Republicans playing defense in August recess

Republicans playing defense in August recess
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Republicans are playing defense as they return to their home states with few signature accomplishments to tout.

GOP lawmakers are facing constituents with an agenda that is months behind schedule and growing frustration with a White House many believe has at times undermined key priorities.

Leadership is pushing back against the notion that their members are failing to make good on yearslong campaign pledges. Instead, they want voters to withhold judgment until the end of 2018 — when the 115th Congress wraps up.

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In the latest sign of friction between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell expects Paul to return to Senate next week Former Hill staff calls for mandatory harassment training Gaming the odds of any GOP tax bill getting signed into law MORE (R-Ky.) described the belief that the GOP-controlled Congress hasn’t “done anything” as “extremely irritating.”

McConnell attributed the narrative, in part, to unrealistic expectations set by President Trump.

“Congress goes on for two years, and part of the reason I think that the story line is that we haven’t done much is because in part the president and others have set these early time lines,” McConnell said in Kentucky.

McConnell, who has been in the Senate for decades, said Trump — whom he noted didn’t have any political experience — had “excessive expectations” about how quickly Congress can craft and pass a bill that were “unrelated to the reality of the complexity of legislating.”

McConnell and House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP rep: Virginia defeat 'a referendum' on Trump administration After Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Pence: Praying 'takes nothing away' from trying to figure out causes behind mass shooting MORE (R-Wis.) outlined an ambitious 200-days agenda during the GOP retreat in late January that included repealing and replacing ObamaCare and overhauling the tax code.

Instead, Senate Republicans haven’t found a healthcare plan that can win the backing of 51 senators. Instead, leadership is turning its focus toward passing tax reform by the end of the year.

Trump defended his first 200 days on Tuesday, firing back at critics via Twitter that “rarely has any administration achieved what we have achieved..not even close! Don't believe the Fake News Suppression Polls!”

But Republicans are already seeing signs of early backlash from constituents.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report Don't blame 'megadonors' for the GOP effort to repeal ObamaCare MORE (R-Colo.), who chairs Senate Republicans' campaign arm, faced angry voters over his ObamaCare repeal votes during a town hall that was intended to be about environmental policy.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was booed and at times heckled over healthcare during a town hall in western North Carolina. But he also received rounds of cheers and applause and ended the event by thanking his constituents for attending.

And a man in Rep. Doug LaMalfa's town hall told the California Republican, who voted for the House's ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill, that he hoped the lawmaker would “die in pain.”

Dozens of Republicans are scheduled to hold a town hall, tele-town hall or ticketed event over the break, according to The Town Hall Project.

They can expect a wave of pressure from Democrats and outside groups, who have leveraged public appearances to confront lawmakers in moments that regularly go viral.

Indivisible, a progressive group created by former congressional staffers, held a nationwide strategy session this week to prep its members on how to have the biggest impact while lawmakers are in their home states.

“We really want to make sure that Indivisible groups are everywhere. ... We want to be everywhere, and we want to be keeping up that constituent pressure,” Sara Marino, a member of Indivisible’s organizing team, said during the event explaining the group’s August strategy.

MoveOn.org is also teaming up with progressive groups for the “Resistance Recess,” which will include more than 200 events based around town halls, public appearances or “constituent town halls” organized by activists.

Some Republicans have acknowledged that their party has struggled to make good on its promises despite having the first unified GOP government in roughly a decade.

“I’m kind of embarrassed to talk about policy because, so far this year, we’ve had a very poor track record, except rescinding a lot of bad Obama regulations,” Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenators push mandatory sexual harassment training for members, staff Senate panel to hold hearing on bump stocks, background checks Senate panel to hold hearing on bump stocks MORE (R-Iowa) said at an agriculture summit in Iowa. 

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonDemocratic Homeland Security members request additional DHS nominee testimony Key differences between the Senate and House tax plans Senate panel delays vote on Trump’s Homeland Security pick MORE (R-Wis.) told reporters before senators decamped from Washington that, while he thought focusing initially on rolling back Obama-era regulations was the right decision, his party should have taken up tax reform before healthcare.

“I tell them what I’ve been telling them for six years: Don’t outsource problem-solving to this place. ... I’m not a big fan of this place. I think people understand that,” he said when asked how he would explain the current Congress to voters back home.

Lawmakers are also increasingly blaming the media, which they argue hasn't covered their accomplishments, and Democrats, who have slowed down the confirmation processes for many of Trump's nominees.

House Republicans launched a website called “Did You Know?” that slammed the media for focusing on “chaos” instead of legislation passed by the House. The website also claims that the media isn’t focusing on issues that are important to average Americans.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny Cornyn: Senate GOP tax plan to be released Thursday This week: GOP seeks to advance tax overhaul MORE (R-Fla.) pushed back during an interview with a Florida CBS affiliate when questioned about Republicans’ inability to pass "major" legislation.

“A lot of it didn’t get covered because it’s not controversial,” he said. “Because it doesn’t lead on the newscast doesn’t make it's not a major piece of legislation.”

There is also growing frustration within the Senate GOP conference about Democrats’ slow walking of Trump’s nominees.

“Democrats made it their goal in life to obstruct everything that we tried to do or that the administration tried to do. I think that’s probably the single major reason,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynAfter Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Overnight Defense: Lawmakers question military's lapse after Texas shooting | Trump asks North Korea to 'make a deal' | Senate panel approves Army pick Overnight Regulation: House passes bill to overturn joint-employer rule | Trump officials to allow work requirements for Medicaid | Lawmakers 'alarmed' by EPA's science board changes MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said when asked to explain why more wasn’t done in the first six months.

Two members, Johnson and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), are renewing their bid to get their colleagues to agree to change the rules on debate time for most nominations, which is currently capped at 30 hours once a nominee clears an initial hurdle.

But leadership could face an uphill battle to getting 51 members of the conference to sign off on additional rules changes after they went “nuclear” to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in April by eliminating the filibuster for nominees to the high court. 

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) pointed to Gorsuch’s confirmation and more than a dozen votes rolling back Obama-era regulations as major wins for Republicans, the last of which cleared the Senate in early May.

In the meantime, Republican senators hope that their constituents will give them more time to make good on campaign promises.

“This Congress has got about a year and a half ago, and I think we will have success by the end of that time period. We’d like to have it quicker,” Rounds said.

McConnell echoed that, asking voters to “judge this Congress when it finishes.”

“How much of have we done to make America competitive again, and to grow again, and that’s part of … making America great again, which is what the president talks about so much,” he said.

--This report was updated at 10:33 a.m.