WASHINGTON —The photograph Vice President Mike Pence tweeted Wednesday was a striking one.
It showed President Donald Trump, Pence and their senior aides huddling with Republican congressional leaders at the White House over glasses of iced tea. Smiling and seated next to Pence and across from the president was a certain GOP senator who is not a member of the leadership team: Georgia’s David Perdue.
His prime spot at the table is indicative of just how much the first-term senator’s political fortunes have spiked since Trump was swept into the White House.
One of Trump’s earliest backers in the U.S. Senate, Perdue stepped-up his support in June when he wiggled the New York businessman’s signature “Make America Great Again” hat onto his head during a speech at the state GOP convention in Augusta. He went on to serve as the ceremonial head of Trump’s presidential campaign in Georgia.
Since Trump’s victory in November, Perdue has sold himself as one of Trump’s top allies in the Senate. He frequently draws parallels between the president’s and his own rise as a political novice from the business world.
“I know an outsider when I see one,” Perdue said during his speech in Augusta. “Someone who is listening to us.”
Perdue’s relationship with Trump isn’t a new one.
The real estate mogul invited Perdue to Trump Tower back in September 2014, after the former Reebok and Dollar General CEO unexpectedly won the runoff for the Republican nomination for the Senate.
The Georgian visited Trump’s Manhattan office again in December, a meeting in which he touted the credentials of his first cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, to be agriculture secretary and discussed what he could do from the Senate to help the then-president-elect.
“I’m so excited about the potential direction of our country,” Perdue told reporters after the meeting.
The ties don’t end there.
Two of Perdue’s former campaign hands, Nick Ayers and Billy Kirkland, landed at the White House following the election. Ayers, who has since helped start a pro-Trump nonprofit, is credited by some GOP insiders for pushing Trump to pick Sonny Perdue and former Georgia Rep. Tom Price for his Cabinet.
David Perdue, himself, was once seen as a potential candidate to lead the Commerce Department, but Trump eventually selected billionaire investor Wilbur Ross for the position.
A White House official said Perdue was invited to Wednesday’s meeting because “he has a strong business background much like the president’s and brings a unique perspective to the table.”
Trump convened the meeting with congressional Republicans to talk about his legislative priorities, such as replacing the Affordable Care Act, rewriting the tax code and seeing the confirmation of federal judge Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
“The meeting today is exactly what I would expect from a business guy,” Perdue said in a statement following the meeting. “We met as a team on how we can put this bold agenda into action and the President was very clear on what he expects.”
Perdue also got something like a shout-out from Trump during the president’s address to Congress on Tuesday. Though Trump didn’t mention the Georgia senator by name, the president endorsed a shift toward a “merit-based” U.S. immigration policy, which is the point of a bill Perdue recently introduced with U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.