President Donald Trump on Saturday night had a friendly chat at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach with twin mega-donor brothers David and Bill Koch, whose family had clashed with Trump during the campaign.
Three people familiar with the interaction said it occurred when Trump stopped by as the billionaire brothers were eating dinner with conservative media entrepreneur Chris Ruddy, a friend of the president who is a member of Mar-a-Lago and is known to hold court with his guests at the membership-only club.
The sources describe the chat as agreeable, but did not disclose the subject of the conversation.
While Bill Koch supported Trump during the general election, David Koch and his older brother Charles Koch sidelined their massive political machine during the presidential campaign in protest of Trump.
The Koch network has already fired shots across the bow of the Trump administration, and any rapprochement between Trump and David and Charles Koch could be significant in portending a less adversarial relationship between their network and the administration.
The White House press office did not immediately respond to an email on Sunday night.
Steve Lombardo, a spokesman for Koch Industries, the international conglomerate owned by David and Charles Koch, said in an email: “David Koch was indeed at Mar-a-Lago last night and did briefly chat with the President.”
The dinner chat was among the first meetings between David Koch and the president since Trump, in late December, ejected from his West Palm Beach golf course a golfing foursome that included Koch. The billionaire industrialist had been planning to tee off with one of Trump’s most critical biographers, Harry Hurt III, but Trump refused to let Hurt play the course. Course officials made clear to the rest of the party that they could either play without Hurt or leave with him, according to sources familiar with the incident. David Koch was not the target of Trump’s ire that day, said the sources.
But the president did clash during the campaign with David and Charles Koch, who together spearhead arguably the most influential network of donors and advocacy groups on the right.
The Koch network, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade trying to mold the GOP to the brothers’ brand of libertarian-infused conservatism, sat out the presidential election out of distaste for both Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Charles Koch once likened the choice between Trump and Clinton to choosing between cancer or a heart attack, while Trump in turn boasted that the Kochs could not influence him because he didn’t “want their money or anything else from them.”
Charles Koch has yet to talk to Trump since the election, according to people familiar with the situation.
Bill Koch, on the other hand, hosted a Trump fundraiser during the general election (after donating to his rival Marco Rubio during the GOP primary), but Koch does not participate in his brothers’ network. In fact, for years he battled his David and Charles Koch for control of Koch Industries.
Charles and David Koch prevailed, and Charles Koch continues to play the leading role in helming the company, as well as the brothers’ political network.
While the Koch network does have allies inside the administration — including Vice President Mike Pence and legislative affairs director Marc Short — it is seen as leery of Trump’s stances on a number of issues. Those include trade, as well as his promised infrastructure spending package, and two of the network’s lead groups offered to spend money defending Republicans who voted against Trump’s aborted health care reform push.