Republicans shrug off Trump wiretap claims

President Trump over the weekend made the explosive claim that his predecessor, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGetting politics out of the pit To cure Congress, elect more former military members Democrats should end their hypocrisy when it comes to Kavanaugh and the judiciary MORE, wiretapped his phones during the 2016 campaign.

The reaction from most Republicans on Capitol Hill: a collective shrug. 

Facing a make-or-break moment on ObamaCare this week, congressional Republicans are determined not to let the latest Trump Twitter tirade slow down or derail their top legislative priority: repealing the Affordable Care Act. 

Both Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi calls on Ryan to bring long-term Violence Against Women Act to floor Juan Williams: America warms up to socialism Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker MORE (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify McConnell rips Democrats for handling of Kavanaugh nomination Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (R-Ky.) were all too happy to discuss their plans to gut ObamaCare but had no comment Monday on Trump’s unsubstantiated spying allegations. With little fanfare, top House investigators said they’d simply fold Trump’s new wiretap claims into their ongoing probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.


And rank-and-file Republicans writing a repeal bill insisted they wouldn’t be distracted or thrown off message by Trump’s comment of the day.

“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee that is playing a critical role in drafting the repeal legislation, told The Hill. 

This week marks the culmination of years of work on a plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, something that Trump and every Republican in Congress vowed to do on the campaign trail.

Top House Republicans plan to unveil the legislative text of the bill early this week. Then the Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees will get to work, marking up the bill during public, televised hearings.

Last week proved how difficult it would be for GOP leaders to shepherd the final bill through both chambers of Congress. The chairmen of the conservative Republican Study Committee and far-right House Freedom Caucus vowed to oppose a leaked draft repeal-and-replace bill because of its inclusion of refundable tax credits. 

And Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump says Dems inflated Puerto Rico death toll | House cancels Friday votes | Florence starts to hit coast The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Facing major hurricane, Trump is tested MORE (R-Ky.), a Tea Party favorite, led reporters last week on a scavenger hunt through the Capitol in search of the House leadership-backed legislation. The point of his highly publicized performance: to prove the bill is being written behind closed doors, out of view from the American public. 

However, senior GOP aides pushed back against that narrative Monday, insisting that the relevant committees are crafting the bill, that Republicans are starting to unify around the plan, and that momentum is building for passage. 

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s new director of the Office of Management and Budget and a Freedom Caucus co-founder, has been brought in to help ease concerns from his conservative allies. The former congressman led a large staff meeting at the White House on Friday that focused on identifying and resolving outstanding issues on repeal. A day later, Ryan, Mulvaney, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyTrump announces tariffs on 0B in Chinese goods New GOP tax cuts would add .8 trillion to deficit, says report House panel advances key bill in new round of GOP tax cuts MORE (R-Texas) joined a conference call to tie up any loose ends.

“We are now at the culmination of a years-long process to keep our promise to the American people,” said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong, who declined to answer any questions about Trump’s wiretap allegations. 

A McConnell spokesman also had no comment on Trump’s wiretap comments. 

“We are laser-focused and won’t be distracted by sideshows,” added one GOP lawmaker close to leadership.

But a series of Trump sideshows have consumed Capitol Hill ever since he took the oath of office on Jan. 20. He called for a federal investigation into rampant voter fraud in the 2016 election, even as state election officials said no evidence existed.

Trump set off a firestorm on Capitol Hill and at airports around the country after ordering a temporary ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority nations without giving lawmakers a heads up. The unilateral action was blocked by a federal appeals court, causing the president to sign a new, more narrowly tailored travel ban on Monday.

Top Trump officials’ communications with Russia have also dominated news cycles in recent weeks. Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, resigned after reports emerged that he misled Vice President Pence about discussions he had with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Last week, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill’s 12:30 Report — Kavanaugh accuser willing to testify | Kavanaugh denies allegations, says he’s willing to testify | 50 days from the midterms Ken Starr backs Mueller, says president 'must be held accountable' The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil MORE was forced to recuse himself from any Department of Justice (DOJ) probe into Russia’s election meddling following revelations of Sessions’s own meeting with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.    

The latest Trump tweet storm appeared to reflect the president’s anger and frustration with Sessions’s recusal. But it still came as a surprise to senior White House officials and congressional leaders.

Without offering any evidence, Trump tweeted early Saturday morning that Obama had ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower during the “very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” 

“Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump said in an earlier tweet.

An Obama spokesman denied Trump’s allegation, and The New York Times reported that FBI Director James Comey had asked DOJ officials to publicly knock down Trump’s allegation that Obama had ordered the wiretapping.

While most GOP leaders are doing their best to move past Trump’s wiretap remark, other Republicans say they can’t be ignored. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a frequent Trump critic, called the allegations “very serious” and demanded the administration share more information. 

“We are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust, and the President’s allegations demand the thorough and dispassionate attention of serious patriots," Sasse said in a statement. 

For lawmakers already probing Russian interference in the election, Trump’s wiretap claim may add to their busy workload. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a former Trump campaign adviser, said over the weekend that his panel will “make inquiries” into whether the U.S. government was spying on any political party’s campaign officials or surrogates. 

If they find something, Nunes said, committee members will investigate further.

But Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGowdy requests FEMA administrator’s travel records amid allegations Nunes: Russia probe documents should be released before election Gowdy: House Intel panel should release all transcripts from Russia probe MORE (R-S.C.), an Intelligence Committee member and the former Select Committee on Benghazi chairman, said it should be easy to discern whether the intelligence community was spying on Trump or any of his campaign officials. 

“There is a paper trail. There is an application. There are warrants, all of which can be reviewed. And right now, the executive branch is controlled not by the Obama administration but by the Trump administration,” Gowdy said during an appearance Monday on Fox News.

“So whatever information is out there  — and there would be a paper trail — is now controlled by the executive branch run by Mr. Trump.” 

Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzMatt Schlapp: Trump's policies on Russia 'two or three times tougher than anything' under Obama Tucker Carlson: Ruling class cares more about foreigners than their own people Fox's Kennedy chides Chaffetz on child migrants: 'I’m sure these mini rapists all have bombs strapped to their chests' MORE (R-Utah) said he would let the Intelligence panel take the lead while his committee plays a supporting role. But in an interview Monday, he seemed to pour cold water on Trump’s allegations.

“I'm going to keep my eyes wide open. You never know when you turn a corner what you may or may not see,” Chaffetz said on “CBS This Morning.” “But thus far I have not seen anything directly that would support what the president has said."