GOP taken aback by Trump’s verbal bombs

President Trump’s public fights with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFormer HUD Secretary: Congress 'should invest 0B in direct rental assistance' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House approves .5T green infrastructure plan | Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole | DC-area lawmakers push for analysis before federal agencies can be relocated House approves .5T green infrastructure plan MORE (Ky.) and other Republicans are just making it tougher to move his agenda, say GOP aides, strategists and former senators.

Republicans say the hard feelings between the White House and Senate leader will only complicate the task of passing tax reform, keeping the government funded and raising the debt ceiling — three top items on the fall agenda.

“It makes it much more difficult obviously. It’s much easier when you got everyone on the same page, in the same boat and pulling in the same direction,” said former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), a columnist for The Hill who was a counselor to McConnell when he served in the Senate.


A former Senate Republican leadership aide said Trump is only alienating allies by lashing out at them over Twitter.

“Every time the president goes on a Twitter rant he either alienates people whose votes he needs, wastes time that should be spent building a public case for his policies or gives Democrats something to hammer,” said the source.

Trump on Thursday blasted McConnell for failing to pass the Senate’s ObamaCare repeal bill and for not acting sooner on legislation to raise the debt ceiling.

“The only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that, after hearing Repeal & Replace for 7 years, he failed! That should NEVER have happened!” the president posted on Twitter.

He also argued that McConnell and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBush, Romney won't support Trump reelection: NYT Twitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here's why Lobbying world MORE (R-Wis.) missed an opportunity to attach legislation raising the debt limit to a popular bill reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.

At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded sharply to a question about Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE’s (R-Tenn.) recent remarks raising questions about Trump’s stability. She called it a ridiculous and outrageous statement.

Senate Republicans are surprised Trump is so focused on throwing bombs at members of his own party, even as the administration works closely with GOP leaders on tax reform.

“The White House staff that Trump has around him is singing off the same page as McConnell, which is we have shared legislative goals and we’re working on accomplishing them,” said the former Senate GOP leadership aide. “Everything is lined up pretty well except for the Twitter.”

Indeed, the White House released a statement Wednesday afternoon insisting that Trump and McConnell “remain united on many shared priorities, including middle class tax relief, strengthening the military, constructing a southern border wall, and other important issues.”

It largely echoed a statement from McConnell’s office earlier in the day that claimed the president and leader “have been and continue to be in regular contact about our shared goals.”

But the unity presented by the White House and McConnell’s press offices on Wednesday was blown out of the water by Trump’s bombshell tweets.

He appeared to be reacting to an explosive story published Tuesday by The New York Times that reported McConnell expressing doubts to friends and allies over Trump’s ability to salvage his presidency.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Campaign Report: The political heavyweights in Tuesday's primary fights Harrison goes on the attack against Graham in new South Carolina Senate ad Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police MORE (R-S.C.) said Thursday that Trump is getting too caught up in responding to media stories and urged him to ignore negative stories and focus instead on his agenda.

“Stop watching cable TV and, you know, come up with an agenda and stick to it,” Graham told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt.

At the same time, Graham said he understood why Trump remains frustrated, and he suggested the president was using a strategy of criticizing congressional leaders to mollify his base.

“For seven years, we promised to repeal and replace. You just can’t move on and say all right, well, we tried our best when we have not,” he said.

Despite the headwinds created by tensions between Trump and McConnell, Republicans hope there is enough underlying unity to pass tax reform in the fall.

“I think they’re still on course to do tax reform,” said Gregg. “These guys are professionals. They know they have to get it done for political survival and this is what they promised to do so I think they’ll do it.”

At the same time, the latest skirmishes set the stage for more finger-pointing should tax reform or other legislative initiatives derail.

“At the moment we appear to be having a debate over who’s to blame for what has yet to occur,” said James Wallner, a former long-serving Senate GOP aide.

Other Republicans agreed that Trump appears to be setting up McConnell and the Senate as scapegoats should his other top priorities fail.

“It’s almost like he’s giving up already,” the former Senate GOP leadership aide said of Trump, calling his attacks on Republican senators “inexplicable” because they’re the people he needs to pass his agenda.”

The president’s repeated clashes with GOP leaders and other members of Congress have undermined Republican lawmakers' confidence in the president’s loyalty and whether it’s worth it to cast tough political votes to help his agenda.

Ultimately, it erodes their working relationship and puts more pressure on McConnell and Ryan to round up support for key bills without significant help from Trump.

“One day Mr. Trump is making statements that are impressive and the next day doing things that are unimpressive,” said Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who voted against the House ObamaCare repeal bill.

“If you put a policy bill on the desk on the president, I’d be surprised if he wouldn’t sign it, but it might be that you have to get the bill to his desk on your own and not with the help of the president,” he said.