Trump feuds endangering tax reform

Camille Fine

Republicans are warning that a growing war of words between President Trump and key GOP senators is threatening to undercut the party’s efforts to pass tax reform and move its agenda.

While many GOP senators have offered supportive public words for Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who are both retiring amid feuds with Trump, they are also feeling fatigued by all the infighting and say it is time to move on.

“I think most people are tired of the back-and-forth,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has feuded on and off with Trump but has had a more cooperative relationship with the White House in recent months.

{mosads}While saying he liked Flake, he also said pointedly that “the election is over” and Republicans need to work with the White House to get results.

“The president did a good job at the lunch yesterday laying out his success. [But] I told the president, you kick every barking dog in Washington and you’ll wind up spending all your time [on] barking dogs,” he said.

Most GOP senators are loath to step into the middle of the fight, which they chalked up to a disagreement over the president’s style.

“Look, they have individual issues with the president. These things are all personality driven, and it’s unfortunate that this leaked out over into the public, and they are going to have to resolve those issues between themselves,” Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) told CNN.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he didn’t think the fights would affect the larger GOP agenda, noting that during the lunch with Trump, “I’ve never seen the unanimity like it was, the applause, the reception.”

“No. No. No. No. No. There is not,” he said in response to a question about whether the battle between Trump and the retiring senators had larger meaning and represented a fight over the GOP’s identity.

“I think it’s more of a personal thing with the president,” Inhofe said. “They don’t like the guy.”

Trump also sought to downplay the friction on Wednesday, suggesting Corker and Flake essentially represented a couple of bad apples.

In three separate tweets, Trump boasted that he had received a standing ovation during his private lunch with GOP senators on Tuesday.

Talking to reporters outside the White House, Trump even said he had had a positive discussion with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) about the military. McCain has frequently criticized Trump about the military.

“We have great unity,” Trump said of the GOP. “If you look at what happened yesterday at the meeting, we had, I guess, virtually every senator, including John McCain. We had a great conversation yesterday — John McCain and myself — about the military.

“I think we had a — I called it a love fest. It was almost a love fest. Maybe it was a love fest,” he said.

Other GOP senators offered remarks that suggested they are more troubled by the repeated infighting — particularly as the party moves toward a possible tax-reform fight in which three Republican defections would doom their coming legislation.

Relationships can be a factor in tough Senate votes, something that appeared to be underlined with McCain’s own defection on an ObamaCare repeal measure earlier this year.

Trump and Senate Republicans will have to count on the support of McCain, Corker and Flake when it comes to tax reform.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), while stressing that he doesn’t think Flake and Corker will oppose something because of a fight with the president, invoked the fall of the Roman Empire when asked if it would be harder to accomplish things.

“I’m not saying America is Rome, but if you look at the history of Rome … one interesting thing about Rome at its peak, one of the things that Rome did very well was it was able to include people,” Rubio told reporters. “In essence, at the peak of the Roman Empire … they were very good at integrating people.”

He added that two factors that led to the fall of the Roman Empire was a “recalcitrant Senate” and a  “complete and total breakdown of societal norms.”

One senator offered a more pointed criticism of Flake and Corker while appearing on conservative radio host Mark Davis’s show.

“We’ve got a job to do, damn it, and so all of this nonsense, I got nothing to say on it. Everyone shut up and do your job, is my view,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said. He did not specifically mention Flake or Corker.

Cruz added that GOP voters, and Americans more broadly, are frustrated and wondering “why the hell isn’t this Republican Congress that we elected standing up and doing what they promised they would do.”

GOP leaders have kept a safe distance from the infighting. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sidestepped multiple questions about Trump’s feuds with several GOP senators, including Corker. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) floated that Corker and Trump should talk out their differences, while Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) recommended they both “dial it down.”

Others acknowledged that they too had their differences with the president, but took different tactics for handling his rhetoric.

“Substantively there’s not much difference between most of the Senate members and the president. Stylistically? We all deal with it in different ways,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), while noting he agreed with some of Flake’s speech.

Asked if the current fight was a “distraction,” he added that “any time that I’m talking to you about anything other than tax reform now is not a good thing.”

Corker also appeared to downplay chances that his public feud with the president would undercut tax reform, noting that the effort was a key part of Congress’s agenda and had “nothing to do” with Trump.

But then Corker alluded to Trump’s tweet at the beginning of this week taking changes to the tax status of retirement funds off the table — and criticized the president’s move.

“Tax reform is our agenda. Everybody acts like this is some White House — tax reform is the Republican Congress’s agenda,” he told reporters. “The only thing the White House can do right now is harm the effort by taking things off the table in advance.”

Tags Bob Corker Jeff Flake Jim Inhofe Jim Risch John Cornyn John McCain John Thune Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell Ted Cruz Thom Tillis

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