Senate GOP grows frustrated with Trump chief of staff

Senate Republicans are growing increasingly frustrated with acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid The Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? Democratic lawmaker criticized for tweeting names of Trump donors MORE.

GOP senators see the former House lawmaker as an obstacle to striking deals on spending, including a stalled disaster relief package. The intraparty battle could spill over into high-profile debates on fiscal matters, such as raising the debt ceiling and avoiding another government shutdown.

ADVERTISEMENT

Before joining the administration, Mulvaney was a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which rose to prominence after the Tea Party wave of 2010 by opposing spending increases and the implementation of ObamaCare. Some GOP lawmakers worry that Mulvaney has ingrained the Freedom Caucus’s staunch conservative worldview to the White House, making it tougher to cut deals with Democrats.

“There is a feeling that the Freedom Caucus may be on the wane in the House, but it’s on the ascendency in the West Wing,” said one Republican senator, who requested anonymity to discuss colleagues’ frustration with Mulvaney.

A second GOP senator said, “He’s a former member of the Freedom Caucus, and he’s used to saying no.”

A third Senate Republican said there’s “frustration” that Mulvaney and his ally Russ Vought, the acting White House budget director, are willing to settle for a yearlong continuing resolution to fund the government instead of negotiating a new spending deal with Democrats.

Republicans warn a yearlong continuing resolution would likely result in a substantial defense spending cut.

Senate Republicans voiced their frustrations over the lack of progress on disaster relief and the annual spending caps to Vice President Pence during a meeting at the Capitol on Tuesday, according to lawmakers who attended.

The lawmakers told Pence that boosting aid for Puerto Rico, a Democratic demand, will have to be met in order to reach a deal on a package that would provide storm and flood relief to Republican states in the Midwest and Southeast.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyIn-space refueling vs heavy lift? NASA and SpaceX choose both Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-Ala.) told reporters Tuesday that he had a “candid” conversation with Mulvaney earlier in the day about the lack of progress on disaster relief.

Asked if “candid” was a euphemism for a heated conversation, Shelby just chuckled.

John Czwartacki, a White House spokesman, expressed optimism that Congress will pass a disaster relief package soon but declined to comment on the complaints of Senate Republicans: “We are looking forward to the House and Senate passing a disaster relief bill to bring aid to those impacted as soon as possible. Other than that, we are not in the habit of commenting on private and deliberative conversations with members of Congress.”

Senate Majority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-S.D.) said that many Senate Republicans are eager to pass disaster relief and view Mulvaney as someone who could break the gridlock.

“Shelby wants to get this done and he’s got a lot of members in his ear about getting it done so I think he’s trying to convince the White House to get movement while Mulvaney is in a position, I think, to shake things loose if he wants to,” Thune said.

Shelby said the talks remained stalled as of Wednesday afternoon.

“We haven’t reached any resolution on disaster, caps or anything. Still talking,” he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Mulvaney also has his fans on Capitol Hill, such as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham warns Trump on Taliban deal in Afghanistan: Learn from 'Obama's mistakes' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan MORE (R-S.C.), who on Wednesday praised Mulvaney’s service to Trump.

“I think he’s doing a good job. I’m glad he’s there,” Graham said. “I think he serves the president well, which is to balance out not only the Republican Party but how to deal with Congress.”

But Mulvaney’s tough stands on disaster relief and a possible spending caps deal are grating on the nerves of senators who want to pass bills.

“I wish we could get to agreement on both of those, disaster [relief] and spending cuts. I’ll say this about Mick Mulvaney: He’s been very accessible and willing to talk and cultivate relationships, but he does come from that belief set” of the Freedom Caucus, said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoAmerica is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction On The Money: Economy adds 164K jobs in July | Trump signs two-year budget deal, but border showdown looms | US, EU strike deal on beef exports Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-W.Va.), who served with Mulvaney in the House.

Capito said she has heard “rumblings” from colleagues about Mulvaney’s influence on spending discussions.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters last month that moving a disaster relief package and reaching an agreement with Democrats on spending caps are two of his top legislative priorities.

“We need to get this done. We need to pass it out of the Senate before the Memorial Day recess,” McConnell said Tuesday, arguing that the current relief package has taken longer to pass than similar measures after any previous disaster.

A Senate Democratic official familiar with the negotiations on disaster relief said Mulvaney has derailed emerging deals with last-minute objections.

“Even when they meet with Trump and the president says I’ll go along with this, that or the other thing, Mulvaney will say no,” said the Democratic official. “He’s always like, ‘No, we’re not for that.’ ”

“We could have passed something with 90 votes in the Senate in March and the House would have accepted it by a voice vote,” the source added.

Mulvaney has reined in Trump on other issues, such as a massive infrastructure deal the president discussed with Democrats last week.

Shortly after Democratic leaders touted a tentative agreement to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure, Mulvaney labeled the proposal unrealistic, predicting the talks would likely break down over differences on environmental regulation.

He poured more cold water on the idea Friday.

“Is it difficult to pass any infrastructure bill in this environment, let alone a $2 trillion one, in this environment? Absolutely,” Mulvaney told The Washington Post.

A Republican senator from the Midwest said he recalled Mulvaney pushing Trump to cut spending on crop insurance shortly after he took office in 2017 by advocating for reduced premium subsidies and limiting eligibility for subsidies to farms with incomes less than $500,000.

Mulvaney fell short in his effort to cut insurance subsidies, which are popular in farm states, but it left GOP lawmakers wary about his influence on the president.

“He’s tough,” said the GOP farm-state senator.