GOP senators rally to McConnell's defense amid Trump attacks
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Republican senators are coming to the aid of Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFox News has covered Ocasio-Cortez more than any 2020 Dem besides Warren: analysis Durbin after reading Green New Deal: 'What in the heck is this?' Dems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle MORE following President Trump's recent string of attacks against the Kentucky Republican. 

Five GOP senators offered their support for McConnell on Thursday after the president escalated his war of words with the Senate leader, arguing he's failing to pass the GOP's legislative agenda. 

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (R-Nev.) backed McConnell on Twitter, saying he would help lead the conference during its coming push this fall on tax reform — a key GOP agenda item along with healthcare. 

"I look forward to [McConnell's] leadership as we work to reduce Americans’ taxes," Heller — the most vulnerable GOP senator up for reelection next year — said.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (R-Ariz.), a vocal critic of Trump, added that McConnell "does a tough job well. He has my support. "


Those two are considered the most vulnerable Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2018. They've also been targeted directly by Trump or his allies in the past. 

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump escalates fight with NY Times The 10 GOP senators who may break with Trump on emergency Dems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters MORE (R-N.C.) jumped on the bandwagon on Thursday night, crediting McConnell as the "single biggest reason" Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump's Supreme Court nominee, got confirmed, and urged Republicans to work together. 
"[McConnell] will continue to lead our caucus [and] bring us closer together to keep the promises we made to the American people," he said in a series of tweets. "All GOP officials must work together so we can advance our shared agenda."

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Drug pricing fight centers on insulin | Florida governor working with Trump to import cheaper drugs | Dems blast proposed ObamaCare changes Drug pricing fight centers on insulin On The Money: Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive | Dems question IRS on new tax forms | Warren rolls out universal child care proposal | Illinois governor signs bill for minimum wage MORE (R-Iowa) told a local radio station that he had "a lot of tolerance" for McConnell "because he kept the caucus together" when Republicans blocked Merrick Garland, former President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, from getting a hearing or a vote in 2016.

"You can be a majority leader, but each senator controls their own vote," Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said, according to The New York Times.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOrrin Hatch Foundation seeking million in taxpayer money to fund new center in his honor Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Utah Senate votes to scale back Medicaid expansion | Virginia abortion bill reignites debate | Grassley invites drug execs to testify | Conservative groups push back on e-cig crackdown MORE (R-Utah), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a key senator of the upcoming tax reform fight, became the first GOP senator to publicly back McConnell amid Trump's escalating attacks. 

"[McConnell] has been the best leader we’ve had in my time in the Senate, through very tough challenges. I fully support him," Hatch, the most senior Republican senator, wrote in a tweet.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTexas senator introduces bill to produce coin honoring Bushes GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats Steel lobby's PR blitz can't paper over damaging effects of tariffs MORE, said the Ohio Republican also supports McConnell as leader. 

"If we’re going to accomplish our goals on tax reform, healthcare, the opioid crisis and other issues, we have to work together," Smith told Business Insider.

Trump has launched a verbal firestorm against McConnell after the Kentucky Republican said the president's "excessive expectations" were partly to blame for the narrative that Republicans haven't been able to accomplish anything. 

The president appeared to threaten McConnell earlier Thursday, leavening the door open to him considering stepping down as the Senate majority leader if he can't pass the GOP legislative agenda including healthcare, tax reform and infrastructure. 

“If he doesn’t get repeal and replace done, and if he doesn’t get taxes done — meaning cuts and reform, and if he doesn’t get a very easy one to get done — infrastructure — if he doesn’t get them done, then you can ask me that question,” Trump told reporters at his New Jersey golf club when asked whether McConnell should step down.

The comments came after three tweets during the past two days targeted McConnell for his comments at a Rotary Club in Kentucky. 

"Our new president has, of course, not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process,” McConnell said earlier this week.

He added there were “artificial deadlines” on how long it took to pass bills that were “unrelated to the reality of the complexity of legislating.” 

The verbal volleying comes after Republicans failed to make good on their years-long pledge to repeal and replace ObamaCare. A "skinny" repeal proposal failed in a dramatic vote. A broader repeal measure, as well as a plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare simultaneously, also failed to get enough votes to pass. 

Despite the blow to a key GOP agenda item, McConnell has strong support among Senate Republicans, who reelected him to the top spot unanimously late last year.

While several GOP senators publicly voiced frustrations about the closed-door process on healthcare, they stopped well short of questioning McConnell's status as majority leader. 

But not every GOP senator has been willing to step into the middle of McConnell and Trump's battle. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFBI’s top lawyer believed Hillary Clinton should face charges, but was talked out of it Overnight Defense: Graham clashed with Pentagon chief over Syria | Talk grows that Trump will fire Coats | Coast Guard officer accused of domestic terrorism plot Graham cursed at acting DOD chief, declaring himself his 'adversary' MORE (R-S.C.) told Fox News on Wednesday that his party "promised for eight years to repeal and replace ObamaCare." 

“I like Mitch, but for eight years we’ve been saying we’re going to repeal and replace ObamaCare; it’s not like we made this up over night,” Graham, who laughed after listening to McConnell’s comments, told Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade on Wednesday.

Asked again about the back-and-forth on Thursday by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, he appeared to take a more muted stance, simply saying that both Trump and McConnell should focus on healthcare. 

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWhite House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration GOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority GOP senator voices concern about Trump order, hasn't decided whether he'll back it MORE (R-Wis.), asked about Trump's comments by CNN's "New Day," said, "I'll let this president speak for himself and his tactics." 

"But, you know, the fact of the matter is, is we need to come up with the policies that reduce gross premiums. ... And we need to be courageous and we need to be honest in terms of what the root cause analysis is. And that's in the lap of Congress, quite honestly," he said.