Trump And McConnell Are In A Cold War, And The GOP Agenda Is In Danger

They may both be Republicans, but the relationship between the President and the Senate Majority Leader is bad and seems to be getting worse.

Donald Trump Mitch McConnell

The New York Times is out with a report about the deteriorating relationship between the Republican President and the Republican Senate Majority Leader, which has reached a point where it seems likely to have an impact on Congress to get anything done in the current political climate:

The relationship between President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and Mr. McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

What was once an uneasy governing alliance has curdled into a feud of mutual resentment and sometimes outright hostility, complicated by the position of Mr. McConnell’s wife, Elaine L. Chao, in Mr. Trump’s cabinet, according to more than a dozen people briefed on their imperiled partnership. Angry phone calls and private badmouthing have devolved into open conflict, with the president threatening to oppose Republican senators who cross him, and Mr. McConnell mobilizing to their defense.

The rupture between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell comes at a highly perilous moment for Republicans, who face a number of urgent deadlines when they return to Washington next month. Congress must approve new spending measures and raise the statutory limit on government borrowing within weeks of reconvening, and Republicans are hoping to push through an elaborate rewrite of the federal tax code. There is scant room for legislative error on any front.

A protracted government shutdown or a default on sovereign debt could be disastrous — for the economy and for the party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Yet Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell are locked in a political cold war. Neither man would comment for this article. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, noted that the senator and the president had “shared goals,” and pointed to “tax reform, infrastructure, funding the government, not defaulting on the debt, passing the defense authorization bill.”

Still, the back-and-forth has been dramatic.

In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, and berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.

During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.

Mr. McConnell has fumed over Mr. Trump’s regular threats against fellow Republicans and criticism of Senate rules, and questioned Mr. Trump’s understanding of the presidency in a public speech. Mr. McConnell has made sharper comments in private, describing Mr. Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing.

In offhand remarks, Mr. McConnell has expressed a sense of bewilderment about where Mr. Trump’s presidency may be headed, and has mused about whether Mr. Trump will be in a position to lead the Republican Party into next year’s elections and beyond, according to people who have spoken to him directly.

While maintaining a pose of public reserve, Mr. McConnell expressed horror to advisers last week after Mr. Trump’s comments equating white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., with protesters who rallied against them. Mr. Trump’s most explosive remarks came at a news conference in Manhattan, where he stood beside Ms. Chao, the transportation secretary. (Ms. Chao, deflecting a question about the tensions between her husband and the president she serves, told reporters, “I stand by my man — both of them.”)

Mr. McConnell signaled to business leaders that he was deeply uncomfortable with Mr. Trump’s comments: Several who resigned advisory roles in the Trump administration contacted Mr. McConnell’s office after the fact, and were told that Mr. McConnell fully understood their choices, three people briefed on the conversations said.

Mr. Trump has also continued to badger and threaten Mr. McConnell’s Senate colleagues, including Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, whose Republican primary challenger was praised by Mr. Trump last week.

“Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate,” he tweeted last week. “He’s toxic!”

At a campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, Mr. Trump alluded to Mr. Flake unfavorably, referring to him as “weak on borders” and “weak on crime” without mentioning him by name. He referred to Mr. McConnell only in passing, calling on him to abolish the Senate filibuster.

Senior Republican officials said before the rally that they would stand up for Mr. Flake against any attacks. A Republican “super PAC” aligned with Mr. McConnell released a web ad on Tuesday assailing Ms. Ward as a fringe-dwelling conspiracy theorist.

(…)

Former Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a Republican who is close to Mr. McConnell, said frustration with Mr. Trump was boiling over in the chamber. Mr. Gregg blamed the president for undermining congressional leaders, and said the House and Senate would have to govern on their own if Mr. Trump “can’t participate constructively.”

“Failure to do things like keeping the government open and passing a tax bill is the functional equivalent of playing Russian roulette with all the chambers loaded,” Mr. Gregg said.

Others in the party divide blame between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell. Al Hoffman, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee who has been supportive of Mr. McConnell, said Mr. McConnell was culpable because he has failed to deliver legislative victories. “Ultimately, it’s been Mitch’s responsibility, and I don’t think he’s done much,” Mr. Hoffman said.

But Mr. Hoffman predicted that Mr. McConnell would likely outlast the president.

“I think he’s going to blow up, self-implode,” Mr. Hoffman said of Mr. Trump. “I wouldn’t be surprised if McConnell pulls back his support of Trump and tries to go it alone.”

To be fair, it has been clear for some time that the relationship between the President and the Majority Leader wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy.

