GOP senators call on Bannon, Trump to lay off incumbents

GOP senators call on Bannon, Trump to lay off incumbents
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Top Senate Republicans are firing back at Stephen Bannon amid reports that he is eyeing primary challenges to GOP incumbents who he believes haven't been supportive of President Trump, calling on both the president and his ousted chief strategist to leave elected Republicans alone. 

"I wish they would focus on Democrats instead of Republicans," Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell: Russians are not our friends Russians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit Top GOP senator: Trump should be 'clear-eyed' going into meeting with Putin MORE (R-Texas) told reporters when asked about Bannon.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers eye ban on Chinese surveillance cameras | DOJ walks back link between fraud case, OPM breach | GOP senators question Google on Gmail data | FCC under pressure to delay Sinclair merger review MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, added that the potential primary threats could make it harder for Republicans to hold onto their thin 52-seat majority despite a favorable map in the 2018 midterm elections.

"It does [make it harder]. And it's not particularly productive. ... We ought to stay focused on the task at hand," he told reporters. 

Sources told CNN and Politico that Bannon and his allies are actively preparing for Republican primary challenges to several sitting senators, including Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP senator: Senate should be 'disgusted' by Helsinki summit Flake to introduce resolution countering Trump's Russia summit rhetoric Senate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks MORE (R-Ariz.). 

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Bannon, who returned to leading Breitbart News after exiting the White House last month, has signaled for months that he is willing to challenge GOP incumbents and punish congressional leadership for not being supportive of Trump’s agenda. 

And the president, who recently cut a budget deal with Democratic leadership, has frequently lashed out publicly at GOP senators, including Flake, Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Flake to introduce resolution countering Trump's Russia summit rhetoric Corker: Trump made US look 'like a pushover' MORE (Tenn.) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Overnight Defense: Washington reeling from Trump, Putin press conference Feehery: The long game MORE (Ky.).

Cornyn added that Trump and his allies would be "well-advised to focus on growing our number of Republicans in the Senate rather than diminishing it."

"The president's going to need as many friendly faces around here as he can get in order to get things done," he said. "I realize that bipartisanship is important, but he shouldn't mistake a smile for support when it really counts."

The threat of intraparty fighting has frustrated congressional leaders, who are eager to avoid a repeat of 2010 and 2012, when some weak candidates defeated rivals from the GOP establishment in party primaries only to lose general elections. 

McConnell has pledged that he and allied outside groups will spend money to help protect GOP incumbents running for reelection. 

“We intend to play in primaries if there’s a clear choice between someone who can win in November and someone who can’t,” the majority leader said earlier this year.

Republicans face a largely favorable map heading into 2018, with Democrats defending roughly two dozen seats, including 10 in states Trump won in last year's presidential election.

Flake and Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerJacky Rosen hits Dean Heller over health care in first negative ad GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (Nev.) are the two Republican senators widely considered most vulnerable. 

Meanwhile, Corker and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Senate panel to vote Thursday on Trump's pick to lead IRS Romney: Trump's remarks at Putin summit 'disgraceful and detrimental to democratic principles' MORE (R-Utah) have yet to commit to running for reelection next year, and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (R-Maine) is eyeing a 2018 gubernatorial bid. 

Corker told reporters he has "no reason to believe" the administration would encourage a GOP primary challenger against him.