GOP nears total exasperation with Trump

Exasperated Republicans in the House and Senate are growing tired of having to defend President Trump.

Daily dramas from the White House are increasingly frustrating Republicans on Capitol Hill and threatening to derail the party’s agenda heading into the midterm elections.

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“Can we have a crisis-free day?” Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — VA reform bill heads to Trump's desk Senate panel to consider ban on prescription drug 'gag clauses' Pressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn MORE (R-Maine) asked reporters on Monday, according to CNN. “That’s all I’m asking.”

GOP lawmakers kept the president at arm’s length as they reacted to the White House controversy that Trump revealed highly classified information during an Oval Office meeting last week with two Russian officials.

“I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda, which is deregulations, tax reform and repealing and replacing ObamaCare,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell says he backs Mueller probe after classified briefing Overnight Finance: Trump signs Dodd-Frank rollback | Snubs key Dems at ceremony | Senate confirms banking regulator | Lawmakers lash out on Trump auto tariffs Senate Dems’ campaign chief ‘welcomes’ midterm support from Clintons MORE (R-Ky.) told Bloomberg Live.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePoll: 8 in 10 people in key states concerned about driverless cars Hillicon Valley: Mnuchin urges antitrust review of tech | Progressives want to break up Facebook | Classified election security briefing set for Tuesday | Tech CEOs face pressure to appear before Congress Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (R-S.D.), also a member of GOP leadership, echoed that sentiment, telling reporters, “Less drama from the other end of Pennsylvania would be a good thing.”

There’s no sign of that happening, however.

Even as Republican lawmakers dealt with the latest deluge of questions about Trump’s intelligence disclosures, a new bombshell dropped: Trump reportedly sought to get former FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired after he misled Vice President Pence and other White House officials over his conversations with Russian officials.

A memo Comey wrote about his discussions with Trump leaked to The New York Times. In it, the president told Comey, “I hope you can let this go,” an associate of the former FBI director said.

The disclosure ensures another difficult day on Wednesday for Capitol Hill Republicans, who are repeatedly being asked about Russia’s interference in last year’s election and possible ties between Trump’s team and Moscow.

Thune and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), speaking before the Comey news, urged Republicans to stay focused on their legislative priorities such as replacing ObamaCare and reforming the tax code instead of a looming “Washington media storm.”

But signs of Republicans breaking with Trump were also becoming more common.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), noting he still needed more information, called the allegations about Trump’s conversations with the Russian officials “weird,” while Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate panel advances 6B defense policy bill McCain: Trump pardoning Jack Johnson 'closes a shameful chapter in our nation’s history' Trump pardons late boxing champion Jack Johnson MORE (R-Ariz.) said if Trump shared classified information, it would be “deeply disappointing.” 

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) urged the administration to “abandon this fantasy” of a better relationships with Russia.

The mood was perhaps best articulated by Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerHillicon Valley: Experts worry North Korea will retaliate with hacks over summit | FBI works to disrupt Russian botnet | Trump officials look to quell anger over ZTE | Obama makes case for tighter regs on tech Senate GOP sounds alarm over Trump's floated auto tariffs Biden, Corker honored with Freedom House human rights awards MORE (R-Tenn.), who told reporters on Monday night that the administration is “in a downward spiral right now, and they’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening.”

Corker was speaking before Democrats used the latest revelations about Comey to renew their questions about possible obstruction of justice, first raised when Trump fired Comey last week.

The White House denied The New York Times story about the Comey memo, stating it did not reflect the conversation with the president.

GOP leadership has offered Trump little cover in the wake of the Russian controversy, with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThree House Dems say they'll oppose immigration floor vote over possible wall funding Dems after briefing: 'No evidence' spy placed in Trump campaign Senate approves new sexual harassment policy for Congress MORE (R-Wis.) keeping a low profile on the allegations.

Doug Andres, a spokesman for Ryan, said on Monday night that “we have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation’s secrets is paramount. The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration.”

His office added on Tuesday that it didn’t have an update.

McConnell did offer a tepid defense of the White House by referring to national security adviser H.R. McMaster’s statement the previous day. He also brushed off questions about if he was concerned over Trump’s handling of classified information or if he was losing confidence in the president.

At the same time, McConnell made his frustration clear. The GOP leader has repeatedly called on the White House to focus on its agenda, and he has criticized Trump’s Twitter habit.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOvernight Energy: Reporters barred from Day 2 of EPA summit | Dems blame Trump for gas price increases | Massachusetts to get new offshore wind farm Jeff Flake: Trump has 'debased' the presidency Senate Democrats look for traction on gas prices MORE (R-Ariz.) separately told reporters that with the constant stream of news from the White House, “obviously it makes it tough to get our agenda done.”

GOP lawmakers signaled on Tuesday that they remained in the dark over the allegations in the Post story. Flake and Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate approves new sexual harassment policy for Congress Senators introduce bill to overhaul sexual harassment policy Senate reaches deal on new sexual harassment policy MORE (R-Mo.), who is in leadership and on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said they hadn’t heard from the White House.

Republicans can hardly keep up with Trump’s controversies.

Democratic calls for briefings on Trump’s conversation with the two Russians came as senators awaited a full briefing on Thursday from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Comey’s firing.

There’s also Trump’s threat to Comey that he may have tapes of their conversations. Lawmakers in both parties have said that if the tapes exist, Trump should make them public.

The controversies are particularly worrisome for vulnerable Republicans, who on Tuesday appeared to be seeking some distance from Trump.

“Once again we are faced with inexplicable stories coming from the White House that are highly troubling,” said Rep. Barbara Comstock (Va.), who is a top Democratic target next year.

Not every GOP lawmaker rushed to criticize Trump in the aftermath of the Washington Post report.

Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate confirms Haspel to head CIA Democrats urge colleagues to oppose prison reform bill Trump-backed prison reforms face major obstacles in Senate MORE (R-Ark.) noted with a laugh that he hasn’t seen Trump’s tweets, but told a local radio station, “I know H.R. McMaster pretty well, and if he said the story was false — and I trust H.R.’s word and judgment more than I can anonymous sources.”

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzChaplain controversy shifts spotlight to rising GOP star Ingraham’s ratings spike a wake-up for advertisers Boehner to campaign for House GOP candidates MORE (R-Utah) told the Salt Lake Tribune that “of course” he still trusts Trump with classified information.

Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchSenate Finance Committee releases 22 opioid bills to mark up in ‘coming weeks’ Republicans think Trump is losing trade war McConnell tells senators he might scrap August recess MORE (R-Utah) told reporters that how Trump fired Comey “could have been improved” but defended Trump against the latest round of allegations.

“I don’t think he did” disclose information, he added. “Frankly, I think that’s way overblown.”

Cristina Marcos contributed.