While McConnell has joined fellow Republican leader on Capitol Hill in tacitly backing Trump and largely refraining from criticizing him directly, there has always been an uncurrent of disdain between the two men that leads one to believe that, in the end, McConnell would prefer it if Donald Trump weren’t the leader of the Republican Party at the moment. As with Paul Ryan and the House leadership, though, McConnell has largely kept quiet and gone along with the Administration because he sees it as the only way to get any of the elements of the Republican agenda passed over the next four years. Since January, though, there have been several reports about what McConnell has had to say in private to advisers and other Senators, and it has been largely dismissive of Trump and McConnell has repeatedly been reported as expressing exasperation at Trump’s tirades and the impact they have had on his ability to get anything done on Capitol Hill.  Trump, on the other hand, hasn’t been quite as private in his comments about the Senate Majority Leader. Last night during his speech in Phoenix, for example, Trump not only attacked both of Arizona’s Republican Senators but also repeated an argument he made in the past when he said that McConnell needed to end the legislative filibuster. For his part, McConnell has made it clear that he has no intention of doing this, and that there is not sufficient support among Senate Republicans to do what Trump demands.

The important question, of course, is what impact this obviously deteriorating relationship between the Senate Majority Leader and the President could have on the Republican agenda on Capitol Hill and the President’s ability to push any of the items on his agenda, to the extent he actually cares about getting his agenda through Congress. The most obvious example, of course, is the effort to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act, an effort which barely passed the House and died in the Senate thanks largely to the fact that the details of actually doing so were far more controversial, even among Republicans, than they were when the GOP was voting on such measures during the Obama Administration and could be assured that what they were passing would never actually become law. Beyond that, though, there are matters ranging from passing a new budget, something that Trump seemed to threaten last night when he said he was willing to risk a government shutdown to get his border wall funded, to tax reform, immigration reform, and infrastructure spending. As it is, each of these measures is going to be difficult to get through the Senate given the fact that it’s going to be difficult in the current political climate for McConnell to get Democratic support on cloture votes without some kind of legislative compromise. One has to wonder just how willing McConnell is going to be to stick his neck out for a President like this, especially if Trump continues to attack McConnell and openly campaign against sitting Senators in his own party.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    “We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.”

    – David Brooks

  2. gVOR08 says:

    Thank you for referring to it as the “GOP Agenda”. I constantly see references to the “Trump agenda”. Trump has no policy agenda. He thought he was running for prom queen and his only agenda is remaining prom queen.

  3. James Pearce says:

    One has to wonder just how willing McConnell is going to be to stick his neck out for a President like this

    The only reason to stick your neck out for this president is because you don’t like your head and want it removed.

  4. grumpy realist says:

    Trump has never cottoned on to the reality that being POTUS isn’t like being king. That there are three equal branches of government, and that just because the Republicans control both the House and the Senate doesn’t mean that they’re going to hop at his bidding.

  5. Argon says:

    Bear in mind, attempting to twist elbows in order to drop Congressional investigations is textbook obstruction of justice.

  6. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    He’ll never understand this. His only “management” experience is running (badly, by most accounts) a personal fiefdom in which his whim was law.

  7. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I come closest to being sympathetic to Trump on the healthcare issue: “You had SEVEN G*D D**N YEARS! What was all that voting to rescind it if you didn’t even have an idea of where you wanted to start??? ” He had every right to assume that Paul “Mr. Policy Wonk” Ryan had a basic plan somewhere in his office files.

    A republic, if you can keep it.

  8. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:
    Well, yeah…I’ve been saying that all along. Many people have. But Don-the-Con is the guy that campaigned on big beautiful health care that would cover everyone at a fraction of the cost. Yet he came into office with nothing…no policy except to expect Congress to do his job for him.
    Obama got Obamacare passed through Congress. Trump is a lazy fvcking idiot whose idea of governing is waiting for someone else to do his work while he collects accolades for stuff that he hasn’t done.
    Anyone who supports this guy is a colossal idiot.

  9. CET says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:
    Indeed. But, since the GOP insisted on waging a scorched-earth campaign against what was ultimately a fairly conservative healthcare plan, it’s not clear that there was ever much room for them to develop a replacement. I can’t imagine many poor, rural, white voters being all that happy once they realized what living in Galt’s Gulch would actually mean….

  10. grumpy realist says:

    @CET: You’ve given me an excuse to link to one of my favorite cartoons.

  11. Slugger says:

    I would imagine that people who have achieved the status of a US senator have fairly active egos, and I doubt that a Sessions, McConnell, McCain, or Flake respond well to personal insults. It was said a long time ago that the Senate consists of 96 men who think they are smarter than the President; the addition of two states since then has increased the 96 to 100. Flattery, log-rolling, deals work on Senators. Insults not so effective.
    “Senator, the President is on the phone.”
    “Tell him I’m not here.”

  12. Kylopod says:

    @Slugger:

    It was said a long time ago that the Senate consists of 96 men who think they are smarter than the President; the addition of two states since then has increased the 96 to 100.

