The tit-for-tat between Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the chamber’s failure to repeal Obamacare opens a politically perilous schism within a party already riven by tensions over its lack of accomplishments this year.
Trump’s punch at McConnell Wednesday came less than 48 hours after the Kentucky Republican suggested during an appearance in his home state that the president’s inexperience gave him “excessive expectations” for the time frame required to rip up Obamacare. In fact, GOP leaders had projected days after Trump’s inauguration that they would repeal the health care law and pass a tax bill by this month, neither of which has happened.
“Senator Mitch McConnell said I had ‘excessive expectations,’ but I don’t think so,” the president tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?”
Frustration at the White House with McConnell’s comments spilled into the open earlier Wednesday when Trump’s social media director, Dan Scavino, quipped on Twitter that the Senate GOP leader “must have needed another 4 years” to repeal and replace Obamacare “in addition to the 7 years” since it became law.
The intra-GOP squabble could further fray relations between Trump and Senate Republicans, some of whom spent their last week in session before this month’s recess focused on strategies to rein in the president. McConnell is a particularly critical ally for Trump as the president pitches an ambitious tax plan and pushes to fund his long-promised border wall while averting a government shutdown next month.
McConnell set off Trump when the Senate leader told the Rotary Club in Florence, Kentucky, on Monday that the perception that Congress hasn’t accomplished anything is “extremely irritating.” He attributed it, in part, to “the president and others” who “have set these early timelines” for legislation such as undoing the health care law that is President Barack Obama’s signature achievement.
“Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process,” McConnell (R-Ky.) added.
Trump did hand McConnell a win on Tuesday by endorsing Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), the majority leader’s preferred candidate in this month’s GOP primary race to succeed Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But by Wednesday, following an anti-McConnell tweet from Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump’s sentiments had shifted against the Senate Republican leader.
Asked about Trump’s tweet, McConnell spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier said: “The Leader has spoken repeatedly about the path forward regarding Obamacare repeal on the Senate floor, at media availabilities multiple times, and in Kentucky. If he has any new statements, I’ll be sure to pass them along.”
Although Trump blamed McConnell for the Senate GOP’s inability to muster 50 votes for a still-unclear path to replacing Obamacare following its demise, the president arguably has complicated that task as often as he has helped. Trump chided the House GOP’s repeal bill as “mean” soon after its passage, and his affiliated political group America First Policies floated a million-dollar campaign to shame Sen. Dean Heller after the Nevada Republican criticized an early iteration of their party’s Obamacare repeal legislation.
Among the first members of McConnell’s conference to speak out after Trump’s criticism came to the president’s defense — not the majority leader’s.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a frequent Trump critic, called it “ridiculous” for McConnell to blame Trump’s impatience and inexperience for the public sense that Congress hasn’t done much.
“It’s like being hit by a slow-moving bus in Kansas. You can see the bus coming,” the South Carolina Republican told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade in a radio interview. “The bottom line is we didn’t fail because we didn’t have enough time. We failed because we were not ready to solve the problem, and we didn’t have the right idea.”
McConnell has so far failed to bring forward a bill to repeal Obamacare or to repeal and replace it in a manner that could garner enough support from his Republican caucus to advance. The Senate left town for its annual August recess last week after falling short of its years-long pledge to uproot the law, and with no firm plans to resume the health care debate. The chamber plans to focus on tax reform and other issues such as the debt ceiling when lawmakers return in September.
Graham, however, said he intends to continue pushing for a health care overhaul by introducing a bill with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.).
“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 overnight,” Graham said. “There is no way to sugarcoat this: The Republican Party promised for eight years to repeal and replace Obamacare. We failed, and if we give up, shame on us.”
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