponent, Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, repeatedly compared his business-driven background to Trump's and campaigned on his fondness for Trump.
“You got to give me a big win, please, O.K.,” Trump urged a crowd in Bossier City days before the election Nov. 16.
But on Nov. 18, Trump called Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, to congratulate him on his win and say they would work together.
Trump made brief remarks at the annual Governors Ball dinner Sunday before shutting the meeting to the press and promising governors something “a little bit different”
“Rather than sitting and making small talk all night, I thought we’ll have the press leave,” Trump said. “When they depart, we’ll start asking questions, making statements. You can make — if you have any suggestions, we’d love to hear them. If you have any questions, I’d love to answer them for you.”
He didn't directly mention Edwards, but the president alluded to having some disagreements with some governors in the room. Trump told the governors at the gathering, “Call the White House, call me anytime you have difficulty, because we’re all in this together.”
“I know just about all of you, and we argue a little bit, but 90 percent of the time we get along,” he said.
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“You’ve done a tremendous job,” he said. “It’s not easy being governor. You just look at the way our country is doing: We’ve never done as well as we’re doing right now.”
In addition to the president and first lady, other attendees from the Trump administration included Vice President Mike Pence; acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson; Transportation Secretary Secretary Elaine Chao; and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
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Other governors in attendance included Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat who also won in 2019 despite Trump’s efforts to reelect Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.
A White House spokesman described the event as a demonstration of the administration’s commitment to “bipartisan collaboration.”
At Monday's business meeting, also at the White House, Trump took even more questions from governors and asked for bipartisan help in passing infrastructure and other priorities.
Trump and Edwards had mostly maintained a friendly relationship until the governor's campaign ramped up last year.
Early one Sunday morning in October, four political advisers passed through the white front doors of the Governor’s Mansion.
In 2018, Edwards was one of two Democratic governors asked to sit at Trump's table when the president met with the National Governors Association at the White House that year.
The president also had invited Edwards and his wife, Donna, to a state dinner honoring French President Emmanuel Macron in April 2018. Edwards was the only Democrat who made it onto the White House’s list of VIP attendees.