    Actually it’s only 79 by now; 21 are women.

  13. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Can anyone explain to me why Don-the-Con is threatening to shut down the Government if Congress doesn’t fund the Big Beautiful wall that Mexico is going to pay for?
    Yeah…that’s what I thought…

  14. MarkedMan says:

    @Slugger:

    “Senator, the President is on the phone.”
    “Tell him I’m not here.”

    Back in the day, there were many reasons to think H. Ross Perot was a clueless *sshole whose business “skills” would be a disaster if he got elected. But the crystalizing moment for me was during some debate when he was asked how he would resolve the budget standoff. He said he would get the Senate Leadership into a room and wouldn’t let them leave until they had reached an agreement. As if the President was King and could order his tin soldiers to lock them in.

    That said, I suspect that the Republicans really only have one agenda – deliver tax cuts to their wealthy patrons, probably by borrowing heavy and screwing the little people. And Mnuchin’s wife may have hurt that cause way more than Donnie Boy could.

  15. Facebones says:

    As I said in a different thread, if Mitch hates Trump so much and thinks he’s endangering the Republican agenda then he can absolutely start impeachment hearings. All the Democrats would support him. Mike Pence is a better christian ideologue than Trump, who can be counted on not to say there are “good people” in the neo nazis. Pence will sign the same regressive tax cuts that Trump would, and probably not blow up the world over a twitter beef.

    But they’re too scared of the rabid base that agrees with Trump 100%. The base that thinks white christian men are being persecuted. The anti-immigrant base. The enthusiastic voter that goes to all the primaries.

    So, Mitch has the option of riding the racist whirlwind of resentment, alienating anyone even vaguely moderate or independent, and most likely losing seats in the midterms or pissing off the hard core base of crazies, getting primaried, and most likely losing seats in the midterms.

    Way to go!

  16. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    “Mr. McConnell has…questioned Mr. Trump’s understanding of the presidency…”

    He’s just realizing this now? If not, the time to act on that knowledge was back in 2015–if not earlier. It’s a little late in the game for this conversation, and he’s not really starting it now either.

    Fortunately, if it’s only the GOP agenda that’s being jeopardized, I’m not all that concerned. Check back when the jeopardy is to something important.

  17. Electroman says:

    @Facebones: Impeachment happens in the House. Anything that happens in the Senate doesn’t start until then – so no, he doesn’t.

  18. James Pearce says:

    @Electroman:

    Impeachment happens in the House.

    Not only that, but impeachment isn’t going to happen, period.

    The longer the left relies on these magical solutions, the longer we’re going to have Trumpism.

  19. al-Ameda says:

    Trump honestly feels that Congress needs him, and he does not need Congress. He also believes that that his ‘non-politically correct, CEO, can-do’ persona is what will ultimately compel McConnell, Ryan and the others to get in line and do as he says.

    It’s still a mystery as to what anyone would be intimidated by this con-man charlatan is past me. Not very many Republicans are in districts where genuflection to Trump is a necessity and a key to re-election in November.

    Finally, it is good to see McConnell experiencing some discomfort. Somewhere in Ohio John Boehner is smiling broadly, having a cold beer and smoking a few cigars and cigarettes while watching MSNBC. All the while thinking, ‘why didn’t Nancy Pelosi have to go through this s*** when she was Speaker?’

  20. Kylopod says:

    @James Pearce:

    Not only that, but impeachment isn’t going to happen, period.

    The longer the left relies on these magical solutions, the longer we’re going to have Trumpism.

    I am personally not very optimistic that the GOP Congress will ever try to impeach Trump, but you are deeply mistaken if you think it is only “the left” who are the ones harboring this wish.

  21. James Pearce says:

    @Kylopod:

    you are deeply mistaken if you think it is only “the left” who are the ones harboring this wish

    Here’s a dynamic that hasn’t changed since last November: Republicans embarrassed or turned off by Trump go to bed every night thanking whatever God they believe in that Trump –and not Clinton– is our president.

    As Freddie Deboer would say, had he not been shamed into silence for being uncouth online: No shortcuts.

    We’re going to win this street by street, door by door, or we’re not going to win this.

  22. MarkedMan says:

    @al-Ameda:

    ’s still a mystery as to what anyone would be intimidated by this con-man charlatan

    Read more: https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/trump-and-mcconnell-are-in-a-cold-war-and-the-gop-agenda-is-in-danger/#ixzz4qcXPlNII

    There is a significant segment of the population who respond more to obvious phonies than to anyone else. Think Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, the Falwell Clan, Oliver North. Most people could peg them as blowhards after ten minutes, but the same traits that gave them away seemed to attract a certain type. They may be attracted to the simple, uncomplicated message of Trump. “I am the best. My opponents are the worst. I am never wrong. They are never right, unless they are agreeing with me and then they, yes, even they, are simply acknowledging my brilliance. “

  23. Kylopod says:

    @James Pearce:

    Here’s a dynamic that hasn’t changed since last November: Republicans embarrassed or turned off by Trump go to bed every night thanking whatever God they believe in that Trump –and not Clinton– is our president.

