President Donald Trump declined to express confidence in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday and left open the possibility of calling on him to step down if he fails to get health care, tax reform and infrastructure legislation through the Senate.
Asked by reporters outside his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, whether McConnell should step down from his leadership post, the president was noncommittal.
“I’ll tell you what, if he doesn’t get repeal and replace done, and if he doesn’t get taxes done, meaning cuts and reform, and if he doesn’t get a very easy one to get done, infrastructure, he doesn’t get them done, then you can ask me that question,” Trump said.
Asked to clarify, he added: “That means ask me that question. Let’s hope he gets it done.”
During the question-and-answer session with reporters, Trump specially expressed frustration with Republicans’ stalled effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“I just want them to get repeal and replace done,” he said a few minutes earlier.
“They should have had this last one done,” Trump added. “They lost by one vote. For a thing like that to happen is a disgrace and frankly it shouldn’t have happened. That I can tell you.”
The president piled on during a second session of remarks to reporters, praising his transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, in contrast with McConnell — her husband.
“Elaine is doing a very good job. We’re very proud of Elaine as secretary of transportation, as you know. She’s doing a very good job. I’m very disappointed in Mitch,” Trump said. “If he gets these bills passed, I’ll be very happy with him and I’ll be the first to admit it.”
Trump’s comments to reporters Thursday escalated his ongoing, public argument with McConnell over the Senate’s handling of Republican efforts to pass a health care overhaul. The spat started when McConnell criticized the president at a Kentucky town hall meeting on Monday, complaining that Trump had “excessive expectations” about how quickly Congress could pass his agenda.
Trump responded with a Twitter campaign against McConnell, which he restarted on Thursday morning, tweeting that the Kentucky Republican “couldn’t get it done” on repealing and replacing Obamacare.
“Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn’t get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!” Trump wrote.
Later Thursday afternoon, Trump again jabbed at the majority leader, calling on him to push the Senate not just on repeal-and-replace but also on a pair of other White House legislative priorities.
“Mitch, get back to work and put Repeal & Replace, Tax Reform & Cuts and a great Infrastructure Bill on my desk for signing. You can do it!” the president wrote.
Senate Republicans have struggled to find consensus on what exactly their replacement for Obamacare should look like and upset some members by moving forward with the legislation outside of the traditional committee process. Ultimately, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona voted against a so-called skinny repeal, sinking GOP efforts at least for the time being.
In the wake of the failed vote, McConnell said “it is time to move on” from health care and on to other legislative priorities, a stance that has earned him criticism not just from the president but from some in his own party.
At the event in Kentucky earlier this week, McConnell said he found the notion that Congress had accomplished nothing thus far under Trump “extremely irritating” and said the president had “excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process” because he is new to politics. Wednesday, Trump shot back at McConnell.
“Senator Mitch McConnell said I had ‘excessive expectations,’ but I don’t think so,” the president wrote on Twitter. “After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?”
Trump’s comments to reporters on the question of McConnell stepping down prompted the rebuke of at least one Republican senator, Utah’s Orrin Hatch, on Thursday afternoon.
McConnell “has been the best leader we’ve had in my time in the Senate, through very tough challenges. I fully support him,” Hatch said in a statement posted to Twitter.
Brian McGuire, McConnell’s former chief of staff, said on MSNBC later Thursday morning that the Twitter spat is a blip in an otherwise “very good working relationship” between the Senate leader and the president. But he acknowledged that the tweeting might not be helping Trump.
“I think the president is free to say what he wants, obviously, but I do think the larger question is whether it’s in his best interest,” McGuire said. “And I think in this case, it’s better that they work together, publicly and privately. And I think both of their goals are the same and they should just focus on those.”
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