GOP senators rally to McConnell's defense amid Trump attacks
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Republican senators are coming to the aid of Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE following President Trump's recent string of attacks against the Kentucky Republican. 

Five GOP senators offered their support for McConnell on Thursday after the president escalated his war of words with the Senate leader, arguing he's failing to pass the GOP's legislative agenda. 

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Lawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum MORE (R-Nev.) backed McConnell on Twitter, saying he would help lead the conference during its coming push this fall on tax reform — a key GOP agenda item along with healthcare. 

"I look forward to [McConnell's] leadership as we work to reduce Americans’ taxes," Heller — the most vulnerable GOP senator up for reelection next year — said.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCorker pressed as reelection challenges mount -trillion debt puts US fiscal house on very shaky ground Senate votes down Paul's bid to revoke war authorizations MORE (R-Ariz.), a vocal critic of Trump, added that McConnell "does a tough job well. He has my support. "

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Those two are considered the most vulnerable Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2018. They've also been targeted directly by Trump or his allies in the past. 
Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGrassley: 'Good chance' Senate panel will consider bills to protect Mueller Senate plans hearing for bills to protect Mueller GOP puts brakes on Trump's DACA deal with Democrats MORE (R-N.C.) jumped on the bandwagon on Thursday night, crediting McConnell as the "single biggest reason" Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump's Supreme Court nominee, got confirmed, and urged Republicans to work together. 
 
"[McConnell] will continue to lead our caucus [and] bring us closer together to keep the promises we made to the American people," he said in a series of tweets. "All GOP officials must work together so we can advance our shared agenda."

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley: 'Good chance' Senate panel will consider bills to protect Mueller Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE (R-Iowa) told a local radio station that he had "a lot of tolerance" for McConnell "because he kept the caucus together" when Republicans blocked Merrick Garland, former President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, from getting a hearing or a vote in 2016.

"You can be a majority leader, but each senator controls their own vote," Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said, according to The New York Times.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchFinance to hold hearing on ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea Week ahead in finance: Clock ticking for GOP on tax reform MORE (R-Utah), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a key senator of the upcoming tax reform fight, became the first GOP senator to publicly back McConnell amid Trump's escalating attacks. 

"[McConnell] has been the best leader we’ve had in my time in the Senate, through very tough challenges. I fully support him," Hatch, the most senior Republican senator, wrote in a tweet.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanWeek ahead in tech: Debate over online sex trafficking bill heats up 'Hillbilly Elegy' author won't run for Senate Brown, Portman urge Trump administration to move quickly on a steel decision MORE, said the Ohio Republican also supports McConnell as leader. 

"If we’re going to accomplish our goals on tax reform, healthcare, the opioid crisis and other issues, we have to work together," Smith told Business Insider.

Trump has launched a verbal firestorm against McConnell after the Kentucky Republican said the president's "excessive expectations" were partly to blame for the narrative that Republicans haven't been able to accomplish anything. 

The president appeared to threaten McConnell earlier Thursday, leavening the door open to him considering stepping down as the Senate majority leader if he can't pass the GOP legislative agenda including healthcare, tax reform and infrastructure. 

“If he doesn’t get repeal and replace done, and if he doesn’t get taxes done — meaning cuts and reform, and if he doesn’t get a very easy one to get done — infrastructure — if he doesn’t get them done, then you can ask me that question,” Trump told reporters at his New Jersey golf club when asked whether McConnell should step down.

The comments came after three tweets during the past two days targeted McConnell for his comments at a Rotary Club in Kentucky. 

"Our new president has, of course, not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process,” McConnell said earlier this week.

He added there were “artificial deadlines” on how long it took to pass bills that were “unrelated to the reality of the complexity of legislating.” 

The verbal volleying comes after Republicans failed to make good on their years-long pledge to repeal and replace ObamaCare. A "skinny" repeal proposal failed in a dramatic vote. A broader repeal measure, as well as a plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare simultaneously, also failed to get enough votes to pass. 

Despite the blow to a key GOP agenda item, McConnell has strong support among Senate Republicans, who reelected him to the top spot unanimously late last year.

While several GOP senators publicly voiced frustrations about the closed-door process on healthcare, they stopped well short of questioning McConnell's status as majority leader. 

But not every GOP senator has been willing to step into the middle of McConnell and Trump's battle. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTop Louisiana health official rips Cassidy over ObamaCare repeal bill Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (R-S.C.) told Fox News on Wednesday that his party "promised for eight years to repeal and replace ObamaCare." 

“I like Mitch, but for eight years we’ve been saying we’re going to repeal and replace ObamaCare; it’s not like we made this up over night,” Graham, who laughed after listening to McConnell’s comments, told Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade on Wednesday.

Asked again about the back-and-forth on Thursday by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, he appeared to take a more muted stance, simply saying that both Trump and McConnell should focus on healthcare. 

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Sen. Cassidy plans to bring down Medicaid Senate committee schedules hearing on health care block grants MORE (R-Wis.), asked about Trump's comments by CNN's "New Day," said, "I'll let this president speak for himself and his tactics." 

"But, you know, the fact of the matter is, is we need to come up with the policies that reduce gross premiums. ... And we need to be courageous and we need to be honest in terms of what the root cause analysis is. And that's in the lap of Congress, quite honestly," he said.