    But they also go to bed every night praying that a boulder will come out of the sky the next morning and squash Mr. Trump as he’s heading off his golf course.

    Get rid of Trump, and the presidency doesn’t pass to Hillary Clinton, it passes to Pence–or, in a more extreme scenario, to Ryan, the true wet dream of Beltway conservatives. They’re happy the Republicans won control of the government, not so happy the one in the pilot’s seat is an orangutan.

  24. Cal American says:

    @grumpy realist:

    king trump thought;

    MAGA = Make America GreatBritian Again

  25. Facebones says:

    To be clear, I don’t think that Trump is getting impeached. Just pointing out that all the Republicans who are so angry at Trump have an option other than telling reporters how “concerned” they are.

  26. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Cal American:

    Morons Are Governing America

  27. MBunge says:

    This is why we can’t have nice things. McConnell has spent years either actively promoting or blindly tolerating the crazification of the GOP, up to and including the whole birther nonsense. And he just presided over one of the most epic legislative failures we’ve ever seen on health care. But Trump is the problem?

    He isn’t. Trump surely isn’t the solution but he’s not the problem. Impeach Trump and remove him tomorrow and the problem will still be there and getting worse.

    And I know Trump hate is like oxygen around here, but could you at least check out someone like Flake and why he’s obviously doing what he’s doing before christening him a Hero of the Republic?

    Mike

  28. Barry says:

    @Electroman: “Impeachment happens in the House. Anything that happens in the Senate doesn’t start until then – so no, he doesn’t.”

    Yes, but the Senate can quite happily launch investigations, and put evidence out in public.

  29. Kylopod says:

    @MBunge:

    Trump surely isn’t the solution but he’s not the problem. Impeach Trump and remove him tomorrow and the problem will still be there and getting worse.

    It is fairly obvious to anyone with even minimal reading comprehension skills that no one here was arguing Trump is the sole problem causing craziness and dysfunction in Washington. The comments to this very thread bear this out:

    Not the IT Dept: “What was all that voting to rescind it if you didn’t even have an idea of where you wanted to start??? He had every right to assume that Paul ‘Mr. Policy Wonk’ Ryan had a basic plan somewhere in his office files.”

    MarkedMan: “That said, I suspect that the Republicans really only have one agenda – deliver tax cuts to their wealthy patrons, probably by borrowing heavy and screwing the little people. And Mnuchin’s wife may have hurt that cause way more than Donnie Boy could.”

    al-Ameda: “Finally, it is good to see McConnell experiencing some discomfort. Somewhere in Ohio John Boehner is smiling broadly, having a cold beer and smoking a few cigars and cigarettes while watching MSNBC. All the while thinking, ‘why didn’t Nancy Pelosi have to go through this s*** when she was Speaker?'”

    So, once again, you continue your crusade of Trump apologia based on the bizarre premise that attacking Trump is akin to denying the problems plaguing the party at large, and that reminding us of the GOP’s years of toleration of what you call “the whole birther nonsense” is an effective method of defending the man who did more to elevate the birther nonsense than anyone else. Nice going!

  30. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @al-Ameda: ‘why didn’t Nancy Pelosi have to go through this s*** when she was Speaker?’

    Because her caucus is the sane one? Also, I seem to remember Pelosi taking quite a bit of shirt from various directions. Not as much a Boehner, but still…

  31. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @MBunge:

    He isn’t. Trump surely isn’t the solution but he’s not the problem. Impeach Trump and remove him tomorrow and the problem will still be there and getting worse.

    While I would hope that you were right, I suspect that Pence would have less trouble circling the wagons and getting the dogies rounded up. We have to keep hoping that the GOP keeps not realizing this. Your mileage may vary on this last point. I can’t figure you out and have stopped trying.

  32. Guarneri says:

    Moved on from Russia, kiddies?

  33. rachel says:

    @Guarneri: Hahahahahah! You wish.

  34. Matt says:

    @Guarneri: Still peculating but sure keep plucking that chicken.

  35. teve tory says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: Don the Con is making big obvious threats to shut down the government because he doesn’t realize you’re supposed to pretend that the other side shut the government down out of stubbornness. He’s so stupid he’s blaming himself preemptively.

  36. al-Ameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    Moved on from Russia, kiddies?

    Speaking of Russia, how’s that ZeroHedge gig doing?

  37. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @teve tory: Yeah, but when he changes the direction of the train, his fan boys and the GOP caucus in Congress will hop back on board even though the turn threw them off the flatcars they were riding.