President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse to act on debt ceiling next week White House warns GOP of serious consequences on debt ceiling Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees MORE (R-Ky.) are publicly criticizing one another as Republicans point fingers over why they have struggled to score political wins.
The public shots between the GOP president and Senate leader follow growing conservative criticism of McConnell, who has become a target for two right-wing candidates in an Alabama Senate race.
Conservatives suspicious of McConnell have used his failure to win a victory on ObamaCare repeal against him.
And they’ve found an ally, at least temporarily, in Trump.
“Senator Mitch McConnell said I had ‘excessive expectations,’ but I don't think so,” the president said on Twitter Wednesday. “After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?”
Trump criticized McConnell a second time on Thursday, asking his supporters on Twitter: "Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn't get it done."
Trump was responding to McConnell’s remarks in Kentucky that the president’s “excessive expectations” were partly to blame for the perception that Republicans hadn’t accomplished anything.
“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 during a Rotary Club event.
He added that were “artificial deadlines” on how long it took to pass bills that were “unrelated to the reality of the complexity of legislating.” Instead, he hopes GOP voters will wait until the end of 2018, when the 115th Congress wraps up, to judge their accomplishments.
Despite having the first unified GOP government in more than a decade, Republicans have struggled to score significant legislative wins.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Trump offers sympathy for those charged with Jan. 6 offenses Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees MORE (R-S.C.), who frequently criticizes Trump, suggested that on ObamaCare, at least, the president has a point.
“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.
He added that “there’s no way to sugar coat this. The Republican Party promised for eight years to repeal and replace ObamaCare” and that so far they’ve failed.
Wednesday’s war of words isn’t the first time tensions between Trump and McConnell have bubbled to the surfaced.
After Republicans failed to pass their “skinny” repeal proposal in a dramatic middle-of-the-night vote, Trump publicly pressured Republicans to re-litigate the fight, despite not having the votes to win, and for McConnell to get rid of the legislative filibuster.
McConnell, while not completely closing the door on ObamaCare repeal, has acknowledged he doesn’t currently see a path forward. And asked about Trump’s push to go nuclear, McConnell noted there aren't the votes to changes the rules “as I've said repeatedly to the president.”
The two men are in many ways a study of opposites.
Trump, a brash former businessman with no political experience, is known to thrive on conflict and uses Twitter to weigh in on any topic at any hour — frequently to the surprise of GOP lawmakers.
McConnell, who has been working his way up the Senate’s ranks for decades, is known for his rigid message discipline and close-to-the-vest political strategy.
He frequently sidesteps Trump’s tweets, except to say the president should tweet less, and has suggested he thinks there are few differences between the start of the Trump administration and the start of a hypothetical White House under Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioMilley says calls to China were 'perfectly within the duties' of his job Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE (R-Fla.) or Jeb Bush, both of whom competed with Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.
A spokesman for McConnell declined to weigh in Wednesday on the president’s tweet, noting the majority leader has spoken about his views on healthcare.
McConnell, who has a reputation as a dealmaker, has been a frequent target of conservatives over the years.
Prominent right-wing pundits and a top White House aide seized on McConnell’s comments, suggesting they think he is trying to shift the blame over inability to pass a bill repealing and replacing ObamaCare.
“More excuses. [McConnell] must have needed another 4 years — in addition to the 7 years — to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Dan Scavino Jr., a senior White House aide, wrote on his personal Twitter account hours before Trump weighed in.
Scavino followed up with a subsequent tweet to “drain the swamp” — a Trump campaign slogan targeting the Washington establishment.
Conservative radio host Mark Levin, playing a recording of McConnell’s comments, called the Kentucky Republican a “failure” and a “dummy.”
“It’s not a matter of setting early timelines. ... You’re the Republican leader, you have 52, you couldn’t get 51. That’s your failure as the so-called leader of the Republicans in the Senate,” he said.
Fox News host Sean Hannity also piled on, calling McConnell “weak” and “spineless” and urging the 75-year-old senator to retire.
Spokesmen for McConnell didn't respond to questions about the pushback.
But the majority leader is no stranger to conservative criticism.
In 2014 the Senate Conservatives Fund ran ads against McConnell, including one accusing him of “trying to bully and intimidate conservatives.” In 2015, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzMore than 10,000 migrants await processing under bridge in Texas Senators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails MORE (R-Texas) accused McConnell of being a liar during a fiery floor speech.
The setback on the healthcare bill didn’t imperil McConnell’s status as the Senate GOP leader. Republicans have voiced frustration about the closed-door process but stopped well short of questioning McConnell’s ability to lead the conference.
But the conservative backlash, and fight with Trump, comes as Republicans are facing several nasty primary fights pitting McConnell-backed incumbents against challengers who identify with the president’s wing of the party.
McConnell's presence has loomed largest in Alabama, where two hard-line conservatives are challenging Sen. Luther Strange in the GOP primary of a special election to serve the remainder of Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE's term.
Rep. Mo Brooke (R-Ala.) said after the failed ObamaCare repeal vote that McConnell should resign.
And Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice leading the Republican field in polls, accused McConnell in a new ad of running a “D.C. slime machine.”
McConnell has pledged that he and his allies will play in GOP primaries in an effort to stop a repeat of 2010 and 2012, when some weak candidates defeated rivals from the GOP establishment in party primaries only to lose general elections.
“We intend to play in primaries if there’s a clear choice between someone who can win in November and someone who can’t,” McConnell told reporters earlier this year.
McConnell is backing Strange, who was appointed earlier this year to fill Sessions's seat. His effort got a boost on Tuesday when Trump offered an endorsement of Strange via Twitter.
But that momentum is being temporarily overshadowed by the latest scuffle between McConnell and Trump, with Strange’s competitors seizing on the infighting.
“I agree, Mr. President. Expecting McConnell & Strange to keep campaign promises is not 'excessive,’” Brooks said on Twitter, retweeting Trump and adding the hashtag #DitchMitch.
Jordan Fabian contributed.
This story was updated at 8:41 a.m.