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.

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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 CorkerDeficit hawks voice worry over direction of tax plan The Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot 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 JohnsonGun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker to unveil bill banning gun bump stocks Senate Homeland Security chairman backs bump-stock ban after Las Vegas shootings 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 SessionsIntel leaders: Collusion still open part of investigation Republicans jockey for position on immigration Biden to Alabama: No more extremist senators 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 RyanThe Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Gun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker Tim Murphy to retire at end of term 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 McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform 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 ScottOvernight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open Senators grill ex-Equifax CEO over stock sales Wells Fargo chief defends bank's progress in tense Senate hearing 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 GrahamDurbin: I had 'nothing to do' with Curbelo snub Republicans jockey for position on immigration Overnight Health Care: House passes 20-week abortion ban | GOP gives ground over ObamaCare fix | Price exit sets off speculation over replacement MORE (S.C.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisRepublicans jockey for position on immigration Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump proclaims 'Cybersecurity Awareness Month' | Equifax missed chance to patch security flaw | Lawmakers await ex-CEO's testimony | SEC hack exposed personal data Tillis-Lankford amnesty proposal is a betrayal of the American people MORE (N.C.) with Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsThis week: Congress gets ball rolling on tax reform Lift the Jones Act and similar restrictions for humanitarian crises Overnight Tech: White House unveils tech education initiative | Bannon reportedly sought to spy on Facebook | Uber CEO to appeal London ban | John Oliver rips AT&T-Time Warner merger MORE (Del.), would block Trump or the Justice Department from unilaterally firing the special counsel.

Earlier, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRepublicans jockey for position on immigration House clears bill to combat crimes against elderly Grassley: DACA deal wouldn't need border wall funding 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 ThuneGun proposal picks up GOP support Overnight Regulation: Senate panel approves driverless car bill | House bill to change joint-employer rule advances | Treasury to withdraw proposed estate tax rule | Feds delaying Obama methane leak rule Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform 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 FlakeAuthorizing military force is necessary, but insufficient Republicans jockey for position on immigration McCain, Flake warn against 'politically-motivated penalties' for Canadian defense firm 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 CottonTom CottonHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Republicans jockey for position on immigration The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Ark.) roll out an immigration proposal from the White House this week, and Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynGun proposal picks up GOP support House bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Republicans jockey for position on immigration 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.”