Se­nate Repub­li­cans aban­don­ing Trump

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

There wasn’t a dra­matic pub­lic break or an ex­act mo­ment it hap­pened. But step by step, Se­nate Repub­li­cans are turn­ing their backs on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. They de­feated an Oba­macare re­peal bill de­spite Trump’s pleas. They’re ig­nor­ing his Twit­ter de­mands that they get back to work on it. They dissed the White House bud­get direc­tor, de­fended the at­tor­ney gen­eral against the pres­i­dent’s at­tacks and passed veto-proof sanc­tions on Rus­sia over his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ob­jec­tions. They’re re­assert­ing their in­de­pen­dence, which looked sorely di­min­ished in the af­ter­math of Trump’s sur­prise elec­tion win.

“We work for the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” Sen Tim Scott of South Carolina said Tues­day. “We don’t work for the pres­i­dent.”Those are sur­pris­ingly tough words from a Repub­li­can whose state Trump won eas­ily less than a year ago. But af­ter six months of con­tro­ver­sies and his­tor­i­cally low ap­proval rat­ings, it’s clear Trump isn’t com­mand­ing the fear or re­spect he once did.

Some Repub­li­cans no doubt are giv­ing voice to long-held reser­va­tions about a man whose elec­tion was es­sen­tially a hos­tile takeover of their party. But it is no­table that the loud­est crit­i­cism is com­ing from the Se­nate, where few Repub­li­cans are bur­dened with fac­ing an elec­torate any­time soon. The sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent in the House, where most Repub­li­cans rep­re­sent con­ser­va­tive dis­tricts still loyal to Trump. For those law­mak­ers, the fear of fac­ing a con­ser­va­tive pri­mary chal­lenger, pos­si­bly fu­eled by an­gry Trump fol­low­ers, is real.

In the most re­mark­able ex­am­ple of pub­lic Trump-bash­ing, Sen. Jeff Flake of Ari­zona is tak­ing aim at the pres­i­dent and his own party in a new book, writ­ing that “Un­nerv­ing si­lence in the face of an er­ratic ex­ec­u­tive branch is an ab­di­ca­tion” and mar­veling at “the strange specter of an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent’s seem­ing af­fec­tion for strong­men and au­thor­i­tar­i­ans.”

The crit­i­cism from Flake is es­pe­cially strik­ing since he is one of just two GOP se­na­tors fac­ing com­pet­i­tive re-elec­tion races in next year’s midterm elec­tions, the other be­ing Dean Heller of Ne­vada. The other 50 Se­nate Repub­li­cans are largely in­su­lated from blow-back from Trump’s still-loyal base, at least in the short term, since they won’t face vot­ers for sev­eral years.

That is likely con­tribut­ing to their de­fi­ance, which is emerg­ing now af­ter an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of frus­tra­tions, cul­mi­nat­ing in the fail­ure of the health care bill Friday. In par­tic­u­lar, se­na­tors were aghast over Trump’s re­cent at­tacks on their long­time col­league Jeff Ses­sions, the for­mer Alabama se­na­tor who is now at­tor­ney gen­eral and fac­ing Trump’s wrath over hav­ing re­cused him­self from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble col­lab­o­ra­tion between Rus­sia and Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Sen Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina deemed Trump’s treat­ment of Ses­sions “un­seemly” and “a sign of great weak­ness on the part of Pres­i­dent Trump.” The com­ments were echoed by other Repub­li­can se­na­tors. Then, White House bud­get direc­tor Mick Mul­vaney, a for­mer House mem­ber, sug­gested on a Sun­day show that the Se­nate must pass health care be­fore do­ing any­thing else. No. 2 Repub­li­can John Cornyn didn’t hes­i­tate to go af­ter him. “I don’t think he’s got much ex­pe­ri­ence in the Se­nate as I re­call, and he’s got a big job,” Cornyn said. “He ought to do that job and let us do our jobs.”

The ill will flows both ways. At Tues­day’s White House brief­ing, press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders point­edly blamed law­mak­ers for the pres­i­dent’s fail­ures to de­liver. “I think what’s hurt­ing the leg­isla­tive agenda is Congress’ in­abil­ity to get things passed,” she said. Trump has been ig­nor­ing past warn­ings from Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell to stay out of the Se­nate’s business, tweet­ing re­lent­less com­mands in the wake of Friday’s fail­ure on health care that the Se­nate should elim­i­nate the fil­i­buster rule that re­quires 60 votes to move for­ward on much ma­jor leg­is­la­tion.

“Mitch M, go to 51 Votes NOW and WIN. IT’S TIME!” the pres­i­dent said over Twit­ter. That ig­nored the fact that Repub­li­cans tried to pass the health care bill un­der rules that re­quired only a sim­ple ma­jor­ity. So Repub­li­cans, in turn, ig­nored Trump. “It’s pretty ob­vi­ous that our prob­lem on health care was not the Democrats,” McCon­nell said drily on Tues­day. “We didn’t have 50 Repub­li­cans.”

Some Repub­li­cans say Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion only made it harder to pass health care by in­eptly pres­sur­ing Sen Lisa Murkowski with threats from In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke about con­se­quences for her state, which ran­kled the Alaska se­na­tor. She pro­ceeded to post­pone votes in the En­ergy com­mit­tee she chairs on a group of ad­min­is­tra­tion nom­i­nees, while say­ing it was for un­re­lated rea­sons, and voted “no” on the health bill.

“I think most Repub­li­can se­na­tors have their own iden­tity that’s separate from the pres­i­dent,” said Alex Co­nant, a GOP strate­gist and for­mer ad­viser to Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Florida. “If you look at the elec­tions last fall al­most every Repub­li­can se­na­tor who was up for re-elec­tion ran ahead of Trump and that’s not a fact that’s lost on Congress.” — AP

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