Senate

GOP senators worry Trump, COVID-19 could cost them their majority

Senate Republicans looking at polls showing GOP incumbents losing ground are concerned that President TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner on Hannity touts Trump: 'He was a disruptor' Ivanka Trump doubles down on vaccine push with post celebrating second shot Conservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney MORE's handling of the pandemic has put their majority in danger.

The two biggest criticisms of Trump that GOP lawmakers express privately are that his administration took too long to deploy coronavirus tests and that the president’s statements and demeanor have been too cavalier or flippant.

The biggest headwind Republicans face this fall is the faltering national economy, which now has a 14.7 percent unemployment rate, according to a Friday report by the Labor Department.

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While Republican senators acknowledge that Trump’s popular support is tough to poll, some are concerned about surveys showing his approval rating below that of all 50 governors and other world leaders.

Compounding their anxiety are recent polls showing Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesHillicon Valley: DOJ to review cyber challenges | Gaetz, House Republicans want to end funding for postal service surveillance | TikTok gets new CEO Senators introduce bipartisan bill to protect personal travel data Wyden-Paul bill would close loophole allowing feds to collect private data MORE (R-Mont.), a once-safe incumbent, now trailing his Democratic opponent, Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockOvernight Energy: Climate Summit Day 2 — Biden says US will work with other countries on climate innovation Biden announces picks to lead oceans, lands agencies Biden set to pick conservation advocate for top land management role MORE, and Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstConservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney A bipartisan effort to prevent the scourge of sexual assault in the armed forces Ernst defends Cheney, calls for GOP unity MORE (R-Iowa), who was also seen as cruising to reelection, in a dead heat with Democrat Theresa Greenfield.

Incumbent GOP Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (Colo.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArizona state senator announces bid for Kirkpatrick's seat Democratic Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick says she won't seek reelection Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (Ariz.) are well behind in the polls, while Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate hears from Biden's high-profile judicial nominees for first time Senate Democrats take aim at 'true lender' interest rate rule Former North Carolina chief justice launches Senate campaign MORE (R-N.C.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell sidesteps Cheney-Trump drama Romney defends Cheney: She 'refuses to lie' The Memo: Trump's critics face wrath of GOP base MORE (R-Maine) are in toss-up races.

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Democrats need to net three seats and the White House to win the Senate majority.

“There’s concern,” said one Republican lawmaker describing apprehension over Trump’s job performance over the past two months.

The lawmaker acknowledged that Trump is “hard to poll” and that he has defied pollsters' predictions he would lose to Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPelosi's archbishop calls for Communion to be withheld from public figures supporting abortion rights Hillary Clinton: Biden less 'constrained' than Clinton and Obama due to prior administration Biden's unavoidable foreign policy crisis MORE in 2016. But the Republican also pointed to recent data that shows “every governor and every world leader is way up the polls but Trump isn’t.”

A recent survey of 22,000 voters in all 50 states by Harvard, Northeastern and Rutgers universities found voters in every state are more likely to approve of their governor’s job performance than Trump’s or Congress’s.

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That could be a problem for incumbents such as Daines and Gardner, who are running against a governor and former governor, respectively.

A Montana State University poll released Tuesday showed Bullock leading Daines by 7 points, while a Keating-Onsight-Melanson poll showed former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperLobbying world DNC taps veteran campaign hands for communications staff Harris casts tiebreaking vote to advance Biden nominee MORE (D) ahead of Gardner by nearly 20 points.

A new Hart Research Associates poll shows that former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCaitlyn Jenner on Hannity touts Trump: 'He was a disruptor' Argentina launches 'Green Mondays' campaign to cut greenhouse gases On The Money: Federal judge vacates CDC's eviction moratorium | Biden says he's open to compromise on corporate tax rate | Treasury unsure of how long it can stave off default without debt limit hike MORE has a 9-point lead over Trump in six states where Republican senators face tough reelection fights.

The poll found Democratic challengers leading Republican incumbents in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Montana and North Carolina by an average margin of 46 percent to 41 percent.

A Senate Republican strategist said GOP candidates will have to play offense by making November’s elections more of a choice between Republican and Democratic ideologies than a referendum on Trump’s performance.

