President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellFive tough decisions for the GOP on healthcare McConnell on healthcare failure: ‘Feel better, Hillary Clinton could be president’ George Will warns ‘grotesque’ is becoming normal for GOP MORE (R-Ky.) are publicly criticizing one another as Republicans point fingers over why they’ve have struggled to score political wins.
The public shots between the GOP president and Senate leader follow growing conservative criticism of McConnell, who has become a target for two right-wing candidates in the Alabama Senate race.
Conservatives suspicious of McConnell have used his failure to win a victory on ObamaCare repeal against him.
And they’ve found an ally, at least temporarily, in Trump.“Senator Mitch McConnell said I had ‘excessive expectations,’ but I don’t think so,” the president fired back on Twitter Wednesday. “After 7 years of hearing Repeal Replace, why not done?”
Trump was responding to McConnell’s remarks in Kentucky that the president’s “excessive expectations” were partly to blame for the perception that Republicans hadn’t accomplished anything.
“Our new president has of course not been in this line of work before. And I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process,” McConnell said during a Rotary Club event.
He added that were “artificial deadlines” on how long it took to pass a bill that were “unrelated to the reality of the complexity of legislating.” Instead, he hopes GOP voters will wait until the end of 2018, when the 115th Congress wraps up, to judge their accomplishments.
Despite having the first unified GOP government in more than a decade, Republicans have struggled to score significant legislative wins.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamLawmaker: Trump firing Mueller ‘would cross a big line’ Five tough decisions for the GOP on healthcare Lawmakers target horse meat trade MORE (R-S.C.), who frequently criticizes Trump, suggested that on ObamaCare, at least, the president has a point.
“I like Mitch but for eight years we’ve been saying we’re going to repeal and replace ObamaCare, it’s not like we made this up over night,” Graham, who laughed after listening to McConnell’s comments, told Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade on Wednesday.
He added that “there’s no way to sugar coat this. The Republican Party promised for eight years to repeal and replace ObamaCare” and that so far they’ve failed.
Wednesday’s war of words isn’t the first time tensions between Trump and McConnell have bubbled to the surfaced.
After Republicans failed to pass their “skinny” repeal proposal in a dramatic middle of the night vote, Trump publicly pressured Republicans to re-litigate the fight, despite not having the votes to win, and for McConnell to get rid of the legislative filibuster.
McConnell, while not completely closing the door on ObamaCare repeal, has acknowledged he doesn’t currently see a path forward. And asked about Trump’s push to go nuclear, McConnell noted there aren’t the votes to changes the rules “as I’ve said repeatedly to the president.”
The two men are in many ways a study of opposites.
Trump, a brash former businessman with no political experience, is known to thrive on conflict and uses Twitter to weigh in on any topic at any hour—frequently to the surprise of GOP lawmakers.
McConnell, who has been working his way up the Senate’s ranks for decades, is known for his rigid message discipline and close-to-the-vest political strategy.
He frequently sidesteps Trump’s tweets, except to say the president should tweet less, and has suggested he thinks there are few differences between the start of the Trump administration and the start of a hypothetical Rubio or Jeb Bush White House.
A spokesman for McConnell declined to weigh in Wednesday on the president’s tweet, noting the majority leader has spoken about his views on healthcare.
McConnell, who has a reputation as a dealmaker, has been a frequent target of conservatives over the years.
Prominent right-wing pundits and a top White House aide seized on McConnell’s comments, suggesting they think he is trying to pass on the blame over inability to pass a bill repealing and replacing ObamaCare.
“More excuses. [McConnell] must have needed another 4 years — in addition to the 7 years — to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Dan Scavino Jr., a senior White House aide, wrote on his personal Twitter account hours before Trump weighed in.
Scavino followed up with a subsequent tweet to “drain the swamp”—a Trump campaign slogan targeting the Washington establishment.
Conservative radio host Mark Levin, playing a recording of McConnell’s comments, called the Kentucky Republican a “failure” and a “dummy.”
“It’s not a matter of setting early time lines. …You’re the Republican leader, you have 52, you couldn’t get 51. That’s your failure as the so-called leader of the Republicans in the Senate,” he said.
Fox News host Sean Hannity also piled on, calling McConnell “weak” and “spineless” and urging the 75-year-old senator to retire.
Spokesmen for McConnell didn’t respond to questions about the pushback.
But the majority leader is no stranger to conservative criticism.
In 2014 the Senate Conservatives Fund ran ads against McConnell, including one accusing him of “trying to bully and intimidate conservatives.” In 2015, Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzFive tough decisions for the GOP on healthcare Dems face fundamental problem in Texas: Getting people to vote George Will warns ‘grotesque’ is becoming normal for GOP MORE (R-Texas) accused McConnell of being a liar during a fiery floor speech.
The setback on the healthcare bill didn’t imperil McConnell’s status as the Senate GOP leader. Republicans have voiced frustration about the closed-door process but stopped well short of questioning McConnell’s ability to lead the caucus.
But the conservative backlash, and fight with Trump, comes as Republicans are facing several nasty primary fights pitting McConnell-backed incumbents against challengers who identify with the president’s wing of the party.
It’s Alabama where McConnell’s presence has loomed largest.
Rep. Mo Brooke (R-Ala.) said after the failed ObamaCare repeal vote that McConnell should resign.
And Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice leading the field in polls, accused the Kentucky Republican in a new ad of running a “D.C. slime machine.”
McConnell has pledged that he and his allies will play in GOP primaries in an effort to stop a repeat of 2010 and 2012, when some weak candidates defeated rivals from the GOP establishment in party primaries only to lose general elections.
“We intend to play in primaries if there’s a clear choice between someone who can win in November and someone who can’t,” McConnell told reporters earlier this year.
McConnell is backing Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), who was named earlier this year to fill the seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) SessionsHow the Portman-McCaskill proposal on sex trafficking could harm online businesses Rosenstein: Trump did not direct feds to investigate Clinton Democrats introduce another ‘false hope’ act to immigrants MORE. His effort got a boost on Tuesday when Trump offered an endorsement of Strange via Twitter.
But that momentum is being temporarily overshadowed by the latest scuffle between McConnell and Trump, with Strange’s competitors seizing on the infighting.
“I agree, Mr. President. Expecting McConnell Strange to keep campaign promises is not ‘excessive,’” Brooks said on Twitter, retweeting Trump and adding the hashtag “Ditch Mitch.”
Jordan Fabian contributed.
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