President Donald Trump ditched his recent — if brief — talk of unity on Thursday, instead accusing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan of provoking a “mess” over the debt ceiling, while also lashing out at the news media and former intelligence official James Clapper.
The declarations came in a series of tweets that Trump fired off early Thursday, which also included a retweet of a picture of himself covering an image of former President Barack Obama with the caption, “The Best Eclipse Ever!”
For days, Trump has bounced wildly between scripted messages calling for unity in the wake of Charlottesville and enthusiastic attacks on his opponents and fellow Republicans alike, underscoring how difficult a packed legislative calendar could prove in September for a president yet to achieve any substantial legislative wins while rapidly alienating his own party leadership.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders appeared to soften some of the rhetoric later Thursday, saying Trump shares leadership’s desire for a “clean” debt ceiling increase and denying that a significant rift exists.
“I think the relationships are fine,” Sanders said, but added: “Certainly there are going to be some policy differences, but there are also a lot of shared goals.”
Trump took special aim at McConnell, who has reportedly grown weary of the president’s scattershot approach to the presidency. Both McConnell’s and Trump’s teams had issued statements on Wednesday downplaying the tension, saying the two were working together on shared legislative goals.
“The only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that, after hearing Repeal & Replace for 7 years, he failed!That should NEVER have happened!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The morning missives come just two days after Trump told the crowd at a Phoenix campaign rally, “I don’t do Twitter-storms.”
He also brought Ryan into his congressional attacks, claiming that McConnell and Ryan rebuffed his request for an “easy” solution to avoiding a debt ceiling crisis this fall.
“I requested that Mitch M & Paul R tie the Debt Ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval. They……didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!” Trump wrote Thursday on Twitter.
Congress has to raise the statutory debt limit by Sept. 29 to avoid a default on the national debt, which economists say would be a disaster for the United States. Both McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have expressed confidence that the limit will be raised, but some Republicans are balking at the idea of an increase with no strings attached.
Mnuchin has previously asked for a clean debt ceiling increase, implying it would not be tied to other legislation.
The White House “never a made a serious push” to tie the debt ceiling to the veterans bill that Trump signed on Wednesday, according to a senior GOP congressional aide, who expressed puzzlement over the public declaration. And it is unclear whether members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, who tend to oppose raising the debt ceiling, would have been any more amenable if it was linked to the veterans bill. House Democrats also balked at the plan, a separate GOP source said.
Trump’s Thursday riff included an offensive against Clapper and the media coverage of his speeches in the wake of the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which have veered from calls for unification to divisive off-the-script remarks.
“James Clapper, who famously got caught lying to Congress, is now an authority on Donald Trump. Will he show you his beautiful letter to me?” Trump tweeted, referencing Clapper’s testimony before Congress in 2013 in which he said intelligence officials did not “wittingly” collect data on Americans.
It was not immediately clear what letter Trump was referring to. It was reported later Thursday that Clapper wrote short notes to both Trump and Hillary Clinton ahead of the election that would be delivered to the winning candidate, along with the first presidential daily briefing.
Clapper had laced into Trump following his combative speech at a Phoenix rally on Tuesday night, telling CNN, “I really question his ability to be — his fitness to be — in this office.”
“I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it — maybe he is looking for a way out,” Clapper added.
And Trump blasted the “fake news” media on Thursday morning for pointing out the whiplash nature of his speeches in recent days.
“The Fake News is now complaining about my different types of back to back speeches. Well, there was Afghanistan (somber), the big Rally (enthusiastic, dynamic and fun) and the American Legion – V.A. (respectful and strong). Too bad the Dems have no one who can change tones!” Trump tweeted.
But it appears his feud with congressional leaders has the highest stakes.
Trump’s relationship with Congress, which was never strong to begin with, seems to be deteriorating rapidly. He’s slated to meet with his office of legislative affairs at the White House on Thursday.
The deterioration comes at a particularly bad time, with both the debt ceiling and funding to keep the government open looming as must-pass items in September. Trump stated this week he would be willing to shut down the government if Congress does not approve money to build a wall along the southern border, which he promised during the campaign would be paid for by Mexico. Sanders did not reiterate that threat Thursday, and she dodged questions about whether Trump had backed off his demand that Mexico pay for the wall.
Some Republicans have tried to strike a more conciliatory tone ahead of the month’s legislative deadlines.
McConnell, speaking at a breakfast in Kentucky, lightly dinged Trump, saying he is “a little concerned by some of the trade rhetoric” emanating from both Democrats and the White House. But the comment on the president’s trade agenda was a lone point of contention in remarks that largely cast Trump and Capitol Hill Republicans as allies.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who regularly criticizes Trump and has become a target of the president’s wrath, declined on Thursday to engage after Trump attacked him during his speech in Phoenix.
“You know, I just have to concern myself with my own campaign and my day job of being a senator,” Flake said on Fox News when pressed about his relationship with Trump. “So what the president does, that’s his prerogative.”
Seung Min Kim, Louis Nelson and Diamond Naga Siu contributed to this report.
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