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“Republicans need the presidential campaign to shift from what is currently a referendum on President Trump to what will certainly become a choice between Joe Biden and President Trump,” the aide said. “When the presidential race becomes a choice, then the faithful on both parties’ sides will go back to their own corners and each state will be decided based on its own fundamentals.”

GOP senators are taking solace in the fact that four years ago a significant number of Senate candidates ran ahead of Trump.

For example, Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna Vaccine hesitancy among lawmakers slows return to normalcy on Capitol Hill FBI was aware Giuliani was a target of a Russian influence campaign ahead of 2020 election: report MORE (R-Wis.), who was given up for lost at one point in the 2016 cycle, wound up winning 50.2 percent of the vote in Wisconsin, 3 points ahead of Trump, who barely carried the state with 47.2 percent.

Several Senate Republicans, including Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality MORE (Tenn.), Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.) and Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Memo: The GOP's war is already over — Trump won Budowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - House GOP drama intensifies; BIden sets new vax goal MORE (Utah), have publicly criticized the slow deployment of coronavirus tests. But they have also been careful to refrain from laying the blame at Trump’s feet or criticizing him personally.

Alexander told CNN’s Dana BashDana BashW.Va. senator: 'I hope that President Trump plays a role' in upcoming elections Manchin: 'I'm not a roadblock' to Biden's agenda Harris on her approach to immigration: 'Most people don't want to leave home' MORE on Thursday, “We’re not as prepared as we should have been.”

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A second Republican senator who spoke to The Hill said the views within the Senate GOP conference of Trump’s handling of the crisis largely track how lawmakers viewed him before the pandemic.

“Members of Congress who approved of his other actions approve of his response, but not others,” the lawmaker said.

Those senators who had a positive view of him before the pandemic tend to view his performance over the past two months more favorably, while those who were skeptical or privately critical of his leadership are more so today, the source said.

Even Trump’s critics are careful not to take direct shots at him.

“We got off slow in testing, there’s no question about that,” Romney told a group of Georgetown students last week during a group chat.

Romney said he was not “blaming this administration” but described the pandemic as “a black elephant” — in other words, an enormous problem “we should have seen coming.”

“Were it up to me, I would have a far more centralized coordination effort in terms of manufacturing the devices, the reagents, the swabs, the tests ... and then getting them to the places that need it most,” he said.

GOP senators disliked Trump’s performance during press conferences of the White House coronavirus task force. They said Trump became overexposed by participating on a daily basis and made several damaging gaffes.

His most prominent stumble occurred in late April when he suggested an “injection inside” the human body such as bleach could wipe out coronavirus infections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Memo: The GOP's war is already over — Trump won Biden: GOP in the midst of a 'mini-revolution' Ernst defends Cheney, calls for GOP unity MORE (R-Ky.) told conservative talk show host Guy Benson a few days later: “Certainly, what Americans are most interested in is advice from health professionals about how to conduct their daily lives safely.”

He suggested the president play less of a role.

“To the extent that the White House decides to recraft those briefings to reflect that goal [it’s] probably a good idea,” he said.

Trump has since abandoned the daily press briefings by the task force.

But he then alarmed GOP senators when it was revealed the White House was thinking of disbanding the task force.

“I hope the task force doesn’t wind down. I think they serve an important purpose. I think the guidance coming out of that is good and if they need to have briefings, they should,” said Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan The Memo: Trump's critics face wrath of GOP base GOP wrestles with role of culture wars in party's future MORE (S.D.). “I think the daily briefings probably were getting to be a little bit overkill.”

Trump quickly reversed his decision to shutter the task force, announcing it would instead operate “indefinitely.”

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan Trump drama divides GOP, muddling message Moderate Republicans leery of Biden's renewed call for unity MORE (R-Alaska), another prominent moderate who has criticized Trump at times, said that she wants to focus more on getting the economy back on track than looking back at past mistakes.

“Everyone wants to be critical. I just want to figure out how we can figure out the concerns out there, the concerns of every American out here. I don’t find it constructive to be critical,” she said when asked about Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

“I could find things to criticize if I wanted to. What I’m trying to do is find all the reasons to be supportive,” she added. “I will tell you I have had more engagement with administration folks and their teams in the past six weeks than I’ve had in six years.”