WASHINGTON — President Trump pushed back against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s recent comments that he has “excessive expectations” for Congress, as tensions between the Republican president and the majority leader escalate over the long August recess.
“Senator Mitch McConnell said I had ‘excessive expectations,’ but I don’t think so,” Trump tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?”
McConnell said Monday Trump was creating a false impression that Senate Republicans are not effective because he’s a political novice. “Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before,” McConnell told a small group in Florence, Ky., this week. “And I think he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.”
In his remarks, McConnell also lamented that “artificial deadlines” — presumably from the White House — are giving the impression that Senate Republicans are underperforming after the Senate failed to repeal and replace Obamacare in its first six months. McConnell reminded the crowd it took Obama a year to pass the Affordable Care Act.
“More excuses,” tweeted White House social media director Dan Scavino on Wednesday morning. Scavino said McConnell “must have needed another 4 years” to repeal Obamacare.
— Dan Scavino Jr. (@DanScavino) August 9, 2017
Trump’s tweet about McConnell was tame compared to his frequent caustic barbs against his declared foes. During the campaign, for example, Trump frequently ripped into House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., whom he referred to as a “very weak and ineffective leader.”
Conservative commentators took a far sharper tone on McConnell than the president.
Sean Hannity, a Fox News host who is friends with the president, tweeted Tuesday night that McConnell was a “WEAK, SPINELESS leader” who should retire.
Lou Dobbs, a Fox Business host, dedicated a whole segment Wednesday to McConnell’s comments, blasting a graphic on the screen that read “Ditch Mitch” in giant letters.
“He isn’t worth a doggone as I can see,” Dobbs said. “That’s what we got in the swamp, folks.”
A McConnell spokesman declined to comment on the blowback.
The Senate decamped from Washington on Thursday for a four-week August recess back in their home states after failing to deliver an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill long promised by the GOP. Republican voters tend to blame Congress more than the president for legislative failures, something Trump seems to be aware of. “We’re not going to own it,” Trump told reporters the day after the Senate repeal effort failed. “I’m not going to own it.”
The president has not publicly criticized McConnell over the Obamacare debacle, though he issued an angry statement about the Russian sanctions bill he signed into law last week, saying Congress was to blame for poor U.S.-Russia relations. The sanctions bill is one of the few pieces of major legislation the GOP-controlled Congress managed to send to Trump’s desk. (McConnell frequently touts the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch as the GOP Senate’s major accomplishment so far.)
“You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!” Trump exclaimed on Twitter, referring to the stalled health care effort.
Some lawmakers, however, believe the president could have helped the repeal effort by laying out a clear plan for Capitol Hill to work with. After Trump privately called the House-passed repeal bill “mean,” some Senate Republicans worried he would not provide them any political cover if they pushed through the unpopular legislation.
“Here’s what I would tell any senator: If you’re counting on the president to have your back, you need to watch it,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters in June.
If tensions continue, it could further complicate Congress’ crowded fall agenda, which includes raising the debt ceiling, funding the government, overhauling the tax system and perhaps another repeal-and-replace attempt before Christmas. The Senate also plans to have bipartisan hearings in September about how to stabilize the Obamacare individual markets, which Trump has threatened to sabotage by stopping payments to insurers.
Several Republicans say they don’t think the White House should sabotage the individual markets as a way to get around the Senate.
“I think they’ve seen that threats and things like that really don’t work with people here,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said last week.
The week before they left Washington, several lawmakers downplayed the White House-Senate tension.
“I’m sure that a lot of people said bad things about me today and Congress today, and the president would be in that group, I guess,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said of Trump’s angry tweet.
He added that he didn’t think relations between Congress and the president were as bad as has been reported. “We’re hopeful about a new staff structure, and I think we’re going to see things begin to happen in different ways,” he said.