Trump turns on GOP Congress

President Trump is firing pointed criticism at the GOP Congress, ripping lawmakers for sending him a Russian sanctions bill he opposes while failing to negotiate an ObamaCare repeal bill.

While tensions between the president and GOP lawmakers have been simmering for months, the latest exchanges suggest a turn in the relationship.

Trump lamented Thursday that the U.S.-Russia relationship is “at an all-time and very dangerous low.”

“You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us [healthcare]!” he tweeted.


It was the second day in a row that Trump ripped the Congress on both issues, and GOP lawmakers were happy to return fire.

“I try to not to respond to tweets … [but] I will respond to this one and state, look, the relationship we have with Russia is solely because of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” said Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate tees up Yemen vote for Tuesday Senate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed America cannot afford to be left behind on global development MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Corker added that there is “no reason” to tie healthcare to Russia sanctions.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate GOP shoots down bill blocking Trump tariffs Possible North Korea summit raises anxiety in Washington Wisconsin Republican would sign on to bill to nullify Trump tariffs MORE (R-Wis.) said the poor U.S.-Russian relationship is “completely, completely Putin’s fault,” while Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) tweeted that Trump should direct his outrage at Putin, “the murderous dictator who attacked our democracy.”

Tensions between Trump and congressional Republicans are understandable.

The president campaigned as an outsider running to challenge the Washington establishment, a move that frequently pitted him against the lawmakers he now needs to score legislative victories. 

But the latest broadsides suggest the two sides are moving farther apart nearly seven months into the Trump presidency.

Trump’s attacks on Republicans over the two policy issues come amid frustrations in the GOP Senate at the president’s public insults of Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsAttorneys for Trump, Mueller hold face-to-face meeting to discuss potential interview topics: report Holder: Sessions needs to 'have the guts' to say no to Trump Trump adds to legal team after attacks on Mueller MORE, a long-serving GOP senator who quit that job to join the administration.

The pressure on Sessions has been widely interpreted as a sign that Trump would like to get rid of Robert Mueller, the Justice Department's special counsel investigating Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election and possible ties to Trump’s campaign. Sessions recused himself from oversight of the probe, to Trump’s irritation.

News broke on Thursday that Mueller had empaneled a grand jury, a development sure to exacerbate tensions.

A number of Republicans bristled over Trump’s accusations on Russia, though the House GOP leaders who negotiated the sanctions package were silent.

Aides to Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanSpending deal talks down to toughest issues, lawmakers say Schiff: I thought more Republicans would speak out against Trump Dem leaders pull back from hard-line immigration demand MORE (Wis.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (Calif.) didn’t return requests for comment.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate tees up Yemen vote for Tuesday Senate confirms Trump's border chief House leaves out ObamaCare fix from must-pass funding bill MORE also declined to weigh in. The Kentucky Republican frequently sidesteps Trump’s tweets, except to note that the president should tweet less.

Still, Republicans are showing they don’t feel strictly bound to a president with a sliding approval rating — 33 percent in one poll this week — and a campaign team under federal investigation.

Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSenators demand cyber deterrence strategy from Trump CNN's Bakari Sellers: Democratic leadership is 'old and stale' Politicians, faith leaders react to passing of Billy Graham MORE (R-S.C.), whose state Trump won by roughly 14 points, told reporters this week that “we work for the American people. We don’t work for the president.”

GOP senators introduced not just one, but two bills on Thursday to protect Mueller from being fired without due cause.

Both of the measures, unveiled separately by GOP Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed Cornyn: Hearing on McCabe firing would be 'appropriate' McCain: Mueller must be allowed to finish investigation 'unimpeded' MORE (S.C.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisNorth Carolina GOP previously hired Cambridge Analytica: report Senate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed Dem senator: GOP should tell Trump obstructing Mueller probe is ‘unacceptable’ MORE (N.C.) with Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsAmerica cannot afford to be left behind on global development Congress, fight global poverty by modernizing our private-sector tools After Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward MORE (Del.), would block Trump or the Justice Department from unilaterally firing the special counsel.

Earlier, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Tech: Facebook faces crisis over Cambridge Analytica data | Lawmakers demand answers | What to watch for next | Day one of AT&T's merger trial | Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump-linked data firm Cambridge Analytica attracts scrutiny | House passes cyber response team bill | What to know about Russian cyberattacks on energy grid Overnight Finance: Congress races to finish .2T funding bill | What to look for in omnibus | AT&T merger trial kicks off | Stocks fall on tech troubles | Trump targets Venezuelan cryptocurrency | Record SEC whistleblower payout MORE (R-Iowa) warned he would effectively block Trump from replacing Sessions by saying he would not have the time to schedule a new round of confirmation hearings this year.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate Commerce presses Facebook, Cambridge Analytic for answers on data Overnight Tech: Facebook faces crisis over Cambridge Analytica data | Lawmakers demand answers | What to watch for next | Day one of AT&T's merger trial | Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian White House, Democrats reject competing DACA offers MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said Congress needed to assert its own authority, but downplayed the suggestion that lawmakers are treating Trump any differently than previous administration. 

“I think it's important that Congress assert its authorities under the Constitution and be an equal branch of government. So how that translates or manifests itself ... remains to be seen,” he said.

Before Trump’s latest attack on Congress, Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSenate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed Trump prepared to hit China with B in annual tariffs: report White House, Democrats reject competing DACA offers MORE (R-Ariz.) published an excerpt of his upcoming book this week that described the GOP alliance with Trump as a “Faustian bargain,” referring to a centuries-old story in which the main character makes a deal with the devil. 

“If ultimately our principles were so malleable as to no longer be principles, then what was the point of political victories in the first place?” wrote Flake.

Though the senator is a frequent Trump critic and the White House has talked to Republicans who could challenge Flake in a primary, the criticism was still seen as another important turning point in the relationship between the president and his congressional allies.

Despite Trump’s stumbles, GOP strategist Ford O’Connell warned that lawmakers’ distancing themselves from Trump was risky. Highlighting divisions with Trump while failing to fulfill major campaign promises would demonstrate to voters that Republicans can’t govern, he warned.

“Running from Trump is a bad idea in terms of the policy and the agenda,” O’Connell said. “They don’t get it that their job is to govern.”

It’s also true that Republican lawmakers widely remain more than willing to not only work with Trump, but to get into his spotlight.

Trump helped GOP Sens. David Perdue (Ga.) and Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonRussian spy poisoning brings world powers closer to day of reckoning GOP senators see Tillerson ouster as the new normal Cotton: Russia will 'lie and deny' about British spy poisoning MORE (Ark.) roll out an immigration proposal from the White House this week, and Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynTrump adds to legal team after attacks on Mueller Senate tees up Yemen vote for Tuesday Senate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed MORE (R-Texas) credited the Trump administration for helping provide political momentum on his border security bill.

“I think this White House has been fully engaged with Congress,” Johnson said. “I think this administration has gone out of its way to engage Congress, and I think that will continue.”

But with GOP senators preparing to return back to their home states with few major legislative victories, Johnson had some blunt advice for Republicans: Do better.

“It’s not good enough. We’ve got to do better,” he told reporters, asked about the past six months. “We have to organize our efforts.”