GOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump

GOP lawmakers are getting bolder in saying "no" to President TrumpDonald John Trump Trump responds to calls to tear down monuments with creation of 'National Garden' of statues Trump: Children are taught in school to 'hate their own country' Trump accuses those tearing down statues of wanting to 'overthrow the American Revolution' MORE.

Whether it’s ripping apart ObamaCare or closing the border, Republicans are bucking Trump when they see his strategies as self-defeating — and damaging to their own hopes of keeping the White House and winning congressional seats in 2020.

On foreign policy, a minority of Republicans have joined with Democrats to cut off U.S. support to Saudi Arabia in Yemen’s civil war. They’ve also derailed Trump’s plans to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and to cut in half the U.S. force in Afghanistan.

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GOP lawmakers were furious with proposed budget cuts for the Special Olympics, which Trump overruled.

Republicans also are showing less deference to Trump.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyCongress gears up for battle over expiring unemployment benefits US, Mexico set for new post-NAFTA trade era Senators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls MORE (Iowa), the Senate’s longest-serving Republican, told local reporters Wednesday that Trump’s comments that wind turbines cause cancer were "idiotic."

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names 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 Senators aim to limit Trump's ability to remove troops from Germany MORE (R-Utah) mocked Trump’s expected pick for Federal Reserve, Herman Cain, for the simplistic 9-9-9 tax plan he pushed during the 2012 Republican presidential primary, which Romney ultimately won. 

Trump remains the party’s leader, and Republicans still fear his involvement in party primaries, where the president could torpedo a sitting lawmaker’s chances by backing his primary opponent.

But Trump doesn’t seem to be instilling the same level of fear in GOP lawmakers that he once did.

One Republican senator closely allied with Trump said the GOP leadership is getting more comfortable about publicly airing their disputes with the president.

This senator also said there has been more pushback in the past than noticed.

"There was more of that last year than sometimes got reported," said the lawmaker, who requested anonymity to discuss the leadership’s dynamic with Trump. 

"I think some of this is everyone just getting used to each other, especially at the leadership level — Mitch and the president getting more comfortable dealing with each other and understanding they're on the same team and running in the same direction even if they don’t have the same route charted out," the lawmaker said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPublic awareness campaigns will protect the public during COVID-19 Democrats: A moment in history, use it wisely 'Comrade' Trump gets 'endorsement' from Putin in new mock ad by Lincoln Project MORE (R-Ky.).

Brian Darling, a Republican strategist and former Senate aide, said Republicans are learning that Trump respects people who show some backbone, even if he doesn’t agree with them. 

"What a lot of Republicans understand is they can have some influence over the president by pushing back and being aggressive. The president respects people who stand up for themselves, and he may be harsh at times, but he respects that," Darling said. 

But Darling said that Trump ultimately calls the shots.

"He makes the calls on what the policies are going to be going forward because he’s going to be at the top of the ticket. He’s going to be leading the charge on the issues he wants to lead on, Congress be damned," he said. 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul's exchange with Fauci was exactly what America needed GOP Arizona lawmaker says Fauci and Birx 'undermine' Trump's coronavirus response Fauci: 'We are not going in the right direction' MORE (R-Ky.) described a recent episode in which he said a group of Republican senators came to the White House and tried to "bully" the president to drop his plan to withdraw from Syria. 

"I think most of them keep pushing back," Paul said of his Republican colleagues’ defiance of Trump’s wish to withdraw from Syria. "I was at the White House three or four weeks ago, and six of them showed up to try to tell him why he had to stay.

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"Five or six of them had requested a meeting with him to try to bully him into staying in Syria, and he told them what he’s been telling everybody else: They’re coming out," Paul said, describing the interaction with the president but declining to name his colleagues. 

A similar episode unfolded shortly before 12 Republican senators voted last month for a Democratic-backed resolution to disapprove of Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the border. 

Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse | Trump administration awards tech group contract to build 'virtual' wall | Advocacy groups urge Congress to ban facial recognition technologies Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse The Hill's Campaign Report: The political heavyweights in Tuesday's primary fights MORE (R-S.C.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump administration grants funding extension for Texas testing sites Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down GOP lawmakers join social media app billed as alternative to Big Tech MORE (R-Texas) and Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents Beijing: US 'oppressing Chinese companies' after Huawei, ZTE action Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties MORE (R-Neb.) crashed a private dinner Trump was having with first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle tests positive for coronavirus Trump's July 4 weekend comes with COVID-19 backdrop GOP senator blasts Washington officials, claims DC would not be a 'well-rounded working-class state' MORE the night before the vote in a bold attempt to change Trump’s mind about his emergency border declaration, according to The Washington Post. 

The lack of deference was not lost on the president, who berated the senators for interrupting his evening without invitation and wasting his time, according to the Post. 

On health care, McConnell bluntly told Trump in a phone call on Monday that the Senate would not be taking up comprehensive health care legislation, something the president pitched to them enthusiastically less than a week earlier during a meeting with the entire Senate GOP conference. 

Trump then backed off the idea and now says it will be something acted upon immediately in 2021, assuming he wins reelection.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday New legislation required to secure US semiconductor leadership MORE (R-Texas), a member of McConnell’s leadership team, called Trump on Tuesday night to tell him that shutting the border would be a "terrible mistake." Earlier that same day, McConnell warned that doing so would be "catastrophic."

Republicans have also rejected an effort to dramatically increase military funding through a special overseas contingency operations account, which would have evaded spending caps. 

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordGOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday Trump calls for Congress to take action against 'lowlifes' who burn American flag Senators offer bill to expand charitable giving tax break MORE (R-Okla.) said GOP lawmakers have a responsibility to stand up for their constituents’ interests when they’re at odds with Trump’s latest ideas. He noted the frequent GOP cries against Trump’s actions on trade.

"Senate Republicans have spoken out on tariffs, on Syria policy," he said. "I have a responsibility to represent 4 million people."

Lankford said closing the border would have a "dramatic" impact on Oklahoma. 

"That’s the No. 2 trade partner we have, Mexico," he said. "Parts, supplies, agriculture, all those things would be [impacted] pretty dramatically."

Before last year’s midterms, Republicans clearly shied away from confrontation with Trump for fear it could depress GOP voter turnout.

GOP leaders admitted last year that that’s why they didn’t want to pick a fight with the president over his tariff policy, even though there was overwhelming opposition to it within the Senate Republican Conference. 

In June, GOP leaders quashed a vote on a proposal sponsored by former 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 (R-Tenn.), one of Trump’s chief antagonists, to rein in the president’s power to impose tariffs. 

Cornyn, who was then the Senate majority whip, declared, "This is not the time to pick a fight with the president in the run-up to the midterm election." 

McConnell personally felt the sting of falling on Trump's bad side in 2017 when the president excoriated him repeatedly on Twitter for failing to pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Trump even hinted that McConnell’s days as Senate GOP leader might be numbered if there was a failure to pass tax reform. 

Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Republican rift opens up over qualified immunity for police GOP divided in fight over renaming bases MORE (R-S.D.) said his colleagues are looking for reciprocity in their relationship with the president, noting that McConnell has devoted most of the Senate schedule this year to confirming Trump’s executive branch and judicial nominees. 

Just this week, the Senate GOP went "nuclear" by changing the Senate rules to speed up confirmations of Trump appointees.

Rounds said Republicans will do everything they can for the president when it’s feasible, arguing that Trump’s idea to pivot to a major push on comprehensive health care reform simply wasn’t the right thing to do at this time.

“We’re getting some things done in terms of his request to get nominations rolling again," he said. "As we say, we want this president to be successful. There are some things we can do and some things we can’t. Health care we can’t do."

"It’s a difficult one to do because we don’t think we have any support from House Democrats," he said.