Republican senators are coming to the aid of Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats 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 HellerNevada becomes early Senate battleground Nevada governor Sisolak injured in car accident, released from hospital Democrats brace for tough election year in Nevada 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 FlakeFlake donating unused campaign funds to Arizona nonprofit focused on elections: report Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report MORE (R-Ariz.), a vocal critic of Trump, added that McConnell "does a tough job well. He has my support. "
.@SenateMajLdr does a tough job well. He has my support.— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) August 10, 2017
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. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyAnother voice of reason retires Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter McConnell: GOP should focus on future, not 'rehash' 2020 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 HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears 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 PortmanOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan Top GOP senators want joint review of Afghan visa process Timken rolls out six-figure ad campaign, hits Fauci 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 GrahamPennsylvania Republican becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress McCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Mayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case 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 JohnsonA pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Sen. Ron Johnson hoping for Democratic 'gridlock' on reconciliation package Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' 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.