GOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump

GOP lawmakers are getting bolder in saying "no" to President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question 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 GrassleyGrassley raises concerns about objectivity of report critical of GOP tax law's effects Overnight Health Care: Key Trump drug pricing proposal takes step forward | Missouri Planned Parenthood clinic loses bid for license | 2020 Democrats to take part in Saturday forum on abortion rights Key Trump proposal to lower drug prices takes step forward 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 RomneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Democratic challenger leads Tillis by 1 point in North Carolina poll The Memo: Can Trump run as an outsider? 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 McConnellEXCLUSIVE: Trump on reparations: 'I don't see it happening' Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Trump issues order to bring transparency to health care prices | Fight over billions in ObamaCare payments heads to Supreme Court Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns 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 PaulWe're all on the tarmac, waiting for an Iran policy This week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request Washington braces for Trump's next move on Iran 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 GrahamTrump puts the cart before the horse in Palestine Negotiators face major obstacles to meeting July border deadline Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns MORE (R-S.C.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz Hickenlooper, Bennet bring deep ties to 2020 debate stage 2020 Democrat Bennet releases comprehensive government reform plan GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (R-Texas) and Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSwing-state Democrats see trouble in proposed pay hike House Dems move to give lawmakers a pay increase Conservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries MORE (R-Neb.) crashed a private dinner Trump was having with first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump calls off Iran strike at last minute The Hill's Morning Report — US strikes approved against Iran pulled back The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept 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 CornynDemocrats give Trump trade chief high marks GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks 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 divided over approach to election security Hillicon Valley: Facebook unveils new cryptocurrency | Waters wants company to halt plans | Democrats look to force votes on election security | Advertisers partner with tech giants on 'digital safety' | House GOP unveils cyber agenda Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills 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 CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment Jeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump 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 RoundsHouse panel advances bill to create cybersecurity standards for government IT devices The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa August recess under threat as yearly spending bills pile up 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.