Trump turns on GOP Congress

President Trump is firing pointed criticism at the GOP Congress, ripping lawmakers for sending him a Russian sanctions bill he opposes while failing to negotiate an ObamaCare repeal bill.

While tensions between the president and GOP lawmakers have been simmering for months, the latest exchanges suggest a turn in the relationship.

Trump lamented Thursday that the U.S.-Russia relationship is “at an all-time and very dangerous low.”

“You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us [healthcare]!” he tweeted.

ADVERTISEMENT

It was the second day in a row that Trump ripped the Congress on both issues, and GOP lawmakers were happy to return fire.

“I try to not to respond to tweets … [but] I will respond to this one and state, look, the relationship we have with Russia is solely because of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” said Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel Former US special envoy to anti-ISIS coalition joins Stanford University as lecturer MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Corker added that there is “no reason” to tie healthcare to Russia sanctions.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonCongress sends bill renewing anti-terrorism program to Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Hillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval MORE (R-Wis.) said the poor U.S.-Russian relationship is “completely, completely Putin’s fault,” while Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) tweeted that Trump should direct his outrage at Putin, “the murderous dictator who attacked our democracy.”

Tensions between Trump and congressional Republicans are understandable.

The president campaigned as an outsider running to challenge the Washington establishment, a move that frequently pitted him against the lawmakers he now needs to score legislative victories. 

But the latest broadsides suggest the two sides are moving farther apart nearly seven months into the Trump presidency.

Trump’s attacks on Republicans over the two policy issues come amid frustrations in the GOP Senate at the president’s public insults of Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Martin, Bobby and the will to change Overnight Health Care: Thousands more migrant children may have been separated | Senate rejects bill to permanently ban federal funds for abortion | Women's March to lobby for 'Medicare for All' MORE, a long-serving GOP senator who quit that job to join the administration.

The pressure on Sessions has been widely interpreted as a sign that Trump would like to get rid of Robert Mueller, the Justice Department's special counsel investigating Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election and possible ties to Trump’s campaign. Sessions recused himself from oversight of the probe, to Trump’s irritation.

News broke on Thursday that Mueller had empaneled a grand jury, a development sure to exacerbate tensions.

A number of Republicans bristled over Trump’s accusations on Russia, though the House GOP leaders who negotiated the sanctions package were silent.

Aides to Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump once asked Paul Ryan why he couldn’t be ‘loyal': book AEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism MORE (Wis.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (Calif.) didn’t return requests for comment.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Senate GOP eyes 'nuclear option' for Trump nominees next week Taiwan’s President Tsai should be invited to address Congress MORE also declined to weigh in. The Kentucky Republican frequently sidesteps Trump’s tweets, except to note that the president should tweet less.

Still, Republicans are showing they don’t feel strictly bound to a president with a sliding approval rating — 33 percent in one poll this week — and a campaign team under federal investigation.

Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottIf Republicans rebuked Steve King, they must challenge Donald Trump McConnell rebukes Steve King over white nationalist comments Steve King faces new storm over remarks about white supremacy MORE (R-S.C.), whose state Trump won by roughly 14 points, told reporters this week that “we work for the American people. We don’t work for the president.”

GOP senators introduced not just one, but two bills on Thursday to protect Mueller from being fired without due cause.

Both of the measures, unveiled separately by GOP Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Barr’s first task as AG: Look at former FBI leaders’ conduct Debate builds over making Mueller report public MORE (S.C.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering MORE (N.C.) with Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO Sunday shows preview: Washington heads into multi-day shutdown MORE (Del.), would block Trump or the Justice Department from unilaterally firing the special counsel.

Earlier, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyCongress should stop tariff power grab, bring balance to U.S. trade policy Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices MORE (R-Iowa) warned he would effectively block Trump from replacing Sessions by saying he would not have the time to schedule a new round of confirmation hearings this year.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRove warns Senate GOP: Don't put only focus on base Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said Congress needed to assert its own authority, but downplayed the suggestion that lawmakers are treating Trump any differently than previous administration. 

“I think it's important that Congress assert its authorities under the Constitution and be an equal branch of government. So how that translates or manifests itself ... remains to be seen,” he said.

Before Trump’s latest attack on Congress, Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSchumer recruiting top-notch candidate for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — Trump eyes wall money options as shutdown hits 21 days Poll: Sanders most popular senator, Flake least MORE (R-Ariz.) published an excerpt of his upcoming book this week that described the GOP alliance with Trump as a “Faustian bargain,” referring to a centuries-old story in which the main character makes a deal with the devil. 

“If ultimately our principles were so malleable as to no longer be principles, then what was the point of political victories in the first place?” wrote Flake.

Though the senator is a frequent Trump critic and the White House has talked to Republicans who could challenge Flake in a primary, the criticism was still seen as another important turning point in the relationship between the president and his congressional allies.

Despite Trump’s stumbles, GOP strategist Ford O’Connell warned that lawmakers’ distancing themselves from Trump was risky. Highlighting divisions with Trump while failing to fulfill major campaign promises would demonstrate to voters that Republicans can’t govern, he warned.

“Running from Trump is a bad idea in terms of the policy and the agenda,” O’Connell said. “They don’t get it that their job is to govern.”

It’s also true that Republican lawmakers widely remain more than willing to not only work with Trump, but to get into his spotlight.

Trump helped GOP Sens. David Perdue (Ga.) and Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonOn The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (Ark.) roll out an immigration proposal from the White House this week, and Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Trump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall MORE (R-Texas) credited the Trump administration for helping provide political momentum on his border security bill.

“I think this White House has been fully engaged with Congress,” Johnson said. “I think this administration has gone out of its way to engage Congress, and I think that will continue.”

But with GOP senators preparing to return back to their home states with few major legislative victories, Johnson had some blunt advice for Republicans: Do better.

“It’s not good enough. We’ve got to do better,” he told reporters, asked about the past six months. “We have to organize our efforts.”