GOP senators call on Bannon, Trump to lay off incumbents

GOP senators call on Bannon, Trump to lay off incumbents
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Top Senate Republicans are firing back at Stephen Bannon amid reports that he is eyeing primary challenges to GOP incumbents who he believes haven't been supportive of President Trump, calling on both the president and his ousted chief strategist to leave elected Republicans alone. 

"I wish they would focus on Democrats instead of Republicans," Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynPoll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week How the border deal came together MORE (R-Texas) told reporters when asked about Bannon.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePolls: Hiking estate tax less popular than taxing mega wealth, income Will Trump sign the border deal? Here's what we know Key GOP senator pitches Trump: Funding deal a 'down payment' on wall MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, added that the potential primary threats could make it harder for Republicans to hold onto their thin 52-seat majority despite a favorable map in the 2018 midterm elections.

"It does [make it harder]. And it's not particularly productive. ... We ought to stay focused on the task at hand," he told reporters. 

Sources told CNN and Politico that Bannon and his allies are actively preparing for Republican primary challenges to several sitting senators, including Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (R-Ariz.). 

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Bannon, who returned to leading Breitbart News after exiting the White House last month, has signaled for months that he is willing to challenge GOP incumbents and punish congressional leadership for not being supportive of Trump’s agenda. 

And the president, who recently cut a budget deal with Democratic leadership, has frequently lashed out publicly at GOP senators, including Flake, Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger RNC votes to give Trump 'undivided support' ahead of 2020 Sen. Risch has unique chance to guide Trump on foreign policy MORE (Tenn.) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Green New Deal Resolution invites big picture governing ‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire MORE (Ky.).

Cornyn added that Trump and his allies would be "well-advised to focus on growing our number of Republicans in the Senate rather than diminishing it."

"The president's going to need as many friendly faces around here as he can get in order to get things done," he said. "I realize that bipartisanship is important, but he shouldn't mistake a smile for support when it really counts."

The threat of intraparty fighting has frustrated congressional leaders, who are eager to avoid a repeat of 2010 and 2012, when some weak candidates defeated rivals from the GOP establishment in party primaries only to lose general elections. 

McConnell has pledged that he and allied outside groups will spend money to help protect GOP incumbents running for reelection. 

“We intend to play in primaries if there’s a clear choice between someone who can win in November and someone who can’t,” the majority leader said earlier this year.

Republicans face a largely favorable map heading into 2018, with Democrats defending roughly two dozen seats, including 10 in states Trump won in last year's presidential election.

Flake and Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (Nev.) are the two Republican senators widely considered most vulnerable. 

Meanwhile, Corker and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOrrin Hatch Foundation seeking million in taxpayer money to fund new center in his honor Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Utah Senate votes to scale back Medicaid expansion | Virginia abortion bill reignites debate | Grassley invites drug execs to testify | Conservative groups push back on e-cig crackdown MORE (R-Utah) have yet to commit to running for reelection next year, and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCongress must step up to protect Medicare home health care Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration MORE (R-Maine) is eyeing a 2018 gubernatorial bid. 

Corker told reporters he has "no reason to believe" the administration would encourage a GOP primary challenger against him.